I sold my fifth completed manuscript. I knew it was it before I typed The End.
I had started writing THE PREY when I was on maternity leave with my son in 2001, the year before I “got serious” about writing. I never finished it because the hero and heroine didn’t work. Well, there were probably lots of other reasons like I’d never finished any of the hundreds of books I’d started, but at least I knew exactly what had bored me about this one.
But I loved the idea. I originally came up with the premise for THE PREY when I read an article about a father who murdered his family, then himself. While this is not an uncommon occurence, what struck me in particular about this article was that the friends, neighbors, pastor, employer were all universally shocked. He was the nicest man, they couldn’t believe he’d done it. There were no financial problems, nothing that pointed to a reason.
We all look for reasons in tragedy. I started looking.
And then I played what if. What if one of the children survived? What would she be like? Who would she grow up to be? How would this tragedy effect her?
At the same time, I had a completely separate idea for another book. I thought it would be creepy to have a writer who penned violent murder mysteries be stalked by someone taking their fictional crimes and making them real. I originally pictured a quiet, introverted writer, a recluse, who lived on the beach. Then I started thinking why? Why did she start writing murder mysteries? What’s her background? Why is someone stalking her?
Then my brain connected–the two stories sort of slammed together and Rowan Smith, the heroine of THE PREY, was born.
Fast forward two years. It’s the summer of 2003 and there’s this contest I wanted to enter, the Indiana Golden Opportunity contest. They had a mainstream category, and my books just weren’t doing well in romantic suspense. I started looking over my manuscripts (complete and incomplete) and stumbled across this nearly 300 page (single spaced) montrosity in my computer. I started reading it and cringed. It was awful. Except . . . that first chapter was really good, and the premise was good, and I remembered how excited I was when I came up with the idea, and I now had some knowledge about how to put together a story . . . I deleted everything (yes, well over 250 pages) except the first two chapters.
I wrote about a hundred pages and stopped, cleaned it up, and entered the first three chapters in the IGO contest. I wrote a synopsis that was awful (and nothing like the book ended up) and then promptly forgot about that book. I started writing a futuristic which I finished in seven weeks and still love.
Then I finaled in the contest.
I also had met an agent who I’d pitched my futuristic to, as well as this unfinished suspense. She had me send her the full futuristic and a partial on the suspense. She rejected the futuristic (too science fiction for her) but asked for the full of the suspense because she really liked it.
So . . . I dove back into the book. And when I did, I saw the allure of the story. I realized that THIS WAS IT. This was the book I was going to sell.
I can’t tell you exactly WHY I knew it. True, my technical writing skills were much improved, my storytelling ability was better, but there was something about this story . . .
And then I realized it. Voice. I had discovered my voice.
For four books (yes, even my beloved futuristic) I had forced my voice. I actually had a DIFFERENT voice in my head as I wrote. And I listened because I didn’t know what I was doing. The end result was forced. Good, but not good enough to sell in the competitive romantic suspense market.
But in THE PREY, I let my own voice take over and spill onto the pages and I liked the story so much more. It felt . . . big. I can’t really explain why I thought this was it, other than the gut feeling I had.
So I sent the manuscript to the agent who’d requested it (who didn’t ask for exclusives) and I queried a bunch of other A-list agents. A few weeks later I had an agent, did some very minor revisions, and she sold the book a week after sending it out.
So remember . . . when those voices start talking to you, make sure you’re listening to the right one. It might take some practice, but you’ll learn.