For Saeed, who always wants to know how the stories get written (and never reads any of them but might read this), and for Sean and Paola, my beloved alpha readers who read everything almost before I’m done writing it—in gratitude for your support during this amazing process, and every aspect of my life
March 4, 2017
I wrote Cherry Pie Cure in seven days while not writing the three other novels that I thought I was supposed to be writing.
I know there are authors out there for whom that kind of output is common. It’s not for me, although I’ve always prided myself on being efficient and professional—and only a little bit angsty—about the way I approach my creative work. I’m a magazine and newspaper writer by trade, and I can write on pretty much any non-fiction topic (you wouldn’t believe some of stuff I’ve had to write 500-1,500-5,000 words on!) to deadline. Also, to a specified word count—if a client is paying me for 500 words, it’s a waste of time to write even 505, you know?
I’ve been able to bring some of that experience, work ethic, and discipline to my novels. But I’ve also brought a lot of artsy angst to that process—by which I mean that I’ve expended a great deal of energy agonizing over what I should write, how I should write—why I should write—instead of just… writing.
I didn’t do any of that with Cherry Pie Cure. I just wrote it.
And I’d like to share with you—and document for myself—how that process unfolded.
On the morning of February 11, 2017, I received an email from the Romantic Times Booklovers Conference inviting me to include up to three of my books on a Smashwords-sponsored thumb drive that would go into the welcome bags of the conference’s participants. As a nascent fiction author, the opportunity was both fabulous… and terrifying. Getting my first novel, Tell Me (HarperCollins, 2015) on the drive was not an option. My second novel, Consequences (of defensive adultery) was slated for May 2017 release, and I wasn’t sure I could accelerate its production schedule. My third novel I hadn’t even shopped around yet, and I didn’t think it was quite done—and it certainly could not be finished by March 13. Plus, it probably wasn’t a romance anyway.
But I had to have something for that drive! All those romance readers! A gift from the heavens (or, to be more specific, a gift from Romantic Times and Smashwords).
This thought: I need to write a book for the thumb drive.
Second thought: I fucking CAN’T. It’s February 11, and they need it by March 13.
Third thought: ok, I can’t write 100,000 words. Chill. What could I write—first draft through to production-quality—in a month?
Some math. Some pondering of lengths. Shorter than 100,000 words, but still… substantial. Like… a novella. A longish, 40,000 word novella. I could do that in a month.
Aunt Augusta: Good luck, princess. Even if you do write 10,000 words a week… when are you going to edit? Proof? Format?
(Aunt Augusta, by the way, is this judgemental bitch who lives in my head. Imagine the worst quality of every crappy teacher you’ve ever had—you know, the one who told you that you shouldn’t bother drawing, singing—writing—because you had no talent? Now add to it every worst quality of every nasty mother-in-law you’ve ever heard about. Throw in a smidgen of that boss you had when you were sixteen who got off on making you feel too stupid to make coffee. Now magnify all that by 500 per cent… and you’ve almost got Aunt Augusta. Nothing is ever good enough for Aunt Augusta. She’d really prefer me to do nothing, ever. That’s her job. I fucking hate her. But, over the years, I’ve learned to not just defy her—but to use her. Aunt Augusta tells me I can’t do something? I’m going to show that fucking bitch just what I can do.)
Me: Fuck you, Auntie. I’d need to do at least 20,000 words a week. Let me think. If I do 2,000 words a day… that’s twenty days. No. That does not leave me enough time for editing, proofing, and formatting. So… 3,000 words a day?
Um… this is sad, but true: I really suck at math, and dividing 3,000 into 40,000 causes me angst, so I change the three to a four, and…
Me: 4,000 words a day over ten days. I can do that.
Aunt Augusta: You cannot.
Me: Fucking watch me, bitch.
You still with me? It’s still Saturday, February 11… I decide to write a 40,000 word novella that needs to be sent to Smashwords by March 13… I’m going to do it. Totally.
I just need an idea.
That shouldn’t be a problem. On that Saturday, I’m actively not writing four projects.
The first, Cards On The Table, exists as two incompatible 7,000 word drafts. It’s a really great story about the very straight-laced daughter of an astrologer-Tarot card reader. The mother dies and my heroine inherits her mother’s business… only to find out her crazy mother (she’s so awesome; I think she’s the best character I’ve ever imagined) engaged in one last bit of matchmaking on her deathbed. One draft is laugh-out-loud funny, and the other is a total tear-jerker, and I’m stuck because… well, it’s kind of got to be one or the other, right? Can it be both? Maybe?
