Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Best of Seekerville from the Archives and First Five Pages Critique

Turning Back the Clock by Cara Lynn James

For my latest
writing project I decided to again revise the first manuscript I ever wrote. It was rejected, rewritten a few years later and rejected again. Does that mean it’s a worthless piece of flotsam? Not on your life--at least not to me. Well, it could possibly be a real loser, but I’m too optimistic (and egotistical) to believe that. What writer doesn’t glare at a rejected story and think it rubbish while simultaneously believing deep down in her writer’s heart it’s actually an unsung masterpiece?

The thing is—I like my story even if one editor didn’t fully appreciate its merits. (I forgive her.) Maybe I can improve it. I’ll deepen my characters and tighten my plot, eliminate ing words, adjectives and adverbs. Then I’ll send it off again and hope and pray for better results this time. I don’t want this manuscript to sit under my bed with all my other junk and collect dust.

The problem is—I really don’t want to rework this one more time. I’ve read the story over so many times I’ve almost memorized it and I can’t find any glaring problems.

Then a brainstorm flashed through my head. I can keep the basic plot and characters, but change the time frame and setting. That will make it seem almost new—at least not quite so stale. I prefer writing historical romance to contemporary anyway, so why not send the story backwards one hundred years? How hard could it be? I love to write historical romances and this one has potential despite a rejection, so why not.

First I tackled the differences in language between now and 1900, my favorite era. Changing dialogue was easy. The great difference didn’t really come from the words my heroine spoke, but instead came from my heroine herself.

The contemporary girl was outspoken and cocky, stood up for herself and felt confident in her professional abilities. My historical girl felt grateful she had a good job usually reserved for a man and feared if she asserted herself she’d probably get fired. Both young women were products of their times and limited by the norms of their societies. So I needed to send my heroine (and hero, too) to a world in which she’d never lived and see how she’d react to her new surroundings and culture. Lots of fun! I couldn’t have a girl living 108 years ago acting like a liberated 21st century woman.

Research took care of problems with small problems such as transportation. Now that my heroine doesn’t have a car, did she hire a carriage, walk or take the trolley? Since her town actually exists, I needed to find out where the trolley ran in 1900.

This manuscript poses more of a challenge that I expected, but also much more fun. It’s like writing a story from scratch, but with the benefit of having the first draft already completed.

Have any of you changed a story from one time period to another? What difficulties did you encounter and was it worth the effort? I’m very curious.

Cara Lynn James' latest release from Thomas Nelson
will be available in January 2011. You can preorder Love on Assignment (Ladies of Summerhill) here.

And you can find Cara at

Here's a sneak peak from Love On Assignment!

The chance to break the big story is just what Charlotte needs to secure her future. But when the truth comes out--it may also cost her the love of her life.

Newport, Rhode Island, in 1900; A glamorous resort town where the rich and famous go to see and be seen.

Charlotte Hale isn’t part of that world. She’s a working girl, a secretary for a local newspaper who dreams of becoming a real reporter. When her boss offers her an assignment, she jumps at the opportunity. She’ll go undercover as a governess to investigate a scandal about her new employer, Daniel Wilmont, a young widowed professor of religion who writes a controversial column in a rival newspaper.

Charlotte’s qualms about misrepresenting herself to Daniel soon morphs into a deeper quandary. How can she get the goods on a man who turns out to be not only honorable, but admirable? How can she plot the downfall of a family that has inspired her to rediscover her faith? And how can she protect the man she now loves from a scheme she’s been part of from the beginning?

This post first appeared in Seekerville September 25, 2008.

Don't forget...

Today is the last day to be considered for our weekly critique.
More info here.


  1. Hi Cara:

    What happened with your rewritten story? Were you happy with it? Did it sell? Some time has passed.

    The women on your covers are very unique. Did you notice her eyes? Very captivating.


  2. Cara, great picture of you!!!

    Happy Saturday writers and readers.

