Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Guest Blog: If I Bought You a Box of Commas by Bernadette Marie
If I Bought You a Box of Commas
by Bernadette Marie
The rejections letter, more often than not, will tell you that your work just isn’t right for the company or agent that you have submitted to. Okay, that one is an easier pill to swallow, yes, even though you have an original story no one has told before. It’s the harsh words that bite when you get them, and if you’re an author and you're submitting your work to agents, editors, houses, or contests—you’re going to get them.
Here are a few of my favorites. The first contest I ever submitted to the first judge LOVED my story. She could smell the fire that burned in the first few chapters. That was great! I had conveyed my message. The next judge said it was too slow paced. Well, yeah. It took me a while to realize that thirty pages in is way too much to not even have your hero or heroine in the same book together. (No matter how long it took, I learned something there.)
There are the hurtful critiques like the judge who asked, “If I buy you a box of commas will you use them?” Hurtful! Or the judge in the SAME contest that gave me all high scores, and no comments at all. But mixed in with that comma comment, and the high scoring non-comment judge, was the judge that told me my heroine sucked so much she’d never buy me. WOW!
The purpose behind contests is to learn, right? Oh, I learned. I didn’t submit anymore.
It took a long time for me to gather my courage again. Sure, I looked at my work real hard. Yes, I didn’t use commas correctly. (My editor might still argue that I do, but now I’m in the position that she looks for them for me.) I see why the other judge wouldn’t buy me, ever. Because the small snippet of the book that she was reading didn’t have anything but boring information, there was no character interaction. I get it now, but the delivery of those comments nearly cost me a career that I wanted so much.
When I was finally picked up by a small house, it was my personality and my self-marketing that sold me. It was a short lived relationship, but what it gave me was experience and education beyond words. The first editor she picked for me said, “When she rewrites it and fixes all the tells vs. shows, I’ll edit it.” Well, without guidance how do I know if I’ve told you or shown you? This is an amateur’s mistake. The next editor, who will remain my editor for life, took my book and scene by scene, yes…scene by scene, we broke it down and she taught me how to write. Oh I could weave a good story, but to write and capture the audience, she taught me that. I learned how to stop POV shifts. I learned how to put things in order so it read right. After six books together we can almost read each other’s thoughts. As I edit, I hear her telling me what she would think. She molded me, and if she said she’d bought me a box of commas, because of her diligence to help me become a better writer, I’d use those commas.
Two years later, I am now content editing books. It is amazing what a bit of constructive criticism with some pats on the back and pushes in the right direction can do to inspire and enlighten someone. I hope that the authors I edit will walk away having learned something. And to the unpublished authors to whom I will someday critique your books or judge your work, I promise to make sure you walk away with something that will help you along your journey as an author.
Bernadette Marie has been an avid writer since the early age of 13, when she’d fill notebook after notebook with stories that she’d share with her friends. Her journey into novel writing started the summer before eighth grade when her father gave her an old typewriter. At all times of the day and night you would find her on the back porch penning her first work, which she would continue to write for the next 22 years.
In 2007 – after marriage, filling her chronic entrepreneurial needs, and having five children – Bernadette began to write seriously with the goal of being published. That year she wrote 12 books. In 2009 she was contracted for her first trilogy and the published author was born. In 2011 she (being the entrepreneur that she is) opened her own publishing house, 5 Prince Publishing, and has released contemporary titles and will begin the process, eventually, of taking on other authors in other genres. Also in 2011 she became co-owner of Seven Songs Press and will release a novella as part of an anthology with other very talented authors in November 2011.
Bernadette spends most of her free time driving her kids to their many events. She is also an accomplished martial artist, working her way to her second degree black belt in Tang Soo Do. An avid reader, she enjoys most, the works of Nora Roberts and Karen White. She loves to meet readers who enjoy reading contemporary romances and she always promises Happily Ever After.
BLURB FOR THE EXECUTIVE’S DECISION:
Regan Keller fell in love with a wealthy and powerful man once. He was her boss. When that turbulent relationship ended, she swore she’d never again date someone she worked with. That was before she literally fell into her new boss’s lap.
