Friday, December 4, 2009

My dreaded Chick Lit novel

"Lucy, come quick!"

"I'm here already!" I flew into the kitchen, spurred by the hysteria in Karen's voice, and collided with her at the door. I had to grab her by the arm to keep her from falling over.

"What's wrong?" I demanded. Even with my support, Karen teetered on her high heels, looking pale and jittery.

"We've got a food critic!" she blurted out, pointing a well-manicured finger in the direction of the dining room. "Stella Von Stratten just showed up with a party of four."

"Stella Von Stratten? Are you sure?"

Karen nodded excitedly. My stomach flip-flopped like a stack of pancakes. Stella Von Stratten was a critic for the North Carolina Sentinel. Scratch that. Stella Von Stratten was the food critic for the Sentinel. Her syndicated column ran in over twenty different news papers and magazines, both regional and national, and she was so popular that Travel North Carolina used her reviews for its recommended dining guide. Stella checked out a different restaurant every week. If she liked a place, gourmands from all over the country flocked to it just to try the appetizers. Tables stayed booked months in advance. The owners made obscene amounts of money, bought a yacht and retired to sail around the world. If she hated it on the other hand, the restaurant went out of business the next day, the owners filed for bankruptcy and all the cooking staff committed seppuku with their mise en place. Personally, I did not care for seppuku. It dulled the knives.

"What table?" I demanded.

"Number six, by the big potted plant."

I rushed to the kitchen doors and poked my head out. Sitting right next to a burgeoning Bird of Paradise was a petite woman in a peacock-colored Ann Taylor dress. Her black hair was pulled tight into a low bun and tortoiseshell Prada frames balanced daintily upon her long, thin nose. I caught a glimpse of something very sparkly and expensive at her throat -- Stella Von Stratten's trademark diamond necklace.

"Shit." I pulled my head back into the kitchen. "It's her all right. Did you tell Donald yet?"

"No. His office door is locked and he's not answering. Lucy, what are we going to do?"

Karen wrung her hands so tight I thought she was going to break some fingers. When she started shaking, I grabbed her by the shoulders to hold her still.

"Just calm down," I told her, trying to ignore my own heart pounding in the back of my throat. "She's a customer, so we do what we always do. We take her order and we cook her meal."

"But what if she doesn't like the food?" Karen squeaked. "I mean, Bernard's a great chef, but this is Stella Von Stratten!"

The kitchen went dead silent. I could feel all eyes fix on me. My face flushed with anger. "Oh, you did not just say that to me!" I whispered. First Donald, then my staff, and now Karen; did anybody trust me to do my job right? "Karen Reynolds, this is my kitchen and you know I'm going to cook this meal."

"But Donald said Bernard--"

"Donald isn't here!" I snapped. "And even if he was, I'm still the head chef. Or has everybody forgotten that?"

"No," Bernard drawled behind me. "We just weren't sure you remembered it yourself, Fraulein."

"Shut it, Bernard."

I glared at Karen. She dropped her gaze. "I'm sorry Lucy. You're right. I'm just a little nervous. A review from Stella Von Stratten could really make or break us, you know?"

"So calm down," I repeated. "Going nuts like this isn't going to help. Find Donald and let him know what's going on. But first make sure whoever is serving Stella's table is on the ball. Service matters just as much as the food on this one."

Karen took a deep breath and straightened up. "You got it. I'll take her order myself." She hurried back out to the dining room, her high heeled shoes going clickety-clack over the tile floor. I turned to survey the kitchen. Lewis, I noticed, had returned to his station.

"Okay," I said, working to keep the tremor out of my voice. "As soon as we get that order, we move. Whatever Stella Von Stratten wants, however she wants it, she gets it."

From Whip It! (work in progress)


Last month, I conducted an experiment called PerNoFiMo - Personal Novel Finishing Month. Similar to NaNoWriMo, the idea was to turn out between 20-40K words in the month of November. Because I had three unfinished novels sitting on my computer, I decided to see how far I could get in finishing one of them. I picked the one I had gotten the furthest along in and pounded away at it for 30 days. The result? 40,003 words written by November 29th. The novel still isn't finished, but it is now twice as long as it was before I started.

This particular novel is one that's been sitting on my hard drive for ages. You see, a couple years ago, I made the mistake of opening my big mouth in front of a publisher and saying, "You know what would be really funny? A BDSM chick-lit novel! Especially if the chick in question goes on to become a dominatrix!" And much to my surprise, the publisher turned around and said, "You are so writing that for me!"

Even more surprising, the publisher in question is still waiting for said novel after all this time. I'm not kidding when I say this damn thing has been sitting on my hard drive for almost three years. In that time, I have gone through periods where I've been really good about writing on the book for a couple of weeks, and then something comes up and I let it gather dust for a couple of months or more. Why have I let slide on a book that I know a publisher is interested in? The fact is, while I like a lot of what I've written so far, I'm just not that crazy about writing chick-lit. Oh, I can do it, and have done it a couple of times now. Two months ago, I even turned out a chick-lit erotica novella, A Room With A View, and got it published. Seriously, from start to finish I think the whole process of writing and publishing A Room With A View took only two months!

