Monday, May 12, 2014

Things I probably shouldn't confess about Frisky Business

I feel like I need to confess something about my new romantic comedy, Frisky Business. It's something that might actually annoy my editor a little bit, so if you happen to be, sorry. Maybe come back next week when I describe my latest search for garage porn?

There's a complicated story behind Frisky Business. Back in 2010 when I signed a three-book contract for romantic comedies with Sourcebooks, we agreed my third book would be a story set at a make-believe Oregon winery with a divorced heroine harboring a longtime crush on her ex-husband's best friend, a recovering alcoholic who's just gotten his life back together. The story wasn't written yet when we signed the contract, but we all agreed on the overall plot and a release date sometime in late 2012.

Then, life happened. I went through a pretty lousy divorce that occupied most of my energy between the spring of 2010 and the spring of 2011. Since that was the same period in which I was writing the aforementioned third book, you can imagine the story took on a slightly darker tone. It was still romantic comedy, of course, but between the plot elements of divorce and alcoholism, and the fact that the author was struggling to feel romantic or comedic, the book was a bit more somber than Making Waves and Believe It Or Not (the first two books in that contract).

But I pressed on, and by January 2012, I'd cycled through a couple rounds of revisions with my editor and felt pretty good about the book. Then I got a call from my agent. She'd spoken at length with my editor, who had begun to feel this was not the right third book. My editor was very clear that she loved the writing and the story, and that they weren't rejecting it for editorial reasons (an important distinction when it comes to book contracts). In fact, I had the option to go ahead with the book and the release date if I wanted to. But my editor cautioned me that books with alcohol-related themes weren't selling well at all, and my agent and I discussed what low sales would mean for my career at the tail end of a three-book deal.

I agreed to go back to the drawing board and write a whole new book with whole new release date somewhere off in the distance.

I began to write again. I came up with two new story ideas, including one with a heroine working as a professional fund-raiser for a museum and wildlife sanctuary in Bend, Oregon. Fed up with wealthy jerks, she vows to date only blue-collar men, which proves inconvenient when she falls for the unlikely millionaire serving as chairman of the board of directors. I wrote the first three chapters and handed them off to my editor.

She loved the story, except for a few small details. The heroine shouldn't be a fund-raiser, the hero shouldn't be a board chairman, and the museum setting would never work. Oh, and I needed to focus on making the story "more mainstream."

In other words, change pretty much everything.

At that point, I will admit it – I kinda lost my shit. There may have been cursing and hurling of objects. I'm pretty sure wine was involved. My agent coaxed me off the ledge. "Just take a break and write something fun," she said, shoving me toward a quirky 12,00-word novella project that ended up becoming Eat, Play, Lust.

After a month or so, we regrouped. I clarified with my editor that the "museum" was more of a quirky wildlife sanctuary resembling the High Desert Museum in Bend, and we all agreed that setting would be fine as long as I steered clear of making it sound like a stuffy art gallery.

Ultimately though, everything came down to this advice from my agent: "Write the book you want to write, the way you need to write it. Just forget everything else."

So I did. I kept the proposed setting, and I kept my characters' professions. Then I added a storyline about antique stone dildos and a subplot about a lesbian relationship.

"Um, this is pretty much the opposite of mainstream," one of my critique partners pointed out when I finished. "And what's with all the weird sex euphemisms?"

I turned the book in to my editor. I was absolutely, positively certain she would hate it. I was ready. Deep down, I think even my agent was bracing herself for the contract to be terminated.

Then, my editor floored us all. "I love it," she said.

Her only change was a request to switch a minor character's name from Mark to something that sounded less like my heroine's name, Marley.

That was it? I was dumbfounded. And I will admit something right now – I thought she was messing with me. I thought she actually hated the book, and this was her way of making the whole thing go away.

So as my publication date approached these last few months, I've been bracing myself. I was prepared for scathing reviews, for readers expressing annoyance in their Amazon comments. 

Instead, I got this:

“Up-and-coming romance author Fenske sets up impeccable internal and external conflict and sizzling sexual tension for a poignant love story between two engaging characters, then infuses it with witty dialogue and lively humor. An appealing blend of lighthearted fun and emotional tenderness.”
–Kirkus Reviews 

“Fenske’s fluffy, frothy novel is a confection made of colorful characters, compromising situations and cute dogs…This one’s for readers who prefer a tickled funny bone rather than a tale of woe.”
– RT Book Reviews 

 “Loaded with outrageous euphemisms for the sex act between any type of couple and repeated near intimate misses, Fenske’s latest is a clever tour de force on finding love despite being your own worst emotional enemy. Sweet and slightly oddball, this title belongs in most romance collections.”
Library Journal 

Another Frisky Business surprise – discovering
it's being sold at Fred Meyer and Kroger around the U.S.
I know authors always act surprised and humbled by positive reviews. Hell, I've done it myself. But never before have I been so utterly, completely dumbfounded by the praise that's been heaped on Frisky Business.

So there you have it. My true confession about my latest romantic comedy release. I feel so much better now, don't you? Perhaps we should all do a few hail marys and break out the communion wine.

Since you've read all the way to the end of this story, I feel like I should reward you somehow (or at least one of you, anyway). Share in the comments about one time YOU received praise or compliments you totally weren't expecting. I'll choose one winner next Monday, May 19, to receive a signed copy of Frisky Business. Cheers!


Ashley said...

I've already read this book, so I'm not entering the contest. I will tell you - you all should definitely enter! This book is HILARIOUS! It will be one of my go-to books to read again when I need a pick-me-up.

Sierra said...

Ooh! I have two! Both should be prefaced by the fact that I have always dreamed of being an artist, but didn't think I had the skills, and both took place at the beginning of this year.

