That Time I Wrote a Contemporary

This one is for you. 

You know who you are...you've been writing for a while, or you've just started writing. You've submitted your pages to a contest, or your draft to an agent, or your manuscript to an editor. You've written an historical. Or a paranormal. Or a contemporary. Or you've written something else entirely--sci fi. A thriller. Women's fiction. Something akin to the great American novel. 

And you're doubting yourself. 

Maybe you were rejected. Maybe you were laughed at. Maybe you've rejected yourself (just as powerful a rejection, ps). Yeah. This post is for you. 

Because, you see, this one time, I took a Romance Writing class, and I wrote a contemporary romance. Well, I wrote 100 pages of a contemporary romance. I wrote what I hoped would become a Harlequin Blaze. Let me tell you about it:

The heroine owned a bar. She'd inherited it from her father, who'd loved it like the son he'd never had. And who'd raised her to be the son he'd never had. She was tough, but kind, and had a motley crew of barflies who'd been friends with her dad and who were now her knights of the round table. Willing to protect her at any cost. But they couldn't stop the biggest danger in her life--the fact that some big real estate company was trying to get her to sell the bar and the land it sat on.  

The hero had daddy issues of his own -- his father had amassed a fortune, and wanted nothing more than to turn it over to his only son, who wanted nothing of it. He was a photojournalist--spent lots of time in war-torn countries (this was 2002, and the second Iraq War had just started)--and had been summoned home to the reading of his father's will, only to discover that he had been bequeathed the family business, which was -- you guessed it, real estate. 

I wrote 100 pages, about 40 pages before the class started, and then another 60 in the first few weeks of class. I turned the first chapter into the instructor and the class for critique with pride. I was very excited about this pair -- working class girl and wealthy boy, each with their own issues, each deeply conflicted about their relationships with their fathers, at odds with each other.  

Thinking back on it, I don't remember much about the actual book, but from the above, I can tell you it wasn't anything new or fresh or different. I mean, it's a pretty classic story. And certainly, I'm sure that if I still had these pages, I would be the first to tell you that this wasn't a very good book.

In the first scene of the book, our hero, fresh from the reading of his father's will, goes for a drink. You can guess where. The first page shows us this handsome, dark haired, brooding guy, sitting at a long mahogany bar. We are in the heroine's point of view. And while I don't remember much, I remember that first line.

The book began, "He was drinking himself under the table." 

And he did. The first chapter was no doubt filled with any number of terrible first-book writing mistakes. But it ended with a bang. Our hero stood up, threw cash on the bar to pay his bill, and promptly passed out. 

I still chuckle when I think about it, in part because my editor likes to say that every author has her own mythology and basically writes the same story again and again in different ways, and if that isn't the most Sarah MacLean-y beginning to a book (hero passed out at  heroine's feet), I don't know what is. 

Here's the thing. The instructor hated my book. My first chapter was posted for critique, and the woman who taught the class (who shall remain nameless, because she is published) returned it with one single note. I had broken a cardinal romance rule, apparently. "The hero can't be drunk when the reader meets him. You'll never get this published."

Ouch.

So, I stopped writing that book. And honestly, I sometimes think about it and wish I had pages or something so I could see if it was really unpublishable. Because, truly, there is nothing I like doing more than breaking the romance rules. I've done it a lot. I've written overweight heroines, and Italian heroines, and country houses populated entirely by women. I've written sex addicts turned celibate heroes and heroines who were deeply unsympathetic at first blush. In my last book, my hero is introduced not drunk, but terribly hungover. And let's not forget an entire series dominated by a man...who just happens to be a woman.

Man, I wish I could go back and tell 2002-Sarah to write the damn book and not listen to that silly instructor. But I can't. So I'm telling 2014-you. 

Don't listen to the voices. The critique partners who tell you that you can't sell the beta hero or the movie star or the courtesan or the harem. The terrible terrible feedback from contest judges who tell you that you use too many sentence fragments, or you spend too long in the hero's POV. And definitely not the teachers who tell you that you can't write the way you want because it's simply not how it's done.

Just write the damn book. Maybe it will be awesome. And maybe it will be terrible. But at least it will be yours. 

Oh. And don't throw the manuscript out.