The Juvenilia Files: NaNoWriMo 2007

Art by G.A. Bush

This painting by renowned romance cover artist G.A. Bush really captures the mood of what I was going for.

National Novel Writing Month is a thing I have been doing since I was sixteen. Sometimes I “won” and wrote 50,000 mostly very bad words and sometimes I didn’t “win” but still wrote some mostly very bad words. Anyway, intrigued by my buddy Alex’s post on her collected body of work prior to getting a literary agent, I went ahead and updated my NaNoWriMo profile with all the word counts of all the novels I had written or attempted to write since 2006, and man—almost 250,000 words! That’s…well, it’s a lot, I guess? It’s a very big number. I don’t know if it can bespeak anything to my growth as a writer because I haven’t really looked back at those old “novels” for a long, long time.

Until now.

Welcome to the rebirth of a “series” of posts I started a while ago and subsequently never made good on. You can read the first installment about my 2006 novel “His Irish Bride” here, but be warned that it’s pretty bad. Today, we will be examining my 2007 novel “Untitled Contemporary Romance About A Nanny for Falls for Her Hot Boss.” I’m positively cringing with anticipation!

The year was 2007. I was seventeen, severely awkward, steeped in Nora Roberts romance novels, and desperate to just Be A Writer Already. I had already taken a stab at historical romance (see: His Irish Bride) but for this year, I decided I wanted to do something CONTEMPORARY, presumably because that would require less research.

Anyway, I had (well, still have) an entire library of books on How To Write Romance, and my particular favorite was Leslie Wainger’s Writing A Romance Novel for Dummies. No one book has ever taught me so much about romance. Anyway, from that book, I learned of many contrivances that you could use to force your Hero and Heroine into the smooch zone—one of which was “forced intimacy,” or a situation where two people are stuck together in close quarters for some reason.

Perfect, I though. Let’s make a big storm happen.

Lucy Walsh didn’t know the first thing about baking.

Well, maybe that wasn’t entirely true. She knew that you needed eggs, flour and water, and that you had to take cake mix out of the box before putting in the oven. But right now, standing over a bowl of syrupy blueberries, wooden spoon in hand, she felt utterly, totally clueless.

This is a not bad opening! I think? Notice the important detail of blueberries: this story takes place in Maine. Anyway, our ingenue nanny Lucy is baking with her young charge Rose, who we know we are supposed to like because she is named for a flower.

Anyway, naturally the two of them get up to HIJINX, because Lucy is a Fun Nanny™:

Lucy dipped a finger into the blueberry mix and covered Rose’s cheeks with sticky dots in between the girl’s squeals of delight. Rose wriggled away from her grasp and jumped to the floor with a thud. She darted around the kitchen island and across the open room towards the living area, her face shining with glee. Lucy followed with big, thumping footsteps, adeptly taking up the role of big bad monster. She cast a glance around the family room. Late afternoon sunlight was streaming in through the French window, and a light breeze carried in a hint of the sea. The pine bookcases were standing against the wall as always. The floor lamp was undisturbed. The squat coffee table seemed normal.

“Hmm…” Lucy wondered aloud, “I wonder where she could be…”

A giggle rose up from behind the ancient leather loveseat, and Lucy descended instantly, scooping Rose up.

“No one can escape from the blueberry monster!” Lucy said, as she tickled Rose into another fit of laughter.

“Apparently not,” a deep voice said with a chuckle from behind the pair. Lucy whirled around. Ryan McDonnell, Rose’s father and Lucy’s boss, was standing in the kitchen with an amused look on his face.

“Adeptly taking up the role of big bad monster” is, as a sentence, not at all adept. Plus, did you see how subtly I introduced the description of the bookshelves and coffee table (“squat,” lol) by making Lucy scan the room for the hiding toddler?! I didn’t even think of that but it was kind of a good idea.

But who cares anyway, because HERE COMES TROUBLE. Studly trouble, in the form of Ryan McDonnell, who somehow manages to say things and chuckle things at the same time with that deep voice of his.

 “Hi Daddy!”