  3. Vince, I agree, I love the chickie on that cover. Her looks, the impish look, the gleam in her eye. Didn't Thomas Nelson do a super job with these covers? You TOTALLY want to read the book because the cover invites you in...

    Coffee here. I was up late last night with a fun, fun, fun book signing, but now it's time to work (which is not work, it's my reward for barreling through another week) and I'm so psyched about the story I'm working on.

    And Cara, I love that new mug shot. Even prettier than the cover girl, sweetums.

    Hey, casual Saturday breakfast: (Not as casual as MARY would make it, offering moldy pizza and out of date cottage cheese. Yum...)

    Bagels. Fish. Onions. Cream cheese, multiple varieties. Bagels are fresh from <a href="http://”>La Bagel Delight</a> in Brooklyn, where they KNOW how to make bagels. If that live link works (and it probably won't, sigh....) check them out. The people in Park Slope must be very happy every single day of their lives.

    I'm just sayin'....

    Are youse kiddin' me?

  4. And of course the live link DID NOT work.

    I'm crawling in my techno-challenged hole now.

  5. Wow, that cover jumps out at you!

    What a wonderful idea about era changing! I bet you added a gazillion brain cells in the process.

    Looking forward to your next book. Is Love on Assignment your reworked story?

    peace, Julie

  6. Vince, looks like you get a blonde on book 3! Ruth, I TOTALLY want to read the book when there's a cowboy on the cover or a guy in uniform..ok and I AM a sucker for a cute doggy on the cover or a pretty landscape too! But I do have to admit these covers are pretty good!

    arggh I hate being up early! Couldn't sleep but at least I finished A Soldier's Promise - really good! I sniffled through parts though..must be hormonal or something. I think they need to start coding books with a little box of kleenex in the corner or a 0-5 hanky system or something. But boy there's no way I'd done some of the stuiipd I mean brave stuff he talked her into doing! nooo way!

    'kay guess I'll get a cinnamon raisin bagel(didn't see blueberry ones on their menu) and what in the world is tofu cream cheese?! I want whichever one that's sorta sweet and afraid I have to pass on fish for breakfast..just not there yet! I can do a hamburger after night shift though but nope no fish!

    guess I'll go start the 2nd Wings of Refuge book since I can't sleep...


  7. Love the photo, Cara!

    Yes, what did happen with this ms.?
    I imagine it would be fun to rework a contemporary into a historical. Who doesn't love a challenge...? grumble, grumble.

    Don't enter me into the Five Pg Crit. When I'm done with this rewrite I have an idea for messing with the opening again.

    oh my stars, this is the day I get to meet the famed author Ruth Logan Herne. I can barely contain myself. Will I be able to eat my breakfast? I don't know. I'm too excited.

  8. Good morning! Vince, my rewritten story is Love on Assignment which will be released in January 2011. I sold the story in June 2009--June 22nd to be exact.
    Being a Yankee, I don't like anything to go to waste so I was thrilled to sell the manuscript.

    I had a lot of revisions because in order for the story to fit into the Ladies of Summerhill series I had to alter lots of important things. But in the end, I think the improvements really added so much.

    I'm really happy with my covers. Thomas Nelson does a fantastic job. The covers really reflect the book.

  9. Wow, Cara, what an inspiring story! Never say never seems to be the mantra for an author! And what an intriguing idea to switch time periods. I've written Love on Assignment down on my book calendar so I'll be sure to pick it up in January.

  10. Cara, I was hoping this was the 'story' of your story! A nice inspiring encouragement this morning. Thank you.

  11. Loves 2 Read Romance - LauraNovember 20, 2010 at 8:04 AM

    Congrats!! I think it was an awesome way to give your story a new chance and I am glad that it sold. Don't enter me for the critique. And I agree with the others I love the cover!!

  12. Thanks for the comments on my new pic! Thank you Amber Zimmerman. I think if I'm still writing when I'm 80, I'll still use this photo.

    I wish I had more stories in my computer that I could 'convert' but I don't. May I have one of your extras, Mary?

