Rebuilding The Story, or My Book 6 Update

They say that the best ideas happen when you’re in the shower, and for a long time I thought that it wasn’t going to happen to me. Well, it did, and it practically changed an entire book for me.

It all happened after I turned in the edits to #romanceclass2017. I wanted to take a break from writing books, but I didn’t want to stop playing around with my story ideas. Thus, my attention went to the project that I’ve called Book 6–the sixth manuscript that I’ve worked on since 2013, with Save the Cake as Book 1. (I didn’t count the NaNo manuscripts because they’d been chopped up as fodder for the last few projects.)

Book 6 was supposed to be a fun New Adult romp based on my college years as a creative writing major in Hawaii, but after working on another Hawaii book for #romanceclass2017 my ideas for this book seemed to have lost their edge. Everything I’d learned about writing romance in the last few months didn’t fit with the book that I was outlining.

One day, I was in the middle of my shower when the idea hit me: What if the main character was a washed-up competitor in a singing competition?

That was when the flashbacks happened.

I was working in PR when the whole Jasmine Trias drama unfolded in Hawaii. First there was the secrecy–a Maryknoll girl with a beautiful voice ending up on American Idol?–which had been made mysterious by the ironclad NDA from the producers of the show. Then she was revealed as a contestant, and suddenly both Hawaii and The Philippines were rooting for her. She didn’t win, of course, but she was so well-loved that she scored a McDonald’s endorsement in the Philippines. Our firm landed her as a client when she came back, but for some reason we couldn’t replicate the same magic in Hawaii. You’ll have to buy me an ice-cold milk tea if you want to hear the rest of this story, but tl;dr, it didn’t last forever, and no amount of magic on our part was enough to save it.

Then Jessica Sanchez became a thing when I came home to Manila, and it was Jasmine 2.0 all over again. I remember reading a column by Ricky Lo where he mentioned that Fil-Ams were discovering loopholes in the voting system–think: phone calls en masse–in order to put Jessica on top. Another columnist compared her voice to a perfect sine wave. Imagine the outrage in the Philippines when the dorktastic Philip Philips won that season! Still, Filipino pride carried Jessica to our shores. Again with the endorsements, this time with Bench and Smart. Again with the in-your-face hype. But then Philip released “Home,” and Jessica was now the person who sings the jingle that plays whenever Smart’s customer service hotline puts you on hold. (As a Smart customer, I can tell you that things are bad when her song plays for longer than a minute.)

So as soon as I got out of the shower, I started taking down notes, and out came all the feels that I got from watching Jasmine and Jessica. I was guided by a single question–what would happen to someone who carried the burden of making two countries proud with their voice alone?–and the answers, while a bit monotonous at first, gave me an idea of who this MC was going to be.

Then I compared her to the original love interest, whose notes I’d already drafted earlier in the year. Here’s how they measure up:

As you can see, Mylene is a whole lot of bitter, and Tim is more of a Pouty Man Bear (TM Tessa Bailey) in training. Things could still change once I graduate from the notes stage, but at this point I loved the contrast of their two worlds. Since I was setting this story in Honolulu–in particular, my undergraduate alma mater–there’s no way that I wasn’t going to write this without digging up the things that I had always loved about my home away from home.

I drew up a new outline. Experimented with Scrivener templates. Read tweets and Facebook posts from my friends in Hawaii. Followed news outlets on social media.

My creative mojo was back. I felt like writing again. And yet, this was a book that I wasn’t ready to write–not when I’ve got a few more manuscripts left to revise.

Still, I’m enjoying the outlining process for this book so far, and I can’t stop thinking of ways to stir up the pot between Mylene and Tim. There’s a good chance that I’ll be drafting this next year for Camp NaNoWriMo, but for now I will be working on the outline as the project develops. Here’s to a fruitful creative journey.

Love, Stella

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Stella Torres

is the author of the adult contemporary romances Save the Cake, Crushingly Close, and Nine Years Away, as well as the short story “Be Creative” in the anthology Kids These Days: Stories from Luna East Vol. 1.

In her previous life, she has worked in public relations, taught English as a second language, and even attended graduate school (twice!). She has lived in Indonesia, Honolulu, and Quezon City before moving back to her hometown of Los Banos, a few hours’ drive (with traffic) from the heart of Manila.

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