Transfixed / Transformed
So the Agony/Ecstasy anthology, edited by Jane Litte, is now available. I have two stories in the anthology, and several readers have asked about the process behind those stories. Here’s how Cole and Marin/Miss Banks came about.
Jane announced she was editing the anthology shortly after she read Liberating Lacey, so she was familiar with my work, and when the post/tweet about the antho went out, I emailed her immediately with a carefully worded inquiry into whether or not she’d be interested in a story from me (the email was actually something like “Me! Me! Pick me! Over here! Please! Pick mememememe!”) Jane said yes, (her response: Yes.) Then I said something along the lines of, “You know, ideal world and all, what I’d do is two stories, one from his POV, the other from her POV, with the emotional arc resolving over both stories.” And she said, “I like it. Send me something.”
“I like it” from Jane is about as good as it gets, so I dove in and started writing. I was in the middle of a massive, full-scale revision to a romantic suspense novel (not yet available, stay tuned for details) and I desperately needed a break because the book was making me want to slit my throat or go back to IT project management (basically the same thing). I wrote Marin/Miss Banks’ POV first, and that story flowed. Beginning to end of process was two work weeks, maybe a little less, and that was done. (Except for tweaking. I tweak constantly, trying to get the dialogue right because it’s really all about the dialogue. But I digress.) All the elements were there in the beginning, the motorcycle jacket, Cole’s adrenaline junkie roots as former Marine, her Mad Men dress (which I lifted from a Madison Avenue designer’s boutique I used to walk past in Manhattan) and the pearls, the fact that she was using an alias with him, her unwillingness to let him in, and that tiny crack in her emotional walls he wedges opens at the very end of the story…all there from the beginning. The opening line — “Cole waits for me as I ordered: on his knees, fingers laced behind his head, in the dark.” — exactly as I wrote it in the fall of 2010.
Then I set out to write Cole’s POV, and wham. Brick wall. In order for the stories to work in the flip book setup, each one had to stand on its own. I couldn’t count on a reader opening to Transfixed first (although in my mind, that’s where the stories start). I also didn’t want to give away in Transformed the exact nature of Cole’s relationship to Miss Banks – it’s not exactly a surprise in an erotica/BDSM antho, but it’s like picking an outfit for a date with your husband – I wanted to put in the effort. I had this great starting point in my head, one that really showed how reluctant Marin was to even approach Cole on his territory, let alone have sex with him as herself, not as Miss Banks. I wrote 5K words, and rewrote them, and rewrote them, and rewrote those fucking words some more, and the stupid story didn’t work. Two weeks turned into three, and then I started asking trusted readers for opinions. “Why?” I pleaded. (insert the whiniest voice you can imagine here. I’m talking Fran Drescher at the height of her Nanny days.) “Why doesn’t this fucking story work?” One reader called Cole a “trust fund baby in blue jeans” (one of my best beta readers, actually. Call it like you see it. I can take it.) Another reader said, “Anne, honey, you’ve got ten single-spaced pages to tell this story and the story doesn’t really get started until 5 pages in. That’s your problem. You’re welcome.”
God bless her and her children’s children, because she was right. I cut the great opening scene in the grand foyer of Cole’s thirty million dollar 5th Avenue penthouse apartment where Marin wouldn’t even get off the elevator and set foot on his territory, and got right to the bed and the action. Cutting those five pages gave me the space I needed to go deepdeep into Cole’s thought process and emotional state as he reads Marin like Miss Banks reads him when the tables are turned. The HFN and emotional resolution only comes at the end, when Marin leans back into his body, and with a 5K word limit to the story, I needed every word of that interior exposition to reveal not just who he is and how he sees them, but who SHE is, too, (because she gives you exactly jackshit in her POV in Transfixed. You know she’s disciplined, creative, and taking Cole somewhere he’s never dreamed he could go, which tells you something about her…but not who she is and what she fears.) For Marin (hell, maybe most people) that’s what love is all about. Having someone know her, really know her, maybe even better than she knows herself, and love all of the complexities and quirks and emotional defenses that make her Marin and Miss Banks, is what enables her to let Cole in.
I can’t remember now if I spent four weeks on Transformed, or six. Like childbirth, I’ve forgotten the worst of it, so it was probably six…six weeks on one 5K word story. Two months total, most of the fall of 2010, were spent on Cole and Marin. I do remember lying on the grass next to the playground at my son’s school, listening to the shrieks of happy children at play and looking up through what remained of the fall leaves and thinking, “I’m screwed. I am fucked six ways to Sunday. This will never work. You and your big mouth, spouting off ideas you can’t make happen. Doom, dooooooom, all is doooooooooom.” Then I’d get up and go back to it, because at heart I’m a Type A Virgo first-born girl perfectionist control freak, and I wasn’t going to quit. I will happily fail, but I wasn’t going to quit.
So. That’s Cole and Marin/Miss Banks. By the time I finished, I wished I could write a full length book about them because I know them as well as I know Hunter and Lacey. Tucked away in my head is their first meeting, Marin’s dance rehearsals and performances, Cole’s Wall Street trader life, near-misses in the city when she sees him but he doesn’t see her, each increasingly hot, sexual night, how Marin slowly discovers and exploits his fears and weaknesses, their longing for each other and how it builds over time, how the sexual releases slowly become not-enough, how she’s afraid to step outside her character and be herself with him, what drives him to take the chance and challenge her to step into the unknown.
But that will have to remain in my head. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed Cole and Marin, and the rest of the anthology.