Have you ever worried that a publisher might want some radical changes in your manuscript? Heard some horror stories? Patricia, better known as author p.m.terrell, has a wild story for you!
I’d written the book while still performing contract work for a trucking company. I was younger then and I discovered my blond hair, blue eyes and tendency to look like an airhead helped me tremendously—they never suspected I was an FBI informant. The book was a dramatized version of the trucking kickback scheme, imaginatively titled Kickback.
As I approached the house, I read the letter. This publisher was not rejecting Kickback, as 3,857 had before them. They were accepting it—if I changed the storyline and made Sheila, the main character, a lesbian.
Now, I have to admit, I gave this some serious thought. After all, this could be my Big Break.
I mulled it over. The handsome man, Matt, would no longer be necessary. The suspicious coworker, Pam, would be Sheila’s love interest. The bedroom scenes with Matt would become… the bedroom scenes with Pam.
Now, I have to admit, I was in virgin territory.
So I did what any self-respecting, budding author would do. I rented a movie.
My Two Loves starred Lynn Redgrave as a lesbian falling in love with Mariette Hartley. Each time they were together, she looked at her co-worker with the same expression my husband uses when he’s grilling a steak. Hhmm, I thought. To write these sex scenes, I could just envision Sheila’s coworker as a pork chop.
I wondered what my father, an ultra-conservative, ex-FBI agent, would think of this. In my mind’s eye, I quickly realized I didn’t want to go there.
So I thought of my granddaughter, who was approaching puberty. What would she think, lying in bed at night, reading Grandma’s book, and stumbling onto lesbian sex?
I asked my husband what he thought about it. He was fine with it—as long as he could envision Halle Berry and Charlize Theron.
In the end, I wrote the publishers. In part, my letter read, “They say to write what you know. I don’t know anything about lesbian love. And at this stage in my life, I’m not inclined to do the research.”
p.m.terrell’s debut suspense/thriller, Kickback, was published in 2002. Since then, she’s become the internationally acclaimed, award-winning author of 12 books, including 5 suspense/thrillers and 2 historical suspense/adventures. You can read more about her at her website and blog.
Can any of you top that one?
At least you let that one stew a bit before you told them no.
That was quite a change they wanted. Could have done the research on the interent like I do.
Surely if someone writes a book then it is your ideas, your characters, and you write it as you want others to read it.
What I can't understand is publishers wanting to change a characters' personality etc.
Maybe writing poetry is different but I wouldn't make THAT drastic change.
Have a good day.
I couldn't have made the change either...
Pretty cool. Sometimes we just have to stick to our guns.
that is a giant leap to change a character, not that there is nothing wrong for them to ask. i am glad she was able to stay on the path and defend herself and the character. i could not have changed it, though at this point in my life if they wanted to change me to a chicken who wrote the book... i would have to say "cluck, cluck".
Kudos standing your ground and being true to you and your novel!
What a great story! Way to go for staying true to your story, even if it meant losing the chance at publication. Fortunately, she ended up being very successful! :)
Thanks for sharing her story with us, Alex.
Excellent response to the publisher!
I can't top it, but my present correspondence with an agent -- in a public forum no less -- is an ongoing saga.
Sounds like she did the right thing- thought about it, decided it didn't need them and told them no. Great story! I'll have to keep it in mind if I'm ever in a similar situation.
what a witty story, i love patricia.
Cool guest blogger. I don't have a problem with creating a lesbian romance interest, but doing that to my main character would wound me deeply. I think I would have also said "no". Way to hold on to your ideals. Great post, Alex.
Jeremy, just don't lay an egg!
She stuck to her gun all right!
This would be hard to top.
No matter what anyone says I guess you can't learn everything from Google and Wiki-pedia:D
'In the end, I wrote the publishers. In part, my letter read, “They say to write what you know. I don’t know anything about lesbian love. And at this stage in my life, I’m not inclined to do the research.”'
Can I just say I loved the way you handled this?
Thanks, everybody, for all the great comments! I did consider doing some research on the Internet but had visions of it spiralling out of control and having someone show up on my doorstep. With my luck, it wouldn't have been Halle Berry but someone with whips and chains. And that would have broken two of my rules: it can't hurt, and if there's a fire, I have to be able to get out...
I also have a rule with my own writing: since I can't sit beside each reader and explain what I meant by each scene, the scenes would have to stand on their own. And for me, I've found that works better with a kickstand.
That's bizarre. I'm not sure how I would react in a similar situation. Good choice.
Funny story. I think there are some lines that we don't need to cross if they are not consistent with our values. But then again, it doesn't hurt to listen to and consider new ideas and possibilities.
Tossing It Out
Awwwesome, p.m.terrell! It's so important to stay true to your writing. It's more honest I think.
Alex, thanks for another great author story.
