How BRAZEN Began

Katherine Longshore 12 Tuesday, June 17, 2014
In July of 2012, my dad fell and broke his leg.  Or, possibly, his leg broke, which caused him to fall.  You see, as the doctor told us, at that point there was almost as much cancer as bone in his femur, so the sequence of events could have happened either way.

I was in the early stages of drafting BRAZEN from scratch.  I was reeling from the publication of my debut novel, and from the knowledge that it wasn't doing nearly as well as everyone had expected it to.  And my dad was dying.

For the next four months, I traveled up and down half the length of California, dividing my time between my parents' home in the far north and my own (with my kids and my extremely supportive and understanding husband).  At the same time, I tried to piece BRAZEN together from fragments of history, slivers of knowledge and small, sticky lumps of effort.  I turned in a zero draft (which my editor kindly calls a 0.5 draft) the day of my dad's funeral.

I could have had more time.  If I had asked.  My agent would have fought for me--she told me more than once.  But I wanted to send it--in all its abysmal glory--because I couldn't look at it anymore.  In fact, I didn't think I ever wanted to see it again.

I was saved by MANOR OF SECRETS.  The job came along at just the right time.  And it was just the right kind of book.  Lighthearted.  Soapy.  A story of love and friendship.  And nobody died.  I wrote that first draft (which really was a first draft) during the six weeks that my Penguin editor struggled to read BRAZEN.  For me, working--flat out--through my grief was the only thing I could do and the best thing for me.  And it made me feel like maybe I actually did know what I was doing--because writing BRAZEN made me feel like a fraud.  Like craft and structure and theme and characterization were all something I had once pretended to do and would never be able to do again.  But writing MANOR bolstered my confidence.

I was prepared for my editor to tell me I still had a lot of work to do on BRAZEN.  I was prepared for some pretty harsh criticism and an extra-long edit letter (from a woman whose edit letters average at about eleven pages--single-spaced).

I wasn't prepared for, "I didn't finish reading."

I wasn't prepared for, "I can't do anything with this."

Equally, when I sent an e-mail a week (and many tears) later, saying, "Should I just throw out the entire thing?" I wasn't prepared for the phone call that began with, "Are you trying to give me a heart attack?" and ended with, "I have faith in you."

It was my editor's faith that sent me back into this novel.  And a desire to earn that faith that put me at my desk for almost ten hours a day, seven days a week.  There was never a point where this book felt easy.  Every moment felt like--in those famous words--I had opened a vein and bled on the page.

The Muses kept me going.  E-mails of encouragement and support and simple, "How's it going today?" messages.  Phone calls.  A writing retreat that made me laugh as much as I wanted to cry.

There is death in this book.  Death so painful that I didn't want to face it.  I skirted it for the first revision (or two).  I wrote it from a distance.

But in the process of writing the rest of this book, I fell back in love with words.  It's something I shared with my dad--a scientist who loved poetry and shared his books and his opinions with me generously and passionately.  By revision number three, I started devoting my energy and my blood to the words, to the meanings and emotions and weight of them.  And finally, within the fiction and amongst the words, I put some of the pieces of myself that had broken--shattered--and stuck them together in a different configuration.

I've never been the kind of person to talk or write about my personal losses--those tragedies and traumas and fears that define me as much as the joys and loves and friendships.  So perhaps this was a breakthrough (though it felt more like a breakdown).  When my editor told me this was her favorite of my three books--and my best work to date--I nodded and smiled and thanked her.  I was still too close to it all, the wounds still too raw.

Now--almost a year after finishing that final draft--I can see it more clearly.  I can still open it, and pinpoint to the day when I wrote it and how I was feeling and where the inspiration came from for this word and that phrase and that moment of tension.  My perspective is that of a person trying to see the beauty of a lawn from the minds' eye of an ant.  But I can see glimpses of it.  It is a good book (and yes, probably my best so far).  If you know me at all, you know I don't say that lightly.

I am proud.  I am grateful for the journey of this book.  And I am ever indebted to my editor's faith and to the support of the Muses.


Thank you for sharing these words with all of us, Katherine. Sometimes we think that books come together perfectly and neatly and it's anything but. Your journey to complete this novel is inspiring.

Oh wow. This was such a touching post. Thank you for sharing this with us, Katherine – I can't wait to read BRAZEN !

Thank you, Robin! And you're right--like grief or love, writing is often a messy process.

Thanks, Jodi. I knew I could share it with the Muses.

Excellent post! Thank you for sharing this with us.

You inspire me, Katy! And I agree with your editor--BRAZEN is my absolute favorite.

ACK. My heart, Katy. Love you, love this post, love Brazen.

Thanks, Beth! I'm so glad you think so.

Love you, too, V! And thank you for everything.

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