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Elizabeth's famous story of her first sale
When I gave my acceptance speech for the Dell Diamond Debut Award at the RWA National Conference in Dallas in 1996, I left out the incredible story that went behind my winning entry, Brazen Angel. I think I've saved the best to share now.
I was overjoyed when I found out Brazen Angel was a finalist for the Dell Diamond Debut Contest — the grand prize of a publishing contract hung before me like a dream come true. Yet this joyful news was followed by the horrifying realization that while I had the first three chapters and synopsis required by the contest rules-I didn't have the completed manuscript as required by the other part of the rules. Okay, so I've always been a bit of a rule breaker, not unlike my heroine, Sophia D'Artiers, ignores every rule of propriety to masquerade as the Brazen Angel. Even so, with an April Fools' Day deadline for submitting the manuscript, I should have known I was in over my head.
So began my five-week marathon to survive the French Revolution. From four in the morning until seven when I had to get ready for work, I wrote, and in the evenings I edited. On the weekends I wrote until my shoulders ached and my fingers were too numb to type. Once a week, I would drag my pages to my critique group and agonize over the book — how can I make a graveyard sexy, shouldn't I be able to make the French Revolution fun? Nominations for sainthood must be handed out to Darcy Carson, Melinda Rucker Haynes, DeeAnna Galbraith, and Lisa Wantajja for all the time they dedicated to helping me, offering encouragement and handing out an occasional kick in the pants when I needed one.
Suddenly April 1st was only a week away, and I was still 150 pages shy of the ending. Sophia had once again eluded the hero, Giles Corliss, and I felt my chances of winning slipping away just as easily. I continued to write, until Thursday, when I knew mailing the book in the next 24 hours was impossible. Blessings on FedEx, they have a Saturday night flight from Seattle that guarantees Monday delivery in New York. All I had to do was have the book to them by 5pm on Saturday. So I wrote late into Friday night and was right back at it early Saturday morning.
When my husband, Terry, came in to take me to FedEx, I'd made it to the end, but was not at all pleased with it. The page in front of me had Sophia riding in a tumbrel down the Rue St. Honor; toward the guillotine and her certain death. Giles' rescue was nowhere in sight. I would have swapped places with my condemned heroine in a heartbeat. But, alas, I was writing an historical and not a time travel and my ever practical living and breathing hero intervened from the doorway. "Come on hon, print it out," he said. "It's got to go now." I looked at the clock, which read 4:45, and realized that I didn't even have enough time to print out the final chapters.
My reply was to burst into tears. I'd gambled and lost. There was no way Brazen Angel in its current incarnation would win. I couldn't send it-not like it was-it was too embarrassing-and besides now it would arrive too late. My April Fools' anxieties came back to haunt me and the only person to blame was myself. It was a bitter, heartbreaking moment.
So as my tears and sobs grew louder, Terry did what you would expect most men would do when faced with a flood of feminine angst-he fled the room. I sobbed harder, thinking that John Grey was right-Men are from Mars. And then through my tears and self-pity, I heard the phone being dialed. I couldn't believe it! Who was Terry calling at a time like this? I figured he was calling my mother to come and take me back. But then I heard him say the most incredible words.
"What time can I get flight from Seattle to New York on Sunday and be in New York by Monday morning?"
I hiccuped a few times and wiped at my tears only to find him at the door, phone in hand, asking me what time Brazen Angel needed to be at Dell. I swear he looked taller than his usual 6'3" and his shoulders were suddenly oh, so broad-my hero, my Giles Corliss, my knight in shining armor cashing in frequent flyer mileage and booking himself a red-eye flight to the Big Apple.
To put this in perspective, understand that my husband hates big cities and he's not much of a traveler, leaving that "bug," as he calls it, to me. Also consider this is a man who'd never been to New York City, never ridden in a cab, never been on a subway and he was going to face it all alone to deliver my book. Okay, I admit it, I cried some more. And I fell in love all over again. When he hung up the phone, he looked at me and said, "You've got 36 more hours. Make it a winner, hon." And with that tremendous gift, I found not only renewed strength to continue, but a wealth of incredible love that I passed on to my characters, Sophia and Giles—that when all seems lost, your true love will be there to give you strength, to stand beside you, to save the day. I had the ending I'd been searching five weeks for.
So during the next 36 hours, I rewrote the entire book. At 12:45am on April 1st, I pulled the last page out of my tired and nearly broken printer (it died two days later), and rushed Terry to the airport. The check-in people were laughing as we came flying up to the counter. They had his boarding pass all ready—he was the last one on!
Imagine the scene in Sleepless in Seattle where the little boy decides to go to New York City and that was my Terry! Backpack in hand, (with snacks, a plane pillow and my book tucked inside) he began his quest. He rode in a cab from LaGuardia, saw Shea Stadium where the Beatles played, found Dell and delivered my book (through the delivery entrance with all the other messengers, which he thought was very cool), and set off to find the Dakota (are you seeing a theme here?). Then as his day drew to a close, Terry hailed down a cab, headed back to the airport and flew home. Mission accomplished. Another damsel saved.
So what did my hero say to me as he ventured off the plane in Seattle, having crossed the continent twice in 24 hours, tired from all of it, but oh, so proud of having 'fixed everything?'
"Don't ever say I don't support your writing!"
And I never will.
That's my story behind Brazen Angel. Thank you for letting me share it. I hope you've found it as romantic as I do.