(I mentioned before that I’m no longer writing for the romance market, but the general fiction market. I didn’t explain this decision fully though. So I decided to write a post about it. Also, you’ll find an excerpt of my rewritten manuscript towards the end of the post).
A few years back my mom made a remark that I considered to be absolutely crazy. She said: “You know, one day, you might not want to write romance novels.” To me, this remark was tantamount to telling a woman, who is head-over-heels in love: “You know, one day, you might fall out of love with him.”
I thought her remark ridiculous, outrageous because for the past NINE years I had invested so much (time-wise, emotion-wise, mind-wise) into the idea of writing for the romance market. I therefore heatedly defended my ambition, saying, “NO, MOM. I”LL NEVER STOP WRITING ROMANCE NOVELS. TRUST ME.” Back then, I was so convinced that the romance market and I were “meant to be.”
However, the past two years of my life has changed me – and in changing me, life has changed my writing. I went from writing HISTORICAL-ROMANCE in THIRD-PERSON PAST-TENSE to GENERAL FICTION (historical-women’s fiction, to be more specific) written in FIRST-PERSON PRESENT-TENSE.
For six years, I experienced a DEEP dissatisfaction with TRC. The conventions through which I expressed my story felt like an awkward fit. Something just wasn’t right. I nevertheless REFUSED to consider that another genre and another narrative style might better suit the story. Come to think of it, I was afraid of stepping out of my COMFORT ZONE (romance genre, third-person, past-tense). And it was only after I ‘LET GO’ of what I was comfortable with that my writing evolved into a style that no longer reflected the 18 year-old writer (which is when I first began to write TRC) but the current 20-something year-old writer.
Considering the dramatic shift in my writing, I asked myself – What led up to my decision to ‘let go’ of the story written by the 18 year-old me? Tracing back my journey as a writer I realized that life and writing are tied closely together (duh, June).
The past two years were SO eventful, resulting in the MOST dramatic changes in my writing journey as well.
Here are some of the events that I think partly influenced my decision to switch markets and narrative styles: I fell HARD for a guy that embodied the sort of hero I idealized in my romance writing, I got my first taste of betrayal, I went through a man-resenting phase (don’t worry, I’m now totally into guys again), I realized that even though wounds heal they still leave a scar, I outgrew the rose-tinted glasses through which I once viewed people, I learned that friendship and all other relationships outside the sphere of romance is EQUALLY as important…
MOST importantly, I LEARNED THAT PUBLISHING AIN’T EVERYTHING. It doesn’t define me. Writing is only ONE of the MANY ways in which my life is given meaning. This isn’t to say that I’m any less determined to publish. Because, dear readers, I am SO determined. All I’m saying is that when someone asks me: “Who are you?” My immediate answer will no longer be: “A writer.” I won’t consider myself a failure if I don’t publish.
All these life lessons taught me to let go of my expectations and embrace the truth that the story I want to tell (which is about romance/love, but also about family, society and religion) just doesn’t meet the expectations demanded by the romance market. And, in embracing this truth, for some reason, I was able to LET GO of the the third-person past-tense narrative that I was holding onto SO fiercely (seriously, only people who have been writing in this style for years can understand how unsettling it is to try writing in any other form).
Now, writing TRC for the general market in first-person present-tense, I feel as person might when she’s finally discovered the MOST comfortable and supportive pair of shoes. One day I might need to find a new pair – but for now, I’m QUITE satisfied.
Here’s some music to listen to as you read the excerpts
The opening scene in the ORIGINAL manuscript:
His boot heels rang against the cobblestone street, which glistened in the light rain. Street lamps did little to ward away the shadows of the evening, leaving his countenance unreadable beneath the brim of his hat. Only when the cheroot he smoked glowed did it light his features enough to reveal a pair of gray eyes.
The gentleman slipped a miniature portrait out of his pocket and inspected the face of a young woman no older than sixteen. It was not a beautiful face, for it was too narrow, the cheeks too prominent, and the chin too pointed. But that was easily substituted by the restrained animation which seemed to brim over in her clear brown eyes and the arch of her lips. Finally, after all these months, he had found her.
Reaching the threshold of the brothel, he carefully tucked away the portrait, and glanced up. The small letters above the door read Harleton House.
‘She should be two-and-twenty by now,’ he thought, and dropped the cheroot. Its stub hissed in a puddle before he ground it out with his heel. He raised his fist and knocked on the door of what he’d been told was one of the best houses in Brighton. It was soon opened by the keeper of the establishment who, upon seeing how well the stranger was dressed, favoured him with a fawning smile. “Good evening, sir.”
The opening scene in the REWRITTEN manuscript (mind you, this is a rough draft *edit* this is no longer the opening):
Bessie tells me that I am a good woman, the most ‘goodly whore’ in Brighton. I think so too, though at times I gaze at my reflection and there is a sickening feeling at the pit of my stomach. It’s the feeling a mother might have when carrying a stillborn in her womb. But Bessie looks at my shell and sees only the winsome façade. Whenever she walks into my chamber, she comes to lay her trampled spirit upon me, never wondering what lies behind my smiles.
“Do you think there’s something the matter with me?” Bessie asks one evening, sitting down at the edge of my bed. The flush climbs up her neck and slowly spreads across her cheekbones. “Kitty says there must be. She says I only ever attract the old and nasty creatures.”
Rather than sharing that I too feel as she does – wretched – I simply reply, “There is nothing the matter with you.” That is how we are, Bessie and I; she voices the emotions that I would rather suppress. She calls out her demons, while I try to forget mine.
“What do you think Kitty said to me? Only guess,” Bessie goes on. “She says I have the face of a horse!”
“Lord, what a malicious tongue that slut has.”
Bessie lifts her hand then lets it fall, her voice barely able to conceal her misery. “You also think I’m hard on the eye. You do think so, don’t you.”
“I don’t think that. Truly.” Knowing this conversation can go on for longer yet, I pick up my shawl, throw it around myself and walk towards the door. “Come Bessie, ‘tis half past five. We’d best start out now or we shan’t have a shilling’s worth by nightfall.”
We make our way downstairs, past Madam’s watchful eyes, and out the door. With our colorful dresses, we look like exotic birds against our gray and lifeless surrounding. The sky is hidden behind the smoke and the crumbling walls. The earth is suffocated by the partially paved streets, covered with refuse and pools of foul waste. A boy gathers his meal of potato parings and rotten vegetables from the ground. He passes by a half-naked woman, whose mouth is agape, lying on a flight of steps with a bottle of gin.
I absorb this all with utter indifference, and turn to Bessie, as she calls my name…
(I’m aware that not all readers will appreciate the drastic changes that I’ve made with the story. But, sadly, I can’t please everyone)
Care to share about how much your own writing has changed over the years?