Joanna Davidson Politano
This novel surprised me. I was desperately scrambling for a nugget of an idea to offer my publisher when they requested it. I had two ideas already but no glimmer of a third, so I frantically looked around. The first thing I saw was a framed photo of my grandparents, coy smiles and all, from when they were dating. They’d met only a handful of times, and their entire relationship was carried out through letters while my grandpa was overseas in WWII. How cool, I thought—but also dangerous. How easy to misinterpret something or miss information in a dropped letter… or even have someone else write it! When you barely know a person, so many things can go wrong. Which, of course, is perfect for a story.
I decided on a lost love letter concept for my third book idea and hastily scratched out a paragraph to send my publisher. A career-minded girl finds a passionate love letter in the crack of an old desk and becomes determined to deliver the note that was never opened, and to play matchmaker to the unknown couple. Back at the seaside manor home where the desk (and letter) came from, someone else finds the letter when the heroine misplaces it and the poor maid believes she has a secret admirer—perfect story fodder. Trouble ensues. Confusion, suspicion, secret longing, denied love… all great stuff. I’d work out the details later, and let the story percolate—or even come up with a better idea to send them—while I wrote the other two books in the contract.
Plot twist—they wanted me to write the love note book first! So with nothing but a short paragraph to go on, I constructed a story about a declarative love letter from some unknown individual that was never opened—was it not found? Had someone refused to open it and set it aside? I had a brilliant answer for all that. Really brilliant. What if the letter was slipped into the old desk for the heroine (to whom the desk was given as a hand-me-down) to find, and her childhood friend wrote it for her? How cool!
And predictable, and a little too coincidental. I wrote with that ending in mind but at about sixty percent I could sense how cliché that twist actually was and knew I needed to make a sharp turn in a new direction. Not that I knew who wrote the letter or who it was for, but the cliché answer was gone. I felt much better after that, so I kept turning more and more corners, and surprising (and amusing) myself completely! I probably drove my poor characters nuts with how off track they really were so many times in their search for the letter writer.
That wasn’t the only big shift I made in this book, though. I started out attempting to plot this book out before writing it, which was utterly disastrous. Not to say plotting doesn’t work—it certainly can. It’s writing in a style that is not YOU that makes for an epic fail. I spent weeks, maybe months, on a plot outline that, when it went into actual story form, was really quite terrible and full of unnatural bridges from one scene to the next. I ended up using the outline for . . . see part two tomorrow to see what outline she used . . .
Joanna Davidson Politano is the award-winning author of Lady Jayne Disappears, A Rumored Fortune, and Finding Lady Enderly. When she’s not homeschooling her small children, she spends much of her time spinning tales that capture the colorful,exquisite details in ordinary lives. She is always on the hunt for random acts of kindness, people willing to share their deepest secrets with a stranger, and hidden stashes of sweets. She lives with her husband and their two children in a house in thewoods near Lake Michigan and shares stories that move her at www.jdpstories.com.