(OMG! It can be both! I think I just figured out how to write it! But, on February 11… I didn’t have a clue.)
The second, Text Me, Cupid, is a send up of online dating that I want to tell primarily from the guy’s point of view. It’s been simmering in me since last September… but it hasn’t progressed much past my initial 500-word sketch.
The third, Wife Wanted, is supposed to be a 15,000 word novella about… well, it’s a little complicated. There’s a fig tree involved, and a traumatized Desert Storm veteran, a straight girl with a crush on her gay (and pregnant) best friend, and this really hot Colombian concierge called Alejandro.
The fourth is a non-fiction project about Cuba. Ok, that definitely won’t work.
On that Saturday—we’re still on February 11—I’m not writing any of them on purpose. I had finished my third novel in July 2016 (her name is Molly Jones, and I’m totally in love with her, but you don’t get to read her until 2019 at the earliest, sorry), and then told myself I was going to spend the rest of the year focusing on learning the business side of this fiction author game. I was not going to push the writing and expect to finish, or even start, another novel.
I think that was a necessary plan, and the right decision. But its result was that through the fall of 2016, I was just piddling around with this idea or that… poking at All In the Cards, and then switching to thinking about Text Me, Cupid, and then thinking maybe I should work on Wife Wanted… and not getting anywhere with any of them.
Frustrating myself in the process.
In December, I officially announced—to Aunt Augusta, among others—that I wasn’t going to write at all in January. Not a word.
Well, except I was curating this Valentine’s Day Project for one of my writers’ groups and I did write two short pieces for that. Did you read them? One of them was very artsy and angsty, and the other was fucking hilarious. (Go read it and judge for yourself. Um—wait, just wait—finish this piece first.)
And I wrote a couple of blog posts.
And two very bad poems.
But not a word on any of the novels.
For six weeks.
A good period of rest. Sufficient. So, I should just choose one of the novels… and finish it in the next ten days. Right?
I went to bed on February 11… unsettled. And unclear.
I woke up unsettled. And unclear. That morning, I had a planning meeting for When Words Collide, a Calgary, Alberta reader-writer conference and I drove to it unsettled and unclear.
(When Words Collide, by the way, is a fabulous conference. It’s held the second weekend of August every year, it celebrates all genre fiction, including romance and literary, and you should totally come out for it one year—Calgary in August is lovely, and it’s not minus one hundred degrees Celsius here then.)
A little whisper: Susan. Her name is Susan.
A louder whisper: Why not Susan?
Susan. I saw her. Short. Cute. Booby.
These thoughts: Booby? Ok. Fine. I like breasts almost as much as hormonal adolescent boys do, and Susan has cleavage to die for. And her “rival”… she’s going to send pictures of her breasts to Susan’s husband, that’s part of how Susan finds out what’s going on—but those boobs? They are not going to be that great. Not nearly as great as Susan’s. Ha.
What else? Two sons. Tyler. Clay? No, Cody.
Divorcing… story opens when? She finds out her husband is cheating on her. iPad.
Rewind: on February 9, I presented Tell Me to a group of romance-loving women at their monthly book club meeting. One of them had just found out her husband was cheating on her… by accidentally seeing texts passing between him and his lover. On the family tablet, which was linked to his cell phone, except he apparently didn’t know that.
As this lovely woman was telling her story, I was most struck by how concerned she was with preserving her children’s relationship with their dad. And, how angry her kids were with him. Almost more angry than she was.
Yes. Susan. iPad. Adult children who fucking hate that cheating bastard…
And oh, I am going to give her the best lover ever.
His name… Reza. Definitely, Reza.
In November 2015, my non-fiction writing self had published an article in a regional business magazine called “Rocking your lay-off.” In response, I received the absolutely loveliest fan letter from an Iranian-Canadian engineer named Reza. It was so… It still makes me melt. Those silver-tongued Persians—I’ve been having an ongoing love affair with Persian poetry (forget Rumi—check out Hafez, please, and then go to the modern Iranian poets) for a couple of years now. And Reza… Reza is going to quote Persian poets to Susan while they fuck. In Farsi.
