I want to thank romance author Rebecca Brooks for taking the time to answer my questions. Last year, I reviewed her romance novel Above All and noted that it steered clear from the cheesy tear-jerker stuff and was both funny and super hot. This post was born out of my curiosity at a Tweet she shared. It looked like a giant roll of paper and was an example of how Brooks edits. I wanted to see how a writer revises! Here is what Brooks is working on — in the final stages of her forthcoming novel, Make Me Stay.
Grab the Lapels: What is your newest manuscript about? Do you have a title yet?
Rebecca Brooks: The manuscript I’m currently working on is called Make Me Stay, and it not only has a title, but a (tentative) release date! It’s coming out in Fall 2016 from Entangled Brazen, and it’s the first in my new Men of Gold Mountain Series, set in the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. I’m working on the edits now—you can see the massive outline I worked out to help me think through my revisions (more on that below).
Make Me Stay is an enemies-to-lovers story with a hidden identity twist. It’s about a prestigious Seattle executive, Samantha Kane, who’s poised to develop sleepy Gold Mountain, Washington, into the most profitable ski resort in the country…until she falls for Austin Reede, a rugged Olympian and racing coach who’s determined to stop the deal from going through.
Both Sam and Austin have secrets about who they are and why they’re in Gold Mountain—secrets that unravel as their one-night stand turns into something more. In this story I’m interested in how trust works in a relationship, how two people come to open up to each other and share their full selves, and how much falling in love changes our best-laid plans.
GTL: What has your writing process been like so far?
RB: I wrote this novel in the spring of 2015. I’d been planning it for a while and had a detailed outline, so the first draft didn’t take long. I remember thinking that, since this was my third romance, I must really be getting the hang of things now. From here on out, this whole writing thing was going to be easy! Cue major eye roll from present self to former me.
I wrote Make Me Stay as a single title romance (my first two novels, Above All and How to Fall, are both single title). With thumbs up from my agent and me, my editor wound up placing the novel, and the Men of Gold Mountain series, in a category imprint. It’s a great fit for the book and I was excited, but I knew this would require some pretty big structural changes. Even though I was prepared for it, I was still pretty overwhelmed when I got my edit letter. Whether or not you agree with your editor’s suggestions or want to make the changes asked for—and how to process an edit letter in the first place—are blog posts for another day.
(Un)fortunately, as a writer I know all about getting stuck, so I have some methods for unsticking myself. After a day to let my thoughts percolate, I got out the GIANT roll of butcher paper I use to map out storylines when I can’t figure out my next steps.
I don’t know why, but it’s helpful for me to write everything out so I can see it at once, which is why I use this huge roll of paper. Doing this by hand and not on a computer is key. I feel like a 108-year-old Luddite when everyone else is using Scrivener, but I’ve found something that works for me, so I’m sticking with it.
I started my outline with two columns. On the left I put the bare bones of the original plot. On the right was what I’d have to change. I included all the possible changes I was considering, so I could see each step mapped out from chapter to chapter and know I wasn’t missing anything.
The outline focuses on the issues I needed to fix in my edits: strengthening and clarifying the conflict from the very beginning, trimming the B-plot and making it directly tie into the main romantic conflict, and making the hero’s major flaw more legible early on. The outline is color coded according to each of these issues. If my edits had focused on a different problem, I would have centered the outline on that. (I’ve done outlines where each character gets his or her own color, for instance, to help me see where each person is in the narrative at any one time.)
For the record, this took me two days, six hours per day, and was tiring but very, very satisfying.
Then I went through my Outline of Awesomeness and did the edits chapter by chapter. I also kept a legal pad next to me as I was writing so I could jot down notes that came up. If I get stuck, wondering what a character is supposed to say or do, I like to turn to the legal pad and write out what I’m trying to accomplish in this scene. This usually helps me figure out the problem I’m having and keeps me on track.
This was a LOT more work on edits than I thought I was going to have to do. Previously, I’ve tinkered with character arcs and rewritten a scene or two, but I’d never done so much throughout the entire manuscript. But the actual rewriting went pretty quickly because I had such a clear sense of what needed to happen. I wasn’t floundering trying to figure out what came next or how that small change to one line in chapter three was going to impact the black moment two hundred pages later. I wish I’d been able to do this earlier in the writing process—like, why couldn’t I have written this draft the first time around?? But I know that’s not how writing works.
I’m writing this interview the day after I sent the edits back—YAY! I can’t wait to hear what my editor thinks and move on to the next steps—line edits, proofreading, seeing the sexy cover revealed…and finishing the next book in the series!
