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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A golden trip down memory lane

by Terry McLaughlin

Do you remember the first sentence of your first serious attempt at writing a manuscript? How about the first scene you ever wrote? I remember. My heroine was named Sarah, and she was strolling down a boulevard in Paris, frightened by the strange man walking beside her.

Click to the comments section to discover what happened to Sarah and to my first manuscript. (Hint: the story has a happy ending.)

You'll also discover that today the Noodlers are reminiscing about their first Golden Heart entries. Feel free to share memories of your own writing firsts--I'll toss the names of our visitors into a jar and randomly select one to win a $10 gift certificate to an online bookstore.

Here's to looking back--and to moving forward!


At 1:17 AM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, everyone :-)!

I promised a happy ending for my first attempt at writing a manuscript, and I've got one. I've also got some advice: any story can be reworked.

Sarah, who was strolling down Paris' boulevard des Batignolles in the first scene of the first manuscript I ever wrote, got a new name: Sydney. She also got a new story opening, a new fiancé waiting for her at home, a new best friend who was featured in a new subplot, and--after I reinvented her story several times--a publishing contract.

Sarah didn't final in the Golden Heart when I entered for the first time, with the first version of that first manuscript. But Sydney finaled in a revamped version in 2004, and her story was published by Harlequin Superromance in January of 2008 as A Perfect Stranger. Since then, the book has been translated into Spanish and French--those are the covers on today's post.

As you can probably guess, I'm a BIG fan of revisions, of giving good stories a second (or a third or a fourth) chance.

By the way, that first scene I wrote made it into the book, even after all the other changes. I still get a little misty when I think about it.

At 5:45 AM, Blogger Dianna Love said...

What a wonderful memory Terry...and a great story when it sold! And I loved your May release A SMALL TOWN TEMPTATION.

When I started on my first story, I really wasn't thinking about it being published, just that I wanted to see if I could write that story. The opening never changed (but I did edit it along with every other every word in that book). Angel was always esacping from a compound and on the run. That was the first book I put into the GH and I was really over the moon that it finaled, because I sure didn't consider myself a writer at that point. The GH and another major contest final gave me the first feeling that I might actually sell that book (which sold as Worth Every Risk).

I'm a big fan of revisions, too. Knowing I will go back and clean up everything then add details once the book is drafted allows me the freedom to write whatever I want the first time through.


At 6:51 AM, Blogger Tami Brothers said...

Wow. You guys are both very inspiring. The Paris scene sounds exciting. Definitely something I would want to read. I'll have to look for it.

Great job and a great post idea. I'm definitely coming back to read more...


At 7:37 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I wish I could say my first GH entry finaled and won me a contract. Not exactly...

I started writing contemporaries because historical research scared me , and I first wrote about "What I know." My first heroine was a mental health social worker and the hero a police detective (not that I knew anything about police detectives except from TV)

Here's the opening lines:
I shouldn’t be here.
Marian stood in the dark hallway in front of Faith’s apartment door. Muffled sounds of televisions drifted from other apartments. She glanced up and saw a huge black spider busily cocooning a meal in a macabre web at the corner of the ceiling. Shivering, she adjusted her sleeveless cashmere sweater and the black linen skirt that had twisted around when she sat in the car.

I didn't final....
If I edited that now, I'd take out the sentence about her "sleeveless cashmere sweater and black linen skirt" and look for some other way to clue the reader in on what sort of person she is.

I entered the GH with every manuscript I wrote before I sold. In 2000 (I think) my entry was disqualified because my header was in the wrong font-that was the year of the nightmare formatting rules no one could get right. I switched to Historical after that and finaled with my first historical ms in 2001, entered the same ms in 2003, finaled, won, and sold!!

the moral of this story? Never never never give up (Winston Churchill)

At 11:15 AM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

What great stories! Definitely inspiration for me. Once I get The Raven's Heart in good shape I am going back to revise Lost in Love, my Golden Heart finalist manuscript. The fact that it finaled blew me away completely! But, I realize there are some adjustments I can make that will really make it better. And like the Divine One said, never give up! I may even enter it again in 2010.

It is funny because the first manuscript I started after the Avon FanLit event made me think maybe I could do this is not finished yet. I was stuck on it when one of my CPs, Sherry, suggested a writing exercise. That writing exercise became Lost in Love.

The first line of Lost in Love is :

"You're going to murder me, aren't you?"

