I’m sure you’ve heard these ideas before. Write what’s in your heart. Write the book you want to read. Write the story that seems the most frightening, the most impossible, the most challenging. The story that feels like it needs to be told.
My July book, Reunited with the Cowboy, was definitely one of those books!
It’s the complicated story of two people who loved each other, who felt they were meant to be together, until a terrible tragedy broke them apart. Each went on with their life, coping as best they could. When they both return to their Northern California hometown of Shelter Creek, they are forced to finally face that tragedy and the aftermath, and to question the way that they’ve coped for all these years.
It’s also the story of ranchers and wildlife, and what happens when their paths cross. In fact that’s one of the main themes in this entire series, and a timely one I think, as ranchers cope with a resurgence in coyote and mountain lion populations, as well as wolves and bears. And as the need to protect and preserve wildlife meets more traditional wildlife management practices.
But, to be honest, I sat on this idea for years, while I wrote other things. I kept thinking, no one but me, and maybe a few of my friends, will want to read a story about wildlife management! But when I pitched it to Harlequin as part of a four-book proposal, this was the only story the editor was truly interested in. So I built an entire series around it, now titled Heroes of Shelter Creek.
The thing to be aware of, though, is that these stories that are lodged deep in our hearts can be really difficult to write. They’re complicated and layered and you have to weave together all of these different themes and ideas and emotions. I wrestled with this book. I cried about it a couple times. It was really hard to pull all of the threads together and there are still things about it that I would change if I had the opportunity! So be prepared to struggle when you tackle one of your big ideas. Be prepared to lose sleep and to worry and to hate the story sometimes. When I finished Reunited with the Cowboy and sent it in, I said to my husband, “I have no idea if this book is any good or not. I think people might hate it. But I’m glad I wrote it!”
Part of the risk in following your heart is that people might not like that thing you worked so hard to create. So far, people don’t hate Reunited with the Cowboy. In fact, my earliest reviewers have really enjoyed it. But of course, these lovely reviewers tend to be people who really enjoy my stories, so it’s a pre-selected group! The fact is, not everyone will love that story from your heart. Some people may actually hate it and will take great joy in telling you so in a cutting, sardonic review that questions why anyone gave you a publishing contract in the first place!
At first, those types of reviews crushed me. While I still don’t enjoy them, now I take pride in the fact that I delved into my heart, I found a story that really meant something to me, and I wrestled it into something that was as good as I could get it at the time. It means something, in this world of snarky, instant internet feedback, to put your heart on your sleeve and hang it out there for others to see. It takes courage, and a sense of self and a willingness to follow your dream, even if it opens you up to criticism from others.
So I encourage anyone reading this to go for it. To look inside and find that story or that painting or that idea that keeps tugging at your heart, and create it. It might not be everyone’s favorite thing, but it will be unique and it will be yours. And I guarantee you’ll learn a lot along the way!