Yes. Definitely, Reza.
This thought: Ok. This is happening. This is really happening… this idea is taking form.
By the time I get to the meeting, I’ve given Susan a best friend, Marcella. And as soon as I sit down at the board room table, I pull out my notebook and sketch out what the story looks like in my head…
…and realize I’m going to write it as a series of blog posts…
…and half the story is going to unfold in the comments… so that it’s not all just Susan’s story and Susan’s point of view…
…and Reza’s going to be a stock boy at a grocery store (because my WWC planning meeting is in a community room at a grocery store—although, alas, I do not bump into any cute stock boys there)…
…and I’m going to call it Pick Up In Aisle Three, because that’s where they’re going to meet. Maybe she knocks him over or something? Something like. (I had to change the title, because at some point, the cherry pie motif took over. When you read the book, you’ll understand.)
Oh. And she’s going to have a really great relationship with her son’s girlfriend… whose name will be Nika… and Nika… Nika is going to do something… I don’t know what yet. But it will be important.
The idea has arrived.
It is Sunday, February 12, 10:15 a.m., and I have a working idea.
I turn my attention to the meeting.
Occasionally add a word to my novella sketch.
This thought: I’m going to start writing on Monday.
I get home at 12:20 pm.
Feed the kids. (I have three. They eat. A lot.)
Start writing while they’re still chewing their sandwiches.
I hit 6,200 words before I go to bed.
I have a full, relatively clean 40,000 word draft by noon on Saturday, February 18.
By Monday the 20th, the book is at 45,000 words and in the hands of two alpha readers. On the 24th, I give it to my first beta reader. In-between, I simultaneously edit and proof. Also do a mock up of the cover. By Saturday, February 25, the piece is in the hands of an anal proofreader and the cover concept in the care of a stellar designer, and the whole thing thrown to the mercy of a few beta-readers, not all of whom love me unconditionally. (My alpha readers do.)
On February 28, I declare the piece “finished enough,” and by March 1, it is ready to be uploaded to Smashwords. Which means I have more than ten days to get an ISBN, register the copyright, submit the book to Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication, and nail down my meta data.
Holy fuck. Done. I did it. What do you make of that, Aunt Augusta?
Now, the thing that’s most important for you to know—that’s most important for me to remember about this process and to take into my work in the future:
I wrote 4,000+ words a day and brought a novella from start to finish in two weeks WHILE living my ordinary life and doing all the things.
I did not go on a writers’ retreat.
I did not outsource breakfast, lunch, and supper. Or laundry. (Although, I didn’t do any housework beyond that until draft one was done.)
I took my daughter to her martial arts classes and chauffeured my littlest guy to playdates and a sleepover, and helped my eldest son work on his resume.
In addition to the writing conference meeting that started my week, I had two community committee meetings, in which I participated fully and volunteered to take on a couple of minor tasks, and fulfilled them while writing Cherry Pie Cure.
I had three children at home on all but one of those days, and on the day that they were away… I did not double my word output. I popped out about 5,000 words, just as I did on the days that they were there. (My kids, by the way, are homeschooled, so they are at home all the time—but, they are also aged fourteen, twelve, and seven, which means they are capable of fending for themselves much of the time and understand what “I’m going to go write for an hour now” means.)
I went to my weird yoga classes (and wrote them into my story). And my acupuncture appointments (but they’re not in this story; they didn’t fit).
I slept eight to ten hours a day. Like a log. And lay down for a fifteen minute nap most days.
I had really, really great sex.
I maintained my twice-a-day meditation practice.
I wrote the first 2,000-2,500 words first thing in the morning, in about an hour and a half, occasionally two, of dedicated time before my youngest demanded my attention. Then I did all the things. I’d have another hour writing session in the mid-afternoon. And in-between supper and bedtime, I’d take another hour—at my daughter’s martial arts class twice a week, at the kitchen table the rest of the time.
No magic, see?
Just… fingers on keyboard.
No, actually, there was magic.
The magic was—the deadline. I had to get it done. So. I did.
The magic was—I didn’t waste any time or energy agonizing over what I was writing, how I was writing, or why I was writing.
I sat my ass down… and I wrote. And when I had to stop, because children, appointments, life—I stopped. Did all the other things. And came back to the laptop and Susan’s story when I next could, ready to write as soon as I sat down.
There are some things I didn’t do.
