To which I responded, "WHAT YOU THREW IT AWAY WHAT DID YOU THROW IT AWAY FOR DON'T EVER THROW ANYTHING AWAY?!?!?" I mean, I was being exactly that rude, and I felt terrible about it later. But as someone who has been around the block, I want to stop newer writers from sabotaging their careers. This lovely friend's admission elicited a visceral response from me--not because I have thrown writing away and regretted it later, but because I never throw anything away, and I became very glad of that on September 14. Here's what happened:
Back in March 2006, Diana Peterfreund asked 12 or so writer friends to contribute to what she called the Great Blog Voice Experiment. Apparently somebody had accused somebody else online of stealing a story idea (I am always the last to know about online kerfuffles, or any kerfuffles for that matter, but I think that was the genesis of the experiment). Diana's point was that there really aren't any new story ideas. It's what a writer does with the story idea that counts. To prove it, she gave us a writing prompt--"A young woman confronts her parents after learning that she has inherited telekinetic powers"--and asked us each to write a 500-word scene. Then she posted the scenes on her blog.
I don't think the blog exists anymore, but I can tell you it proved her point beautifully. Participating were some people like Diana and me who had sold books and were waiting for them to come out, some people like Marley Gibson who would sell a book in the near future, some people like Nalini Singh who had published a couple of midlist books and was about to become an OMG RUNAWAY BEST SELLER...and each of our scenes was wildly different from the others, even though the prompt was the same.
Now, I have to say that I panicked when I saw the prompt, because I'd never written paranormal or had any interest in doing so. The panic lasted about thirty seconds, a scene came into my head, I dashed it off in about 5 minutes, and I e-mailed it to Diana. Don't hate me--that sort of instant idea has come to me...oh...once. That time. But I was super happy with the scene. When it was posted to Diana's blog, people had incredibly nice things to say about it. You can read it down at the bottom of this blog post if you're curious.
And then people moved on to other things, and in September 2006 my YA romantic comedy about drum majors in a marching band came out (Major Crush), and that was that. For all the chance this 500-word snippet had of ever becoming part of my writing career, I should have deleted it from my hard drive.
But you know, your hard drive is pretty big nowadays. You could store all of Birmingham in there, honestly. There is no need to be deleting your 500-word snippets. You might want them back sometime.
And so, when my publisher had shot down lots of my ideas for the second YA romantic comedy on my contract, I went back through my files of STUFF I NEVER THROW AWAY, and I came across this scene, which still gave me warm fuzzy feelings. I added an adorable boy to it, named it Levitating Las Vegas, and loved it even more. I wrote a whole proposal around the idea and sent it in.
Unfortunately, the series I was writing for was set up something like a Harlequin series, with a bimonthly schedule. They had a slot for me, and the slot right before mine had already been filled by a book set in Vegas called Gettin' Lucky by Micol Ostow. They didn't want another Vegas book. The editor and I tried setting the book somewhere else magical like New Orleans or Key West or Savannah, but it wasn't the same. So I wrote The Boys Next Door instead, and since that's been my best-selling book to date, I guess I can't complain about how all of that turned out.
Except, complaining is really what I do. I couldn't let this idea go. And in November 2008, when I had written and turned in Going Too Far and The Ex Games but they hadn't come out yet, and I had written Forget You but my agent and editor hadn't read it, and I had no more contracts to fill and I figured I might never sell anything again, I participated for the first time in National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. The goal of this program is to write 50,000 words in a month. If you've never written a novel before, there's no better way to get it done than to jump in with both feet! And if you've written plenty of novels (at that point I had written 15, I think) but you feel like this YA thing might not be working out for you, there's no better way to get out of that rut than to write so fast that your internal editor can't keep up.
At the end of November, what I had was 50,000 words of a novel that wasn't YA. It was adult, but very young adult--the characters were 21--younger than the hero and heroine in most adult romances set in the present day. In other words, it was "New Adult" before anybody was calling it that. (Being ahead of the times is a sign of genius and also haplessness. Pick one.) It was a romantic comedy, old territory for me, but paranormal, so a real departure. It was also the most fun, most insane thing I had ever written, and I loved it with all my heart.
Can you say DIFFICULT TO SELL? (My brilliant literary agent, Laura Bradford, refers to it by the kinder term "odd duck.")
