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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Read the journey of Forgotten April; of how author Robyn Bradley took a simple idea and joined the NaNoWriMo challenge in writing a novel in a month.


For April Sullivan-LaMonica, the last ten years have been hell: her husband and young son were killed in a car accident, and soon after, her mom descended into the darkness of Alzheimer’s. So when broadcast journalist Maggie Prescott shows up claiming to be April’s halfsister and tries to capture their reunion on film, April outwardly regards Maggie with much suspicion. In reality, she’s simply afraid to grow close to someone again, only to have that person leave — or worse.
Maggie, meanwhile, is battling her own demons: figuring out why her biological mother gave her up, facing a secret she’s kept from the one man she’s loved all her life, and giving herself permission to follow the dream she’s had since she was a child.
Separated by nearly two decades and radically different life paths, April and Maggie must decide if pursuing their sisterhood is worth it…or even possible.
A story of loss, love, survival, and redemption, Forgotten April will speak to anyone who’s experienced the pains — and riches — of an unexpected friendship that emerges from family ties.


Read the journey of Forgotten April; of how author Robyn Bradley took a simple idea  and joined the NaNoWriMo challenge in writing a novel in a month.

Well, a few years later...


How it Took Me 10 Years and 7 Versions to Get It Right
by 
Robyn Bradley

Novel 7.0 – How it Took Me 10 Years and 7 Versions to Get It Right
I released my debut novel, Forgotten April, in May. It sounds so simple when I say it like that, but this book and I had a long and storied (ha!) history. Here's my tale.

Novel 1.0. Fits and starts and scraps and scribbles -- that's basically how I'd sum up the time I spent on my novel from 2000/2001 to late 2004. I had an idea, but I never could get beyond 10 pages or so, always frustrated that the story never sounded "right."

Novel 2.0. In November 2004, I took part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), with the goal of getting 50,000 words down on paper by the end of the month. I'm like a dog with a bone when it comes to a deadline. I made it, too. Ninety percent of the words stunk, but what NaNoWriMo taught me was invaluable: it gave me permission to write forward.

Novel 3.0 and 3.5. I took a break from fiction and worked on nonfiction for the first half of 2005. But the novel kept knocking around in my head, so I took the seed from NaNoWriMo and returned to the novel that summer, eventually banging out 80,000 words by fall. The point of view felt all wrong, however, so I trashed it and started from scratch in November 2005, writing 1000 words a day until the end of March 2006, which is when I came to "The End."

Novel 4.0. Some beta readers read Novel 3.5 and were encouraging but not as excited as I'd hoped they would be. My best friend's father, who'd taught fiction for over twenty years, read the book and delivered the most constructive criticism I'd received to date: he suggested I lose a POV character. I'd been writing the novel in alternating first-person viewpoints, and he thought I had one too many. The person he wanted me to lose was still relevant to the story, but she didn't need to have her own POV chapters. I resisted this advice at first, but then I realized he was right. I was heading into my second year of my MFA program and received permission to work on my novel, under the guidance of my friend's father, as a side project to my regular course work. So I went back to the drawing board and revised again from January through June of 2007.

Novel 5.0. My friend's father loved my revision and believed that I could get an agent and that the book would sell (we met in August of 2007, for those of you keeping track). I was excited by his enthusiasm, but I had my doubts about the book's beginning. Side note: throughout this whole saga, I'd been querying agents along the way. I don't recommend doing this, of course, but I will say that I noticed a big difference from this point on in terms of the responses I was getting from agents. Whereas I was getting form rejections before the fall of 2007, I started to receive requests for partials and even fulls from this time forward.

Novel 5.5. I continued to tweak and revise for the next year. We're not talking major rewrites; at this point, I was focusing on perfecting scenes and deepening characters. In the spring of 2008, my book made it through to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) quarterfinals. I was stoked and thought I had arrived (despite the bad opening to the book), but that's as far as the book went in the ABNA contest. I buried it, exhausted because I was working on my thesis for grad school.

Novel 6.0. In the spring of 2009, I met with a woman from my critique group who had read the most recent version of my novel (5.5). She had lots of feedback, and it reminded me once again that the novel wasn't "there" and never had been, not completely, anyway, so I reworked it some more, this time opting to gut a major storyline and completely rework and add some new scenes. I queried some more, received requests, but at the end of the summer, I still hadn't been signed by an agent. I buried the book. Again. I knew what the problem was: the first three chapters were hanging me up. The story needed to start sooner. I needed to establish the stakes and conflicts faster. I felt the voices of my main characters were on target once we got past these first three chapters, but, for some reason, I just couldn't figure out how to "fix" the beginning even though I could identify the problems.

