Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Enchanted, Inc.: Before the Beginning

A few weeks (or more, I guess) ago I brought up the idea of doing an Enchanted, Inc. series reread in which I go through a chapter at a time and give kind of a DVD-style commentary on it. There seemed to be some interest in that, so I'm giving it a shot. I'd thought about doing that on alternate Wednesdays, when I'm not doing writing posts, but then I realized it would take a year to get through a single book if I only did a chapter at a time. So I think there will be no set schedule and will be something I do when I don't have another topic in mind (so now you'll be forced to check in here often!) and when I've had a chance to read a chapter. I may also do more than one chapter, depending on what I can think of to say.

I'm going to start with a preamble of what went on in the process before I wrote that first chapter. I may have told various bits of this in interviews over the years, but not everyone has read everything I've had to say about the series, so I may as well re-tell it, and there will likely be different details.

The first spark of an idea for the series hit me sometime in January of 2002. The chick lit craze was ramping up in the US, but I'd been devouring the books I'd picked up in England. I was also trying to write something like that. I'd gone to England in October 2001, and I think most of my souvenirs had been books. There was the "Buy 2, get one free" sale at the Borders in Cambridge, and then I'd bought still more in the airport while waiting for my return flight, when I figured I might as well spend my remaining British currency. But I'd also picked up a couple of the Harry Potter books (I'd bought the first one on my previous trip) because they had "adult" editions with different covers that I liked. While I'd read the first book and liked it, I hadn't moved on with the rest of the series. I'd finally read all three of the books I had during the Christmas holidays, so in January I was thoroughly hooked and had put the fourth book on hold at the library, hoping to devote an upcoming weekend to a book binge.

I guess the two things started merging in my head. I loved those "single girl in the city, with a touch of romance" books, but I also liked the whimsy of the Harry Potter books, and in the earlier ones there was more of a juxtaposition between the "real" world and the magical world as we saw Harry, who'd grown up among Muggles, reacting to magical things and trying to relate them to his own experiences. I basically was Hermione as a girl, so I really related to the normal side of her story. I recall vividly the day I was climbing the stairs to my home office and found myself thinking that what I wanted was a more adult version of the Harry Potter kind of books, where it was about work instead of school, like those chick lit books but with some magic and fantasy elements. Then the phrase "Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter" popped into my head, and I was distracted for the rest of the day.

It didn't help that I hated the job I had at the time. I'd gone through a brief period of loving it -- I was getting to telecommute, I had a great boss who supported that and a supervisor who really knew how to use me as a resource. Then my supervisor transferred to another office and the boss quit. We were in limbo for a while with no overall boss, and my new supervisor saw me as a threat to her position, so she shut me out of everything. I had almost nothing to do, nothing to justify my position, but I was still expected to put in the hours and have something to show for it, and that was really frustrating once I had this great idea I wanted to play with. But I didn't have that frustration for long because I got laid off a week or so later -- just in time for that reading binge I'd been planning.

And yet, I didn't get straight to work on that book. I think I wanted to read it more than I wanted to write it, so I went in search of something like that. When I didn't find anything, I worried that there was no market for it. "Urban fantasy" as we now know it didn't really exist other than with a few of the snarky single woman vampire books (like the Undead series). There were very few contemporary fantasy novels, and most of them were dark and gritty, and I'd yet to read any chick lit with fantasy elements. So I shoved the idea aside and concentrated on trying to write a normal chick lit book (with zero success).

But I still took out the idea and played with it every so often. The idea of magical immunity came from me being a brat about the cliche of books like that almost always having the main character learn early in the book that she has magical powers (and often that she's the Destined, Chosen One With Magical Specialness). So I decided to turn that upside down, and that led to the idea of the ordinary girl, everywoman character. I didn't do much more with it until mid-2003, when I was chatting with an editor at a conference and mentioned this idea. She got excited and handed me her card, saying she wanted to see it. I hadn't written a word at that point, but I went home and started researching and brainstorming. Some of my research went off in tangents that I ended up not using, but by late September, I had a better sense of where I was going, who the characters were and a basic sense of the plot. I was going to meet up with a bunch of Firefly fan friends from around the country in New Jersey, so I made plans to go to New York and do location research afterward. I did a lot of outlining and character development on the plane on the way up there. And that's where the first line was written.

Now I need to re-read that first chapter so I can comment on it.

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