GTL: How has your writing process evolved from your previous experiences writing novels?
RB: I have a much better sense of who I am and the kinds of stories I want to tell (well-rounded characters, gorgeous settings, rugged guys, lots of heat…). That’s helping me be more focused as I think about what’s next, and I feel more confident that I can make the worlds I imagine come through on the page. I’ve also gotten more ruthless about edits. It can be the perfect scene, but if it’s not the perfect scene for the book it’s in, it has to go.
But as much as experience helps, there are always new challenges. Whereas the first draft for Make Me Stay went pretty easily for me, the next book in the series, Make Me Beg, was much harder. It was my first time writing with a deadline and out of a sense of obligation—I already have the contract, so I’m writing with a new kind of pressure now. It’s also my first time working on a series. This is a good kind of stress to have! But the truth is that the difficulties don’t go away, they just shift.
The process is the same, though: start with a kernel of an idea, work it into an outline, put butt in chair, get typing.
GTL: Have you learned anything from writing this book?
RB: After these edits, I have a stronger handle on how category romance works. I’ve read plenty of examples, and single-title romance follows a lot of the same beats and tropes, so in a way it’s not that different from what I was writing before. But I learned a lot from dissecting how these novels are structured and making my manuscript stronger, clearer, and more streamlined as a result.
I love thinking about genre, how books work, and how books work upon the reader, so I’m really into taking apart a text in this way. This isn’t so much about the book itself, but it gives me a lot more tools in my toolbox that I can use going forward, no matter what I write. I love that being a writer means I’m always learning.
GTL: What, so far, has been the hardest part of writing your book?
RB: Getting started! I’d had the idea for the book in mind for years, but then I was busy with the release of my second book, I had other things going on, and the notes for Make Me Stay were hanging out in a drawer somewhere, not getting written. It took me a while to sit down and say, “It’s time to do this.”
Then, starting the edits presented another challenge. I read and reread the edit letter, tossed around some ideas with my editor, and I knew vaguely how I wanted the final product to look…but it was hard to know where to begin. That’s where the outline came in. I felt like maybe I was wasting time and should just dive into the manuscript itself, but I was so daunted, I didn’t know where to start. At least once I’d done the outline, I had no more excuses.
It can be hard to stare down a first draft, and a revision, and know there’s so much work ahead. Once I’m in it, I’m thinking about the characters all the time and I love being immersed in their world. But for me, the hardest part is taking that first step and committing to such a large and long-term project. I have a feeling that nervousness might never go away.
GTL: Does your newest novel include any research?
RB: I always do research for my books, including a mix of experiential research, online research prior to starting, and more as things crop up during writing. I use the information I gather to inform my choices as a writer. I’m sure I’ve taken some liberties, but I want the story to have the details and specificity that make characters and their lives feel real.
The hero to Make Me Stay is a professional skier, and he and the heroine meet on the slopes. A lot of the novel is based on first-hand experience skiing, plus a very short-lived racing career in high school (um, those race courses are TERRIFYING). Before writing I also visited the Cascade Mountains, where the series is set. I really wanted to get the feel of the place, which I could only do by traveling there. I think those details really come through and make the setting come alive.
I also did a fair amount of poking around online. I knew nothing about real estate development and had to figure out how Sam’s land deal was going to play out. Sam also gets pushback from her board as she delays the sale with Austin, so I needed to look into how and why she could be kicked out her position, and what her recourse might be.
Same thing with Austin—I researched the process to get to the Olympics, as well as life as a ski coach and a Ski Patrol member, to make his story as realistic as possible. Some of this I looked up in advance, so I’d have a better handle on his character. Other things, like what exercises he should tell his team to do for practice, I Googled on the spot and then incorporated.
I think research is a broad term that can mean everything from poring over primary sources in an archive to quickly verifying something online. I do a lot of the latter to make sure I’m including details that are evocative and help advance the story in key ways.
Rebecca Brooks is the author of Above All, How to Fall (a 2016 HOLT Medallion finalist), and the forthcoming Make Me Stay, book one in the Men of Gold Mountain series. Rebecca lives in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She earned a PhD in English but decided it was more fun to write books than write about them. She has backpacked alone through India and Brazil, traveled by cargo boat down the Amazon River, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, explored ice caves in Peru, trekked to the source of the Ganges, and sunbathed in Burma, but she always likes coming home to a cold beer and her hot husband in the Bronx. Her books are about independent women who leave their old lives behind in order to try something new—and find the passion, excitement, and purpose they didn’t even know they’d been missing. You can Tweet at or Facebook her!