Happy Holidays everyone! Belle Calhoune here, wishing everyone all the joys of this blessed season. Today I'm going to talk about writer instincts and thinking outside the box, two things I did when I wrote “Heart of a Soldier,” my January 2015 Love Inspired book.
Back in 2012 when I wrote my first Love Inspired book, “Reunited with the Sheriff” I created a secondary character, Holly Lynch, who was paralyzed after a reckless driving accident caused by her best friend, my heroine, Cassidy. I was trying to break in with Love Inspired during their “Speed Date with Emily” pitch on the Harlequin community forums. Side note: if you're trying to break in to Love Inspired, watch those forums for contests and pitch events. My big idea for that first book was to create a heroine who had done something so monumental that she couldn't walk away from it, even though for many years she tried. Being the driver in an accident that makes your best friend a paraplegic seemed fairly huge to me. Little did I know then that the character of Holly would burrow herself so deeply into my heart that I couldn't stop thinking about her and wanting to create a Happily Ever After for her.
By deciding to feature a paraplegic heroine I was thinking outside the box. I was going out on a limb when I wrote the first page of the book and started out on this journey, not knowing if it would be accepted by readers. And then it hit me! What exactly do I know about being a paraplegic and the daily issues that surround that condition? I had done research for the initial book, but if I was going to write a romance novel featuring a paraplegic I had to do major research. So I did...lots and lots of intensive research about nerve pain, medication, wheelchairs (manual or power?), mobility issues, driving as a paraplegic, riding horses as a paraplegic and the emotions that go along with it. One of the most personal issues I researched was whether a paraplegic can bear a child, which was very important to Holly and is an issue in the book.
As most writers and readers know, there's always a black moment. Cue the spooky music. During the edit phase I had a random copy editor who attempted to convince me that I'd
pretty much done everything wrong. I felt powerless and demoralized. And angry. I'd worked so hard and given the book my all. I prayed about the situation and asked God to lead me in the right direction. So, I decided to speak up and let my editor know how I was feeling. This wasn't easy for me because it felt like complaining when it reality it was protecting my vision of my book. There's a difference. Now comes the good part. My really cool editor, Emily Rodmell told me that I could STET all the copy editor's suggestions. STET is a fairly magical word for authors. It basically means we can reject the edit/suggestion and keep the original words or descriptions we used. It meant I had my voice. To have my editor give me the power to keep the work as my own creation was a miraculous feeling. I think I may even have been Snoopy dancing.
This experience taught me a memorable lesson. In going against the copy editor I wasn't being rude or bratty. I was using my writer instinct to protect my work. I knew instinctively that I'd created an accurate, moving portrayal of a paralyzed heroine. And what I learned by speaking up and voicing my concerns was that my editor had my back and supported me.
In many ways this book has changed me as a writer. It was a little scary taking it on, knowing that I might be facing criticism if I didn't get it right. But in creating a non-traditional heroine, I set myself free as a writer. I allowed myself to write the story of my heart. At some point I told myself that as a writer it was my mission to write this story. As a human being I believe that love isn't reserved for physically perfect people. It felt powerful to have a book reflect that belief and to know that I would stand behind the work no matter what.
Validation as a writer comes in many forms. As writers we always love hearing our editors say we wrote a good book. If “Heart of A Soldier” hits the readers as emotionally satisfying and well crafted, my job is done. A few days ago I received a message from a reader who I've known for a few years. What I didn't know is that she is in a wheelchair, has nerve pain and takes daily medication like Holly. To have her tell me I got it right is probably the most moving thing that has ever happened to me as a writer. Her letter brought me to tears. And although I don't live or die by reviews, receiving a 4.5 star review from RT Book Reviews was a celebratory moment, mainly because it showed me that you can rely on your writer instincts and have it pay off big.
My advice to writers or aspiring writers is to write the book of your heart. Don't rely on the ordinary. Or what we feel is the norm. Sometimes in letting go of our fears and the things we believe are expected of us, we reach a state of grace where we truly can achieve a personal best.
Have you written the stories of your heart, the ones that are just begging to be told? If not, what’s holding you back?
Belle Calhoune grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, one of five children. One of the best things about her childhood was growing up across the street from a public library and having a summer house in Cape Cod. Although her mother was a Psychiatrist and her father a Biologist, Belle gravitated towards literature and writing. Married to her college sweetheart, she is raising two lovely daughters in Connecticut. A dog lover, she has one mini poodle and a chocolate lab. Writing for the Love Inspired line is a dream come true. Working at home in her pajamas is one of the best perks of the job. A French enthusiast, she dreams often of her next Parisian escape. Belle also enjoys summers in Cape Cod, traveling and reading.
Today Belle is giving away two print copies of "Heart of a Soldier." Leave a comment letting us know you want your name in the Stetson. Winners announced in the Weekend Edition!
A Soldier's Unexpected Homecoming
Returning soldier Dylan Hart heads to Texas to finally meet pen pal Holly Lynch. When he arrives, he's shocked to discover the plucky beauty he fell in love with has kept a very big secret. Scarred emotionally by his past, Dylan is deeply hurt that Holly didn't trust him with such a vital truth about herself. When he's hired as a cowboy on her family's vast ranch, he's committed to staying in town. And as he slowly reconnects with the woman whose letters once saved him, he'll have to take a look inside his heart to discover what matters most.
This is such an exciting story behind the story, that Seekerville is also going to give away two Merry Christmas copies. Print or ebook. Winners choice. Ebook releases on January 1 from Amazon.