Zachary Benson is the head of a successful empire and used to getting what he wants in the boardroom and outside of it – and what he wants is Regan Keller. He’s determined to convince Regan that even though he’s her boss, they can share a life together.
However, when Regan’s past threatens to destroy the architectural firm Zach has invested his entire career in, he has to make an executive decision whether to choose his business or fight for the woman he loves.
EXCERPT FROM THE EXECUTIVE’S DECISION
Thunder rippled through the gray clouds that loomed overhead. Regan Keller raised her eyes to the sky. Please, please don’t rain. As she sent up the silent prayer, she felt the first drop hit her forehead.
The nervous flutter in her stomach quickened as she looked down at her watch. Surely her day couldn’t get any worse. But the sky opened up, and those around her crowded together in the bus stop shelter. Her hair, tied in a tail at the base of her neck, dripped rain down her back as she hunched in her coat. How could she have forgotten her umbrella? Had her car been running, she’d have the one tucked safely away in the glove compartment because spring in Tennessee often meant sudden storms. She should carry one in her bag but had suffered a lapse in memory, having opted for the sunny beaches of Hawaii for the past two years.
As the bus arrived, those under the shelter huddled onto it ahead of her, claiming every seat. Soaking wet, Regan wedged herself between two people and held onto the handrail above her head. She looked out the window at the commuters driving themselves to work in the pouring rain. That should have been her.
A bitter-faced old woman sat below her, her oversized bag occupying the next seat. Regan bent to ask her to move it, but the woman glared up at her and gave a grunt that sounded like a dog’s bark. Regan flinched and tried to look away. But she was compelled to keep an eye on the woman.
The man to the other side of the vacant seat snickered. Regan looked down at him in his long black overcoat and perfect hair. Hemmed in between the old lady’s bag and an overweight man in a jogging suit, he was as pinned in his seat as she was to the people around her. She would have given him a piece of her mind for laughing at her had the bus not jolted to a sudden stop. It lurched forward then back and tossed Regan onto the man’s lap.
“I would have offered you my seat,” he said with a bright grin as the bus lurched again.
“Why, you…” She struggled to free herself, but the crowd moved in tightly around them as the bus bounced down the street. The pace of her heart kicked into gear and she could feel the sweat bead on her brow.
She hadn’t been this close to a man in over a year, and the panic of having him actually hold her on his lap was making her more than uncomfortable. “I need to stand up.”
“You might as well sit.” He wrapped his arms around her. “Doesn’t look like you’ll be standing again anytime soon.”
Regan took a few deep and cleansing breaths. She forced down the panic that was filling her body and tried to push it away. Alexander Hamilton thought she was dead. There should be no danger in sitting on the lap of a nice-looking man. She should find it within her to enjoy the experience and focus on something else.
He didn’t have an accent native to Tennessee like hers. Perhaps the rain had caught him off guard as well. If she didn’t relax, she’d have a heart attack, and this nice gentleman who wasn’t from Nashville would probably be blamed for her death on the bus on his way to work.
Accepting her predicament at face value would be a prime opportunity to let go of bitter feelings for the opposite gender, though after what she’d been through, she wasn’t sure she could. The thought of ever loving another man or letting one touch her made her palms sweat and her stomach clench.
The man smiled at her, and a dimple formed in his cheek. “This is your first time on this bus, isn’t it?” He pushed back a wet wisp of hair from her forehead, and she flinched away. “It’s always crowded, but I know I would have seen you.”
“My car wouldn’t start this morning.” She pressed her hand to her jittery stomach and willed it to settle. “I start a new job today. Car trouble couldn’t have come at a worse time.”
“New job? Congratulations. So what is this new job?”
God, he was handsome, and wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy the ride? But she wasn’t. “Executive assistant.” The words shook as she spoke.
“You think it’s just some glorified secretary, don’t you?” She clenched her teeth and her fists. Why wouldn’t she be angry? The last man she’d worked for had interpreted the title executive assistant as a license to run her life and to ruin it.
“No. I was serious. It’s a very important position.” He looked sincere. “So where is this new job?”
