Part three! Or, writing Secret Shores

16 Feb

March of 1991 found me as president of our local chapter of RWA, busily working my multitude of part-time jobs, with a daughter in residence. Said daughter took me out to lunch for my birthday, and when we returned home there was a message on the answering machine. It was an editor from a large NY publisher, to ask if I’d publicize her book quest with my chapter members. Of course, I said yes, and she faxed me the requirements. (This was before e-mail, I’ll have you know!)

The proposed series of books were to be called “Love on the Great Lakes” and she wanted a book for each of the five Great Lakes. The editor was calling all RWA chapters in that general area to give them first chance at the offer. Other chapters would be notified, but we were first! As it happened, our chapter meeting was two days later, and I happily shared the information.

Daughter (her name was Kristi) informed me that I should write one of them. I replied I didn’t know about that sort of thing, as I was a Regency girl. She persisted. “What Lake?” I asked.  “Mackinac Island” was her immediate response.  “Lake,” I repeated. “Which Lake is it in?” She didn’t know and neither did I, until we consulted a map. The island was in Huron, but barely. I’d been to the island several times in my life, but she’d gone me one better! She’d actually worked there a couple of summers during high school (as did her younger brother, when he was old enough) and even been married there, in the little stone chapel.

We were given a list of requirements: the book should be set between 1850 and 1900; the hero and heroine had to be American; the story should include the Lake almost as a character; and most importantly, the social history of the area and the time chosen had to reflect reality.  I truly had no clue about where to start or anything else. But Kristi wouldn’t let up. So, finally, I handed her my library card and sent her off to do some research, and bring home a few books for me to peruse. She did. Boy, did she ever!

I think I read two pages of the first one (a history of Michigan by a one-time UofM president) and I was hooked! Within a week, I knew pretty much the plot, the characters, etc. By this time, about six weeks had elapsed since that phone call, when disaster struck, and I ended up in the hospital for nearly three weeks. On the other hand, once home again, I really couldn’t do much of anything but read and write. So I did.

Three months later I had a good sturdy working synopsis and perhaps 3-4 chapters completed. I sent them to the editor, and she calmly informed me she liked it and offered me a contract. WOWEEE! I was in seventh heaven, believe me!  Once I calmed down a bit, I realized the work had just (barely) begun. Every time I wrote more than two sentences, I found myself questioning – everything! I discovered I had no really good idea about entirely too many important items in my story.

Having had to miss the RWA national conference (in New Orleans that year) I felt strong enough to go to Mackinac Island for 4 days in early September. It was so helpful to me to get the geography in my head. I spent time at the Fort, many of the local buildings and businesses that had been there in 1861-63, which was when my story was set. This did NOT include the Grand Hotel which came along later. But I did use the location for the Nicolet home. (I did also go to the Grand Hotel, anyway, for their totally awesome brunch! If ever you have the opportunity to go there, you should NOT miss this opportunity. It’s an experience you’ll never forget! Trust me on that one.)

I rented a carriage with team and driver for two fabulous hours, and it was remarkable. We traversed the entire island, and my driver was so experienced (he’d been driving there for 50-some years!) that he anticipated things I should know about, and wouldn’t have known to ask.  I took 8 or so rolls of film (before digital, too!)  It was much as it had been a hundred-plus years earlier. There are still no motor vehicles allowed – they have the only horse and buggy drive-up ATM machine in the world. (There is an ambulance, a fire truck and a police vehicle, but no others are allowed. You travel by horse, bicycle or feet, or skis in the winter.

Once back home again, I settled in to more research (when were zippers or pencils invented?) on various topics, including yacht building, steam engines, costumes, military and social history, Native American tribes of the area, and not least, the War Between the States. Some of the things I unearthed were just to enticing to leave out of my story, so I had to find a way to work them in. It was definitely worth the struggle!  I made up a bibliography of my many sources. If you’d like a copy, please ask me for it; I’ll happily send it along.  I must say, it came in very handy when I wrote book number five, which was about the parents of the hero in this book.

Approximately two months later, I finished the writing. It took close to another month to proof it, make corrections and have a couple of friends read it, too, to be sure it was as good as it could be. Finally, on December 11, 1991, I mailed off the copy to the editor. Secret Shores was published in May, 1993. Just for the record, of the five Lake books – three of them came from my RWA chapter. I was very proud of our local authors.

Last summer, I brought the book back into print in both regular and large print versions, through CreateSpace.   Secret Shores is available now in plus and as a Kindle. (Your local bookstore should be able to order the paper versions through their regular distributor.)  NOTE:  After all this time, I think the previously broken links to the book description and order pages are now fixed!)

Here’s a recent review of it, if you’re interested:

I was so enthralled by my experience on the island that I wrote a sort-of travel piece about it. And then, a funny thing happened on the way to wherever. It was picked up by any number of sources on the web. Of course I wasn’t paid for any of that, but I’d have written it anyway! Good grief! I’m even quoted on Wikipedia!  True. My article is #28 on their list of references: and then others appropriated it as well!

and and (I’m #26 on that last url. On the other hand, I’m source # 4 at this page.) (And, at that point I gave up. Yikes!)

But you can bypass them if you want, and go directly to the source:

I’ve been meaning to add here that the SPAM filter for WordPress is VERY aggressive, and deletes almost every comment without even giving me a chance to see it first. It’s not adjustable, in any way. If you’ve written a comment that doesn’t appear anywhere, please write directly to my e-mail: which is also the place for other questions. Thanks!

Happy Writing!


One Response to “Part three! Or, writing Secret Shores”

  1. Kay Blevins April 3, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

    So glad to know your history in the writing of Secret Shores!

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