LOVE REMAINS: The Story Behind the Story
In the fall of 2002, I completed my second manuscript. Whereas it had taken me nine months to write the first one I’d ever completed, the second one took seven months. And by the time I wrote the ending (a hastily wrapped up conclusion, because I had grown somewhat tired of the story—I now realize that it didn’t really have a plot arc; it was very character driven, and they weren’t driving anywhere very quickly), I was burned out. I remember telling a family member at Christmas that year I wasn’t sure if I’d ever write again.
Of course, I think a lot of that had to do with the fact I was working full-time (in a high-stress job I didn’t like most days), was working as a volunteer for ACFW, was taking nine hours of undergraduate (mostly literature) college courses, was teaching Sunday school and singing in choir and at church pretty much every time the doors were open, and I had been living with severe (occasionally incapacitating) back pain for almost a year.
At my job, as the executive assistant/office manager for the Retail Advertising department at Nashville’s daily newspaper, it was my job to walk new employees through the first-day process—paperwork, ID badge, parking, building tour, introductions, etc. With the high turnover our department had, this was almost a weekly thing for me. And I’d gotten to the point where I didn’t really get to know new employees until they’d been there for at least three months (so many washed out sooner than that). But there was one who, though he only worked there a few months, made an indelible impression on me.
Part of it had to do with the fact that, physically, he was totally my “type”: very tall and built like a football player, attractive without being “gorgeous,” outgoing (yes, somewhat flirtatious), and still a somewhat old-fashioned gentleman. (In other ways, he totally wasn’t my type—but that’s not important to this story.) In talking to him as we went about getting him official his first day of work, I learned he’d been in the army. Not only that, he’d been stationed in New Mexico . . . and not just anywhere in New Mexico, but at White Sands Missile Range—during the last year my dad was there. And even though I was in the death-throes of trying to get that second novel finished, I remember the “what if” scenario popping into my head: what if I’d met him when I was seventeen and he was nineteen when we both lived out there. I even went home and wrote down a few ideas.
By the end of 2002, that guy no longer worked with me. I was wallowing in that burned-out feeling, not wanting to write again any time soon. And after a year of getting no solution from my regular doctor for my back pain (all he kept telling me was to lose weight), I finally got a referral to an orthopedic specialist.
On January 3, 2003, I had an appointment to go in and get an MRI. Having had a couple of them before, I knew what to expect—and part of that was that it takes at least 30 minutes, during which you can’t read or move. I figured it would be a great time to doze off or engage in some lovely, relaxing daydreaming.
As soon as the platform moved me up into the tube, with earphones carrying the sounds of the Oldies station to me, I immediately started visualizing a story about a young woman, with a stern, unloving father (nothing like my father!!!) who’s a general in the army, meeting a young enlisted soldier and falling in love with him and sneaking around behind her father’s back and dating him. About the father breaking them up in such a way they each thought the other at fault. And about these two people coming face-to-face again unexpectedly many years later.
In the thirty minutes that MRI took, I knew who my characters were and had plotted the whole story. It was going to be my current-day tribute to my favorite Jane Austen novel, Persuasion. And I had a great title for it, too.
That Title Sounds Familiar
“Love Remains” is the title of not just one but two songs that I absolutely adored. One was by the contemporary Christian group Avalon (listen here). Their song was relatively new, and just reinforced the phrase I’d come to love from a song by someone who was one of my favorite singers through the 1990s and early 2000s, Collin Raye:
This title worked on two levels for me—the most obvious is the idea that, even fourteen years after a bad breakup, these two characters had the chance to see if their first love still remained strong and true. How many of us, disappointed in love at a young age, wonder about that? The second way in which it worked is because, as I had just finished a Middle Tennessee History seminar, I decided that the heroine would be an archaeologist/historian/preservationist who specialized in the Civil War battles that took place right here in Middle Tennessee (the Battles of Franklin, Stones River/Murfreesboro, and Nashville). So in a literal way, the title of the story reflected the heroine’s love for historical “remains” or sites that she tries to protect and restore.
I started writing the original draft of Love Remains on January 3, 2003, as soon as I got home from that MRI. I’d been told at that time that it was impossible to break into trade fiction, as a romance author, without having written category romance first. So I was going to try to write a 50,000-word novel (with my first two completes sitting at 130,000 and 120,000 words).
That spring, I was still working full-time, taking nine hours of undergraduate courses, working as a volunteer for ACFW, and teaching Sunday school and singing in choir and at church every time the doors were open. And I finished Love Remains in four months. It topped out at a hair under 75,000 words—the shortest complete manuscript I’ve ever written. Even though I worked for a couple of months with a published category-romance author on it, not even she could help me figure out how to cut it down to 50k without losing my plot/characters.
And then, as I was getting more and more frustrated with trying to figure out how to make it the appropriate length for a category romance, I watched the movie The Wedding Planner and came up with a new story idea for a wedding planner who falls in love while planning her ex-fiancé’s wedding. Do I need to tell you what happened to Love Remains after that idea hit?
Six Years Later…
Fastforward six years later to 2009. With three books under contract to Barbour (two already out), they asked for a proposal for another three book series. Because I’d been “working in” Bonneterre for about six years, even though I had ideas for another Bonneterre trilogy, I decided I needed to take a break and work with a different setting. What place more logical than where I currently live: Nashville, Tennessee? And, guess what—I already had a draft of a story written that was set in Nashville. Because Barbour wanted a pretty quick turnaround to get Love Remains scheduled for release this summer/fall, I agreed to an early spring deadline, even though I knew it would only give me two months to write it. I figured, you see, that I’d be able to take that 75,000-word existing draft and spend a few weeks revising it (as I know my writing has improved vastly since then) and filling it out with new scenes to bring it up to my 100k word-count goal. Easy-peasy, right?
Umm . . . it ended up taking me three months to write it—I turned it in one month late—because I changed so much of the story that I wasn’t able to use anything from that first draft. Well, toward the end, I pulled one scene from the first draft and heavily revised it to fit this new manuscript.
And that’s how Love Remains came to be. 🙂
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