Bree & Mike


It’s no secret that I hate the working title on Bree and Mike’s story, “To Catch a Wife.” I blogged about it way back in May.

Last night, inspiration struck as I drove to the grocery store. I thought I’d found a perfect replacement: “Virgin and the Tramp.” A play on “Lady and the Tramp” … a description of the heroine and hero … perfect, right?

Not so much, apparently. When I posted the suggestion in my Facebook status, it was almost universally panned. One of my friends, someone I went to high school with, said it sounded like two lesbians. I have nothing against gay romances …. however, I did not write one, so I don’t want the title to make it sound like that’s what it is. I was thinking of Mike as the tramp (at least in everyone else’s mind. He works hard to maintain that image!)

Another of my friends said she’d pick up a book with the first title, but not the second.

So “Virgin and the Tramp” doesn’t play well in the Heartland.

Knowing that, I went back to the drawing board … again. “To Catch a Wife” was a decent title for the original draft of the book, in which Mike spent a good portion trying to convince Bree he wanted to marry her (because he thinks she’s pregnant, which she’s not). That still happens, but the book’s focus has shifted a bit, focusing more on Mike’s journey from pseudo-playboy who uses his bad-boy image to push away girls he doesn’t think he deserves to guy who knows he not only deserves but needs the love of a good woman.

Again, I started toying with the words I’ve been kicking around for months: mirror, image, playboy, virgin (because the heroine is one). I’d been down this road many times before and came up dry. However, the thought crossed my mind that Mike moonlights as a stripper — and a new perfect title was born: “Moonlight Madness.”

At first, I thought, “No way.” But it quickly grew on me. I walked through the parking lot to my car thinking, “That’s not bad.”

I think I even said it aloud: “That’s pretty good, actually.”

Why? Well, Breanne has harbored a crush on Mike, a coworker, since she started working at the paper … but she’s resigned herself to being just friends. As the story opens, she and her roomates are at a bachelorette party at the local strip club. She’s enjoying the show despite herself — until she discovers Mike’s the masked man shaking his junk at her.

Madness sets in and she can’t stop fantasizing about Mike. (She’s only a virgin, not dead!) When they get snowed in on assignment with one hotel room between them, she gets drunk and screws up the courage to give him her virginity (even though she knows it’s a bad idea). Mike, who’s sworn never to get involved with another virgin, doesn’t handle it well when he discovers he’s just taken it … and they spend weeks not speaking until Mike, who has a bad habit of eavesdropping, overhears what he thinks is Bree telling her former roommates (both of whom are now married) she’s pregnant. (She’s not.) Guiltily, he flashes back to that drunken night … yep. No condom. That’s what three hours of foreplay and a six-pack’ll do to a guy. But despite the image he goes to great lengths to create, he has old-fashioned values. So he sets out to seduce Bree back into his life. (Thus the original “To Catch a Wife” title.)

Unlike the crew from “Saturday Night Live,” I don’t have a lot to report: I’ve been reading/editing most of the weekend.

That means I’ve done no new writing … and I’m waffling about entering a third MS into the Golden Heart. A couple of nights ago, I started to wonder if I should enter Bree & Mike’s story. (I reread it, and I still think it’s pretty good. I LOVE Mike James. Visually, he’s beautiful and he’s interesting on the page — sordid past he keeps to himself, potentially questionable morals.)

Right now I’m leaning toward not, though. It’d be in the same category with Meg & Matt, the story I think is stronger … It had better be, since I’ve been honing my craft between the two. Of course, a lot of what I really like about Bree & Mike’s story is the stuff I went back and added in this spring, when I was expanding it to the proper length. (It started out at about 38,000 words.)

Besides, I’d have to write a synopsis AND come up with a better title. The frontrunner, thanks to my Facebook clan, is “She’s Snow Virgin” … but I don’t think even that works. (Better than “To Catch a Wife,” though, which is what I’ve been calling it.)

Does SNL even do “Weekend Update” anymore? Working most Saturday nights, I haven’t had a chance to watch in years.

I was out on a walk Saturday morning, listening to my iPod, when a song by my favorite band came on and it hit me: This could be Mike James’ theme song.

Mike, you might remember, is the hero in Bree & Mike’s story (the one with the crappy title). He’s the one who wants everyone to think he’s a playboy so he can avoid romantic entanglements with nice girls like my heroine … the one who doesn’t think he deserves a nice girl to love and love him.

The song that seemed to fit him to a T is Depeche Mode’s “Wrong.”

