My first Christmas-themed novella, ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS was a labor of love. It’s a rather whimsical story that includes … well, read on and you’ll find out. 🙂
In 1999, my first novel, THE BLUE DEVIL, was a finalist for a Golden Heart award from the Romance Writers of America. An editor from Kensington Books was one of the final-round judges, and she purchased the book for Kensington’s Zebra Regency line.
Amy asked for a very detailed, 20 page synopsis before she purchased my second book, THE BLUE STOCKING (working title). Amy wrote the cover blurb and came up with a new title, MISS GRANTHAM’S ONE TRUE SIN (a vast improvement, I know!). Other than that, Amy was pretty hands-off, and I loved her for that at the time (though now I know I really needed a heavier editorial hand). Then she had the gall to leave Kensington to go off and—I don’t know, live her life, I guess?—and I was an orphan. Stuck with a brand-new editor, Hilary-something. Someone who might not love my work as much as I did.
The New Editor is Not Pleased
Naively, I didn’t do my homework on Ms. Something before submitting my next book proposal, and so I submitted a synopsis that weighed in at 23 pages to an editor who’d declared publicly that anything over 1 pages for a synopsis was a waste of her time.
She called me. She’d taken a look at the synopsis, and she didn’t like it. In fact, she hated it—and I was rather peeved.
Rapid-fire, I offered several other ideas, and Hilary shot them all down. She didn’t mind the widowed-with-children, impoverished lord I’d invented nor the runaway heiress, but she seemed to be going for a funny, witty, spritely story, not the serious, contemplative, poignant piece I had in mind. I couldn’t sway her. Nothing was clicking. She wanted a funny story, and that was that.
Frustrated, I finally suggested (with what I thought was expertly hidden sarcasm) that I could have my heroine show up at my hero’s country estate with a baby elephant in tow. Would that be funny enough, did she think?
I don’t know what I was expecting when I threw out the ridiculous idea of writing a baby elephant into a Regency Christmas story, but it wasn’t this:
“Perfect!” Hilary Something. “Write it.”
There followed, as dearest Hilary would described it to me later, a “funny little moment,” a lengthy pause during which I contemplated what I’d just gotten myself into. At the same time, Hilary was (I imagine) attempting to hold down a hoot of laughter. She’d allowed me to back myself into a corner. There was no way out without admitting I’d been a brat.
“Okay,” I said.
And now I had to write a baby-elephant-Regency-England-Christmas-runaway-heiress-and-two-children story. Hoo-boy! There was no way this was going to be a poignant, serious story. Nope. I was forced to bring on the whimsy.
The Editor Didn’t Really Eat Small Children for Breakfast
Once Upon a Christmas turned out to be a personal favorite story. My readers liked it, too. And “Hilary Something” became just “Hilary.” I came to love her dearly, and my time working with her was regrettably short. If anyone knows what became of Hilary Sares, please let me know, because I’ve tried to contact her with no success. (Hilary, if you ever read this, I’m sorry, and thank you, you wonderful, beautiful, canny soul!)
What I Learned
And that’s how the elephant came to be, and how I learned a few valuable lessons:
Do your research.
Editors are people.
Improbable stories can be a whole heck of a lot of fun to read–and write.
Keeping my mouth shut doesn’t always lead to the best outcome.