Today, I’m happy to have my good friend, Annabel Aidan (You may also know her as Devon Ellington. ), talking about challenging yourself as a writer and how she came about writing her romantic suspense, Assumption of Right. It releases today from Champagne Books, so you’ll want to hurry over and snag your copy. Here’s a blurb for her new book:
Witchcraft, politics, and theatre collide and combine as Morag D’Anneville and Secret Service agent Simon Keane fight to protect the Vice President of the United States — or is it Morag who needs Simon’s protection more than the VP?
Witch and theatre professional Morag D’Anneville is annoyed when she’s assigned to dress the conservative Vice President as he makes a surprise appearance in his favorite Broadway show. Even more irritating, she has to teach Agent Simon Keane, part of the security detail, the backstage ropes in preparation. A strong attraction flares between them which they both recognize is doomed, and Simon must also fight his superior’s prejudice that Morag’s beliefs make her a threat to the Vice President. When Morag is attacked, Simon’s loyalties are torn between protecting the man he’s sworn to protect, and protecting the woman he loves.
Doesn’t it sound fabulous? A brief excerpt follows at the end of this post, too. Enjoy!
I never expected to write romantic suspense. it didn’t seem in the realm of my possibilities. A decade ago, I tried my hand at straight-up romance and was rejected because “your heroine is too independent. She doesn’t need a man enough.”
I wasn’t interested in needy heroines as a reader, so why would I want to write one? I wanted to write a strong, intelligent, independent woman who MADE THE CHOICE to have a positive relationship with the love of her life, even though it wasn’t easy. I wanted two smart, lively, fun people to fall in love WITH EACH OTHER and choose togetherness rather than apartness, in spite of obstacles. I didn’t want her noodling around with a competing love interest that the reader and everyone else in her life knew was totally wrong until she had a Big Realization. I have no time or patience for those women in real life, so why would I want to spend all those hours it takes to write a book with one?
I’d played around for awhile with setting a piece backstage and depicting the ups and downs and frustrations realistically. I’m sick of seeing cliches of backstage life written by someone who wandered around backstage once at a community theatre and tries to write soap opera. And I had a treasure trove of theatre ghost stories that I wanted to play with. I also had a lot of problems with the way alternate religions were handled in fiction — the “evil witch” stereotypes and Hollywood cliches from people who couldn’t be bothered to learn anything about the spiritual aspects of the craft and were only interested in promoting a culture of intolerance. The character of Morag started talking to me, and I looked around for a likely foil for her. I considered Hartley Crain at first — the guy Morag’s friend Diana keeps trying to match her up with — and knew that, although he’s a great guy, he wasn’t the right guy from her, and he would pull focus rather than make an interesting triangle. (As a side note, poor Hart can’t catch a break in the first several books set in this fictional New York and environs, although I will probably give him his own book further down the road. He’s got some growing to do, but he really is a good guy. He’s just not the “right guy” for Morag. Or Bonnie. Or Amanda. Or . . .well, you get the idea).
A friend of mine dared me to write a romantic suspense, because I never had. I was worried about doing a “damsel-in-distress-who-tries-everyone’s-patience”, and my friend said, “So don’t. Write the character you want within an unfamiliar genre. Just for shits and giggles.”
I thought, why not? Nano’s coming up. I need an idea for that. What better time to write in an unfamiliar genre than during a time when I’ve got to get words on paper and get out of my own way.
I pulled out some of my old diaries and came across entries from times when the Secret Service hung out backstage when VIPs were in the audience. Agent Simon Keane emerged from those re-readings. Originally, Simon was going to be a peripheral character and the main love interest would be someone else on the show. But Simon quickly came forward and said, “Uh, no, I’M the male lead in this story” and Morag said, “Yeah, he is, and if you try to push me with someone else, this will not end well.”
Since I’m a big believer in trusting my characters, I agreed.
The entire book was supposed to be from Morag’s point of view, but I quickly learned that Simon had a lot to say, and had a lot going on away from his time with Morag. So, although the entire book is in third person, chapters alternate through Morag’s eyes or Simon’s eyes.