So what's my problem with this other book? Well, I may have shot myself in the foot. Among other things, you may have noticed that the book is about a chef, and I know jack shit about the restaurant business. That's a problem I could certainly fix, but for the purposes of this story it requires quite a bit of research. Oh, and did I mention said chef goes on to start her own catering business? And the setting is contemporary, in a local I don't live in, as opposed to some fantasy or sci-fi setting that I could easily make up. That means even more research on unfamiliar topic. Plus the whole thing is a mystery as well as a chick lit novel, requiring that I very carefully pace the story and set up clues along the way. I don't mind doing this at all, but combined with the research I need to do, that's a bit more work that I really wanted to chew off.

But last month, I tossed aside all concerns of research and just pounded out the story. Until I ran out of story to write because of dratted "I need to plot out this mystery" problems. But at that point, I switched to sort of outlining, asking myself what the problems are in the story and how could I fix them, and what happens next, etc.

So I ended up with 40K words of drivel added onto the 40K words of story I already had. The excerpt above is from the polished story part, not the drivel I produced last month, obviously. And I still didn't reach the end of my story on November 29th. I just haven't worked out the entire story yet.

What will I do with my poor work-in-progress now? Let it sit again for a couple of months. I have three stories to write and edit for three different anthologies, and I need to get those turned out. Then once again I will dredge up Lucy and her catering business and burgeoning desire to be a dominatrix who's large and in charge of her life. And I will sit with that novel and work things out until it's done. And hopefully the publisher will still be interested when I hand her the finished work.


  1. Oh, Helen!

    I do so want to write an intro to this novel...!

    I don't read a lot of chick lit, but I think you've got the key notions. Lots of designer clothing, lots of squealing, and the sturdy heroine, proving to the world that she can succeed (so that she can squeal and buy lots of designer clothing...!)

    You're right about mysteries, though. I just reread my thriller Exposure (Phaze is taking it to print - whooee!) and was remembering the headaches I had trying to figure exactly who dun it and why.

    It's worth finishing. Really.


  2. Lisabet,

    Thank you for saying that. If I can just get past the research on the catering business, I think I'll be okay, but man, that's a lot to delve into!

    It'll get finished. And I'll send you a copy when it's published ;)

  3. Helen,

    I can't wait to see this finished.

    One minor crit (to give it the chick-lit edge). In the second para, Karen is teetering on 'her high heels.' In chick-lit you need to rely on the reader's knowledge of the consumer market. Karen should be teetering on 'her Guccis,' or teetering on 'her Jimmy Choos'

    But it's a minor criticism and for me, as a guy who seldom reads chick-lit, I thought this was effective story-telling.



  4. Ash,

    I see what you mean about the brand name, and to be honest, that's my biggest complaint about Chick Lit. many books in the genre focus too much on fashion and consumerism and not enough on actual issues women deal with today. But I suppose if Chick Lit focused on issues, it would then fall within the "prestigious" category of "literature," wouldn't it? :D

    I think the Chick Lit I will end up writing is going to be a bit different from what's normally expected in the genre, thus part of my dread of it, but it will get written. Glad you thought the excerpt showed promise!

  5. Hi Helen!

    The part of the novel you showed us is really polished, I liked it a lot. The rest, I just ground my teeth with envy. I spend a lot of time envying people. To be in the prenscence of a publisher and have him demand what you;re writing. I'm not even on that planet yet. I have a ways to go to catch up with you.


  6. Garce,

    Thank you for the lovely complement. The more recent stuff I wrote last month has a long way to go before it's that polished ;)

    As for publishers demanding what I write, keep a few things in mind.

    1) I can count on three fingers the number of times a publisher/editor has asked me for something. ALL of these people know me from previous work over the past several years and all have met me face to face. One of them I work for as an illustrator, so we have a pretty solid relationship. That means...

    2) It's all a matter of who I know. Aside from the publisher whom I work with as an artist, one of these other people published a previous novel of mine. She's the one who wants this current work. I inadvertently pitched an idea she liked, so she said write it. The other individual is a writer/editor has worked with me at various events and knows my work. Again, these people know me and know my work, so...

    3) You may not think you're on the same planet yet, but I'm betting you're closer than you think. You know people too - authors, editors, publishers. It's a matter of talking to these people, working with them, getting to know them better. I know a lot of people through my participation in EPIC ( I volunteer for that organization, I work with the local chapter, and I've been to their annual convention twice so I've met a lot of folks face to face. All that makes a HUGE difference in whether I go into the slush pile or not when I submit. Plus it doesn't hurt that I have a venue (the Heat Flash podcast) where I can offer publishers free advertising. People do remember that sort of thing.

    I really do think people out there want your writing. I think if you haven't had people request stuff from you yet, they should be sometime in the near future. It's just a matter of talking to those other authors, editors, and publishers you know and opening up that network. You'll get there. You're too good not to!

  7. I do love this snippet and was at first disappointed it was only an exercise...then thrilled when I read on and found it was from a wip!

    I agree that it's fabulous and such an atta girl to have a publisher request a story from you, and continue to have interest as it hangs out there for a while. I have one instance of that happening, and what a thrill (of course mine was for a short story to fill an antho, so not quite at the level of your honor!).

    Love your style, and looking forward to your finished product..eventually! ;)


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