Monday, March 25, 2019

A new chapter

Over the years, I've sometimes put up blog posts documenting my progress with NaNoWriMo. This is an annual event, National Novel Writing Month, in which crazy people the world over engage in furiously pounding out a 50,000 word novel in one month.

I've participated in this endeavor more than half a dozen times, but surprisingly the one question no one has ever asked me is this: "What are you writing?"

Today, I've decided to 'fess up: I've been writing romance novels.

Yes really. Not the dirty nasty bodice-rippers, of course, but sweet romances, and sometimes inspirational (Christian) ones too.

This was something of a hobby all these years, but one I kept distinctly under wraps. That's because too often romances are lumped into one ginormous and sleazy group characterized by the afore-mentioned bodice rippers, which amount to little more than soft porn. Thankfully there's a much cleaner side to this industry, due to the demands of women who like a good love story but without the unsavory parts.

Writing romance takes a bit more skill than many people realize or appreciate. NaNoWriMo and other writing endeavors allowed me to hone my fiction-writing skills, but I've never done much beyond that.

But then before Christmas, a series of events took place that unwittingly involves all of you, my dear readers. How, you may ask? Well, it went like this.

In November of 2018, I NaNoWriMo'd my way through an Amish inspirational romance. (That's National Novel Writing Month, by the way, in which participants write a 50,000 novel in one month.) I've long been fascinated by the Plain People, and Amish romance seemed like a good fit. NaNoWriMo ended, I made my word count, and I figured that was the end of the matter.

But shortly thereafter, a writing friend called with an urgent recommendation. "You need to join ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) right now!"

It seems she'd gotten wind of a wonderful writer of Amish romances named Cheryl Williford – published with the Harlequin Love Inspired (Christian) line – who was part of a critique group ... and whose goal was to help other writers get published with Harlequin.

Now Harlequin has been an elusive goal of mine for, oh, about twenty years or so. I can't even count the number of manuscripts I've sent their way, to no avail. The slush pile is notoriously difficult to breach.

But hope springs eternal, so I duly joined ACFW and cyber-met Cheryl Williford. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say this meeting has been a game-changer.

Cheryl is one of those rare individuals who "cracked the code" of the abstract Harlequin formula. She did this by carefully studying what they published, then writing a book and pitching it at an ACFW conference several years ago. She was the only one – the only one! – taken on as a new author from that conference.

Her success as a Harlequin author has been stellar. When she invited me to send her the synopsis and first three chapters of my Amish manuscript, I wasted no time.

Cheryl was kind but firm. She critiqued my writing in a way I desperately needed. Under her guidance, I polished the synopsis and three chapters. And polished them again. And polished them yet again. Cheryl and I went back and forth half a dozen times until she deemed the proposal ready to send to her agent, Bob Hostetler -- under my pseudonym.

Yes, her agent is now my agent.

After that, things moved very fast. Mr. Hostetler sent me a sample proposal and asked me to put my own proposal into the same format. I did so and sent it back. He informed me (in the nicest possible way) that the Marketing section was pathetic and needed shoring up. Specifically, I needed to get on social media to widen my reader base.

Now, social media – with the exception of this blog – is something I've proudly disdained all these years. I have no interest in it. But that doesn't cut it in the publishing world. If I wanted to get published, I needed a platform.

Ironically I have a platform for my nonfiction writing. A huge one. An enormous one. But since I was attempting to build a fiction platform from scratch under the pseudonym, I had nothing. For some reason I had it in my head I needed to keep my fiction and my nonfiction writing completely separate, that no cross-over could be permitted.

Thus began my week from Hell. Don and my friend pushed and prodded and guided and advised. I signed up for media accounts I'd literally never seen (Instagram? Pinterest?) and attempted to navigate the confusing waters of this massive industry to which I had never paid attention before. I created a website under my pseudonym. I emailed authors and requested interviews. I emailed other authors and asked if I could write guest posts on their blogs. In short, I frantically, desperately tried to create a platform where none existed ... all the while ignoring the 1.5 million visits loyal readers made to this blog each year.

