I’m super excited today because the fifth book in the Bayou Sabine series is almost officially out in the world. It took a long, twisting road to get to this point, but it has been an amazing experience. I never expected my first novel to grow into a series, but here we are, five books later.
I was in graduate school when I wrote the earliest draft of my first novel Trouble in Bayou Sabine. My master’s thesis was a “literary” novel (I say that because, was it? Really? It was supposed to be, but you know how these things go), and I started writing another book on the side—one just for fun that felt an awful lot like a romance novel. In fact, I really thought it was a romance novel. I thought this for a lot of reasons, but mainly because the love story was the central part of the book. (I’d later learn that the romance genre has certain expectations that I didn’t always meet in that book—but that’s a different conversation.) This was about 2005.
Anyway, I graduated with two finished manuscripts—one of them I shopped around, and it was named a finalist for a contest, and the other sat collecting dust. For about eight years.
During those years, I sent out the “literary” novel, and then I started teaching, and then I went back to school for an art degree, and then I moved to the Midwest, and every now and then, I’d think about that couple in the “romance” that was stored somewhere on my old Mac. (Remember the Macs that looked like some helmeted alien head with see-through neon backs? And the clamshell laptops they made to match? That’s how far back in time we’re going here.)
One day, I opened that old file, and I read that manuscript. And sweet baby Jesus, it was terrible. But there was a spark in there. As I read, I thought: This is salvageable. There is something here.
I rewrote it. And then I set it aside.
I did some other things. I read a pile of other books. I took another job. I wrote some short stories. And I kept thinking about that couple, Enza and Jack, and this funny romantic story that wasn’t quite a romance, and wasn’t quite literary, but kept creeping back into my mind. I didn’t know what to do with it, but I couldn’t forget it.
I got serious about rewriting it. I added threads to make it more complex. I created a love triangle, some misunderstandings (because who doesn’t have those in spades?). I deepened the plot, and gave the characters some real-life problems. I added some mystery, some heartache, some comedy, some redemption. And pretty soon, it felt like a real book with a beating heart, and not something I should shove aside anymore.
I got my good friend and writing partner Katie to help me edit and tell me it wasn’t stupid. We found a press that was actively looking for new writers, and that spurred me on to finish. I revised until I felt like I was on my hundredth draft. I knew Enza and Jack like they were my own family. And then I had this book, and I didn’t know if it was romance, or women’s fiction, or something in between, and I wrote a query and crossed my fingers.
That was 2015.
It was published under a different title, and then I wrote a novella to go alongside it and share more of Enza’s history. And then Katie said, “When’s the next Bayou book coming? What happens now?”
And I thought OMIGOD WHAT HAPPENS NOW.
So I wrote the second novel, Bayou Whispers, and kept the threads going. Relationships can always get more complicated, right? We can never know EVERYTHING about a person—our parents, our lovers, our friends—those stories can go on forever. I wrote a second novella to be included in an anthology, and then I suddenly had a spin-off—the two secondary characters from Bayou Whispers had a good love story unfold between Kate and Andre in the novella (Just the Trouble I Needed), and I felt an urge to keep writing about them. I wondered what happened to them, and how their story would continue.
And that what if? led me to Trouble Will Follow. Kate’s story got even more complex, and no matter how hard I tried to keep the tone light (I wanted Hallmark and rom-com, dammit!), that book took a hard right turn and went to the dark place. I’d been going through some difficult things myself, and those feelings kept creeping into this book. It’s the hardest book I’ve ever written because, in a lot of ways, it was the most true. Certainly the book is not autobiographical in the strictest sense, but a lot of my own turmoil found its way into the story. My heroine was dealing with some the hardships I was facing, but dialed up to 11. (I wrote more about that in a previous post, back when I was dialed up to 11, too.)
I fought that for a long time, through a couple of drafts—I tried to tamp down the hard, bitter parts of that story and play up the lighthearted love story. But after a while, it felt like a facade that kept crumbling. The book needed to go to the dark place, and I had to let it take me there, and then write myself out of it. And in the end, writing my heroine into a moment of grace helped me to find a little, too.
Certain parts of our lives are really hard to write about. I mean REALLY hard, like “would anyone ever believe this happened?” hard, or “will my family disown me when they read it” hard. I didn’t start writing that book to work through a trying part of my own life, but by the time I got to the final draft, I realized that it had actually helped me solve some problems of my own and make peace with a few demons that weren’t as fictional as I’d presumed. In other words, I didn’t realize that I needed quite so much healing until I got to the end. I had to take that hard right turn to get there.
When I finished this book, I thought it was the end of the series. I’d written my characters into the dark places and then into redemption, and they’d made their peace and it felt like the end. Not every loose end gets tied up with a bow (because really, when does that happen?), but there’s a “happy for now” finish, and I’d already started thinking about new characters and a new book. And then Katie said, “What happens in the next Bayou book?” And I thought: Well, hell. What, indeed?
Trouble Will Follow releases in ebook and paperback on October 1, 2019. You can pre-order it for Kindle today. If you’d like to get the first four books in the Bayou Sabine series, you can get the box set for Kindle.
Suggested reading order:
Trouble in Bayou Sabine (read it for free!)
Back to Bayou Sabine
Just the Trouble I Needed
Trouble Will Follow