The Sophomore

I've been working on my second novel, my 'sophomore' effort. It's a much different experience in some ways...exactly the same in others. The main difference is this little thing called expectation.  When I wrote What if I Fly, I didn't have any expectations (other than to finish the damned thing!) and never once considered the expectations of others. I didn't know if there would ever be others reading it, so I put it out of my mind and wrote it purely for my own enjoyment.

The feedback was trickling in at first, a steady, peaceful stream. Now it's an avalanche of well wishes and praise, with everyone asking me the same question, over and over again...

WHEN IS YOUR NEXT BOOK COMING OUT?

No pressure! I'm working on it, and I'm enjoying the process just as much, trying to ignore that pesky voice in my head asking 'is it good enough?' 'will my readers like it?'. Then I remind myself... I'm doing this for me. If I'm always thinking about what everyone else wants, I'll never write an original word again.

The new book is not a sequel, and is tentatively called "As it Seems". It's about two couples who live next door to one another in Barrington, (an affluent community ten minutes south of Providence, RI), the challenges they face and sacrifices made to keep marriage together once the sparkle fizzles and life gets in the way of their relationships. In five words, this book is about love, betrayal, loss, hope, redemption (not in that order!).

Here's a little taste, pulled from the middle of the first chapter. Remember this is the FIRST DRAFT and forgive the formatting! I can't figure out how to fix it!

Excerpt from Chapter One:

When Libby met Ted, he was a political consultant at a firm in Boston. She was a graphic artist working in the art department at a big advertising agency in the Back Bay. As a rule, Libby avoids networking events like the plague, truly despises them, and still does. The purpose of going is to make new business contacts, but they are really meat markets for people looking to hook up. It would be one thing if the men were single, but in her experience, the majority are married men looking to get a little side action. She feels awkward enough in a room full of strangers, never mind being put on display for a roomful of horny men.

On this particular occasion, Libby caved to the pressure of her co-workers. She was going to be in Cambridge that night anyways, and could stop at The Meat Market (as she not-so-affectionately refers to these events) before heading to The Middle East, a nearby club. She’d been on a couple of dates with one of the musicians in the band playing the club that evening, and had plans to meet him later that night. At the time, she’d been going on a lot of first dates, but until she met Geoff, none of the men she went out with warranted a second one. She was twenty-five years old and not interested in wasting her time with someone who bored her, and figured her youth afforded her the luxury of being selective about the people she dated.

After the long hours she puts in at work, and the complete absence of a ticking maternal clock, she’d rather curl up on her couch with a cup of tea and a good book than make small talk with a stranger. Geoff was interesting and the dichotomy of his life intrigued her; stock broker by day, drummer by night. An unusual combination. She wouldn’t mind getting to know him a little better.

She arrived at the networking event with her colleagues but quickly found herself alone at the bar, sipping her vodka gimlet when she first saw Ted. He was holding court across the room, surrounded by a crowd of men and women who were enthralled by whatever tale he was in the midst of telling. Ted is the kind of man who is hard to miss. At six feet four, two hundred and ten pounds, his size commands attention, but his personality demands it. He is one hundred percent Irish, with thick wavy auburn hair and emerald green eyes. Born and bred in South Boston, he’s a natural storyteller with a voice that penetrates the din of any crowded room. That night he was weaving yarns that captivated his audience and had them peeling with laughter. Libby kept her distance, nursing her drink, but she couldn’t take her eyes off of him.

Halfway through one of his stories he locked eyes with Libby and smiled. She doesn’t know if she smiled back, but she certainly kept looking. When he finished his tale he excused himself from the crowd and walked over to the bar, leaning against the wood railing beside her. Libby felt her cheeks blazing with heat and stared into her drink, swirling the tiny black straw in circles. His voice took on a more natural tone than the one she overheard him use for storytelling as he introduced himself.

“Hi. Ted Sullivan.”

He extended his hand toward her and grinned. She looked into his brilliant green eyes and gave him a tentative smile. He wasn’t the best looking man in the room, but he literally oozed confidence, something Libby had in short supply. She nodded and shook his hand, then took another sip of her gimlet, noticing the leggy blond who had sidled up beside him and the gorgeous brunette behind him, both anxious to make their move on Ted.

He laughed, apparently waiting for her to offer up her name, and realizing it wasn’t forthcoming asked, “And you are…?”