Wow, what a story. At least you did a bit of research before throwing the towel at them. I could never write a love scene imagining a lover as a pork chop, but, I'm not a fan of meat.
I think I would have done the same thing. And it seemed to work out for you.
Good for you! If only all writers had the guts to stick to their guns instead of becoming slaves to big publishers just to get their books in print.
I didn't even know you could decline!
This is a wonderful story. And no, Alex, can't top this one. Thanks, both of you.
Suzette, isn't that funny?
Clarissa, I couldn't either.
Thanks again, Patrcia.
Wow!! I'd probably research with aplomb but then I am a hedonist in need of cold showers several times a day. Ahem.
LOL!! Oh but seriously, great story!! Thanks for sharing Cap'n Alex and p.m terrell. Take care
Big change! Congratulations on being so easy to work with! That will serve you well. :)
Like making Scarlet a nice girl in the beginning of GWTW? Nope, wouldn't do it.
Alex, I really appreciate you having me as your guest blogger today. And I truly appreciate all the comments from your fabulous readers. I'm relieved no one suggested I would have been better off to have changed the story.
I always figured this situation was so bizarre, it guaranteed I would land on Oprah someday just so I could tell it. Unfortunately, that ship has sailed.
That's a great story. Nope, can't top that. I hope I never can, either. :P
Wow! That would have been a drastic change. Thanks for sharing this story, Patricia!
That is a big change. Did they ever say why they thought it would work better that way?
This is one of the best writer stories I've ever heard. Thanks for sharing.
The ethics of the publisher's request aside, even little changes to a novel create huge headaches ... when you start unstringing the pearls the next thing you know they're rolling all over the floor and you're looking under the couch and everywhere for them. Nope, I wouldn't have done it either ... well, not unless they offered me enough money.
I can see why you would be tempted! Loved your reply!
Hilarious - couldnt' help laughing at the bit ' I did what any sel-respecting author would do...'
I would have done the same thing as P.M. Great post
Patricia Lynne, they never did say why they thought the plot would be better with the change. I wondered if I had stumbled onto a publisher who specialized in gay/lesbian books, and it hadn't been noted as such in Writer's Market.
Christopher, good point about the money. I have to admit, I did consider writing it under a pen name but was afraid I'd be found out. With my luck, it would have been on the news the night before I spoke at a Christian conference.
Which reminds me... Next week, my blog at www.pmterrell.blogspot.com will be about the publicist who wanted me to hide my face forever!
Good for her. After all of those rejections she didn't cave.
Love your comment in the letter about the "research." I did change a storyline for a story to feature a gay character for a magazine once, and it sold, but was never published since that mag folded. The relationship was really only implied, though, so no research involved. I wrote the story with a 'female' love interest, then changed the name to a male one and made some other cosmetic changes.
Nope. Can't top it. Because that story is effing awesome. Good for you, P.M.!
That agent/publisher had a quota to fill for one of their little square boxes. Glad you stood your ground and that's not a statement about lesbian anything. It's only a statement on what you as a writer knew what was best for your book.
Thanks for the additional comments, and for being so wonderfully supportive! I have to admit while I was still searching for a publisher, I wondered if I'd let opportunity slip through my fingers. But I've never been inclined to sell my soul to the devil... And that isn't a statement about gays and lesbians, only about staying true to myself.
Kitty, you always make me laugh!
Christopher, another big reason I couldn't do it - think of the changes!
And Patricia, that's the best we can do - stay true to ourselves.
Great story. "I’m not inclined to do the research" made me laugh!
That certainly is a leap. I'm glad you stuck to your guns. It would have been different if she had been bi to start with and the publisher just wanted to focus on the female aspect of her love life, but to go in a complete opposite direction? Sheesh...
Great story and great response to the editors. None of my editor request stories even approach this one.
Simon, glad I could make you laugh today! I'm sure my expression as I read the publisher's letter was priceless. I felt like I was in an episode of "Friends" - Joey would have loved it!
Good for you! It must have been so tempting to accept and kowtow to their demands. And then you had the book published your way. I hope you sent them a copy.
Good for her. That's what she needed and she stuck to her guns. Good deal.
So interesting. I think you were probably very wise, not because I see anything wrong with a gay love story in a book, but more because getting it WRONG could easily come across as disrespectful, so you're right... what you know is important there.
Wow. That would make a lot of changes to a ms. My husband would be all for such a change, too.
Been there, done that: told a publisher this year to go run and jump. No, I would not change a chunk of the book, because if I did I might as well not have written the darn thing in the first place. It's since been contracted by another publisher: as was, as is! :o
What a great post. I wondered about what authors did when faced with MAJOR changes to their stories. I haven't had to deal with that...yet. :)
Edge of Your Seat Romance
Melissa, it would be quite a change.
Rosalind, that's funny!
Mary, that's because our fantasies are usually better than reality as far as that stuff goes.