I like that line and I think I am going to keep it, especially in light of one of the twists I have come up with for Lost in Love, revised! :)

But the first line of the first manuscript I started is :

“You will marry and produce an heir, you ungrateful little bastard or I will throw you back into the gutter where I found you!”

I still love that line and I love that story so I will definitely finish it one day soon.

Here is a question for everyone. When do you know to STOP revising?

At 11:17 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

Very cool story about your first entry. My first entry was a historical. Don't ask the year because I don't remember! But this was the first book I slaved over, and I still love the characters. However, it was long and started in the wrong place. It had a Prologue, two in fact--one for the hero, one for the heroine! LOL What I remember most was that it placed in the top quarter, despite its many flaws. That gave me the incentive to continue and try my hand at other stories. I originally envisioned Answer to a Prayer as a huge saga, then pared it down. Now that I have a better handle on my craft and have been inspired by Terry, I may reinvent it and see where it leads me.

At 12:55 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

My first Golden Heart final is my first book, so that's not anything new. Oh, and my second Golden Heart finaling MS was the book that got my publisher interested in me enough to buy the other book.

But neither of those were the first book I wrote. That was a futurist romance called Bargain, and it starts like this:

Alexandra Harkith paused in her search and stared across the flea-market alley. A person could expect to see a lot of weird stuff on Sales Planet Three, but an expensive companion android in a booth labeled “Oliver’s Bargains” wasn’t one of them. Someone must have been even more desperate than I am. She took a last look at the android’s serene, deactivated features and was turning away when an idea struck her.

At 1:00 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Louisa, you just have to guess as to when to stop revising. If a lot of people are reading it and giving you suggestions that just make it more in their voice than your own, that's a good sign you can stop. If you hate revising it, that's good reason to take a break. If, when revising, you find that all you're doing is substituting one noun or one verb for another, it's probably good enough. I could play with word usage and sentence structure FOREVER, but at some point, you have to say, this is good enough. Remember that your agent/editor don't expect it to be perfect, and they'll have their own tweaks, so there's no sense in saying, "This is exactly the way I want it," because you'll have changes to make when you sell.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...


Oh, and if it wins or places highly in every contest you enter, you can DEFINITELY stop revising.

At 1:31 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Dianna :-)! When I started writing, my approach was much like yours. Publication wasn't a tangible goal--I just wanted to see if I could write a book-length story.

Looks like our stories turned out well for us both ;-).

At 1:37 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Tami :-)! I wrote that first Parisian scene because it was something that had happened to me, LOL!

Like Diane, I started with something I knew. And like Diane, I don't think any writer should ever give up on a story she enjoys writing. There's always some way to make some aspect of it work.

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

It was 1995. I entered two categories. My Regency, known then as Surely, You Jest, didn't do too badly, but needed a lot of work. But I've told you about that one. The other is a Dust Bunny novel, Sweet Jessamine, about a woman who finds herself accused of trying to murder her husband, and the husband believes it. Its scores were sort of moderate, with none really bad but none really great either.

But the odd thing for me occurred in 1999 at the Chicago RWA conference when two friends and I went out to dinner on an extremely, stuffily hot, evening. We were talking about our experiences with the Golden Heart. I briefly described that particular novel as being a cathartic book but not one I'd consider offering for publication now.

My friend, Laurie Alice Eakes, then said, "There is a saying among seafaring men that one should not speak of one's success too loudly, lest the gods of the sea rise up in jealousy and strike him down."

It was the opening line of Sweet Jessamine. She'd had no idea I had written it and entered it in the GH five years before.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Louisa :-)! Esri gave you a great answer about how to know when to stop revising. When you're tinkering instead of revising (and you know the difference!), it's time to set that story aside for awhile.

Before I was published, I'd set my stories aside to age, like wine, for a few months. New insights and "aha!" moments would come out of nowhere, and I'd pick up the stories and attack them again with a fresh approach in mind.

When I sold and stepped into a tighter schedule, I worried that the "real" story would never get time to mature, that any "oh! now I get it!" moments would happen too late to make the changes. A couple of times I've made some changes late in the process (my poor editors!), but I think I'm getting better at structuring my stories from the start (practice under pressure will do that).

I have one last pre-published manuscript I haven't yet sold. I know I'll figure out how to fix the crack in the conflict some day. I refuse to give up on that story!

At 1:57 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Mo :-)! Love your story about the two prologues :-).

The first time I tried writing a historical, I got exactly one page finished, and it was torture. I often think I'd rather write historicals, because I majored in history in college, and I prefer to read historicals.