“Benson, Benson and Hart.”
“Real estate development.”
“Yes.” Her breath was becoming harder to push through her lungs. “I should get off your lap.”
“You’d ruin my day.” He laughed easily, so she tried to relax. “So whose executive assistant will you be?”
“Zachary Benson’s.” She looked around for a space to stand.
“CEO? He must have been very impressed with you.”
“I’ve never met him. His current assistant is having a baby and leaving the company. He was out of town when she interviewed me.” She thought about Mary Ellen, his current assistant. The interview had had a motherly quality to it. She wasn’t sure whether it was because Mary Ellen was pregnant or that worried for her boss. “I think she takes good care of him. It’ll be a hard pair of shoes to fill.” And if that hadn’t had her stomach tied in knots, here she was having a conversation about it with a man she didn’t know while sitting on his lap. Had she completely forgotten the last man she’d gotten this close to tried to kill her?
“I’m sure he’ll be pleased with her choice.”
“Thank you.” She wanted to wiggle away from the hard muscles she could feel in his chest, from his arms that held her tight against him, and from the legs of a man who obviously kept in shape. She couldn’t, so she kept talking. “I hope he likes me. I can’t imagine him not wanting to meet me first.”
“Maybe he’s ugly.”
Finally a laugh rolled from her throat. “That’s not what Mary Ellen said.” She tucked in her lips. “She says he’s a hottie.”
“Hottie?” His voice lit with humor. “Well, you’ll enjoy your job then.”
“Strictly business here. I don’t get involved with the boss,” she said sternly. Not anymore. This was, after all, her chance to take back her life after making such a mistake.
The bus stopped, and the old woman stood and grabbed her bag.
“Move!” She shoved her way through the people who climbed on and made her way out the door. Before Regan could stand and claim a seat, the crowd around her pushed her closer against the stranger, whose arms wrapped tightly around her as others dropped down beside them.
“Your stop is the next one,” he offered, and she nodded. “So what’s your name?”
“You’re native to Tennessee, aren’t you? Your accent gives you away.”
“I was born in Memphis. I spent most of my life in Nashville though. I did a stint in Los Angeles and then lived in Maui for the last two years. I missed home though.” The more she tried to suppress her nerves, the more she talked.
“Los Angeles? Tried your hand at Hollywood?”
“No.” She shook her head. “I worked for a prominent lawyer who had some big-name clients. But I wasn’t seeking fame and fortune.”
“Well, Ms. Executive Assistant, I’m glad you came home or this would have been a very boring ride this morning.” The bus stopped, and most of the people began to move to the door. “This is your stop.”
She finally stood and turned to exit with the crowd without looking back.
The man caught her hand and held it. Her very core shook, and her first instinct was to rip her hand away. But she needed to move on and not be so damn afraid of every man that gave her attention.
“Would you have lunch with me?” he asked.
“What?” She looked back at people climbing on. If she didn’t exit the bus now, she’d miss her stop. “Oh, I don’t think so.”
“Meet me at the hot dog stand at noon just on the north corner of your building,” he said with a wink and a nod.
She couldn’t think to speak. She nodded as she hurried off the bus.
The rain had subsided for the time being. Regan had almost dried off as she sat on the handsome man’s lap. The smell of his cologne lingered on her coat. She closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of him.
She stopped as she neared the door and turned to see the bus drive away. He was watching her from the window, and he waved. It occurred to her she didn’t even know his name.
She looked down at her hands. They were shaking.
Get over it. Move on. Not everyone wanted to hurt her. Not every man was evil with ulterior motives. No, some were just nice men who wanted to take you to lunch.
Well, it wasn’t like he’d asked her to stay at a hotel. He’d offered to buy her a hot dog. Really, it was harmless. And he’d assume she was too busy with her new job if she just didn’t show up.
But she wanted to.
Well, there was no better time to move on with her life, and no better way to get to know the man on whose lap you’d ridden to work than over a hot dog.
A tingle of hope shot through her. She needed to start taking back her life the way she wanted it. No more mistakes. No more regrets. It was her life now, and she was going to enjoy it.