What’s in Your Closet?

My husband bought me a floppy disk drive last weekend so that I could save my brazillion floppy disks on the big disk drive he also purchased for me, a place to back up my computer and avoid the potential tragedy of Losing Everything. This weekend (whoo hoo! What a holiday!) I spent my time looking through all those floppy disks and salvaging what could be important.

On these disks were all my first unpublished works as well as early versions of The Mysterious Miss M. I thought it would be fun to share my discoveries.

It turns out that my first version of The Mysterious Miss M, then titled Unmasked, started from Devlin’s Point of View:

“Unmasked” circa 2000

London, 1816

Devlin Sinclair glanced up from the cards in his hand. The acrid smoke and dim light muted the gaudy red velvet and gold gilt of the gaming room. He reached for his glass and set it down again. The prodigious amount of brandy he had already consumed threatened to fog his brain….

By the time I entered the manuscript in the 2001 Golden Heart contest, and again in the 2003 Golden Heart (when it won), I’d switched to Madeleine’s Point of View:

London, July, 1812

Madeleine positioned herself on the couch, adjusting the fine white muslin of her gown and placing her gloved hands demurely in her lap. The light from the candelabra, arranged to cast a soft glow upon her skin, enhanced the image she was bid to make. Her throat tightened, and her skin crawled from the last man’s attentions.
This wicked life. How she detested it.

I remember why I changed POV. I’d learned that having a woman who was the prize in a disreputable gaming hell was a risky move (unlike today!), so I thought I needed to put the reader directly in Madeleine’s mind so that the reader would understand her and sympathize with her right away. I suppose that was a smart move, because I sold the book.

The published version (2004) is only very slightly different. Can you see where?

London, September, 1812

Madeleine positioned herself on the couch, adjusting the fine white muslin of her gown and placing her gloved hands demurely in her lap. The light from the branch of candles, arranged to cast a soft glow upon her skin, enhanced the image she was bid to make. Her throat tightened, and her skin crawled from the last man’s attentions.
This wicked life. How she detested it.

The most fun in going through my old floppies was rereading my very first manuscripts. I started by writing contemporary romance.

Here is my very first effort, a romantic suspense featuring a mental health social worker (Hey, I believed in “write what you know”), who finds her client dead of apparent suicide. The policeman who investigates believes her that it was not suicide.

First version of “Faith’s Dream”, circa 1996:

Marian stood outside Faith’s apartment door wondering if she should knock or turn around to leave. The outside of the red brick garden apartment building was shabby and unkempt. It had not succumbed to the race to go condo that had swept through Arlington, Virginia, several years ago. Marian was glad. She liked the fact that her employer, the small county across the river from Washington, .D.C., had been able to remain economically and ethnically diverse. It meant someone like Faith, and now herself as well, could afford to live in the same county that had been home to the Vice President and, over a century ago, Robert E. Lee.

Notice how I am “telling” the story and not “showing” it.
Here is my final version, 1997:

I shouldn’t be here.
Marian stood in the dark hallway in front of Faith’s apartment door. Muffled sounds of televisions drifted from other apartments. She glanced up and saw a huge black spider busily cocooning a meal in a macabre web at the corner of the ceiling. Shivering, she adjusted her sleeveless cashmere sweater and the black linen skirt that had twisted around when she sat in the car.

Much more “showing.” I’m in her thoughts and showing what she is seeing and feeling.

The next book “Room for Rent” (1998) was targeting Temptation, but probably that was the wrong series, because my story had children in it. I was new and didn’t figure this out until later:

Room for Rent
An impatient Wesley Reed scanned the words on the grocery store bulletin board, his way blocked by a shopping cart filled to overflowing with stuffed brown paper bags. Next to it, a small boy slowly turned the knob of the bubble gum machine while his father looked on.
Wes had stopped at the suburban grocery store on his exploratory drive to Vexa, the most recent company to acquire his services as a reorganization consultant. The store seemed packed with crying infants and hyperactive children, and Wes felt as out of place as if he were on another planet. He read the rest of the index card.
Basement suite in comfortable suburban home….

He rents the room in the house of the company’s librarian, one of the positions he thinks should be cut.

The next manuscript, “Love Lesson,” was much more appropriate for Temptation, but it didn’t sell, alas!:

“This is going to be great. Sex. Four days of sex.”
Mellie Hamilton almost dropped her purse. Was Beck here already?
She looked up and saw the speaker was a shaggy-haired young man grinning at the pretty hotel clerk whose cheeks turned bright pink. Definitely not Beckley MacKinnon, but a lot like him.
Or like he had been.
The young man continued flirting with the clerk. A graduate student, Mellie guessed. He looked the type, eager and bold, not unlike she had been when she met Beck at that first Human Sexuality Conference.

I had a lot of fun with that one!