Novel 7.0. It's now 2010, almost ten years since I first had my idea for this bloody book. For some strange (and possibly insane) reason, even though I knew the book had these up-front issues, I still queried here and there, perhaps hoping an agent would see the potential or perhaps she'd love the story and could advise me on how to fix the opening. But I wasn't expecting much, and the book fell off my radar since I was busy at work on the draft of novel #2.

In July of 2010, I decided to take the self-publishing plunge and immersed myself in studying up on it. By now, I'd all but figured novel #1 would remain in the virtual bottom drawer next to my true first novel, which I'd written in my 20s. Too bad, I thought, since I still believed in the story and characters. But then something strange happened: in the midst of the summer heat of 2010, I figured out how to "fix" the opening. I scribbled a little, but I didn't do anything beyond that since I was busy with other things. Enter fate: an agent responded to a query I'd sent in the spring. It was now September. The query she was responding to had been a cover letter only -- no pages. I realized since I knew how to fix the opening that this was my big chance to go ahead and do it. Motivated by an incentive and deadline, I revised the opening and felt for the first time in the life of this novel that it was finally "there."

I never heard back from the agent, but by this point, I was committed to self-publishing and decided Forgotten April would be my debut novel. I spent the rest of the fall poring over the prose, pruning and tweaking and revising and praying and killing my darlings and revising some more. Off it went to my copy editor at the beginning of 2011. In June, I held my book (it's available in paperback as well as digital formats) for the first time.

What have I learned? Things I'd been told before -- like "everything in its own time" -- but didn't truly understand until I had lived it. I learned patience. And humility. And never giving up on something you believe in and being flexible in how you make it to your destination. And to believe. Believe, believe, believe. In those early morning hours or late nights when we scribes are scribbling, that's what we need to remember and hold onto the most.

Thanks so much, Louise, for having me stop by.  

Robyn Bradley is a Short Story Seductress and Novelist Ninja with an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. Her work has appeared in FictionWeekly.com, Metal Scratches, The Breakwater Review, Writer's Digest, and The MetroWest Daily News, among other places. In 2007, she won a short story award for “A Touch of Charlotte.” Forgotten April is her first novel. When she's not writing or sleeping, Robyn enjoys watching Law and Order, marathons, drinking margaritas, and determining how many degrees really separate her from George Clooney.


Learn more at www.robynbradley.com.


Book Trailer


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Book Excerpt 1

Chapter 1: April
When Maggie showed me her birth certificate and claimed my mother was also her mother, I didn't know what to think. I mean, my mom had never once hinted about some illegitimate child from her past. But then I remembered another big secret she kept from me: my father's death when I was five wasn’t an accident—it was suicide.
A sister? I had a sister?
I looked from the birth certificate to Maggie herself: her staggering height (close to six feet?); her glossy auburn hair (a prettier shade than mine); and her model-like face—familiar since I'd seen it on TV, but also in a way that I couldn't explain. In that instant, I knew. I didn't need evidence like a birth certificate (Maggie had been born here, in the same town as me) or my mother's confession (impossible to get anyway, thank you very much, Alzheimer's disease). I knew in my gut that Maggie and I were connected, that we'd both formed in the same womb, that we shared a partial bloodline.
If she'd only given me one goddamn moment to collect my thoughts, things might have turned out differently. I mean, how long has she been doing this investigative reporting thing on television? Twenty years? Thirty? Long enough to know that when you turn someone’s life upside down with a single piece of paper, you should give the person time to process.
But, no. She had to go and make demands. She wanted to see our mother. She wanted to set up a DNA test. She wanted to film everything for her TV show, starting right then and there.
I'll admit it doesn't take much to get my Irish up, but c'mon. This was more than any old news story. We were more than any old news story. Weren't we? Why would she want to exploit us? Why wouldn't she want to deal with everything in private, like a normal, rational human being? That was my first clue that Maggie Prescott was in it for herself, and only herself, and she didn't give a rat's ass about Mom, or me, or the fact we were, well, family. The only functioning family I had left.
            My friend Joelle says that instead of kicking Maggie and her cameraman out that day two weeks ago, I should have challenged her, shared what I was feeling, and seen how she responded. Because, Joelle claims, that would have been more revealing of Maggie's true character. This is probably why Joelle is the social worker and I'm the lowly activities director (read: bingo bitch) at Saint Anthony of Padua Healthcare Center. I don't always think things through. I wear my heart on my sleeve. You piss me off, and you're going to know it in fairly short order.
            For a while, though, I thought Joelle might have been right. Perhaps I'd been too hasty. I considered calling Maggie and saying, "Let's try this again." But something always stopped me. Why hadn't she reached out to me? It had been nearly two weeks, for God's sake. I don't watch a lot of TV, and I tend to avoid the news since it's too depressing, but even I know that Maggie is good at what she does. Why would she give up on this "story"—her story—so easily? Why would she give up on me, her sister? Hadn't she done her research? Didn't she know how hard it would be for me to trust again, love again, take a chance again, and that I'd need a little help, some prodding at the very least?
            But then came the second clue, reminding me that my original hunch about Maggie Prescott had been correct.
            When Maggie waltzed in here this afternoon, alone this time, my heart skipped a beat, like I was in love or something. I was happy to see her, happy that she hadn't turned her back, and happy that maybe we'd get a second chance at this whole sister thing. Then she tossed the envelope at me. She didn't even hand it to me. She tossed it.
            "What's this?" I said as I held it in my hands.
"The DNA results. Proof positive."
I looked up, confused. "Whose DNA results?"
She arched her left eyebrow, her eyes wide. "Um, mine and Kate's."
It took me a second to register who Kate was. Kate. Kate. My mother! "What? But how did you get—"
"You didn't think I was going to let everything drop, did you?"
"But a DNA test?" I tore open the envelope and pulled out the papers, but the text and numbers blurred together. "I didn't give you permission to do this. To invade my mother's privacy."
"Our mother," she said. "Or so it would seem."
I threw everything on my desk. "You don't care about our mother. You only care about getting the story."
"I care about the facts. I care about the truth."
"Oh, right. I'm sure ratings don't play into that at all."
"The truth brings ratings, yes. As it should."
"And you'll simply walk over anyone in your way in order to get the truth, is that right? Even if it's family you're walking over?"
She rolled her eyes, but her voice remained even and calm. "I wasn't going to let your so-called concern get in the way of my finding out the truth, no."
"My so-called concern? You think I'm faking concern for my mother?"
"Our mother," she said. "And yes. Considering you've locked her away in this place, I'd say your sudden distress over her wellbeing and privacy came across as disingenuous at best."
I gripped the sides of my chair. "You don't know what you're talking about. You don't know anything about me. Or her."
"Oh, that's right," she'd said and her eyes narrowed. "How could I? She's your mother, isn't she?"