The first draft of ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT came out quickly. I was very unhappy with the book and put it away. I went back here and there, but wasn’t really sure what to do with it or how to fix what didn’t work. In the interim, I wrote and published other books and short stories. I read more romantic suspense and learned the needs of the genre, and started to see how I could work within the genre without getting trapped into cliches I didn’t like. I did research on Secret Service procedure, and made decisions about where I could stretch reality of their jobs without suspending disbelief too much. Although I realize a singing, dancing, conservative Vice President may seem like a stretch! Again, I wanted him to be a legitimately interesting, multi-dimensional human being, not a cipher for a particular position.
I started pulling apart the book and rebuilding it. Off and on for five years, until very little remained of the original manuscript. I challenged myself to write the best book I could. I finally had a draft I liked, although I still felt there was room for improvement, and a book that my Trusted Readers liked. I stared querying it. I had publishers who wanted the spiritual/ethical aspect of Wicca removed because “it’s not really a religion. It’s all hocus-pocus fiction.” Um, no, earth-based religions are just as legitimate as The Big Three, and it’s a integral part of who Morag is as an individual. I got rejections again, because Morag was “too independent.” I got rejections because “no one wants to read about the guy’s point of view.” Um, actually, some of the best books I’ve read in the genre included sections from the guy’s point of view.
I kept trying until I found a publisher who believed in the book’s unique qualities. I was then paired with an editor who loved the book and the characters, understood what I was trying to do, and made the book better and stronger, by challenging me to re-think certain portions, approach them from different angles, and cut. I knew there needed to be cuts, but I wasn’t sure where, and when she suggested cuts, they felt completely right.
In the meantime, one of the peripheral characters turned out to have a lot to say, so I started Bonnie’s book, and the title came pretty quickly, of THE SPIRIT REPOSITORY, and made notes on the book that will be Amanda and Regan’s book (two other supporting characters in ASSUMPTION). Hopefully, I’m taking what I’ve learned in ASSUMPTION and applied it to SPIRIT REPOSITORY. I’m challenged to do even better within the genre, and research the period when New York was New Amsterdam, integrating the backstory into the present day suspense. I’m challenged to write a better book, and, hopefully, will again be paired with an editor who challenges me further. And I hope the book after that will present new challenges.
There’s nothing more exciting than getting up to face a new page with fresh challenges every morning, pushing yourself beyond where you thought you could go.
Annabel Aidan writes romantic suspense with a hint of magic. She publishes under a half a dozen names in both fiction and nonfiction. She spent over twenty years working behind the scenes on Broadway, in film and television, mostly working wardrobe. Her plays are produced in New York, London, Edinburgh, and Australia. If you run towards her undoing buttons, she will tear off your clothes and flip you into something else — and then read your tarot cards. Visit her at: http://www.devonellingtonwork.com/annabelaidan.html.
Excerpt from Assumption of Right:
“Pardon my bluntness, but Beers is an idiot. Either the show can run the way it is supposed to and the Vice President can enjoy being a Broadway star like he’s always wanted, or we’re in lockdown. Then the VP might as well go out at intermission with a cane and a top hat to tap dance.”
“You know that’s not how he wants to do it.”
“Then your team is going to have to meet us halfway.”
“I am not the problem!” Simon felt his temper rise. He resented the schoolmarm act.
“I know that. And believe me, I am unbelievably grateful that I’m dealing with you and not someone incapable of comprehending the complexity of all this and finding a way to make it work. But I want you to understand everything that’s going on.”
“That’s why I’m here,” Simon said through gritted teeth.
“I know. I’m emphasizing the point.”
Simon glared at her. For a moment, he thought he was going to reach out and shake her. Then, he realized what he wanted to do was kiss her. Pull her into his arms, touch his lips to hers, and feel her body against his.
They stared at each other for a moment. He saw an instant of shock in her eyes, followed by comprehension, followed by thoughtfulness. His own thoughts and emotions were in such a muddled state that he stepped back, putting a few feet of physical distance between them.
He’d nearly crossed a line, and he wanted to. He wanted to touch her and kiss her. Not in an abstract way, as when he observed an attractive woman in passing and spent a moment or two wondering what she was like naked or what she enjoyed in bed. He specifically wanted Morag.
It was entirely inappropriate.