Writing Process: Novels Within Novels

Last summer I wrote about half, maybe more, of a novel I was calling Show Barn Blues. Then I stopped, because the emails and messages to write more about Jules and Alex were just overwhelming. I decided to take the character I created for Show Barn Blues and make her a central character in the new Jules novel.

Of course, this could have been an easy case of copying and pasting some of my favorite material from Show Barn Blues… If I hadn’t written it in first person. And if Ambition hadn’t been written in first person. Damn me and my lack of respect for omniscient narrator!

What I’m finding is that as I am pulling inspiration from Show Barn Blues, some of the actual writing is going to have to be given an outlet of its own at some point. I love the character, her voice, and her story too much to keep her secondary. Sally is a been-there, done-that dressage trainer running a large equestrian center far from the fields of Ocala. She has to take extraordinary measures to keep her farm running as the suburbs gobble up farm land left and right. Because no one, and I mean no one, is taking Sally’s farm to put a golf course on it.

With horses, there are always more stories to tell than I have time for...  Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With horses, there are always more stories to tell than I have time for…
Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I don’t know exactly how it’s going to pan out, because obviously my schedule this year includes finishing Pride, the sequel to Ambition, and then working on the next Alex novel for a release late this year. I do have nearly enough material for a novella, though. I just have to work out the timing, but I think it can be a complementary novel to the Eventing Series, sort of in the Jules universe.

Part of my writing process seems to be finding stories that I’ve written before, realizing that I love them, growing utterly confused that I abandoned them, and then reviving them into something completely new and different.

If you only knew how many drafts I went through of completely different stories before I finally stumbled upon the story line for Turning For Home. 

Let’s just say I have material for at least three more Alex books, if I follow my current pattern.

Meanwhile, when it comes to this new idea for a companion novella to Ambition and Pride, I’d love to know what you think. Here’s a little excerpt from the draft of Show Barn Blues:

But that night, flipping out the barn lights, the construction company’s sign invaded my thoughts again. I walked down the paved driveway towards my house, wishing I had a dog to keep me company. It was seven thirty and dark out, the long summer evenings already a thing of the past despite the lingering heat. It would be hot until mid-October, I knew, and then we might get a cold front or two, a cool night or two. It would be a rare thing, brought by wind and storm, and everyone would be just as bad-tempered about the cold as they were about the heat.

I took it all in stride. This was my home. Florida’s weather was unpredictable to some, but for me, the next day’s weather was always written in the clouds the night before. You just had to know what to look for.

Tonight the night sky was clear as spring water, but the stars were more dim than they had been in years past. Light pollution had invaded Chotokee. When I was a kid, begging to go ride at Grampa’s farm, the nearest street lights had been on the interstate, nearly fifteen miles away. That was before the interstate was joined by a toll road. That had been the enabler—the houses, and then the tourists, had come in a flood once the roads were improved.

It had happened so fast. One day I’d been riding with my grandfather, the next day I was installed at a show barn and perfecting my hunter rounds, and then suddenly I had been showing professionally for my entire adult life and students were asking me to start my own barn and settle down in one place.

By the time I’d come back from the show circuit, lean and tanned and twenty years older, the farms had already started to disappear. But the tack shop was still downtown in its dilapidated brick storefront, right next to the Wagon Wheel Restaurant (Family Cooking with a Smile!), and the feed store was still a collection of rotting wood outbuildings sprawled alongside the railroad tracks. Now the feed store had made way for a home design store and nursery, and the tack shop had been renovated and was a clothing boutique in a pretty downtown beloved by day-trippers. I didn’t bother going into town much anymore, though. Chotokee had been reborn, but I had kind of liked it the way it was. The cost for a revitalized downtown was very high, for the farmers who had frequented the old one.

Grampa hadn’t had to see it change. He was gone by then.

I crossed the grass under the live oaks and went up the sagging wooden steps of my little house. A 1920s bungalow, with a half-rotted front porch and flaking paint, it was my favorite place in the world. My grandfather’s house, left for me, the black sheep of the Carter family. The only one who loved horses, the only one who would never give it up.

3 thoughts on “Writing Process: Novels Within Novels

  1. You know, it was so weird seeing this post after getting the exact same “idea” yesterday. There is something magical about returning to old stories that have been gathering dust, which were written with nothing but a passion for stories with little to no knowledge of technique and skill. When I first came over to UK (I was about 20) I wrote a novel I suppose it would be for teenagers although at the time I thought it very adult! And because it’s about show jumping rather than racing and it’s for a different audience (and because I know it’ll need some major revamping) I’ve just left it at the bottom of the box, but I’m thinking maybe I’ll give it a go once I’ve finished the Aspen Valley series and see how we get on.

    The other thing I find I try to do is sweat over trying to fit a certain storyline to a certain series, a bit like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. No matter which way you turn it, flip it over, bang on it, it just doesn’t fit! Then, after much anguish and brain-storming, you come to the obvious conclusion, well hey, let’s just have it in the next series where it fits perfectly and end this series on five books, where it rightfully *should* end and not on six because you want to milk it for all its worth.

    On a separate note, I love the titles you give your books and am absolutely gnashing my teeth I didn’t think of Turning For Home first!


    • I don’t actually have anything that old, which is a shame… at least, I don’t think that I do. All of my drafts presently are from the last five years. But you know, I might have notebooks with old stories which deserve to be revisited. I never throw away a notebook, which means I have stacks of them!

      Turning For Home was intended for this book for over a year… so even if you’d published a book with the title, I think I would have anyway. I mean, it’s about retirement – it’s the perfect name!


  2. I’m an unabashed fan. I don’t care what story you write, as long as you write it. That said, I have a hankering for more about Jules and eventing. But more about Alex and Alexander would be utterly fine, too.

    You’re in charge, so do whatever floats your boat!


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