Of all these pathetic, amateurish attempts to create something from nothing, Facebook was by far the worst. Yeah sure, it's influential and far-reaching. It's also invasive and persnickety. It wanted to know everything about me, information I didn't want to give because I don’t think it’s any of their business. It has "security" requirements I couldn't even accommodate (texting me a code? We don't have smart phones and I don't have the faintest clue how to text!).

It all came crashing down when suddenly Facebook locked me out of my infant account and subsequently "disabled" it. Research revealed (a) it's almost impossible to reinstate a disabled account and (b) it's almost impossible to set up a Facebook account under a pseudonym.

When this happened, I broke down and sobbed. Here I was, trying so hard to improve that Marketing plan in the proposal, and it seemed I was stymied in everything I did.

Gently my husband suggested I do the obvious: stop trying to write fiction under a pseudonym and just use my real name. After a pity party and a good cry, I agreed. So did Bob Hostetler, the agent, after requesting his opinion.

In retrospect, I don't know why I was so worried. You, my wonderful readers, have been following our homesteading exploits since 2009. You've watched our children grow up. You've seen our trials and tribulations, our successes and triumphs. Why on earth was I concerned you would be disappointed if I broadened my writing into sweet and inspirational romance? What a foolish notion.

So I revised the proposal and, as a result, was able to include a Marketing section that absolutely kicked butt. I sent it to Mr. Hostetler, and after 24 nail-biting hours, he accepted me as a client.

Mr. Hostetler doesn't let the grass grow beneath his feet. Before I signed the contract, he suggested I withdraw another manuscript already being considered by a small publisher, indicating he'd like to look it over for a future project. On the current Amish proposal, he had it sent to several relevant and respected publishers within a day.

It doesn't stop there. I have years -- decades -- of unpublished writing under my belt. Many of these projects are perfectly fine and can be polished and sent right away. I have a dystopian novel I wrote but never did anything with. I also have a couple more nonfiction book ideas I can pitch at Mr. Hostetler.

In short, I've put my writing career into the hands of a competent professional, and I'm still getting used to that idea.

So, thanks to the influence of some very dear people, the support of my Rural Revolution family, and by the grace of God, I'm looking uphill toward another phase of life, the opening chapters of what I hope will be a long and profitable fiction writing career. Things are never dull!


  1. I am making an assumption here but I think that your Country living series have done well. I have no idea why you would have wanted to keep your fiction separate from your family here on RR. The only request I have is to make your work available on Amazon Kindle so I can read it in large type on my computer. I now have your new web site bookmarked. Best wishes and I hope it all works out for your family.

  2. Write on, Patrice. I'm tickled for you!!!

  3. Oh, Patrice, does this mean you will no longer bill your blog as "In-your-face stuff from an opinionated rural north Idaho housewife."

    Just kidding...congrats on your new endeavor....may your writing help virtuous women (and men) enjoy romance novels once again.

  4. I love romance novels that have the feel of old black and white movies. The ones that make you laugh out loud like a Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn movie. I don't need the bodice ripping either. Good luck on you new endeavor.

  5. This is exciting news. It would be nice to read a good love story without the filth.

  6. That's fantastic Patrice!! Congratulations!!

  7. I totally LOVE your post today! And, yes, I would love to read one of your good love stories...without the filth. I am excited for your decision to write for 'us'...and about us, too! I am anxious to read your Website, I haven't yet...I was so excited to drop you a note before I did! And to read the blog link! Had never heard of National Novel Writing Month! So looking forward to your writing! I have been reading your blog for years!

  8. Good luck Patrice. I'm envisioning a Dr. Zhivago remake kicking off with an EMP leading lovers to a romantic bug-out location. No? That's fine. I'll go with your choice.
    Montana Guy

    1. Post Alley CrackpotMarch 26, 2019 at 8:24 PM

      Post-Nuclear Neo-Dystopian Apocalyptic Teen Romance.

      Where the lasses wear masks so they can avoid being killed by the gases.

      Aesthetic: 25% Fallout video game series, 25% Pripyat (near Chernobyl), 25% London Blitz aftermath, 25% Saigon in 1968.

      Additional points given to useful Neo-Victorian fashion flourishes made to strictly functional survival gear.

      These will not be your ordinary bodice-rippers, no sir ...

