Good books inspire people to read. Badly written books inspire people to write.
Okay, good books inspire people to write, too. After all, that’s how I first started – back there in the fifth grade, getting all fired up with the Tales of the Arabian Nights. But, really, a badly written book generally fills one with a burning desire to do a similar story better than this malarkey you just tossed in the furthest corner of your bedroom.
Or, in my case, the kitchen. I’ve mentioned some of this in my About Me page. I’ll elaborate a bit more here.
Single at the time in 1972, I read at the table during meals. I also lived in the kitchen during the coldest winter months . . . which was generally when I read the most. My twin bed in one corner . . . hot cocoa and snacks nearby, my dogs and cats all comfy next to me and each other . . .
My mother started sharing her Harlequin romances with me and my youngest sister. We often swapped stories and opinions of them. One day, she brought me one – the title of which I’ve long forgotten – and she said, “Mom thinks this is a great story. I hate it, and I’m not going to finish it. Let me know what you think.”
Well, my sister was right. The book stunk! Oh, my God, how did this – this shtory get published??!!
Okay, to be fair, I sort of liked some parts of the story line. So, I suffered through reading the book. Took me the whole winter to read a 250 page book I would normally have read in an afternoon. Read many other books in between tosses. Each time I picked that paperback up, the idea of writing a better story using a similar story line burned brighter. Man, if this could get published, anything could!
Off I went to buy some new pens and paper. There at my kitchen table, I began to plan my better world.
The cliff scene at the beginning, the urgent need for a substitute fiancée are about the only elements I kept. Of course, what happened on the cliff, (and beyond), and the characters are very different. I wasn’t crazy about the personalities of the original story’s characters, but more than that, I was tired of the orphan thing. I hadn’t any knowledge of “exotic” settings, and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with our own back yard. Can’t remember where the original story was set, but my book would take place here in the US on the east coast. I made up a fictional town in Connecticut – which was where I was still living at the time.
Back then, most of the books were written to a formula which I felt was silly – stupid, even. I wasn’t convinced that great stories could happen only in “exotic” settings, or that bad things happen only to persons from small families, or from single parent homes, or to orphans. That only they are in situations where they need (or are forced) to solve their own problems.
Well, of course, all this stuff happens in larger families; you still have to be accountable for your actions no matter what; but at the time, publishers didn’t want stories peopled with a lot of – people.
Heh! Rules! Toss ’em!
Bring in the big families, and let’s have some fun! Being a part of a large family does not mean one’s life is full of rescues. That your relatives will speed to your side whenever you need them. Not gonna happen all the time, most of the time, or even at any time, in most cases. You got yourself into this, you get yourself out! Or—they’ll promise help, but never follow through.
Everyone—rich, poor, pretty, ugly, well built, skinny, fat, orphan, only son/daughter, eldest/youngest/middle of no matter how many, male, female—doesn’t matter where one lives—has the same opportunity to make decisions, screw up ,and then figure out how to fix the mess. To finally arrive at a happily ever after 😀 —or not . . . 🙁
I don’t know about you, but I see lots of conflict in that! Saw it then, so I ran with it.
These people needed names, so I wrote a list of all the ones I’d like to use if I had kids—fifteen names. The Tollefsons were born.
Well, actually, the Georges were born. That surname didn’t work for long, so, I tried Ehlanburg. Somehow, that just didn’t seem to fly, either, so I was on the search again. And in a small specialty record shop in Hartford, CT, I found it on the back cover of an album of Norwegian folk songs. Now, the Tollefsons were born!
Thomi, in the beginning, was the eldest of the thirteen kids. But after a a couple of false starts, I decided to complicate things, and she and her sisters, Rikki and Halleigh, became triplets, dropping to fifth, sixth and seventh place. Brett and Tristen, formerly preteen twins, became elevated to third and fourth born. Daine and Stacia continue in their roles as youngest set of twins.
Brett, however, didn’t want to be a twin, so I gave him his wish, and dropped him down to ninth born, and I paired Tristen with Adrien. They all seemed happy with those changes, so, I turned my attention to Geoffrey and Nicky, who were fifteen and fourteen in my original plan, and I gave them the roles of first and second born. Which opened the way for more romances to come into play.
The first chapter of the story is pretty much the exact same way as I wrote it originally. Except that Charley was a naval officer at first. My brother served in the Navy in the ’70s and was stationed for much of his time in Newport, RI. In visiting him there at the naval base, I fell in love with the area. The beaches, the mansions, the feeling of history all around. I changed the setting of my story from Somewhere in Connecticut, to Kingsdale and Littleton-by-the-Sea, RI. Originally, Kingsdale was situated between the real towns of Peacedale and Kingston. But then, I decided that Nick and Anetra Tollefson’s riding stable, DreamWynd Equestrian Center, should be located near a beach, so I moved it to Somewhere between Portsmouth and Middletown, and sort of around the corner from Newport. Nice beaches nearby, and plenty of wooded trails and meadows. Perfect.
