Carolyn Haley’s novel, Into the Sunrise, is the story of two misfits pursuing incompatible dreams who fall in love despite themselves and find a way, through their shared love of horses, to mesh their lives as well as their hearts. Or, put into romantic book-pitch terms: She’s afraid to love again, and he’s afraid to love at all, until their shared love of horses teaches them how to love each other.
I admit it, I’m a sucker for a good romance. And since that category remains one of the strongest across book formats, I’d say I’m not alone.
But perhaps even more interesting than these characters’ story is the story of the novel itself. By that I mean how it evolved from an idea Carolyn had as a young girl into numerous manuscript drafts and versions over the years, finally arriving at its current version, which was picked up by Wild Rose Press and released this past May.
Carolyn is a part of the Writer’s Ally team and a friend, so we’re happy to virtually “sit down” with her this month and find out more about the novel’s long journey and what other writers can learn from Carolyn’s arduous process and commitment.
So, Carolyn. This novel has a long history that might strike a familiar chord for many writers out there. Tell us a little about it.
The whole thing began as a fantasy scribbled in a notebook when I was ten. At that time I was horse crazy and recently had read all the Black Stallion books, so I wrote and illustrated an adventure involving me and my friends stranded on a desert island with wild horses (plus the boys we all had crushes on, of course).
Somewhere in my teens I decided to make a real story of it and began the long slog of learning how to do so. By that age I was reading a wider range of romance and adventure, having gone through every available horse story for youth. I wanted to become a better writer and tell a better story. My book went through at least twenty iterations, probably closer to thirty, changing the characters’ names and ages, backstories and relationships, their adventures, the genre, and ultimately even the main character’s voice. That last was the turning point in the novel’s journey.
Turning point in what way?
From going around in circles to making progress in a straight line. Changing voice from third person to first person let me embed myself into a scene and a character’s psyche more genuinely than I’d been able to as an observer/narrator. Until then, tackling the list of changes recommended by editors and beta readers had been arduous and ineffective. But by thinking in “I” terms, I started to own the story in a different way.
The pieces glided into place instead of me trying to fit them with hammer and crowbar. One day I sat up and realized there was nothing left to do. The book had finally come together and I was done, truly done, at last!
Starting with early versions in my teens, I submitted the manuscript to endless rejection, putting it aside for long intervals in between. I took it out one last time after I’d published The Aurora Affair, another novel with a long and winding history (I began writing that one during my twenties and completed it in my fifties). There I was with a novel finally in print, and I found myself unable to come up with a fresh idea for a new book!
So I decided to push hard at making my old horsey love story work. That took three more years, another four or five recasts, and the help of an outstanding writers group to achieve.
What was it like going back to a draft you hadn’t read in a year or so? What surprised you the most? The least?
Rereading old work is like seeing something a stranger wrote. It’s the best way to see your own work objectively, though it takes a long time to gain enough distance to perceive it through new eyes. When I look at archived manuscripts, I’m always surprised to find that I write better than I thought I did. With Into the Sunrise, however, the happy surprise was repeatedly undone by the not-surprise that I would have to rewrite it AGAIN because something big had gone wrong when I wasn’t looking.
Do you think it’s been easier or more difficult to try to give new life to an old draft compared to starting something new?
Unlike many writers, I don’t have a head packed with story ideas screaming to get out. I’ve only conceived of two worlds and character troupes, and spent my formative years growing up with them. So I find it easier to resuscitate than create from scratch.
Indeed, I’m now faced with the challenge of writing a third novel—and balking.
The first books arose spontaneously in my creative youth and had to be reverse-engineered into viable novels. A new book must be fully invented and written efficiently because I don’t have enough decades left to employ the same backward technique. Plenty of ideas are a-roiling but I’ve not settled on an approach or made the commitment.
That I am a diarist: I can write all day, every day, fingers seamlessly connected to my brain. That’s part of what makes it so easy to write fiction in first-person voice. But I am not a natural storyteller. It took decades of hard study, soul-searing mistakes, and bone-headed determination to assemble all the elements and nuances of story and character into a creditable novel.
Did you choose to self-publish or did you go the traditional agent-publisher route? What led to this decision?
I wanted to publish traditionally in print, without an agent, and planned to self-publish in e-book if nobody on my short list was interested. As it happened, I found a romance publisher with a subgenre covering my period (1970s) on the first try. They produced the book in both formats.
The book hasn’t been out long enough for me to have formal sales info yet, but feedback from readers and reviewers has been all positive. That not only feels great, but I feel vindicated! This book got critically slaughtered during its evolution, and, rationally, I should have given up years ago. Now I’ve got people clamoring for a sequel! And praise from readers outside the romance genre. So I am a happy camper!
Factors contributing to success are probably the standards: a competently written narrative wherein a character overcomes a conflict, with some originality to make a classic story new.
And, certainly, your tenacity. Do you think there’s ever a time to give up on a story, or do you think a writer can make anything work if she sticks with it long enough?
There are two schools of thought regarding early manuscripts: (1) consider them a training ground and archive or toss them when you’re done, or (2) never give up revising them until they are ready to go out into the world.
The choice depends on your temperament, talent, drive, and font of available story ideas. For me, number 2 was the only option.
Name one thing you wish you had known before you started writing your book.
How to construct a story!
What advice do you have for writers with old, set-aside, finished or half-finished drafts hiding in their drawers?
Dust them off and look them over now and then, and measure them against what you’ve learned since last viewing. Most likely there’s a good story buried under clunky writing, which can be salvaged through studying craft.
You can find out more about Carolyn and her work on her website: https://carolynhaley.wordpress.com