About 5 years ago, we went on a family road trip that included a stop at Yellowstone National Park. While we were going around to gape at geysers, I was snapping pictures of my family. I love candid shots more than anything, and took what I thought was an awesome-for-me shot of my stepdad, who happens to be an amazing artist. I didn't show it to him until last summer.

Three months or so ago, we went to a show he had up, and I was stunned to see my photo (complete with credit) up as his portrait on his bio. He told me he thought it was an excellent picture and has apparently been using it as his professional photo ever since I gave him a copy.

I also took a painting class last fall, purely through luck and chance and finally getting over my fear. It turns out I have some skill, and my final piece for the class got a lot of praise. In December/January, my stepdad and my mom went to a professional show with lots of paintings from artists who have been active for YEARS. My mom called me afterwards and told me I should join the association that put on the show because my painting was "better than most of the things" she'd seen there. I brushed her off. She passed the phone to my stepdad, who said "Your work is excellent. You have the talent, and you're building the skills. You need to submit your pieces to shows."

It's May and I'm still dumbfounded by both of those moments. And my stepdad keeps giving me art supplies because he's so invested in nurturing this talent I always wanted but didn't think I had.

Patty Blount said...

When I was new on Twitter, I'd met a great bunch of women and we started a virtual book club. I work full time and can only pop online a few times throughout the work day, during various breaks. After one break, I returned to Twitter to find a long thread among all these women talking about how wonderful somebody was. Turned it, I was that somebody!!!!

Jessi said...

I'm a professional marketing copywriter, and even though I've been doing this type of work for 14 years, I still second-guess myself from time to time. Recently I helped an IT company name some new service packages and I really went out on a limb, pulling from a rocket science glossary and a whitewater rafting jargon handbook. I steeled myself for the "Yeah, this is just too far out there" response. But they actually loved all my suggestions!

Deborah Blake said...

I'm currently reading Frisky Business and loving it. (But I'm reading it as an eBook, so I'll enter for a signed copy!)

I loved your first two books, so buying this one was a no-brainer. (Which is good, because that's about how much brain I have right now.)

I did a book signing last weekend for my most recent Llewellyn book (#7, yeesh) and a wonderful woman told me that she had come FOUR HOURS with her entire family, because it was all she wanted for Mother's Day. No, I didn't cry...exactly.

bn100 said...

when I cooked something

bn100candg at hotmail dot com

erin said...

I've followed your blog since the beginning and I'm amazed that you were able to write such fun, funny books during all that was going on in your personal life. And I've cheered when things have dramatically changed for the better for you :) Ummm... I have a strange job... I work in pediatric healthcare and so it's hard to be the "good guy". But I've gotten compliments from parents after I've spent 20 minutes wrestling their child to get a finger poked for some lab work. I look at them in a bit of amazement cuz I'm expecting anger but... take what you can get :) Thanks for sharing!!! I'm really looking forward to this book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Robin the Book Nerd said...

I loved Frisky Business and all the sexual euphemisms! The stone phallic figurines were perfect work of art not stuffy at all. Great job. :) I get praise from my Uncle for how good I take care of his big brother , my daddy who is wheel chair bound. I don't expect praise for taking care of him so when my uncle does makes me smile and say he took care of me so what goes around comes around. I was already privileged to receive an arc copy so no need to win one just wanted to comment. Eat Pray Lust was also a winner in my book! .

Michelle Wolfson said...

I can't think of one so I'll just say wow, your agent sounds brilliant.

Wait, does this count now??

Cara O said...

Hmmm, when I was in nursing school, I overheard my teacher talking to the nurse I was following, (who's 75 and has been teaching for over 40 years) say that I was going to be one of the best nurses she has ever seen. I was not expecting that, but it was a huge compliment. Congrats on yours, this book looks funny and awesome!

Skye said...

Thanks for sharing this story! I adore backstory. I'm looking forward to reading Frisky Business because I've read all your others and completely enjoy them.

I was working for NOAA Fisheries Service down in a small research station on the Oregon Coast. I edited big scientific reports --- not exactly fascinating reading. One of the reports I worked on was cowritten by several scientists, most of whom wrongly assumed they were great writers. It took a lot of in-depth editing and lots of negotiations over several months, but the end result was a report that the division director said was the best of these reports he'd ever read, and his division almost entirely wrote such reports.

Raley Blue said...

I married at 18 against the wishes of both his and my entire families. We had three children by the time I was 26. This was actually of feat of faith and science, because I have always struggled with fertility disorders. None of this pleased the families and all seemed to think it was a sign from above that we were living the absolute wrong life. I grew tougher and shut it out. "Don't should on me," became my motto. Then one day when my youngest of our first three children was about a year old and defied the "failure to thrive" label she had been given, my grandmother told me in the middle of a phone lecture about how to "live right" that she was confident I could indeed be successful and dominant in the world if I chose to be because she could see it in the fine examples that were my children. She was proud of what good little children they were and knew it was entirely my work in caring for them that had produced such good results. She was impressed. I DID NOT see that coming. But it changed evertyhing in how I approached life, especially motherhood,from that moment on.


Wow, all these lovely stories you guys shared leave me feeling warm and tingly all over. Thank you SO MUCH! I threw all the names in a hat (OK fine, it was a dirty cereal bowl) and picked Erin as the winner. Erin, please email me at tawnafenske at yahoo dot com with your snail mail info and I'll get that book out to you ASAP. Cheers!


miaohdeux said...

Just reading this now (and I loved Frisky Business) but this is just SO fitting for my current situation.

I'm working on a book that straddles the Young Adult/New Adult fence, with multiple POVs and all sorts of things that might make it "not mainstream." I'm trying not to think of the repercussions of staying with this project. With that in mind, your post is really inspiring. Thank you, Tawna! :)