“Hello, princess,” Ryan said, hoisting the girl into his arms. “You look like you’re having fun. I hope you haven’t been giving our Lucy any trouble, now,” he said, the slight Irish lilt of his speech evident as he smiled at his daughter. Her tumult of red hair was echoed in her father’s auburn, and the two could hardly look any more like father and daughter.

“No, I was helping Lucy bake.”

Ryan laughed, a rich, masculine sound that softened his features. “Well, I can see that you were a lot of help.”

WHY did I make him Irish? Maine is not known to host large communities of Irish immigrants, at least that I know of. I think I was hitting the Nora Roberts pretty hard and assumed that the world’s supply of sexy men came from exclusively from Ireland. Also, “tumult of red hair was echoed in her father’s auburn” does not make any kind of sense as a metaphor, because COLORFUL TUMULTS DO NOT ECHO. At least not when they’re made of hair.

Anyway, things happen. Ryan is a contractor, which seventeen-year-old me had assumed was a very sexy line of work (thanks again to NR for that one).

Lucy stopped weaving the strips of dough and looked up again, watching him and subsequently trying to ignore the little shiver of warmth that flew down her spine. She started to hum a tune, trying to keep her mind from straying to think about Ryan’s long, lean frame and how, well, handsome he looked when he let out a smile. Her fingers worked deftly as she tucked another piece into place. Ryan tucked the mail under his arm and picked up his portfolio just as a gust of wind snapped the screen door outside open and shut violently.

“Probably a storm close by,” Ryan observed. “The wind off the bay is coming strong.” He started off towards his office. “Remind me that I need to get the storm windows on in the attic for you.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Lucy said. “I’ll be fine up there.” The second floor of the house made up Lucy’s small apartment—really nothing more than a gabled attic with her bed and a small bathroom, but it suited her.

“Lucy, you don’t always have to be such a trouper.” Lucy opened her mouth to reply, but fell silent at Ryan’s serious expression. “I’ll get those storm windows up by the end of the weekend.”

Lucy smiled. Ryan’s protectiveness was firm but endearing. His protectiveness of the house, she reminded herself. After Rose, keeping the house safe and in good repair was Ryan’s top priority, not that she doubted that he cared for his nanny’s well-being. But even though he looked out for her, he was always careful to remain absolutely professional. The way it should be.

A storm is coming! Not just literally but ALSO METAPHORICALLY, because Lucy is harboring some tempestuous crush-feelings. (PS. You know that he is not going to get to the storm windows in time. This is called foreshadowing.)

What follows is an entire scene of Ryan in his study, shuffling papers and having expositionary thoughts.

Setting down his documents, Ryan hunched forward on to his desk, sobered by the reminder of his financial situation. How could he break it to Rose that he was taking the closest the she’d ever know to a mother away? Lucy Walsh had been Rose’s nanny since the girl was barely two and Lucy was barely 23. Even though she’d been fresh out of college with little experience, Ryan had known instantly that she was the nanny he’d been looking for. She’d seemed so different when he’d first interviewed her—tall, willowy, with her long dark hair falling into her face…Ryan stopped himself. No matter how attractive he’d found Lucy then, he force himself to ignore the spark of desire in his gut. He was better than the kind of man who would hire a pretty young ingénue to take care of his daughter just because he liked the looks of her.

Tall and willowy! Barf! Like, I’m sorry, Young Blair, but this is a genuinely gross thing for an employer to think about his 26-year-old nanny. “Spark of desire in his gut” is also a very gross way to phrase it! Do people genuinely experience sexual longing as firecrackers to the stomach? You might want to get that checked out!

But there’s no time to think about every single aspect of your life in great detail, because BAD NEWS is coming!

An abrupt frisson of static from the radio cut through the tranquil music and stopped Ryan mid sentence.

An abrupt frisson, of course. As a teenager, I was obsessed with the word “frisson.” It probably appears in every single thing I wrote before the age of 21, never mind the fact that I thought it was pronounced FRIH-suhn (it’s French, you dummy 17-year-old: free-SAWN). The storm warning doesn’t stop Lucy from going out for groceries the next day, and subsequently getting the Volvo stuck in the mud, which means it’s RYAN TO THE RESCUE.

