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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Writing Horror Story with a Happy Ending!

This is the book cover for my new HQN e-book, The Secrets of a Courtesan, which is coming out next month from e-harlequin. It's the short story prequel to my new Brides of Fortune series and introduces the village of Fortune's Folly and some of the characters. And once again I think the cover goddess has been smiling on me because I think it's beautiful!

I've been lucky in more ways than one because this is the short story that seemed destined to crash and burn. I love writing short stories and particularly enjoyed my recent one for Harlequin Historical Undone, The Unmasking of Lady Loveless. So I set out on this one with the same cheerful intent to create something that was fun, witty and sexy (of course!). I wrote the story at the start of the year. I had a tight deadline of my own making because I was going on holiday and it simply had to be finished before I left so that I could press on with a new book on my return. And I had what I thought was a good story idea, I loved my characters, I had included what I immodestly thought was some sparkling dialogue, so what was the problem? The plot, as it turned out. Specifically the lack of conflict. Even as I was writing the story I knew that something didn't quite work. It should have done - but it didn't.

It was the classic story idea of the hero requiring a temporary wife, but with a twist, and I loved the concept. So I made a big mistake. I carried on writing it instead of acknowledging my gut instinct, admitting that it wasn't going to work and stopping to rethink. It was only when the whole thing was finished and I read through it that the nagging doubts returned, but I liked it so much and I was determined it would be okay so again I ignored them. Then my editor read the manuscript... and put her finger on the problem straight away, as she always does. The characters were too nice, they had no flaws, there was no real conflict between them, the whole story simply didn't work.

With ten days before I went away I scrapped the original idea totally and tried to write a different short story. That was probably mistake number two because that didn't work either. By now my writing confidence was plummeting and my stress levels rising exponentially. I hadn't done my holiday packing because I'd been too busy trying to write this story, which was why I ended up in the Grand Canyon in the snow without a hat, scarf or gloves. Fortunately my editor had pointed out to me that as long as I could write the story in a week when I got back from holiday, we would still be okay to go.

Which was where I made my first good decision. I didn't think about the story for the entire three weeks that I was away. Instead I took a break, enjoyed my trip and lived in the moment. When I got back to the UK I was raring to write, and produced the Secrets of a Courtesan in a week. It was the third incarnation of this particular story, different again, but with some deep conflict, slightly flawed characters, still some sparkling dialogue (I hope!) and lots of hot and sensual romance.

Maybe one day I will use the first version of the story in my creative writing classes as an example of how every writer can make mistakes regardless of how long they've been writing or how many books they've written (I'm assuming here, of course, that I'm not the only person this has happened to, but please put me right if that assumption is incorrect!) I'm a great believer in the idea that you should follow your writing instinct, and from now on I'll be listening more closely to mine. In the meantime I think I'll just look at the cover of The Secrets of a Courtesan - and enjoy the happy ending!

10 comments:

Gillian Layne said...

Bless you, Nicola, for sharing this! Nice to know even writers who turn out amazing stories hit a snag now and then. Your cover is beautiful, and I can't wait to read the story.

Actually, I'm thrilled with the entire line-up you've got coming out in 2009. It looks to be a remarkable year for you! :)

Elizabeth Hanbury said...

Nicola, thanks for a fascinating post. It's so interesting to hear about the creative process behind The Secrets of a Courtesan, and reassuring for me, as an inexperienced writer, to hear how you wrestled the story into submission!

Can't wait to read all your 2009 releases and congratulations on the beautiful covers - the cover goddess has indeed been smiling on you :-)

Nicola Cornick said...

Thank you, Gillian, thank you Elizabeth. I am really excited about the series and very pleased that I managed to make it a series not just a trilogy LOL. I'm sure most writers must wrestle with their stories at some time. IMO writing is too complex and instinctive a process for most of us for it to run smoothly, or even in the same way, each time we do it. I'm not trying to sound precious, just to say it as it is for me, at least. I know a lot of people think it's easy but usually they aren't writers :-)

This was my worst experience in 10 years although I've had some major rewrites before. But hey, it came right and for that I'm truly thankful.

Thanks again!

Jenna Dawlish said...

Hi Nicola,

The cover is lovely, and I look forward to reading this. It sounds like you had a hell of a time writing it, but I'm sure as we readers read it, we won't get a whiff of the angst behind your struggles!

Jenna
x

Nicola Cornick said...

LOL, Jenna, I always think it's amazing when you struggle to write a book and the finished effort (hopefully) shows no signs of the torture you went through! I've let the cat out of the bag on this one though, so maybe I can expect some emails along the lines of: "we know you had trouble with this story and it shows!" :)

Michelle Styles said...

It is a lovely cover and I feel for you on the tight deadline.

Me? I am in awe that you do short. I don't think I can.

Nicola Cornick said...

That's interesting, Michelle. I'd love to hear more about your thoughts on writing short. I feel another blog post coming on - the perils and pitfalls of writing short stories! Perhaps we should do a joint post on it!

Jan Jones said...

Oh, Nicola it is a fabulous cover. And while I feel for you on the horrors of v1 and v2 I'm glad v3 came right. Question is - could you have written v3 WITHOUT making the mistakes in the first two?

Nicola Cornick said...

Interesting point, Jan. Answer is - I don't know, but probably not! A bit of a painful way to progress, though! I don't recommend it. :)

Kate Hardy said...

Gorgeous cover, Nicola. And glad to hear there was a happy ending!

I'm struggling with the plot of mine at the moment (actually, the hero is the problem), so I think I need a day's loafing in the garden, listening to birdsong and napping while letting my subconscious wrestle with the problem...