I put all social media, personal and professional, on hold. I love Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. But they fill my mind with clutter, and they impair my ability to concentrate. I know that—and when I am in flow or on deadline, I know I can’t afford to deal with them. So—off.
I was sort of a shitty friend.
Friend One: I have terrible pain and fever. I think I have mastitis!
Me: 16,000 words!
Friend Two: OMG, nervous breakdown, he doesn’t love me, I’m going to slit my wrists, help!
Me: 27,420 words!
I was a terrible lover (except for the sex).
But this is why I’ve been with him for more than half my life:
Him: I know it’s Valentine’s Day, but are you going to need to write tonight when I get home?
Me: I’m only at 2,700 words for the day, so, yeah.
Reading Cherry Pie Cure now, as I commit to sending it out into the world in its current state—with which I’m satisfied as “good enough but not perfect” (because I am, after all, a self-doubting human and an angsty artist as well as a disciplined and efficient professional)—I’m suddenly aware of additional ingredients.
Like, the day that I got that email from Romantic Times, I attended a workshop/potluck by the Alberta Romance Writers’ Association (but-we-embrace-all-genres-except-it’s-way-too-difficult-to-change-our-name-and-ARWA’s-a-great-acronym, so-just-go-with-it-will-you!), to which ARWA’s president—who had spent a chunk of her childhood in pre-Khomeini Iran!—brought a Persian dish, fesenjan, a chicken stew with walnuts and pomegranate sauce. It gave me a complete and total oral and then full-body orgasm. OMFG. I’m telling you, people, this dish was so good, not even Susan couldn’t do it better.
Initially, Susan was going to make Reza fesenjan but when I realized that they were going to hook up in mid-March, I changed it to a dish associated with Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which takes place around the Equinox.
I’m not quite sure where the cherry pie came from—except that I love cherries. And the day that I had that fesenjan orgasm, the ARWA writers also made truffles. Because that’s how romance (“but we embrace all genres”) writers do it. It was February 11, three days before Valentine’s Day, and so, you know—we could talk about writing… or we could make and eat chocolate.
OMFG, that chocolate was so good.
Excuse me. I need to go have a moment with the last truffle from that workshop, which I was saving for just such an occasion…
I’m back. Where was I? Right. Truffles. So while we were making truffles, one of our members—in her late forties and recently divorced—started talking about her new lover. And, oh, he sounded yum.
“I never thought there would be so many silver-linings to a crappy marriage and getting divorced,” she said.
I laughed. Licked my chocolate-covered fingers. Thought about chocolate-covered cherries, and how someone I love had just given me some chocolate-covered cherries, not as a Valentine’s Day present, but as a “I know you’re not writing and going a little mad as a result, but I love you anyway” present.
All those “ingredients” made their way into the recipe for Cherry Pie Cure.
And you know what? I loved writing this book. It was delicious. And delightful. And I was so happy at the end.
I hope you are too.
Oh. One final ingredient.
Remember Screw Chocolate? It consists of fourteen Valentines that my queer writers’ group released over the first two weeks of February, to get people in the mood for Cupid’s Holiday. Some of them were sweet. Some of them were sizzling. A few were outrageously filthy—such as Valentine 13: Delivery by Elisa Kae, which planted Rabbits and clit balm in my head.
I don’t own one by the way.
A friend of mine, who may or may not be the model for Marcella, does. She never leaves her bedroom anymore.
My favourite sex toy is… oh, wait. That’s not part of this story.
Except that now I want to go play with it. And I’m allowed. Because—I’m done.
You want to know more about Cherry Pie Cure, right? It’s pre-releasing with Smashwords at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in Atlanta on May 2, 2017, and its formal release will be June 15, 2017. Because–cherry season. But to find out more… go to susanswritingcureblog.com. (Damn straight I made her own blog. 😉 ).
And to be the first to hear when Cherry Pie Cure is out, sign up for ROUGH DRAFT CONFESSIONS, because the next one is going to be all about the new release date for Cherry Pie Cure and Consequences (of defensive adultery).
… which reminds me. I should start preparing for its release! May 2 is waaaay too close…
Because I wrote the above on March 4th, May 2nd has come and gone, and while you’re waiting for Cherry Pie Cure, you can read Consequences (Of Defensive Adultery), which is now AVAILABLE EVERYWHERE:
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