What I've Learned from my Manuscripts

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Donna asked this question last week on her blog – what have you learned from your manuscripts?

I have 17. This goes back pretty far, so I’m not going into great detail. Plus, I haven’t gone for my walk yet – my dh is going to work later and later these days and really messing up my schedule.

My first book was Gold Badges, Gold Bands (SUCKY title). It was about 2 estranged police detectives with about a billion children.

I learned that you had to have an overarching goal for the whole story because it read like a season of Law and Order, very episodic. Ironically, the hero was based on Logan. Go figure. I would read the police blotter and think, wow, that would be interesting, and into the story it went. Yes, it was a pain to synopsize.

I learned you can have too many kids in a book.

I learned that even when you get the story idea from a dream, it won’t come out that way.

I learned that you can take the same characters and put them in a better story down the road (Second Chances, also a sucky title in that it’s WAY overused.)

My second book had about a hundred million titles, the latest being The Simple Life. If I ever resurrect that one, new title for sure. This baby took me about a billion years to write. Okay, a year and a half. I had three heroines and three heroes. The book was 600 pages.

I learned how to cut off the first 14 pages of a book to get to where the story started.

I learned you had to have a conflict between the main characters, deeper than “I can’t marry you. I have to run the family farm.” Luke was a George Bailey character who looked like a younger Vince Vaughn.

I learned how to write a darn good epilogue. I love that story for that alone.

I learned Mira DID request books from new authors – they had it 14 months before rejecting it.

And I learned I was a pretty good writer – Lauren McKenna said so in a critique.

I don’t even think I titled my next book. It was about two adults whose parents were getting married and the two of them hooked up. They were worried about the effect that would have on their parents’ relationship, but it wasn’t much of a conflict since the hero was in the Navy anyway. All I really remember about that was that it was really short – I don’t think I even typed it – and that they married in Venice. I think I learned I needed some instant gratification after writing that big ol’ 600 pager.

The next one was about a basketball player and a woman color commentator. She was slightly older, more professional, and he rocked her world. I don’t remember the conflict in that one at all, but it was fun. Complete fantasy.

Then I had one that finalled in a contest – Earth and Heaven was about a Jewish man and a Gentile girl, but that wasn’t the main conflict. She was diabetic and hid the fact from everyone and his wife had died after a long disease and he didn’t want to deal with someone who was sick. I always liked that conflict. He was a single dad, too. I learned a lot about Judaism. I don’t know why he had to be Jewish! It finalled in the He Said, She Said contest.

I’ve been calling the next one The Zoo Story so long, I don’t remember what it really was titled. I learned the most, probably, from this.

I learned writing short did not a Temptation make.

I learned more than you EVER wanted to know about rhinos mating.

I learned how not to write a love triangle (the hero was engaged and just a complete wimp about it).

I learned you can have several different incarnations of the same story. I had one version where the h/h had a past. I had another version where they were just meeting. I don’t remember the others, but there were a lot.

This one took me a long time, too, so my next book, Pride’s Fall, was short. It was about a teenaged single mom trying to keep her family together. She and her mother worked low wage jobs, she tried to go to school and take care of her baby, and her younger sister wanted a coming out party. I drew a lot on my experience working in a low income part of town for this book which I thought was pretty good, but not much of a romance. Plus it was my first sweet book. My heroine was so wary of the hero, her baby’s uncle, that I couldn’t see them indulging.

I also learned the power of music in getting you into a story. My son was little so I would write out back on the patio with the boom box sitting there and I would listen to the same two CDs over and over.

Devil in Disguise was my first attempt at romantic suspense. It stunk. I did get a request from Susan Litman on it, though, and she sent me a detailed R, and requested to see more of my stuff.

Hot Shot I wrote for me. Cindi Myers was in my chapter in those days, and had just moved to CO. She was talking about the fires and how heroic the wildland firefighters were. I dove right in. I did tons of research. (It was the summer of 2000, I think. I had so much company that year because we’d just moved into this house.) Everywhere I’d go, I’d take my research with me.

This was another one that had several incarnations. Originally, the heroine was supposed to work for a politician out inspecting the fires, only from my research, I couldn’t tell how to get her up on the mountain, and that was where the excitement was. So I changed her to a reporter, which I didn’t want to do. Then I had to change it so she had her fire card. Then I had to change it for something else. I’m still changing it!