And my favorite beginning of all, “Love Ages”, a manuscript I never finished, another social worker working for Adult Protective Services. In the county where I worked our APS workers saw stuff like this:

“She’s over here!”
Mallory Faulkner shouted above the clatter of the rescue squad as they entered through the front door against the assault of overpowering stench. Their shocked expletives rose above the persistent whine of swarming insects as the men picked their way through precariously stacked piles of newspapers, magazines, junk mail, and carton after carton of rotting fruit. Mallory crouched down in a space cramped by more appalling clutter, while next to her the owner of the house moaned softly. She brushed the flies away from the old lady’s face and off the running sore on her leg. The woman’s frantic eyes darted around the room and her hands uselessly groped the air. Around the aluminum lawn chair where she sat, stinking crates of oranges, grapefruits and lemons, turned from fuzzy gray to oozing black.
The sounds of the men scraping, banging, and swearing grew closer. “Man, I’ve never seen anything like this. How are we going to get a stretcher in here?”

Honest. I’m not exaggerating!

A lot of romance authors comment about how their first books should remain hidden in closets or under beds, and they use words like “dreadful” to describe them. I don’t feel that way about these old gems of mine. I loved all those stories and it still mystifies me why they didn’t sell.

My lack of success with these treasures did lead me to try writing what I love most to read, however. The Silver Lining in my lack of success was that I turned to writing regency-set romance!

You know the commercial that says, “What’s in your wallet?” Well, I’m asking, what manuscripts are under your bed, in your closet, or hidden in old floppies? Do you think they are gems? Or are they “dreadful?”

Visit my website for news and my new contest! The prize is a copy of A Reputable Rake and one for a friend.

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Judy T
Judy T
15 years ago

The candelabra became a branch of candles. May I ask why the change? I’m curious.

And I LOL at Love Lessons! Have you considered sprucing the old stories and seeing what happens?

Diane Gaston
15 years ago

Hi, Judy T! Good to see you here.

The candelabra became a branch of candles. May I ask why the change? I’m curious.

“a branch of candles” seemed more Regency!

I’d love to go back to the old stories. All I need is time.

Tracy Grant
15 years ago

Love the excerpts, Diane! You should totally go back to these books. My mom and I were luck enough to sell the first Regency romance we co-wrote (which means there are actually pieces of that book that are little changed from when I first wrote them at fifteen). We never sold our second book, though it was the possible future of two secondary characters in it that gave me the idea for Charles and Mélanie and “Secrets of a Lady”. And I have two completed manuscripts and lots of notes for an unpublished alternate English history series I wrote when I was in high school and college. I definitely don’t hate any of them, though I’d want to do quite a bit of work before I tried to do anything with them now.

Diane Gaston
15 years ago

I just realized that in my Faith’s Dream examples, I’d put in my second version instead of my first (there were several versions!). You’ll see now that I’m REALLY “telling” the story here!

Esri Rose
15 years ago

I was about halfway through my post, happily describing unsold books, when I thought, “What’s to keep someone from getting a good idea and selling something so close, mine will never sell?” So I stopped.

Esri Rose
15 years ago

Not that I suspect anyone of mining this blog, but you know how it is. I can’t remember where I get ideas from, half the time.

Diane Gaston
15 years ago

Hi, Esri!
Thanks for stopping by!
Yipes. You have a point there.
I did think about this, but figured my beginnings told very little of the story.
If somebody writes a story about rotting oranges, I’m going to be sorry!!

Elena Greene
15 years ago

I used to worry about people taking my ideas but editors don’t automatically reject a ms because something similar has been done before. There are so many romances with similar plot elements. It’s what you do with them that counts.

I thought the idea of a balloonist hero was unique until I learned about HER HIGHNESS, MY WIFE by Victoria Alexander. I read it and it’s good but the plot and characters are totally different from what I’m working on in my current wip. I don’t think it’ll be a problem.

What I worry about more when I think of posting embryonic early drafts is that no one will buy my final books because they’ll never believe anything so hideous could evolve into a good book. My first drafts are like artists’ thumbnail sketches. They make little sense to anyone but their creator. Sometimes they don’t make sense to me either. 🙂

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

Diane, I felt that “branch of candles” was more of a medieval term than “candelabra,” but I might be wrong.

Funnily enough, my first two manuscripts were medievals, the current one is Regency-set. I don’t know about gems, rough-cut, polished, or otherwise.

That rotting fruit story beginner raised a shiver on the back of my neck. I want to read more!!!

15 years ago

I transferred a lot of my old files from floppy disk onto hard drive (and CD rom) not too long ago–converting them to more modern file formats at the same time. Something people should be aware of–even if you never lose the files themselves, if the versions become old enough you can lose the ability to read them! It’s like planned obsolescence, except not planned.

I have a lot of old fragments of stuff lying around, which I always intended to do something with. Unlike My Darling Wife, I have never had the discipline (or, in more recent years, the energy) to finish a novel. But maybe someday…I keep trying to convince her to work on a Regency-set science fiction novel with me. 🙂


15 years ago

BTW, have any of you ever read Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night A Traveler? About half of the novel consists of ten first chapters of completely different books (and you never see the rest of any of them). I figured he cleaned out his drawers of all the first chapters of novels he had ever started and not finished, stuck them all together with a frame story, and said “There! Art!”


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