Francine, good for you!
Thanks for all the additional comments, folks! You made some great points. I hadn't thought about how it might come across if I got things wrong... But I felt the "passion" wouldn't convey since I sure wouldn't feel it myself. And if I can't feel it, I can't get the reader to feel it, either.
It also occurred to me that controversy sells. But if that's what I became known for, I'd decided I'd rather not be known!
Fantastic story and a brave decision! (Off to buy the book now:))
This is fabulous! What a great response, Patricia.
Nice! I think I would have responded that way as well. Not into doing the research needed for this task, but thanks for asking!
That is pretty amazing! Sometimes I wonder how the powers that be decide on these odd changes. Glad the book is doing amazing!
Great guest post, Alex!
Thanks so much for this, Patricia.
I had to smile for two reasons. One, your fresh and witty writing, and two, the way you stood up for your work.
Nice to know Patricia stuck to her guns and got published anyway!
I worry (if I ever get to that part where a publisher is interested) that a publisher, or the agent before that, would ask me to take a particular scene out of my book, or somehow tone it down as it portrays a violent rape. But I could never do that, even tempted by publication, because that scene is the heart of the story, what drives the book, and if they find that offensive, then they shouldn't be interested in publishing it in the first place.
Oh my God, Trish, I am dying! LOL I can hear your husband saying that, too. Craig would probably agree.
I need to let him read this! He'll want details next time we see you, I'm sure.
Haha! That is such a friggen funny story! Glad she could write here today.
What a change and what a funny and interesting story. Love the way you told it! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you everybody! I truly appreciate all your supportive comments - more than you know! And many, many thanks to everyone who said they would buy the book. As you read it, you'll know (as Paul Harvey used to say) the REST of the story.
And Diane, if you really want to hear more, ask Don about his dream that night! He woke up the next morning and said, "Wow, I dreamed Halle Berry was on one side of me and Charlize Theron was on the other side." I rolled over and answered, "Yeah; you were dreamin'."
Love it! When I'm reading it, it's going to be hard not to picture pork chops and folks in very different roles! :)
Nancy, only you understand the heart of your story. Stick with it no matter what.
Cheeseboy, knew you'd like it!
Patricia, tell Don I want his dream...
hahaha so funny! The book sounds great too :)
I love what you said about not being "inclined to do the research". Honest and witty. Perfect. Thanks for sharing your stroy. =D
And thanks for hosting, Alex!
Ha! That is great what you responded with to the publishers.
Great post! :)
Good for you for keeping an open mind, and then doing what your heart said was right.
What a great story. LOL about your husband's thoughts. That cracked me up because mine probably would have said something similar.
OMG, I LOVE the response to the publisher! Excellent!
Wow, Alex, can I adopt all your peeps? You are absolutely right - Captain Ninja Alex's Army DOES rock! I love you guys! You give me the inspiration and motivation to keep going. Glad you all enjoyed the blog!
And Alex, I bet EVERY man wants my husband's dream! LOL! To this day, every time we see Halle Berry on screen, I turn to my husband and say, "You know she wants you."
Patricia, thanks again, and just let your husband dream!
Thanks, guys. This Ninja Army does rock!
When I first started writing I thought I could change anything. Now, I realize that is not the case.
Great story, Patricia! I love your response to the publishers. :D
Huhn?!?!?! What was that about Charlize Theron and Halle Berry?
Stephen, I'm afraid you were only dreaming.
As someone who often PRETENDS to be a lesbian when hanging out in adult chat rooms, I must say that I could have helped you with that revision....
I TOTALLY understand lesbians!
Here's the key to them: they're all incredibly hot, young, nymphomaniacs who like to engage in sex chat with random people -- without exception. It's true!!!
Kidding, kidding (I mean, on everything I just wrote)....
You made the admirable -- and probably right -- decision.
Wow, Patricia! Thanks for writing about this. I never thought they'd ask for that dramatic of a change. Glad you stuck to your guns. I can envision myself changing some minor things and I'm preparing myself to be flexible. But I think what that publisher wanted you to do was too far. We have to draw the line somewhere or else it really would look like we don't know what we're talking about- because we really wouldn't!
What a great story! I think that is definitely the most interesting request I've heard of!
I had the same thing happen to me in reverse. I wrote a romantic comedy where the heroine was in love with a gay man. An agent said she loved the voice, but she didn't know any market for fag-hag lit (she didn't call it that--she was more polite) She asked me to change his orientation so we could have the traditional happy-ever-after wedding.
It defeated the whole point of the book, so I gave her a quick "no." She hung up in a snit. But I've always wondered what would have happened if I'd done what she asked.
Though we might have to start worrying about you, Andrew!
Anne, that is a fascinating story! I think you made the right decision. Too many times, I've seen authors change their stories so they were no longer their own and they regretted it later.