Whenever anyone asks me why I don't write them, I say it's because I've got a contemporary voice. But I don't really buy that explanation (it just sounds good). Some day I'd like to give my historical story idea a try ;-).

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

I first entered the Golden Heart in the mid 1980s, so long ago that the judges were still giving critiques and itemized score sheets similar to many local chapter contests these days. That book did not sell and probably never will because the hero was a tennis player. I was reminded by the editors at Steeple Hill when I recently tried to sell them a book with a hero who is a basketball coach that our readers don't like sports. I wish I could change that. So my love for sports will have to take a back seat to stories with small town settings and other occupations.

I entered the Golden Heart several times over the years without success. Even the manuscript that won the Golden Heart in 2003 was the same one that didn't final in the previous year--didn't even finish in the top half of the scores. I didn't do any revisions before entering it in 2003, so it was the very same manuscript from the 2002 contest. That manuscript has never sold. I'd like to go back and rework that story, but I've been too busy working on other projects--two of which were previously rejected manuscripts that I revised and did sell. One of them is my upcoming January 2009 book, MOMMY'S HOMETOWN HERO, from Steeple Hill.

So as Diane says, "Never, never, never give up.

At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am not a writer i remeber writing my first poem and writing stories for my classes. in the 4-6th grades i had to write books. it was fun . we got dedicated it to someone and get book covers. so that was a fun writing expericnce,

good luck to all you writers.

At 4:35 PM, Blogger MaryF said...

Um, no, I don't remember the first line. That was many moons ago.

My first Golden Heart entry was Hot Shot, and it was also my first final. I had just told my dh the calls would be going out the next week, and less than a hour later, I got a call! My friend Elizabeth told me my career was made.

Um, no. That was 2003, and while I had some serious interest in it from SIlhouette and from an agent, I never could get it revised to their liking, until Samhain requested it in 2007. Recently I finished the print galleys for it and told the dh, "I'm DONE with Hot Shot." And he said, the smart-aHEM, "How many times have I heard THAT?"

It better be the last, lemme tell you!

At 5:18 PM, Blogger Dianna Love said...

Louisa asked "when do you know to stop revising?"

I think that's a personal thing for every writer, but I will say it is easy to revise the voice right out of a story. However, it's hard to know when you start out writing when to stop revising. Once you've written a couple books you'll have an idea if you're starting to beat the life out of your story. That's another reason you constantly hear us all saying to keep writing. Some of this process just has to be learned by experience.

Congrats on your success and good luck this year! Hope one of these you're working on is "the" one.

At 5:26 PM, Blogger Dianna Love said...

Maureen - I love the two prologues. Diane and Terry have a good point about not giving up on a story you love. You should definitely dust that one off and take a look at it.

I never look at a story that doesn't sell as not selling, but as waiting in the wings for its day. "g"

Esri - great points, as always. You are so right about if it is finaling in contests, it's probably close enough to stop finetuning since the editors will want changes anyhow.

At 5:33 PM, Blogger Dianna Love said...

I Love these stories.

Delle - what a really awesome story that gives you chills about hearing the opening line of your story from another person.

Merrilee - You are amazing to have persevered so long to realize your dream. I'm just so impressed by stories like yours and thrilled at your success.

MaryF - Yay on getting your galleys done. That's the moment when I'm glad to know I can't touch it again and stressed to send it out in case I missed one last thing. "g"

At 8:51 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

Definitely gives me chills, Merrillee. Now that I know Laurie Alice so well, I can say she just plain has that kind of memory. She is that awesome.

At 9:28 PM, Blogger Amy S. said...

I'm not a writer, but I do remember trying to write a 200 word snippet for a blog contest. It's really hard, and I really appreciate what writers go thru to write books. I love reading but there is no way I could write very emotional reads like some of my fave authors.

At 10:49 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Mary--are you SURE you're done with Hot Shot? No Hot Shot Deux in the works?

At 10:55 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Dianna--I love your point about stories waiting in the wings.

Sometimes it's not the story or the market that's the problem. Sometimes it's the writer. I haven't yet learned the skills or gained the insight I'll need to revise my one remaining unsold manuscript so it will fit the spot it's destined to slip into. It's waiting for me ;-).

At 11:00 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Amy :-)! Isn't it amazing what some authors are able to do? I adore being swept away with a great read :-).

At 4:48 AM, Blogger MaryF said...

No Hot Shot Deux, I SWEAR!!!!

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi again, everyone :-)! Tami, you're the winner of the gift certificate. Send me an e-mail (you'll find my contact info on my Web site), and I'll send you your prize.


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