So I did.
My son, like many kids on the Autism spectrum, is obsessed with water, and a few summers ago, every day by the Chattahoochee River with him, I wrote a book. It came to me in snatches when the sun was setting and the sound of water washed away the chaos of each day. Voices, characters, scenes, dialogue – it all stretched out in front of me with more creative clarity than I had enjoyed in years. At the end of that summer, I finally synthesized all my post it notes, audio phone recordings, and garbled scribblings into a novel.
My family read the book and thought it was awe-some. We all know love covers many transgressions, so I needed to go beyond my family if I wanted to be published. Joining Georgia Romance Writers was the single most strategic move I have made on this path. I cannot overstate the importance of that community of writers encouraging me, provoking me, challenging me to take action and to grow in my craft.
Part of that process was entering contests. Those judges eliminated my head hopping (amateur move!), streamlined my backstory, and challenged me to show not tell. Let me just say my novel was never a contest favorite. I didn’t win or final in one contest. I never got a panel of judges to agree resoundingly that my book was incredible and the next bestseller. Instead I always got a mixed bag. What do I mean by a mixed bag? Well, here’s a sample from actual contest judges.
Judge 1: 95/100 – This has that “wow” factor. With minor fine tuning…I can see this manuscript sold!
Judge 2: 80/100 – I like the story idea and the plot turns, but wonder how honor and love are reconciled. Lots of potential here, because this is a sticky situation and will require sensitivity as the writer handles it.
Judge 3: 62/100 – I’M A LITTLE TORN HERE. TO ME, THIS IS NOT A ROMANCE NOVEL… WHILE THE PROMISE OF A HAPPILY EVERY AFTER IS THERE, THIS KIND OF WALKS THE LINE FOR ME BETWEEN SINGLE TITLE ROMANCE NOVEL AND MAINSTREAM NOVEL.
Another set of contest scores went like this: 60 – 95 – 74. Every contest pretty much had that spread. What’s a girl to think?
I pushed my lil’ book out of the nest like a baby chick, seeing how fast and far it would fly; sharing it with other writers who had been published. I held my breath. Almost every one, God bless them, said the story I had written wasn’t a romance. My heroine didn’t behave heroically. Also, though my writing was strong (Yes! Fist pump), they couldn’t imagine any publisher who would find a place for it in the market (Aw! Hangs head).
So you can see how when it came time to pitch at GRW’s Moonlight and Magnolia’s Conference, I didn’t expect too much. I mean, it’s a romance conference. Everyone said my book was not a romance. And no one really saw a place for it in the market. What did I have to lose?
I was as shocked as anyone when the only agent I pitched to requested my full manuscript. And then the only editor I pitched to did, too. Well, lots of fulls get requested, right? What could come of it? Three months after I submitted, the agent called wanting to represent me. A few months later, the editor from Grand Central called wanting to publish my little chick. I was absolutely floored. And really humbled.
Turns out there is an appetite for “non-traditional love stories” like mine. And instead of scratching their heads, the editor and agent thought my book was “fresh” and “unique,” but cautioned me that the way I had written the book was still a risk.
What’s so risky, you might ask? I don’t want to spoil it, but it is a love triangle. Strike one for many.
It involves emotional infidelity. Strike two for most.
And it ends on a cliffhanger. Well, good grief. Let’s just go home!
It’s like I took every trigger possible for the average romance reader and just rolled it into one book. Ta da! How you like me now?! You don’t? Oh, Okay.
Even now as early reviews come in and I am getting the first wave of reader response, there are those who love the book. And those who are really mad at me right now! And from them, I hear the echoes of insightful judges and writers. “This is not a romance. Your heroine doesn’t behave heroically.”
My heroine makes mistakes. If you read my book, there is a point where the author usually steps in and rescues the heroine from that mistake that seems irreversible. If she makes this move, the chances for the HEA look slim to bleak.
I don’t rescue her. She makes the mistake and screws everything up. OK. We can fix this as long as she doesn’t… Too late. She already did it.
I think we can still salvage this unless she… And she does it.
Whoa! She just took this from difficult to insurmountable. I don’t see how this can end well.
I made a conscious decision to step back and let my heroine make the mistakes we don’t see how she can come back from. Those are sometimes the mistakes we make. The kinds of mistakes I have made. I don’t think the happily ever after is as much the point as HOW she gets there. Does she change? Does she grow? From my experience, some of my biggest growth spurts came when I had to admit I had made a mistake, ask forgiveness of those I hurt, and then clean up the mess I made. That is what this heroine has to do, and if you ask me, that is behaving as heroically as never making a mistake at all. Maybe more.
And if you ask me if I’d rather write a book that leaves me holding a mixed bag, but that I am satisfied with, or would prefer to play it safe and adhere to the conventions most thought I should, that answer is easy. If those are my choices? Give me the risk. Give me the book that smudges and erases the hard-drawn lines. I don’t have to think long at all.
When You Are Mine
Kerris Moreton knows how to make things work. Bounced from foster home to foster home as a kid, she adapted; when opportunity arose, she thrived. Now, about to open her own business and accept a marriage proposal, Kerris is ready to build the life she’s always wanted. The only thing missing? A passionate connection with her would-be fiancé, Cam. Kerris wants to believe that sparks are overrated-until Walsh Bennett lights her up like the Fourth of July.
. . . but what about love?
As one of the East Coast’s most eligible bachelors, Walsh enjoys financial independence, fulfilling work with his family’s nonprofit, and plenty of female attention. But lately he’s been distracted by the one woman he can’t have. Lovely to look at and even sweeter to know, Kerris is the soul mate Walsh never thought he would find. The problem is, his best friend found her first . . .
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kennedy Ryan grew up in North Carolina, but loves living in Atlanta with her husband (tall – check, dark – check – handsome – check), and her handful of a son. Though she knew, like writers often do, that she was supposed to tell stories, the road to fulfillment has been paved with “some of everything” jobs that kept her family eating and living indoors. With her degree in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Go Tar Heels!), she has focused on writing for non-profit organizations and even doing some non-fiction ghost writing. Only in the last few years did she start telling stories again.
In addition to being a devoted wife and mom, she’s also a passionate advocate for families living with Autism. Her son was diagnosed at the age of two, and she has made it her mission to help as many families as possible find the resources and services they need. 25% of her royalties will go toward her national charitable partner Talk About Curing Autism and Myles-A-Part, her foundation serving Georgia families.