Thanks, everyone, for being so supportive! Thanks especially to Alex for letting me tell this story here. It's the first time I've ever told anyone outside of my family about it!
WOW. Um . . . just wow! I can't even imagine that. I'm so glad she didn't give up even though she told them no.
Wow, I'm glad you stuck to your guns. I don't know what I would do in that case. I think I would have gone for it if it plussed the story, but I guess I'm more comfortable writing lesbian sex into a WIP because I read so much romance in my internship. But it probably wouldn't happen to me because I write YA:)
Instinct is everything in this business.
Wow! That is quite the big change to make to a character! Well done for sticking to her guns and going with what she felt was right.
Thanks, everybody, for agreeing that I should have stuck to my guns. I did, and I didn't give up. And as a result, I don't have a book out there that I would have thought questionable (for me) ... Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!
In other words, you heard it here first everyone!
Christa, never say never.
Thanks again, Patricia!
It takes a tremendous amount of courage to stick to your guns! What a revision!!! I can't imagine ever topping that one. And I hope I would have had the courage to stand my ground.
Ahaha that's brilliant! I love that attitude!
I think it's inevitable that you're going to be asked to make a few changes to your plot and/or characters. I worked out pretty early that the most important thing to me was keeping my core characters intact - not changing who they were, how they develop, or how they end up - and that I was willing to rework plot threads several times as long as the heart of my story and characters still felt real to me.
I don't think I've ever been asked to change a character's sexuality! Or anything quite so fundamental to them. I'm pretty sure my answer would be a resounding 'no'. Plot I'm happy to work with. But my characters are who they are and I can't change them to suit anybody - even me.
W.O.W. Kudos to you, P.M. for sticking to your ms and believing in it. What an interesting story!
Wow! That's definitely an unexpected request for change, and such a major part of a character.
Loved the letter response - "not inclined to do the research." Also, loved to see that she has been successful since then.
Sangu, my answer would also be a no!
Hmmm, I do have a book similar to that waiting to be written. I don't want to make waves, but I can't turn down my muse. I wonder how much controversy it will stir? Among straight and non...
Thanks for laughs and smiles, Alex! :)
Can Alex save Winter from the darkness that hunts her?
YA Paranormal Romance, Darkspell coming fall of 2011!
Pre-order your copy now!
Thanks everybody, for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment! I love it that not a single person responded that I was an idiot for passing up that opportunity. :)
So, Elizabeth, I'm curious about this similar book you said you need to write? I don't have anything against gay or lesbian themes. I just didn't feel that I was the right one to write it!
Glad everybody liked my story. I've had some tough editors since then but any suggestions they've made have paled in comparison to this one.
I can't top this one, Alex. Like Patricia, I would have made the same decision. And this most interesting post has made me want to read Kickback!
Ann Best, Memoir Author
Wow. That's one major change they asked for. Good for you for publishing anyway!
How incredible! A great story about sticking with what you think is best for your work.
Alex, I just bought your book!! It's being shipping to my parents house since I'm in a million different locations over the next couple of weeks. I'm so excited to read it :)
Nearly 4,000 rejections on the same manuscript? WOW - I don't feel so bad now. I'm no where near that number - YET. ;-)
LOL Sylvia, I actually lost track of how many rejections the book received. I remember getting another rejection telling me the book was not publishable - when it was in its third printing. It took that long for the publisher to respond.
The reason she said it wasn't publishable was I had Sheila creating a website to upload proof of the trucking kickback scheme - naming names. And she said a "person" can't create a website; you needed a "corporation" to do that!
You just gotta love it...
Elizabeth, I am here for your amusement!
Ann, you should check it out.
Saumya, thank you! I am honored.
Patricia, that whole thing about who can create a website is nonsense!
I cannot top that! Holy cow! Great post and I giggled.
I loved her response though that was priceless. I would imagine that things would happen like that but wow.
Thanks for the comments, everyone!
Yes, Alex, when I read the comment about the website, it was a surreal moment!
Summer, glad I made you giggle!
And Regina, glad you liked my response!
Thanks for stopping by!
Alex I have a problem regarding my book I had published 3 years ago would you be able to help?
That was funny. At least now it is. At the time, it was probably a difficult decision - to give up a possible contract. With all the success you've had, I'm sure you're happy with your decision.
That's probably an untoppable story, p.m. And yes, research is important, but...
Pleased you stuck with your convictions, Patricia.
Helen, I'm sure she is happy now.
Bob, I couldn't do it!
Had to laugh at your comment, Alex! But could you do it if you pictured Halle Berry and Charlize Theron? I'll never look at them the same way again...
Yes, I am satisfied with my decision. But until my books started getting published and sold, I have to admit, I wondered if I'd made the right decision or if I'd let opportunity slip through my fingers.
It just never occurred to me that when my ship came in, it could be gay!
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