I like Stefanie Meyer’s Twilight series. I’ll admit it. I don’t like that I like it, but I do. I loved the way Stefanie Meyer laced her novels with chemistry. Clean chemistry. I don’t really admire Bella, and for the record I’m “Team Jacob” (Yikes, feels like talking politics. Them’s fighting words to those ice cube lovers). So when I acquired a case of pneumonia topped with mononucleosis I had nothing to do in my months of convalescence besides read. About this time our neighborhood and schools were full of young ladies who had their noses buried deep in Stefanie Meyer books. My twelve year old wanted to read it. I know they marketed it to a teenage crowd… but eek! What if my daughter came away with the idea that having a handsome, super cool guy in your bedroom all night would lead to nothing but sleep? I didn’t want her to resent me for not letting her read it. And there was that catch twenty-two, “Why can you read something I can’t?” So I compromised. I read it to her. The whole series, except the last book. I’m glad I did. The books spurred many conversations about chastity, ungoverned good intentions, passion without thought, loyalty, and what to really expect from the poor boys her age that were holding the reigns to their own burgeoning, sometimes unwieldy, hormones.
My daughter was mesmerized, and I had the idea that I could teach my children through fiction. I could teach them about really eternal things instead of rocky vampires. I had her whole attention as I read that novel to her. So as I sat in bed I thought of my favorite personal parables (those things that had happened in my life to cement gospel principles into my heart) and I turned on the computer. When I was done I gave a bursting three ring binder to my Sister-in-law, Holly, and asked her to read it. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it other than teach my girls, but I wanted some validation that writing 125,000 words and living in a complete daydream for three months wasn’t a waste of time. She didn’t read it. She didn’t read it…..she still didn’t read it…(She’s a successful photographer and time was precious). I gave up on her reading it at all then she called me in the wee morning hours one morning, bouncing off the walls. She loved it. She told me to submit it for publication. That was a test. Everyone my whole life has said your first book would never be published. My degree is in finance. I stopped working on literature and English after that horrid career day in high school when the novelist told us “fat chance publishing in the real world.” I decided if I was going to do this, I was going to shoot for my favorite publisher of all time: Covenant.
So, here we go:
Table for Two: I named this book “Shallots” after Alex’s restaurant. Covenant thought that sounded like a cookbook. A shallot is a tiny little onion with a lot of flavor. I thought it was clever but I’m not a sentimental person, so when they wanted to change it I was accepting. When I learned it would be Table for Two I laughed, because to me that sounded like a cookbook. Now, after time and editing, I really like the new name of the book. It’s perfect.
Funniest edit: “What that had to do with the price of tea in China I couldn’t figure out.” It changed to the price of rice in China. I’d never heard that phrase before, but after some research found that it is in common use (as is “the price of beans in Albuquerque.” I guess Mormons and tea don’t mix.) It was a challenge to write about a character that had been reared in the church when I had no idea, other than almost twenty years in Primary, what it was like to grow up in the church. I looked at my kids and gave a really good guess at what their lives are like. My editor was very important in making Jana actually seem like she was reared in the Church.
How long did it take? Figure three months to write it, three or four more for Holly to read it, a little longer in test market than planned. Then I got the most stunning, have to sit down hard and drop my drink email I’ve ever gotten on September 11th 2009: “Sheryl, Congratulations! We have reviewed and discussed Shallots, and have accepted it for publication at Covenant Communications. We are intrigued by the story; it's a fun romance, but has such a different setting and storyline than most of the traditional romances we receive and publish. The characters are interesting, and the premise is inviting. We are already scheduled out quite a way in our fiction line; your book will be published sometime during 2010, likely in the summer, but we won't know for sure until we nail a few other things down.” Add more time for the ups and downs in the economy, push a quick edit with the most wonderful editor in the world, Samantha Van Walraven, and we’ve arrived at release: July 2012. Shhh, don’t tell them, but to be a Covenant author, I would have waited another ten years, and been happy to be on their “publish someday” list.
