Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Rereading Damsel Under Stress -- the Beginning

Now we're moving on in the reread with Damsel Under Stress. This was a challenging book in a lot of ways, and it remains probably my least popular in the series. It was because bookstore orders of this book (before it was even published) had dropped a lot from the previous book that the publisher decided it didn't want to continue the series beyond the books that were contracted. During the pre-publication process, the editor who'd initially bought the series left the publisher, so I ended up with a new editor in midstream. It was also really, really hard to write this book. Although I'd planned more books all along, in a way I felt like I'd closed out the story with Once Upon Stilettos. As a former romance novelist, it was really easy to write about a couple getting together. It was a lot more difficult to write about a couple that is kind of together and who gets along. There really wasn't a lot of romantic conflict left, unless it came from outside sources. I also had a plan in place to move the action to Texas for the next book, which would affect the romance, but it relied on something else having happened that I changed my mind about (it involved an undercover mission). Even the title was a challenge. This book still didn't have a title when I turned it in to the editor. We were joking about being all arty about it and not giving it a title at all. The people at the publisher couldn't think of anything. I finally had a brainstorm in the shower after the book had been through a round of editing. Meanwhile, it was difficult for me personally. I had a friend who'd been serving as beta reader for the first couple of books, reading each chapter as I wrote it and giving feedback (and spurring me to write the next chapter). At about the time I started writing this book, she was diagnosed with cancer. I was still fiddling with the opening and not ready to share what I'd written yet when she passed away (she was a lot sicker than she let anyone know). That made it really hard to write something I associated so much with that friend, because just the act of writing made me miss her. I was in a fog for much of the first draft, then when my agent gave me feedback and I looked at it again after a break, I wasn't even sure where some of it came from, and that meant a lot of it had to be totally rewritten. On the positive end of things, this book gave me an excuse to go to New York at Christmastime. It even obliged me by providing snow. I got to see the store windows, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, and all the other stuff that's in all the movies.

So, it should be interesting to revisit this book about a decade after I turned in the finished version. I may have a very different perspective.

The fairy godmother was what I came up with to make things not be too easy for Owen and Katie. I've often joked about needing a fairy godmother, and how the one I got would probably end up being incompetent, knowing my luck. Having that thought yet again sparked the idea. What would happen if the fairy godmother had been coasting for centuries on the success she had with Cinderella and hadn't updated her tactics? Fairy tale romance is lovely in fairy tales, but using those exact same methods would be disastrous in the modern world. I'm not sure where the idea of her just throwing new outfits on top of the old one came from. It's possible it was somewhat inspired by the book Heidi, where instead of carrying luggage, she had to wear all her clothes at once (hmm, maybe a way around airline baggage restrictions? Though the TSA probably wouldn't be amused). That was an odd little detail that stuck with me when I was a child. I think it also plays into the idea of her never really updating herself -- she doesn't shed any of her old methods. By bringing in a fairy godmother, I also wanted to deal with the idea of fate and destiny. It seems in romance novels, if you're fated for someone, you probably hate him, at least at first, since it's not a very interesting story if you like someone and find out you're fated for each other, or if you find out you're fated for someone and decide you're okay with that. I was told my whole life when I wasn't very romantically successful that there was someone out there for me and he'd come along when the time was right. What would happen if you thought you'd found the right person and then suddenly that was when your fairy godmother showed up to help you out?

The other romantic monkey wrench is the fact that it's really difficult to date when you're busy saving the world against magical evil. I've often griped about the typical cop wife/girlfriend on TV shows, where she gets outraged that her significant other puts saving the city/world ahead of that dinner date they had scheduled. Katie's fighting the same fight as Owen, so she understands, but it's difficult to get things off the ground when he's always having to respond to the latest crisis.

I had to rewrite the scene of skating at Rockefeller Center after going there on my research trip (to watch, not skate) because in reality it's not laid out quite the way you'd expect from pictures and TV. The rink is pretty small, and there's stuff all around it. This is where I start to incorporate the subplot because I hadn't ever dealt with how poor Philip got turned into a frog.

And so the story begins ...

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