In 1981, I moved to Upper New York State. Great horse country. I bestowed Stephan’s grandfather, the rich Charles Wolfram Ascott III, with property in the Adirondacks.
After I finished my first draft draft, an author neighbor offered to give it a look. My mentor had no problem with Thomi’s family, but she did have with Stephan’s cousins, Storm and Kourtnay, and advised me to ditch them. They brought nothing to the story. And Thomasyna was deemed a nitwit for mousing under to Stephan’s “A favor for a favor, Thomi. I saved your life, now marry me!” Those weren’t the exact words. I don’t remember them now. But in effect, that’s what he said.
Heh! Wonder what she would have thought of that Harlequin story, in that case. Of course, in that story, the girl was an orphan, no place to go, and a real mousy sort, and the man needed a “fiancee” to make his mama happy.
After I rested my bruised ego a couple of days, thinking about what was said, I decided some of what was said might be valid. However, I wanted to keep those cousins. So, after some thought and hard work, I solved that problem. Stormi’s now in tremendous danger, but only a handful of people are truly aware of that. I won’t say more, for it’ll give things away too much! Plus, I worked out Thomi’s relationship with Stephan, and his real need for a wife ASAP.
I finished another draft, then entitled, Thomi, or, A Favor For A Favor, in 1982, but the manuscript was destroyed before I could type the final draft. For a time, it left me depressed and certain I could never recreate it a second time. However, Thomi, her family, and Stephan and his family wouldn’t let me walk away from them. Unpacking after one of my many moves, I found an incomplete outline, the first two or three chapters, and a few notes tucked away in a folder I thought I’d lost, and became all fired up once again.
Too, by this time, I’d married and had three boys of my own and a stepson, which had added to my experiences and served to make the story stronger. In many respects, it turned out quite different from what I’d originally written. But, much, much better! In a way, it was good it’d been lost.
I changed the title to The Courting of Thomasyna, Courting Thomasyna, and finally, to All For The Love Of Thomi. But, I’m not really satisfied with that title either.
A computer coming to me by way of a home study writing course by NRI in 1993, made revisions so much easier. A 1280 page hand written manuscript became around 800 or so, single spaced using a 10 point font – Time New Roman at the time; Ghandi Serif or Garamond now. With each new rewrite, I cut and rewrote the story down to its present 450 to 500 pages, depending on which book layout I’m using.
My creativity seemed to double after that, as if my brain were freer to think and plan and create. I discerned a couple of flaws in the plot, realized Thomi had to deal more head on with Charley’s abuse, and to see she didn’t need to do it alone.
Unlike the orphaned heroine in the original Harlequin story, Thomi isn’t penniless herself. Not wealthy in the same vein as Stephan, but an actress famed enough to be in some demand. She just doesn’t keep it all for herself. Which can land her in some trouble occasionally since she’ll give without question to certain ones . . . like Charley . . . who now is a fellow actor instead of a naval officer . . . and who has a gambling problem . . . a serious gambling problem . . . I needed to make this all more integral to the story.
Thomasyna gives more than her money, though, to charities. She gives her time. And that had to become a larger part of the conflict in the story. Lots of ends to tie up!
Thomi’s story leads into Stormi’s story with Joleigh-Anna’s overlapping both. I’ve plans for Rikki and Halleigh, and their younger sister, Lyndsay, and possibly Stephan’s sister, Dyane. Kourtnay’s will be resolved along with sister Stormi’s–probably. Haven’t decided just how long I’ll drag that romance out. I plan one for Nick and Anetra, with Irina and Greggory Deverill’s being told along with it. And last, but not least, there’s the tale of Nick’s great grandmother, Kate of the Oglala. God willing, I’ll write that one as well.
Since Thomi’s world is peopled by more than just herself and Stephan, I felt the convenience of a list of characters would be helpful to those who might be boggled by so large a cast. You can find that list, or lists, over at my book site, NovelsByNeenah.com. Hover over Meet the Cast on the main menu, then choose which characters you would like to read about. I started out in character, but it got too time consuming, so only the main characters and main secondary characters speak for themselves.
I found working with a large family with many multiple births afforded a lot of great opportunities for conflict and humor. They became as close to me, after these forty plus years as any real family could be. Which is the reason I’ve decided to create a series around them. I also have a tendency to mention some of them in other stories unrelated to theirs. Usually Thomi – someone’s favorite actress, or possibly related in some way. Just can’t let them go!
I will have another creating page for Stormi shortly. Still working out some things with her story. Stay in touch for that!