  13. Ruthy, your link didn't work because your end quote is not 'official'. It's a font where the quotes curl so they won't work here.

    You need end quotes like the beginning - straight up and down like so - " Speaking from the voice of problematic experience here. LOL

    Anita Mae.

  14. Morning! I've changed my IV to Pepsi today just for a variety in the caffeine pumping into my system! I'm not sure how well it's working because I was asleep at 1030 last night and didn't get enough done.

    [Okay - part of the reason I didn't get enough done is because my sister was over and she turned the wrong burner on and the empty milk jug that was sitting there caught fire and, literally, another minute or two and it would have been really bad news but we ended up cleaning that up rather than other stuff - it still smells :(]

    Anyway - very cool reworking!!! Am so glad you could turn it into something saleable!!

    I think I already mentioned that I'd love that critique so put me down if I'm not already.

    carol at carolmoncado dot com

  15. Oh, Cara, what a fun, FUN project!!! It makes me wish I had a contemporary I could do that with, but alas, I do not! But it's an interesting concept, so maybe I can come up with a modern story that I transport back into time as well, who knows??

    LOVE the concept for Love on Assignment, girl -- can't wait to read it!!

    Happy weekend, all!!


  16. Cara,

    What an inspiring story about recycling a manuscript! How long did it take you to revise it from a contemporary to a historical?

    Love on a Dime is in my TBR pile.

    Count me in on the critique.

    RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

  17. Cara, I'm amazed that you were able to do that! Obviously, it was a LOT of work.

    Having read part of the original contemporary version, I can see how the storyline is a perfect fit for 1900 Newport News.

  18. I should also mention once Thomas Nelson bought this manuscript they wanted me to change a few important things. Since they wanted the story set at Summerhill, the social class of the hero changed from middle class professor to upper class professor. He now needed a motive to work since he could already support his family well. And the household needed a staff of servants, so the heroine became only a governess, not a housekeeper too. That was really another complete rewrite. But when I see the result, it was totally worth it.

  19. Great story, Cara! I've got to put both your books on my wish list!

    Got to go start cleaning the house. sigh. I hate cleaning. But the fur balls are chasing the cats, so it's necessary.

    Please enter me in the 5 page critique!



  20. I have changed time periods but not this radically.

    But I did once set a book in Texas, then move it to Nebraska, then South Dakota.

    Small changes to setting and river and big city references. First they drove to Houston for the day. Then Omaha. Then Rapid City.

    But the story stayed the same.

    Love, love, love your cover btw.

  21. Hi Cara:

    What do you think of having just a woman on the cover? Does it make it harder to vicarious become the heroine when you know what the heroine looks like? I love just having the heroine on the cover.

    That dress is so cute, do you think that style (high neck and puffy shoulders) could ever make a comeback?

    Also: I don’t know about your picture. My immediate impression was that you were a trail lawyer visiting a prison. Did anyone else see it this way?


  22. Wonderful photo, Cara. Great post, too.

    I'm going through some of what you experienced in your post too, because I'm setting my present wip on the Cdn prairies in 1888. Research has been a nightmare:
    - TimeTable: The first Transcontinental train only crossed Canada in 1886. It took 6 days. When did it go through this area?
    - did the train use wood heat and lanterns in their passenger cars or steam piped back from the engine for heat and compressed gas for lights?
    - if they used wood heat, then did you 'hire' a foot-warmer at the station or after you were on the train?

    It's taken me a week to get my facts together - 3 days alone to figure out that if my heroine got on the train at 9:30 AM in Winnipeg, she wouldn't get to Regina until just after midnight at 1 AM. I believe they used steam and gaslights. Details are sketchy but everything points to it. This means I've re-written the first chapter several times now as I've come upon obstacles that needed research because it has a bearing on what happens. Not only that, there's a big difference in the smells, sights and comfort level between wood and steam heat, gas and coal oil lamps. And that doesn't take in the fire hazard factor. Ugh.