“Thanks,” Lucy said at last, sounding slightly short of breath. “You didn’t have to come from work.”

“I did,” Ryan said, an undeniable feeling of strength coursing in his veins. The memory of Lucy’s touch on his arm was still burning through him. He thrust the key into the ignition and the car flared to life, the headlights barely reaching two feet into the curtain of falling water.

An undeniable feeling of strength that causes him to THRUST the key into the ignition? Hm hm. Anyway, you know what happens when people get caught in torrential Maine rainstorms—they have to change clothes!

She stopped short, the words seeming to die before they could even push themselves out of her throat. Ryan had straightened and come around from the closet door. His soggy t-shirt lay in a heap by his feet, his shoulders and chest bare in the hazy light. Days of work in summer sun had left his skin with a warm afterglow, and his arms were corded with long, lean muscles. Lucy swallowed hard, an irresistible blush creeping up into her cheeks. She didn’t know whether she should look away or pretend like nothing out of the ordinary was happening. But something out of the ordinary was happening, at least to hear her heart rate tell it.

“Um. I…” She tried to start again, but looked away quickly, touching a hand to her forehead. Damn it. She glanced back at Ryan, but found herself looking at the easy, firm line of abdominal muscles that ran to where his damp jeans were slung around his hips. “I should’ve knocked,” she finished lamely. Could you be any more obvious, Lucy? she asked herself, mentally slapping herself in the forehead.

“Corded” is not a word I ever applied to human bodies until I started reading romance novels. I guess I assume it was just de rigeur. Also “easy, firm line of abdominal muscles,” ack. I would like to point out that as of the writing of this book, I had never personally laid eyes upon a set of flesh-and-blood male abdominal muscles. Maybe that’s why I fell for using “corded.”

Lucy goes to help Rose color some mermaids, and Ryan’s about to start dinner when I unleashed my authorial coup de grâce.

“No, thanks.” Ryan smiled. “I think you’re doing a more important—”

His words were cut short by a massive, deafening crash.

!!!?!!??!?!?!?!?!?!!!!

“Daddy!” Rose cried from somewhere out of the black, and Ryan lunged instinctively towards her voice.

“I’m here,” he said throatily, trying to make out shapes obscured by the darkness. “Are you both all right?”

“Throatily” is just as bad as “corded.” Ryan and Lucy go to investigate the crash, and…

Lucy gasped. “What…Ryan, what…” Her mind felt like it was moving through mud, unable to string together a coherent thought. What happened to my room?

“The tree fell through and took down a couple of power lines with it,” Ryan said, his tone serious. Lucy struggled to make out objects through the darkness. Her bed frame was mangled under the weight of the tree trunk, the bright blue sheets soaked through and covered with chunks of broken glass from the mirror she’d had on the wall.

“His tone serious,” as opposed to, I don’t know, lightheartened, considering a goddamn TREE just fell on the house?

Anyway, this is the last paragraph of the book, which craps out at a measly 15,151 words. But I will tell you what happens: now that Lucy doesn’t have a bed, she ends up sharing one with Ryan. Or something. Look, it’s not rocket science.

Rereading this makes me realize that maybe I wasn’t actually as bad at this as I thought I was. This is not an ORIGINAL or INVENTIVE book by any means, but as a category romance for Harlequin American or SuperRomance? It might’ve worked. I may not have had actual romantic contact with a human male, but I had read enough of them to glean the vocabulary for it and ape the style. I’d done my best to abide by what Writing A Romance Novel for Dummies had taught me.

But don’t take my word for it. The following summer, when I was 18, I went to my first Romance Writers of America conference. There, I participated in a workshop on first lines where everyone would write our own first lines on slips of paper, and the editor leading the session would pick out and read aloud ones she thought worked well.

The third slip we heard was this:

Lucy Walsh didn’t know the first thing about baking.

And who was the one reading it aloud, the woman leading the session? Why, none other than Leslie Wainger, the revered Harlequin editor who literally wrote the book on writing romance.

You may recall that I mentioned her name earlier in the post. This is called foreshadowing. I know this because I am now A Writer. Funny how that worked out.

Next time: Untitled YA Novel About a Girl Who Inherits A House!

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