The mob seemed to gravitate toward him, the empty spaces around them quickly filling in until a semi-circle was formed, five people deep. Ted didn’t appear to notice the growing crowd encircling them, which meant he was either oblivious to his magnetism, or so used to the attention it didn’t phase him. Either way, she found it unnerving. He’s one of those rare species of men that appeals to both sexes, men want to be his friend and women want to sleep with him. Libby identified this quality in him immediately.

“Libby Taylor. Nice to meet you.”

“You’re not much of a talker are you, Libby?”

“Conversation seems to be your specialty.” She gave him a sideways glance and raised an eyebrow, “I’m willing to bet you could carry one on right here without my input at all.”

Ted burst out laughing.

“I probably could, but where’s the fun in that?”

“Maybe not for you, but it would be fun for me,” Libby countered.

Ted gazed at her, one corner of his mouth turned up with amusement. She watched his eyes brazenly move up and down her body.

“Are you checking me out?”

Again he chuckled and nodded.

“Yes, I am. Three words pop into my head. Smart. Sassy. Beautiful.”

She took a sip of her drink, observing him over the brim of the glass, then placed it on the little square napkin in front of her.

“Ah, now there’s a line,” she sighed.

“I’ve got tons of them,” he grinned.

Libby nodded, looking him over, “I’m sure you do.”

The eavesdropping blond with the short skirt and the mile long legs must have realized she was about to miss her opportunity, and grasped Ted’s arm, turning him toward her.

“Sully! So great to see you again!” She leaned in and kissed his cheek. Ted smiled and introduced Libby to Siena.

“Pleased to meet you,” Siena smiled, her eyes glued to Ted’s face.

Libby sat on the stool, feeling extremely awkward as Siena draped her arm around his waist and they became engaged in a lively conversation about the upcoming election and the campaign he was working for. Turning away from them, she checked her watch, then gathered her coat and bag, getting ready to leave. She found him incredibly sexy, but wasn’t interested in competing for his attention.

As she rose and pulled on her coat, Ted placed his hand on the small of her back and leaned in close, startling her.

“You’re not leaving yet!” he frowned. 

“I’m afraid I am,” she said, buttoning her coat and shrugging her bag over her shoulder.  

He took her hand and whispered close to her ear, “Not without me.”

Libby stared into his eyes and he leaned down and kissed her, his lips soft against hers. A delicious tingling spread throughout her body. A moment later she opened her eyes and slowly shook her head back and forth, a smile spreading across her face. No, not without you. Ted grabbed his coat and without saying goodbye to Siena or the rest of his admirers, walked into the cool night air, Libby’s hand in his.

The Middle East and the dichotomous drummer all but forgotten.

 

The Negative Review

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I was bound to receive a negative review eventually, and I did. And I'm sure there are more to come. Not everyone is going to like my story and that's okay. But I won't lie, reading my first really awful review was gut wrenching! So of course I reached out to my close friends and whined, told them how this woman shredded my book. And one of my friends replied, "Was it constructive feedback?" Hmmm... Constructive? I read through the painful review again.

The answer was no. Not it the least.

This reader just didn't like the story, and went on about how she didn't understand why everyone else is giving it five star reviews. So my friend said, "Then who cares?" And she's right. If the woman had ranted about my writing style being awful, thought I couldn't string together a coherent sentence, or felt I was in any way like my least favorite author (she who shall remain nameless), then I would take offense. But not liking my story? Okay, I can deal with that.

My fear, when I released this book, was that people would attack my writing. I didn't know if I was 'good enough' but something kept driving me forward, forcing me to face my fears and put it out there. The worst review I could ever receive is I have no business writing! And while my story may not be to some peoples liking, no one is challenging my right to write! Some have even praised my style. I have to remember that when negative reviews rear their ugly heads.

Something I've discovered is that writing is far less about talent than it is about practice, perseverance and patience. That's all it takes to write a book. A valuable piece of advice from Stephen King, "You can only learn by doing." He's absolutely right.

I wrote my editor a note the other day, thanking him for teaching me how to write a book. I said "anyone can write a bunch of words but without structure and focus, that's all they are." Handing him my manuscript was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I opened myself up to criticism, and that's not something I...enjoy. Who does? I wrote a romance for women, and here I was giving it to a man, an Ivy League grad no less! And he did rip it apart (in a constructive way), and I took what he said and made it better. And with each draft I learned a little bit more.

Yeah, it totally sucks to read nasty comments about something I poured my heart into, but I can't let it bother me. If someone wants to offer me constructive feedback, I'm open to it. Hell! I welcome it! But not liking my story? Eh. There are much worse things in life. Like regret.