    Sorry for blathering on, Cara, I just wanted you to know I know what you mean. LOL

    Anita Mae.

  23. Yes. Vince. Once again Mary is in prison for brutally killing off secondary characters.

    Cara is her only hope.

  24. Cara, I love the picture! Great post, too.


  25. Hey Cara Lynn :-)

    I didn't change the time period, as much as the genre - and that boosted the story in a major way.
    WEird as it seems, I took a 'fantasy' story and placed it in Medieval England during the time of Henry VIII. Once that happened, it was like a chain reaction. "The plot thickened' :-) AND it inspired a contemporary novel too (based on a historical character I learned about during my research).

    Challenges are everywhere, but the inspiration and motivation came back and made this old toss-away story brand new. I LOVE it!! And all three stories that have branched out from this one little switch.

    I'm not writing as much now, as I'd like. Kind of in a CRAZY end-of-semester mode + a bit slow on the motivational end, but I'd love to MAYBE enter for the critique sometime soon. Is there a time-frame between winning one critique and entering for another? I won a critique last month from Jules.

  26. Hey Cara,

    Well... I don't know as I'm still working on the first. But great idea really.

    Exciting that it TRULY paid off for you.

    Ruthy - sure hope it went well!!!

    NO Vince, for one of the 1st times, I'm disagreeing. It's a super photo of her, not like you described at all.

    Thanks for the food.

    We had a rather delicious bowl of minestrone and then - a magnificent pizza. YUM. (Brought home enough pizza to share if anyone wants some?)

  27. Hi Cara:

    I think that is a great photo of you. You have the look of a successful author. I’m just questioning the background.


  28. Vince, I kind of like looking like a lawyer! The photographer picked the scenery, but you can't find too much great background material around a hotel, I guess.

    Anita Mae, I relate to all the details involved in writing an historical. Anything and everything can trip you up. My problem is I love research and I can get lost in interesting info for hours.

    Pepper, I'm glad to know other writers turn their stories upside down too!

  29. Oohhh! I want this book! Sounds amazing!

    Hope everyone has had a great day!

    lr. mullin at live. com


  30. I've got to agree with Vince here. I love the women on Cara's covers. Reading Love on a Dime and will definitely get the next one.

    As for moving the story, I haven't moved a story to a different time period yet. However, I've considered moving some of my Japan-based manuscripts anyqhere from 50-100 years in the future. The biggest changes comes in clothing and diet. For clothing, I get to assume a lot more cotton. For food, I get to introduce more deep fried things to deal with the European influence. (I also get to include poundcake, which the Japanese have been eating since the 17th century. This is probably more than anyonee wanted to know.)

    For my current WIP, I shfted time period and country (i.e. it's brand new). That's been a learning experience.

    Always up for a critique if ever it's offered.

  31. Cara,

    I'm wondering how you did such a rewrite? Do you have several versions in the computer?

    I'm doing some rewriting myself and the document is difficult to work with. Do you give each chapter its own document?

    Just wondering about the technical aspects of this.



  32. I'll be turning a contemporary into a WWII romance for my October release from Desert Breeze Publishing. I haven't started revising it yet, but don't think it will be too hard.

    My editor wanted the contemporary, but I talked her into allowing me to turn it into a historical after Queen of Hearts hit #5 on the best selling list. My historicals seem to sell better for some reason.

  33. Cara, I realized this morning that I talked so much about my research, I didn't take time to say how wise you were to switch time periods.

    After I wrote my my first contemporary, I wondered if I should switch it to a historical. The consensus of my writing friends at the time was that it wasn't possible. Since then, I've learned so much about the craft. No wonder that first ms was rejected. LOL

    But now that I'm writing historicals, I often think back to that first book and wonder if it would work after all. And after reading your post, I know it would.

    So thank you, Cara. For having the courage the light the way and show us that it is possible. You're one smart cookie! :D

    Thanks for sharing your experience.
    God bless,
    Anita Mae.