If you’ve been writing as long as I have, chances are you’ve received your share of rejections. There are myriad reasons a book is rejected– Pacing’s off, too much backstory, failure to hone one’s craft, the story doesn’t resonate with the editor or agent, lack of conflict, the story feels contrived, it’s cloudy, the agent doesn’t care for her new haircut. . .
In my case, however, my book was rejected because the agent or editor couldn’t buy a coincidence. Which for me was a little hard to accept because I’ve been the recipient of coincidence my entire life.
When I was in grade school, my mother took my little sister, my friend and me to the movies. Charlene and I coerced my mom into letting us watch the show from the balcony, and eventually Mom relented. Excited, my schoolmate and I gathered our popcorn and soda, scrambled up to the second floor like the big kids, and while tugging off my coat, I knocked my soda off the railing. On the way home, my sister cried that some idiot above her had drenched her with a drink. Oops.
In fourth grade I had my appendix removed. A nurse entered my room and said that a boy around my age had been severely burnt in a fire. She wondered if I might be willing to spend some time with him. I agreed. Turns out, I dated that boy my sophomore in high school. At a dance I put my arms around him and felt the scars through his shirt. He explained he’d been in a fire as a boy. When I asked how it happened, we were both amazed as we remembered our talks in the hospital.
Last February when my husband and I went to Key West, my cousin and her significant other gave us a tour of the island. After she took us back to our bungalow, she said, “You’re staying here?” Worried we were staying in a disreputable place, I answered, “So far. Why? What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” she replied. “It’s just that this is the same bungalow your mother stayed in with your brother when your dad shipped off to Okinawa 55 years earlier.
My future daughter in law and I were born in the same hospital in Lubbock, Texas. She lives in Fort Worth, I live in Colorado Springs. An innocent conversation about where we were born confirmed we were both born at St. Mary’s Hospital. I ask you: What are the odds?
Last but not least, the coincidence that hit me the hardest was learning that my dad passed away on the same day as his father, sixty-one years apart. That is an incredible, emotional coincidence that I find myself thinking about every June 29th.
As you can see, I’m no stranger to coincidence, which brings me to the focus of this article. During my stint at the Citizen’s Academy, I asked some deputies what’s the worst thing that could happen during the course of their career? Without hesitation, one deputy answered, if an ex-con moved next door to me.
I’d been plotting THE PAST CAME HUNTING for some time by then, and that comment provided the ideal solution for me. I needed a conflict for my protagonists, one an ex-con, the other a police lieutenant. I heaped on additional conflict by adding their teenage boys to the scenario and making them inseparable. Contrived? Maybe. But I think I made it work. Further, if I would have moved Melanie down the street or into a different neighborhood, I would have lessened the conflict, and it wouldn’t have been the same story.
Conflict or Coincidence, I simply had to choose. For me, it made sense to pick the latter.
THE PAST CAME HUNTING is Donnell Ann Bell’s debut novel published by Bell Bridge Books. She recently signed a contract with Bell Bridge for her 2010 Golden Heart finaling novel, Deadly Recall, to be released late 2012, and a third suspense, which will be out in 2013.