Three Weeks

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I didn't know what to expect when I sat down to write my first novel last summer. I thought maybe it was another one of my many whims. Something to occupy my time while I twiddled my thumbs at work. I didn't realize writing would come so naturally, the words flowing effortlessly from the visions in my head to the computer screen in front of me. I didn't know I could sit at the kitchen table, or the couch, sometimes in bed, and write for fifteen hours straight, or that I would look forward to doing it!

I didn't know whether anyone other than me would ever read it. Well, me and my good friend Becky who eagerly read the pages as fast as I wrote them. And eventually, my editor, Stuart, who taught me to be ruthless with my work, to get rid of any passage, no matter how much I loved the scene, if it didn't drive the story forward. I didn't know I had the guts to take whatever criticism was thrown my way, and grow from it.

A lot can happen in three weeks.

I didn't know people, a lot of people, would love my work. I didn't know the most common phrases I'd come to hear are "I loved it! I couldn't put it down! I read it in two days!" And "I never wanted it to end!" I didn't expect people to thank me for writing this book. Thank me?! No! Thank YOU for reading it! Really!

I thought I wrote a little romance novel that might appeal to women, probably housewives, aged 25-55, who live in Rhode Island. It was a pretty specific demographic. I didn't expect a 77 year old man, a total stranger from California, to enjoy it. Or any man for that matter! But many have, and many do!

I didn't expect the woman at my favorite bookshop who deals with self-published authors, to say my novel "is the best to cross her path in years," or to tell me she gave a copy to her book rep because "it's just that good." I didn't expect the young man behind the counter at another bookstore to light up when I told him my name, or tell me he's "never seen anything like it!" My books "are flying off the shelf!"

I never believed someone would ask if they could feature my book on a local morning show. Television? Really?

I never thought I'd receive messages and reviews like these:

"Just finished the book - I cried in so many parts - so beautifully written! I was constantly right there with the characters. Jayne - you've outdone yourself! I highly recommend it to all to read! Thank you for writing it!"

"Normally I have some difficulty being captured by a book. This book grabbed me from the beginning and held me hostage until I finished. Love that it takes place in Rhode Island. Great character development, felt as if I really knew them and connected with their "Roller Coaster" ride through life. Great read, highly recommended!!!"

"I do not read romance novels, ever. I picked this up largely because of the Rhode Island setting... Too few books are set there, despite all it has to offer. I'm really glad I did. Ms. Conway has crafted a very effective, modern-day spin on "Romeo & Juliet," tinged with some of the class-consciousness of "Jane Eyre" and insights into small-town America à la "Our Town." The characters are well-drawn and realistic, as are their struggles -- both visible (a wedding reception gone very wrong) and internal (tough decisions and ethical quandaries). I also really enjoyed the fluidity with which the author moved back and forth through time, which can be tough to follow if done badly but here was flawlessly executed. Definitely worth your time."

"Jayne I finished your book. I am so proud of you, it was great. Very well written, had my attention & I didn't want to put it down. GREAT JOB!"

"Oh Jayne! Loving the book. Been a long time since I've read a book I don't want to end. Trying to not rush through it, yet captivated."

"I just wanted to let you know that I truly LOVED your book! So much! I spent 2 days allllll day reading it. The first day I think I read for 8 hours! It was so good! I loved the humor and gasped when I read the words (DELETED SPOILER!)  I got teary at a few parts and now I really want to come to RI for the 4th of July! I will read anything you write!!"

Three weeks ago, I pressed the submit button on the Amazon website and held my breath, then spent the next week in a constant state of panic, hardly sleeping at night, as I spread the word throughout my social network that I'd <gulp> written a book. Who does that? No one I know! Am I completely insane? Doubts crowded my every waking thought. What if I become a local laughingstock? What if everyone hates it? What if I've been deluding myself? What if I totally suck? I hate what ifs.

Today? I feel a lot better about taking this leap into the unknown. Phew! And I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to not only read What if I Fly? but also reach out and reassure me that I don't suck, and share how I've touched their lives in some small way. It means a lot.

Now, the pressure's on for book two and I have to admit, I'm a little nervous. I don't want to disappoint anyone! But then I sit in front of my computer...and everything else fades away. I'm transported to another world, lost in the lives of my characters. The words flow effortlessly and I lose track of time.

Exactly what happened the first time I sat down to write a book.