      That's because those gases can still rip the paint off a fleet of heavy goods vehicles in an instant, let alone anyone's bodice.

      Everything in that genre will make a great movie in 70mm Cinerama format.

      I look forward to the really big vehicles used during the filming because I want to buy one of them after the filming's over. :-)

  9. Uphill??? I think not!

    Seems to me the last 20 or so years have been the uphill slog. Now, you are at the top looking down at the run. It may be a black diamond run but I bet you will enjoy every moment.


  10. What a great move on your part. I didn't realize you'd done NaNoWriMo for so many years (I can't get up the gumption to do it even once) and I think sweet romances are needed and appreciated nowadays. Wishing you every success.

  11. always lovedJanette Oke. can't wait to see what you come up with.

  12. Post Alley CrackpotMarch 26, 2019 at 8:08 PM

    "... furiously pounding out ..."

    *snorts coffee through nose while laughing*

    Say that out loud but with a reasonable facsimile of a British accent, I dare you.

    I'm such a yob sometimes. :-)

    But seriously, the revelation that you write about the Amish isn't much of a surprise: the tie-ins with Lehman's catalogue were more or less a dead giveaway that something was up.

    Since you're tied to the land, so to speak, you are also probably aware of something called terroir ...

    It's that thing that makes such things as ordinary Arabica coffees extraordinary if they're grown in Hawaiian volcanic soils. It's what makes the Scotch of the Isle of Jura and the Isle of Skye different and interesting.

    It's what makes Idaho potatoes and Irish potatoes different, of course.

    And it's also that thing you grow certain stories in so that they may become more interesting, but there's a technique and method to that you may not have realised.

    Instead of telling you what it is, an example should serve as a better means of letting you see what it is for yourself so you can make your own determinations.

    If you remember Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" well, you may remember some of the in-city settings involving such things as the "Charing-T Towers", which was somewhat of a throw-away location in a re-imagined London, at least to American readers.

    What the American readers always miss is that the "Charing-T Towers" were breezeblocks built on top of the former booksellers of Charing Cross Road.

    It's not just a throw-away location: Huxley deliberately wadded up the best bookseller district in London and dispensed with it with the same gesture that would state with functionalist flourish that "history is bunk".

    In so doing, he made clear how his future worked: the new bulldozes the old, preserving the vestigial names for things so people who remember them don't get lost on their way home from nowhere in particular.

    And it's a thing you totally wouldn't get until you've wandered around Cecil Court while making your way up from Charing Cross Tube station to Tottenham Court Road Tube station.

    You wouldn't get it today if you stopped in front of 84 Charing Cross Road to marvel at how Huxley's bulldozer has already arrived: the American merchant of fast food at the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue is where the infamous bookseller of Helene Hanff's novel once stood.

    It's such a little thing, but it shows the depth of the terroir of place.

    I bring this up because there's a subject matter involved that isn't easily dealt with in writing: you may give your stories an Amish place setting, but that's completely different from setting an Amish place and letting your stories take place within it, terroir, culture, and all.

    I don't know if you've spent any serious amount of time in the environs of such places as Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the Ephrata Cloisters, and so forth, but you probably should.

    More to the point: have you stopped to consider why exactly there has been a relative flood of female writers wishing to follow in the footsteps of Patricia Cornwell and so forth?

    An Amish murder mystery then: what happens when twenty Amish crime writers show up for a party at The Agatha Christie Hotel?

    Naturally, this should also be a comedy. :-)

  13. I did NaNoWriMo this year too. I had so much fun. One of my goals for this year is to edit and publish it somehow. I doubt I will ever make money off it, but it is so fun to create a story to share with other book lovers:)

  14. Dear Patrice's Followers,

    I'm SO happy to see everyone as excited as I am about Patrice's writing endeavors. You will absolutely LOVE her fiction. I do. And we need whatever help we can get steering the fiction market back to center -- where a love story can be about actual love and commitment.

    Changing the culture comes about by engaging in it.

    Three CHEERS for Patrice!!!

  15. I left my comment on the new site, but just let me say GO FOR IT WOMAN! I am so happy for you, and can't wait to buy your book!

  16. Thanks for sharing this terrific news, and very proud to be a part of it! Can't wait to get a copy in my hands! Congrats!