While I was doing the Hachette Manuscript Development Program, then-Hachette publisher Bernadette Foley asked me to think about where my book fit in the market.
As research to that question, I asked some of the other participants if they’d read similar books to my own. The wonderful Kim Lock made a number of suggestions, including one popular novel.
I bought a swath of books with the intent of seeing how they related to Just Another Week in Suburbia.
That was the summer I house-sat my friend’s house to dog-sit their dog, Jet, so I could work on the revision of Just Another Week in Suburbia. While I was off from work, I had plenty of time to read.
So, in this particular popular novel, a smart single man meets a smart and beautiful single woman. He just happened to fit all her needs. A bunch of stuff happens. They get together. And all that shit.
I liked the writing – it was engaging and kept me reading. But as the story went on, it enraged me. I know the book is a romcom, but the contrivances that stacked up to make this story happen were truly bewildering. Even if the story’s not going to pretend to be real life, it could at least to pretend things happen like in real life.
Right then I had an idea: I wanted to write a romcom featuring two fucked-up people who brought into their prospective relationship lots of history – a story that satirized the genre and tried to do something a little different with it.
Once I’d finished the revisions on Just Another Week in Suburbia, I jumped into writing this idea. It was only a short story at the time, and entitled “House of Cards” – while the title might be overused (well, I didn’t know that at the time, although I probably should’ve guessed) I thought it fit the characters and their relationship: everything could just come crashing down.
The framework of what the novel is sits in that short story. Most of the characters have the same names and histories. Their interactions are mostly similar. I liked most of it.
But the ending.
August (the protagonist) and Julie (the love interest) have an explosive confrontation after he finds out she has a secret – something about her past. She’s contrite. But even as I was writing that, I knew it was wrong. I didn’t want her to be apologetic – at least not for who she is. That she kept it from him, maybe. But he could go fuck himself as far as the rest was concerned. He wasn’t there to judge her. She didn’t need his arbitrary bullshit.
I rewrote the scene and let her tee off, which felt more natural. And in finding that spark, I realized there was so much more story brimming just under the surface, and that it could be explored in a novel.
I was more excited by this idea than any other I’d had up to that point (and since). Despite the Hachette Manuscript Program and the experiences of trying to place Just Another Week in Suburbia in the market, I had no idea where the novelisation of “House of Cards” (which retained the same title for years) would sit.
But surely it would be okay.
It was about people in love.
That sells, doesn’t it?
Next Week: The Story and Characters in August Falling.