Excerpt 2
When Maggie showed me her birth certificate and claimed my mother was also her mother, I didn't know what to think. I mean, my mom had never once hinted about some illegitimate child from her past. But then I remembered another big secret she kept from me: my father's death when I was five wasn’t an accident—it was suicide.
A sister? I had a sister?
I looked from the birth certificate to Maggie herself: her staggering height (close to six feet?); her glossy auburn hair (a prettier shade than mine); and her model-like face—familiar since I'd seen it on TV, but also in a way that I couldn't explain. In that instant, I knew. I didn't need evidence like a birth certificate (Maggie had been born here, in the same town as me) or my mother's confession (impossible to get anyway, thank you very much, Alzheimer's disease). I knew in my gut that Maggie and I were connected, that we'd both formed in the same womb, that we shared a partial bloodline.
If she'd only given me one goddamn moment to collect my thoughts, things might have turned out differently. I mean, how long has she been doing this investigative reporting thing on television? Twenty years? Thirty? Long enough to know that when you turn someone’s life upside down with a single piece of paper, you should give the person time to process.
But, no. She had to go and make demands. She wanted to see our mother. She wanted to set up a DNA test. She wanted to film everything for her TV show, starting right then and there.
I'll admit it doesn't take much to get my Irish up, but c'mon. This was more than any old news story. We were more than any old news story. Weren't we? Why would she want to exploit us? Why wouldn't she want to deal with everything in private, like a normal, rational human being? That was my first clue that Maggie Prescott was in it for herself, and only herself, and she didn't give a rat's ass about Mom, or me, or the fact we were, well, family. The only functioning family I had left.

Thank you for hosting Robyn Bradley and if you need further information, please send email to robyn@robynbradley.com


6 comments:

  1. nice blog... have a view of my blog when free.. http://www.lonelyreload.com (A Growing Teenager Diary) .. do leave me some comment / guide if can.. if interested can follow my blog...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great blog..great post..it actually took me some time to believe that it can take so many years to complete a novel..I wish her all the best for her book!
    Following ur blog thru NB! Hope you visit mine here:

    http://komzreviews.blogspot.com/

    Cheers!

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  3. Thanks so much for stopping by! @Komz...I learned a lot from this one...the second book has only taken a couple of years. :) Thanks for the well wishes!

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  4. So glad to hear of a fellow NaNo participant's success! Congratulations Robyn :)

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  5. Very interesting! I really enjoyed reading about Robyn's journey.

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  6. Thanks so much, Trisha and Michelle! :)

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