I started writing Just Once in January 2013. At the time I was querying agents for a women’s fiction novel I’d written, and the predictable and depressing string of rejections was trickling in. Since the publication of 50 Shades of Grey, it was hard to ignore the popularity of the romance genre, so I picked a few and read through.
It didn’t take long to decide that, given the lack of interest in my other novel, I should try my hand at writing romance. An idea came to mind right away. It started with a scene I’d had in my head for a number of years (a stoic ranch hand and a reformed party girl begin a this-can’t-possibly-go-anywhere relationship, then the stoic ranch hand does something completely out of character and has to grovel to get back into her good graces—I do love a good grovel!), and the plot grew from there. Just Once is the story of two very different people set on very different paths, whose unpredictable feelings for each other interrupt their future plans and force them to reassess their lives.
I was a little bit concerned by the fact that my idea didn’t involve any of the currently popular tropes or characters—no billionaires, MMA fighters, virgins, or BDSM here. The characters were both in their thirties, with no evil families or mysterious stalkers. I thought my idea was good, but I wasn’t exactly capitalizing on the current spate of successful story ideas. Try as I might, however, I couldn’t come up with an idea that used the more popular themes. As a concession (I thought) to the genre, I acknowledged that the best-selling books tended to have very serious, sombre tones, so when I started Just Once, I started writing in that style. The problem was, it wasn’t really my voice. The first chapters were a struggle, but each new rejection for the other novel motivated me to continue to writing, until suddenly the story started to flow.
I finished the first draft in a month and set it aside. Of course I had sound intentions of letting it sit for a long time, but I’m sure I picked it up after less than a week to read through my sure-to-be masterpiece. Except…it wasn’t a masterpiece. It felt as though a stranger had written the first three chapters, and a completely different person had written the rest of the book. The first chapters were sullen and serious, and the rest sounded like me—a little offbeat, a bit snarky, and (in my opinion) pretty darn funny. As they had for Kate and Shane, the duelling protagonists in Just Once, I realized that my best laid plans had taken an unexpected detour. And, like my characters, I had to reassess what I wanted out of this story and decide if I should mold it into the product I thought it was supposed to be, or let it be my own original voice.
Obviously, the nagging inner voice won. I kept the first paragraph of the book, scrapped the next twenty-ish pages, and rewrote the first three chapters. And wrote them again. And again. When starting the novel, I’d only considered Kate and Shane. As I churned out pages, however, subplots developed. Characters I thought would be minor became major players. My own voice had something to say, and it was my job to listen and type out the words. (And, of course, proofread and edit and revise…and revise.)
Because I hadn’t had much success with my agent-querying efforts, I decided to query publishers that accepted unagented submissions—and I got some very positive responses. Three months later the manuscript was accepted by Omnific Publishing, and I was on my way to having my first book published. To say I was thrilled—and relieved, and stunned, and a whole host of other things—would be putting it mildly.
Like Kate and Shane’s love story and my own path to publication, some things take on a life of their own. In writing Just Once I learned to step back and reassess, try something new, and listen to my own voice. It may be shrill and crazy at times, but every once in a while it leads me somewhere unexpectedly wonderful.
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Julianna Keyes is a Canadian writer who has lived on both coasts and several places in between. She’s been skydiving, bungee jumping and white water rafting, but nothing thrills – or terrifies – her as much as the blank page. She loves Chinese food, foreign languages, baseball and television, not necessarily in that order, and will go to her grave swearing that ‘ain’t’ is not a word. She has volunteered in Zambia, taught English in China, and dreams of seeing pink dolphins in the Amazon. Just Once is her first novel.
Find the book:
Omnific Publishing: http://goo.gl/f9nPjT