Yes, Virginia, your editor really is Santa Claus
A good editor is a gift that keeps on giving.
An editor that “gets” you as an author and loves your voice? A gift more valuable than gold.
I’m very fortunate to work with a fabulous editor at Tule. Her name is Sinclair Sawhney. Her brilliance and “get-me-ness” shone through like the Christmas star when I first presented my idea for my proposed holiday book: Montana Miracle.
My chosen topic: suicide.
Because that’s such a happy holiday topic, right?
Most of the writers I know liken that first inkling of story–when it nudges up close and whispers “We belong together” in your ear–to falling in love. Who sees the potential pitfalls in the relationship or the conflict’s inherent weaknesses when all you can feel is the magnetic pull of the story?
That, my friends, is where a good editor steps in.
Somewhere in my writer brain, I glommed onto the idea of a damaged, broken Jimmy-Stewart-sort-of-guy (It’s A Wonderful Life) being brought back from the brink by a strong, determined Donna-Reed-sort-of-gal who whips a Bedford-Falls-sort-of-town into shape to open hearts and arms to help this guy. Yeah, yeah, it’s been done before, but this would be my chance to give Frank Capra and author Philip Van Doren Stern a run for their money. So to speak.
That was until my insightful editor wrote this:
“I am curious as to how you are going to handle his suicidal feelings. Is it more he’s just tired, full of despair or is he actually planning anything? I know you are very skilled at walking a tightrope with heavier elements in your stories—abortion, death, and your readers expect and love the heavier themes, but I do want to be conscious that we are also trying to build your readership, plus Christmas stories do have a tendency to be uplifting.”
Can you see the light bulb that magically appeared in my head? Actually, it was a neon flashing sign that read: “Oh. That’s right. It’s a Christmas story. Good grief, Charlie Brown, what were you thinking?”
With that gentle nudge, the building blocks all fell into place. I’m sure my characters heaved a great sigh of relief that no one was going to come close to dying in this book because almost immediately their natural humor and juicy repartee started to come out.
Sam finished the final few inches of the plank before getting to her feet.
“This is more work than I thought it would be,” she said, turning around to find a tall, large, not unattractive stranger despite the half-moon scar on his upper forehead. Her heart rate spiked. Fear? Maybe. But she’d confronted gangs before. Something else made her mouth go dry and the brush in her hand quiver. “Hello. Who are you?”
He’d removed his black cowboy hat, which he held in his right hand like a Frisbee or one of those star things ninja assassins carried. And that was the vibe he gave off. Intense. Possibly dangerous.
But he didn’t look like an assassin. His heavy, dark brown Carhartt jacket showed ample wear, his jeans could stand to be washed and his boots had seen better days. Not that anyone other than her daughter would want to take out a hit on her, she told herself.
Somebody’s been reading way too many romantic suspense novels lately, she thought, although it was hard to ignore the voice in her head screaming, “You’re alone in a church with a potential murderer or rapist.”
“My name is Gage Monroe,” the potential murderer or rapist said, holding out his hand in a conciliatory way. “I’m looking for Pastor Sam.”
Sam slapped the brush crossways on top of the paint can then clamped her hands to her hips. “Well, of course you are. Because those wiseacres at the Post Office failed to warn you that Sam was short for Samantha.” She shook her head. “It’s getting old, boys,” she said, looking up. But, a part of her still grinned, picturing their boyish pleasure.
“You’re Pastor Sam?”
She stepped toward him, sensing his sudden urge to bolt. “Samantha Zabrinski. Born in Montana, raised in Detroit. I’ve only been back a few months, but I’m happy to be here–despite the weather.”
His hand felt like a block of ice. Did he walk from the Post Office? Maybe. Two blocks wasn’t far, but the only people who seemed to thrive on the cold were young kids and tourists.
“I grew up here, too, but I’ve been gone for quite a few years.”
“I figured as much. Pretty hard to miss a local when there are so few of us. Where do you live?”
“Mile and a half south of town. Used to be a nice little ranch, but it got broken up over the years. Just a few acres with a house and barn left. The Sheriff booted the low-life renters out last week, I was told. Place is in pretty bad shape.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember hearing some talk. You were one of Mr. Vander Wahl’s clients.” The extent of the old man’s incompetence and apparent impairments only came to light after he dropped dead at his desk. “We prayed for his soul. I hate to think of the weight of his burdens at the end of his life.”
Gage Monroe let out a gruff “Pah.” “He left a ton of burdens behind, believe me. I’m trying my best to get out from under them. Which is why I’m here.”
She pointed to the industry behind her. “My prowess with a paint brush precedes me? How nice.”
The reluctant smile that flirted with the corners of Gage Monroe’s nicely shaped mouth made the name Ewan McGregor spring into her mind. Or maybe it was the thatch of longish, cinnamon-brown hair that fell across his forehead that reminded her of one of her favorite actors. Oh, my. Be still my heart. Wait till I tell Makayla.
“I’ve given myself a deadline of December 25th. What isn’t done by then will be somebody else’s problem. I won’t be here to worry about it.”
Sam’s breath caught in her throat making mere breathing impossible. She’d heard another confession like this once and the man doing the talking was found dead the next morning. Suicide. Was that what he meant? A man this vital and filled with life was considering taking his own life?
As she looked closer, she could see tiny stress lines around his eyes and mouth. Was he in pain? Constant physical pain could rob a person of the ability to see a future.
She rushed to him, nearly tripping over her feet in her hurry. “No. I’m sorry, but no. You can’t do this.”
She gripped the forearm not holding his hat with both of her hands. “Life is too precious. It may not seem like it now, but you…have…value,” she said, slowly.
Their gazes locked.
She blinked. “You do? You’re not talking about committing suicide?”
The look that crossed his handsome face was not attractive. She let go of his arm and took a step back. “No. I’m talking about leaving this hellhole and never coming back. But I can’t do that until I sell my folks’ old place.”
I loved writing this story. And hope you’ll agree that Bedford Falls ain’t got nothin’ on Paradise, Montana.
I hope this isn’t a silly gift–since you’ve all seen it, but tell me the title of your favorite holiday movie, and I’ll pick one name to win a copy of It’s A Wonderful Life and a backlist holiday title of mine. Cheers!
Former award-winning newspaper journalist Debra Salonen is a nationally bestselling author with 26 published novels for Harlequin’s Superromance and American lines and one single title release for Harlequin Signature. Several of her titles were nominated for “Best Superromance,” including UNTIL HE MET RACHEL, which took home that honor in 2010. Debra was named Romantic Times Reviewer’s Career Achievement “Series Storyteller of the Year” in 2006. Debra lives in the foothills near Yosemite National Park in California with her husband and two dogs. Luckily, her two children and three grandchildren live close by to keep Debra connected to the real world.