He got your attention, didn’t he? He got mine too.
A long time ago, I wrote a book about a wild rocker with long dark hair. It was a romantic suspense and got several rejections. Shortly afterward, I went to a writers conference. The speaker said that whatever you read the most is probably what you should write. Ding, ding, ding went off in my head. What was I doing writing romantic suspense when I rarely read it. I love reading contemporary romance the most.
So, I switched to contemporary romance and after 9 1/2 years, I finally got a contract. A few years later, Harlequin bought the Heartsong Presents line and I got the opportunity to continue my Texas rodeo series with three more books. I only had one, so I dusted off my old moldering early manuscripts in the depths of my computer hard drive. I found something for book two and then thought, hmm, that rocker could be a country star.
But when it came time to write Rodeo Song, it wasn’t so easy to change this wild rocker who’d lived in my head for 13 years into a country music star. I didn’t want to change my hero’s image, but in today’s country music, there aren’t any long-haired stars. I struggled with my second case of writer’s block.
Until, I heard my local ACFW Arkansas group was setting up a retreat. Just what I needed. Being with other writers always gets me going. So, I made plans to go, hoping my writer friends could fix me.
The retreat was at a church camp. Once everyone arrived, we got right to work. Jenny Carlisle gave us each a poster board, we paired off, and took turns writing everything we knew about our story and brainstorming with our partner.
I worked with Rosie Baldwin, who encouraged me to figure out how my guy dressed. I hadn’t even thought about that. She also brought up a new conflict for my characters that made the story more plausible. But still, I had nothing to explain why my country music hero has long hair when long hair on men really isn’t in style anymore and especially not in country music. Even without my problem solved, I felt like Rosie helped me more than I helped her.
After our one on one sessions, we went back to tables. Some of us wrote. Some of us discussed our stories with the other writers at our table. Pretty soon, everyone was probably sick of hearing about my long-haired cowboy, but nobody let on if they were. Lisa Collins started googling long-haired cowboys and showing me pictures. We laughed about how we were at a church camp for a Christian writers retreat googling men.
This was the Garrett Steele I had in my head:
Isn’t he pretty. Yep, but he’s a rock star. I found this picture of the same model.
It helped me begin to think of him as a country star. Or at the very least, a cowboy at heart. I ended up using this picture as inspiration for a scene in the book when Garrett moves back to his hometown and reunites with his horse.
These are a few examples of what Lisa found:
Cute, but I wasn’t satisfied with the hair length on any of the cowboys she found. We could not find a guy who looked like a cowboy or country star with hair as long as the Garrett in my head. But something about the pictures and the brainstorming made it all click into place.
Ding, ding, ding—I got my answer: My hero spent two years in Nashville, playing music in bars, trying to get his break. By the middle of that two years, he was really broke and couldn’t afford a haircut. He’d always hated his natural curl and the longer it got, the less it curled, so he ended up letting it grow. By the time, he got discovered, his hair was pretty long, but the woman who discovered him thought his look was something new and fresh for country music. She marketed him as a sex symbol. Poof, just like that, my story came together with a little help from my friends.
We celebrated with the Mexican food we’d brought and fellowship.
With my story fixed, reality set in. This was my closest brush with church camp I’ve ever had. I’m not the camping type. I like modern conveniences. Yes, we were in a building, not a tent, but I was completely unprepared.
We slept in squeaky bunk beds and there was a ladder in the middle of the bunk which made crawling in and out of the bottom bunk a challenge for an adult. Sort of like crawling out of the birth canal. My husband called me just after we’d all gone to bed in the same room, so I had to get up and answer in case anything was wrong. I disturbed everyone for nothing. He’d actually called hours before, but we only had a signal in the bedroom. He was just checking on me.
I couldn’t sleep since I never sleep well away from home. And I’d drank too much coffee, so I had to get up and go to the bathroom several times. My retreat mates were probably ready to shoot me and since one is licensed to carry, she was packing heat.
After sitting and writing or brainstorming all day and half the night, the next day, we decided to go on the prayer walk. But I hadn’t planned on walking and only had sandals with me. High heeled wedge, gold sandals. Nevertheless, I climbed the mountain right along with everyone else while they commented on my hiking boots.
I didn’t feel like I helped anyone else with their stories, but I hope everyone got as much out of the retreat as I did. The experience was priceless. My friends helped me fix my book and we writers get each other like no one else can. We all hear voices and have imaginary friends, but we think that’s normal. I left the retreat thinking—I’m going to write down everyone’s name who was there and dedicate this book to them.
But I didn’t write it down. By the time I finished the book, went through the editing process on two different books, and was working on another book—my brain was fried. When I got my publisher’s request for the dedication page—I forgot my plan. Now, who was I going to dedicate this book to? I. Could. Not. Remember.
I ended up dedicating Rodeo Song to my husband.
I hope this blog lets the ACFW Arkansas gals know how much I appreciate them, reminds them of how they saved my book, and helps them to forgive me for forgetting them when I was in a brain/time crunch.