Gabe was my first alpha hero. That was hard to do, too.

And this was the first book I had contest success with. I would enter it in a contest, get the feedback, change it, enter, feedback, change. It only took me a dozen or so ;) before I finalled. But once it won Where the Magic Begins, I figured it was ready for the GH. It was.

True to form, I wrote another shorty, Where There’s Smoke, after Hot Shot. I call it my little fireman story. He’s a firefighter, but you don’t see him doing much in the way of firefighting. He’s too busy falling in love with his best friend. What did I learn from this one?

Well, I got my first revision letter on this one.

I learned that when an editor leaves a house, you need to inquire to see what happens to your stuff, because after two rounds of revisions, I got a form rejection from the editor who took the requesting editor’s place. Thank goodness for my relationship with Susan, because I wrote her and explained. She looked at it, asked for more revisions, but ultimately rejected it.

Next I rewrote Gold Badges as Second Chances. It turned out pretty dark. I’m going to rewrite it again someday, I think. It tore me up to write about a couple who lost their only child. I did like that first chapter quite a bit. And I learned a lot about police procedure during a kidnapping.

I was riveted with the rest of the country with Elizabeth Smart disappeared and was found alive. I couldn’t stop wondering what kind of young woman she’d become. So I wrote an RS about a woman who endured that and grows up, trying to be her own person, only to be drawn back in when one of her students is kidnapped. I learned I’m not very good at laying clues ;)

Then I wrote Vanished, my first RS without a cop character. This is the book I took to critique group this week. I learned it’s boring ;) Again, my story doesn’t start till chapter three. Only this time, it’s going to be a lot harder to filter in all the stuff in the first two chapters. I learned I can set a book aside when another one calls.

My next book was from a dream, too. Beneath the Surface is about two estranged archaeologists – Twister meets…some archaeology movie. Not Indiana Jones, because he doesn’t dive. I learned like to write about estranged couples. I learned I don’t like to write secondary characters. I learned a lot about diving. I learned I want to write more archaeology stories.

The last book I completed was Don’t Look Back. I learned loving what you’re writing shows. I learned a lot about Africa. I learned I can go pretty dark. I learned I can do a wounded hero pretty well. I still don’t like writing secondary characters.

Now, Alex’s story. (I REALLY need a title before next week!) I started writing a scene last night that I was going to just insert into the stuff I’d already written, but it ended up changing the course of the story in a good way. Much more romancey. I’m very excited.

Now, to walk, and then to go into my office and get to work!

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Anonymous said...

WOW! What a great thing to do. God luck with the title search.

Stephanie said...

that was cool to read, and interesting that you remember what you learned from each one.

I think you should put the blurb of your book on here an let your blog readers suggest titles :)

MJFredrick said...

Steph, I may very well do that tomorrow - this blog post took me almost an HOUR! I didn't go walking after all. I will just do the treadmill after my nap.

I just had to redo my Excel spreadsheet. It accidentally got dumped!

Shesawriter said...

That's incredible Mary. You have definitely paid your dues! You GO girl! What a wonderful and inspiring journey.

Amie Stuart said...

i'm so stealing this! LOL

Unknown said...

That was a cool post! Very inspiring. I may have to write a blog entry about this very phenomenon

MJFredrick said...

Thanks, Tanya! You know which book is calling me, maybe for Wild Rose Press, is Pride's Fall. I need to find it. It's so old, it's probably on a disc.

Let me know when you guys post about what you learned, Cece and Candice!

KATZ said...

Thanks for sharing, Mary! I really enjoyed it!

Have a wonderful time at Nationals!

Tracy Montoya said...

Great post, Mary, and your books sound so cool. Silly editors, buy these!

(See you in Atlanta!)

MJFredrick said...

Thanks, Sarah and Tracy!

Sarah, wish you were going!


M.J. Fredrick's books on Goodreads
Breaking DaylightBreaking Daylight
ratings: 11 (avg rating 3.33)

Beneath the SurfaceBeneath the Surface
ratings: 11 (avg rating 4.00)

Hot ShotHot Shot (Samhain)
reviews: 2
ratings: 10 (avg rating 4.00)

Where There's SmokeWhere There's Smoke
ratings: 6 (avg rating 4.00)

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I'm a mom, a wife, a teacher and a writer. I have five cats and a dog to keep me company. I love bookstores and libraries and Netflix - movies are my greatest weakness.
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