I knew it was going to be hard to sell. And I knew I wasn't going to throw it away. I revised it and revised it and revised it again. Laura signed me on this book in April 2010 or so. We revised it some more. And on September 14--the day before my birthday--we sold it as an e-book original to Pocket Star, a division of the publisher of all my books, Simon & Schuster. It's coming out really quickly, on February 19, a week before my first adult romantic comedy, Star Crossed. You can read the summaries of both books on the adult side of my web site here.
Happy birthday to me!
A couple of months after my unfortunate outburst, at another Southern Magic meeting, another member (who hadn't been at the first one, obvs) mentioned that she had written a lot in the past month but had thrown it away. Well, I wasn't going to say anything. And so the lovely mild-mannered concert pianist said, "WHAT? WHY DID I GET YELLED AT FOR THROWING SOMETHING AWAY AND SHE DOESN'T GET YELLED AT? DON'T THROW ANYTHING AWAY!"
And now, in meetings, when new members come in and say they threw something away, everybody just looks at me, and then they tell the new members they'd better not be doing that or Jennifer Echols is going to get them. If that is my legacy, I guess I will take it.
THE THING I DIDN'T THROW AWAY
For Diana’s blog
"A young woman confronts her parents after learning that she has inherited telekinetic powers."
The street in front of the casino was blocked to traffic. Pink and blue lights flashed on the faces of a crowd of tourists gazing up. At the top of a hundred-foot pole, on a tiny platform, stood my dad. His arms were down, head down, eyes closed, like he was concentrating with all his might.
Every few seconds he swayed a little as if he were about to lose his balance, and the crowd gasped. At the base of the pole, my mom in her stilettos, gold spangled bikini, and enormous feathers slapped her hands over her mouth and squealed, pretending to fear for his life.
All this time, they had let me fear for his life for real!
“He’s a fraud, you know,” I said to the guy next to me, loudly enough for my mom to hear.
“Of course,” the guy said without looking at me, still watching my dad. “They all are.”
“No, I mean he hasn’t trained his body through long years of concentration. He hasn’t even made the effort to construct an illusion. He has telekinetic powers that keep him from falling. He’s totally cheating!”
The man chuckled to placate the crazy girl and make her go away. No one was going to believe me.
So I cupped my hands around my mouth and called up to my dad, “You have freaking superpowers! Why aren’t you the President?”
“Zoë,” my mother scolded me through the crowd. “You’re breaking the frame.”
She meant I was diverting the audience’s attention from my dad, ruining the illusion. But who cared, when there was no illusion to ruin—when the fake illusion was the real thing?
I called, “Why do you make Mom dress up like Miss Nevada lost a wrestling match with an emu?” I gave him a little shove with my mind, take that.
He started back like he’d been physically pushed. Someone screamed.
Enormous feathers pushed their way through the crowd toward me. I wondered how my punishment would change now that I knew about my powers, and my dad’s. Electroshock when I tried to steal my mom’s cigarettes? Telekinetic spankings? A force field around my room when I was grounded?
Before my mom could reach me, I called once more, “Why do we live in a two-bedroom house with the paint peeling in big patches so it looks like a Swiss cheese? Why aren’t we cashing in? Why?” I gave him a harder shove. He tumbled backward off the platform, but at the last second—imagine!—managed to catch the edge with one hand. Even at this distance, I could see his muscled arm trembling with the fake effort of pulling himself back onto the platform.
My mom reached me and gripped me hard. Her lacquered fingernails dug into my arm. I prepared to be defiant in the face of her fury. But she wasn’t furious. She was afraid.
“He can stay up there, but not if you push him off!” she whispered. “Women’s powers are much stronger than men’s.”
Dad let go.
Leave a comment for a chance to win my prize pack (US only, please): a $25 gift card from Books-A-Million, which is based here in Birmingham; a copy of my novel of your choice (choose from The Boys Next Door/Endless Summer, Going Too Far, The Ex Games, Forget You, Love Story, The One That I Want, and Such a Rush); and a copy of No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, which will get you ready for NaNoWriMo! I will pick a winner randomly and announce it around 5 p.m. Central on Friday, September 28.
And don't forget, every commenter is also registered for a chance to win a Kindle at the end of our Blog Blitz!
Edited 9/28 at 5:09 p.m. to add:
Bama, you win my prize pack, even though I went to Auburn! E-mail me at echolsjenn at yahoo dot com and I'll send you the gift card, the Baty book, and my novel of your choice. Thanks to everyone for participating and good luck on winning the Kindle!