I reached the wrong ends by the wrong means

It was the wrong plan
In the wrong hands
The wrong theory for the wrong man
The wrong eyes on the wrong prize
The wrong questions with the wrong replies …

I was marching to the wrong drum
With the wrong scum
Pissing out the wrong energy
Using all the wrong lines
And the wrong signs
With the wrong intensity

When it comes to Mike, all true. Well, he does say the right things (at least the right things for an outrageous flirt), but for the wrong reasons.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Depeche Mode has been my favorite group since high school, and I often find ways to apply their lyrics to life. In college, I quoted “New Dress” (about how changing a vote can change the world) in some political science paper.

Now I’m wondering if this makes Mike more of an anti-hero. Oh, he’s definitely not as dark as Gareth, the alcoholic since age 14 who’s trying to escape his abusive father by taking refuge with my almost-as-messed-up heroine.

But Mike at least fancies himself a “bad boy,” courtesy of his past.

I love this story. I hope I can find someone who likes it as much as I do.

As I was printing out the completed draft of Bree & Mike’s story, I realized something: I HATE the title.

The working title has been “To Catch a Wife” … but that’d be coming totally from Mike’s perspective — and only AFTER he realizes he wants one, about 1/3 of the way into the book.

I could call it “To Catch a Spouse,” since they’re both after one of those (Bree at the start and Mike later on) — but that’s kind of generic. I might just need a completely new title. Maybe “The Virgin and the Playboy’? (Except Mike’s not really a playboy, he just pretends to be one … and Bree doesn’t stay a virgin for long. She and Mike get together in Chapter 3 … or maybe it’s 4. I’d have to check.)

Speaking of titles, I’m not wild about Cassie & Dustin’s, either. (That one’s been dubbed “Daring to Love.”) That’s probably why I continue to call those stories “Bree & Mike” and “Cassie & Dustin.”

Brad and Erin (“Operation Snag Mike Brad”) and Kari and Damien (“Blind Date Bride”) are different. Those titles sprang, fully formed, from the depths of my imagination, and I often use them when referring to their stories.

Ugh. Titles are nearly as bad as queries and synopses. They have to convey so much in so few words — tone, substance — and they have to be interesting enough to jump off the shelf and into readers’ hands (or at least out of the inbox into editor’s hands).

Any tips on coming up with a good one? I’m all ears!

The hits just keep on coming!

That’s right. About 30 minutes ago, I put the finishing touches on the expanded draft of Bree & Mike’s story. It’s 56,000 words (on the shorter side of category romance, but still within the bounds) and will probably grow as I edit.

Of course, with Bree and Mike somewhat settled, I’m back to being at loose ends. What shall I do next?

The task that looms large is synopsis writing … but I think I’ll hold off on that until after our next NARWA meeting on May 15. That’s the topic our guest speaker, Cathy McDavid, will be covering.

Maybe I should go back to editing Kari & Damien’s story, “Blind Date Bride.” It’s my only single-title novel, and my writer friend Pat (who has read both it and Brad & Erin’s story) thinks it’s by far and away the better one.

Since Brad & Erin has been getting agent rejections left and right, I’m starting to think Pat may be right.

Query letter, here I come! Ugh. That sucks nearly as much as a synopsis.

There’s not much to report here. Despite having a wisdom tooth removed Monday, I’ve been keeping up with the writing.

Mainly, I’ve been busy exploring my hero’s reasons for stripping and my heroine’s motivations for wanting to be married by 25. (With one less wisdom tooth — I’m now down to one — I’m having trouble seeing any wisdom in either of their hangups.)

Bree & Mike’s story is now up to about 42,000 words, leaving me to add 13K more to get it to category length. It’ll probably take a couple more read-throughs to get there, but I’ll do it … and then all three of the stories in my “Women of Willow’s Grove” series will be ready for prime time.

I spent some time tonight reading through parts of Bree & Mike’s story, and I’ve come to the conclusion that he might be the best hero in my Women of Willow’s Grove trilogy.

Not surprising, considering he was going to be Erin’s hero (until Brad got in the way). He sprang, fully formed, from the depths of imagination … with a little helpful inspiration in the form of a guy I used to work with.

He’s Greek-god gorgeous (of course!) and he’s not afraid to use his looks to fuel his playboy reputation. He earns extra cash dancing at Willow’s Grove’s only male strip joint, has an aging cat named Augie and isn’t at all the playboy everyone thinks he is.

See? Already he’s more interesting than Brad and Dustin combined … No wonder I haven’t gotten many nibbles on my query for Brad & Erin’s story.

I have other heroes that I like, too. Matt is great and I love Damien best of all. But Mike James will always be my first. And as such, he’ll always have a special place in my heart.

Thanks, GI — wherever you are.