Jana: Jana is a marriage of all of the Molly, upright, wish-I-was-them, Mormons I grew up knowing. See, I didn’t grow up in the church. I didn’t know I was God’s daughter. I was fascinated by those girls who seemed to know it, who stood tall and steady no matter what came. Like Jen when I was 13. There was a party with the hottest guys in the neighborhood and we teeny-boppers were invited. Only there was alcohol in the punch. I didn’t want any but the older kids were applying peer pressure to get us to take some. I never did have a problem with drugs or alcohol, having witnessed the struggles of some of my beloved family members. But still those gorgeous boys were pushing cups at us. Luckily for me Jen had more of a brain than I did. She, the bishop’s daughter, put her dainty little nose up in the air and declared, “We don’t drink.” With head still regal and nose pointing to heaven she marched out the door. Everyone needs a friend like that. I looked into their dreamy teenage eyes, stuck my nose in the air, gave my own little “Humph,” and followed Jen out the door. She had decided who she was and what she stood for long before that party. It was easy for her to leave.
Then there was Brenda. By the time I knew her God had picked me up and put me in the church, complete with undeniable witnesses that the Church was true. I was firm by then but I loved Brenda’s example. I used to work at the Post Office doing data entry with a group of the most wonderful Latter Day Saint young adults in the world. We would visit and joke 8-10 hours a day. We loved work… yes, at the Post office there are occasions where “Loved Work” isn’t an oxymoron. One of the neatest things about Brenda is she would never say a negative word about anyone. Your name was safe with her. Your secrets were safe with her. Plus, she baked good cookies. Enough said.
In an earlier version Jana was going to get in a car crash before the wedding. While under anesthesia in surgery, she was able to meet Vanessa, who asked her to take care of the Steadman family.
I just took everything I loved about all the fantastic men I knew and tossed them together. I added my husband’s knack for banter and Patrick Dempsey’s hair. I’m not a Patrick Dempsey fan. Well, I am until he opens his mouth, but that’s as far as I go. However, he has some really great hair. Alex’s crow’s feet are from my husband. I love those crow’s feet because if I can see them he’s smiling, and I love his smile. My husband is a good cook, as are his brothers and father. So a man doing the cooking wasn’t hard to imagine.
Stan Borrowman: My dad was absent for most of my life until the end of his. When I joined the church and met so many faithful dads, I wanted one too. So I made Stan. My father-in-law is sweet and loveable, like Stan. I hit the jackpot with the in-laws. It is almost a sin to call them in-laws. I added in the kind of father my husband is to our children and voila! A big, loving, “teddy bear” of a dad.
Rachel: I’m an only child. I wanted a lovable sister, so I combined the bright, fun personality of my Sister-in-Law, Holly, with the banter I often have with my mother, and the tenderness I have with my best friend, Angie.
Brad: I’ve had some problems with dense, persistent men in my life. It can be very frustrating and more than a little scary to have one in your life. The Brad you read about in Table for Two is a milder Brad than the one I submitted to Covenant. I’m afraid that in an earlier version he chased Jana around the house wielding a knife, until Alex hits him with a golf club. The test market advised that my book was too sweet and introspective for violence, so the scene was removed.
Abigail Borrowman: My mother hunted me down while I was doing dishes, Table for Two, in her hand. “Sheryl, you didn’t base her off of me did you?” I had a jolly laugh over that. Abigail is nothing like my mother. I’ve only met one nosey, meddling mother like her in my whole life. But I know they’re out there because I hear people complain. So no, Mom, she’s nothing like you. Not even from the same planet. You trump Abigail Borrowman any day.
First Person: Why not? I mean Stefanie Meyer did it, right?
The Wedding: My most common complaint (mind you the book’s been out for only a week so I’m sure to get more) is that after I made Jana and Alex wait a year, made readers suffer through Jana’s wishy washy reluctance, I didn’t give a wedding as a payoff. I’m not romantic. I know it sounds silly because I seem to be going down the road of being a romance writer. I barely showed up to my own reception. I didn’t want it. I took my bridesmaids to the mall, shoved money at them and a color swatch and told them to meet me in an hour with dresses they liked that matched(ish) that color. I’d dated my husband so many times in the temple that I just got married in the same temple dress I always wore to marry him. My wedding ring is a gold thirty dollar band and I’ve never missed the diamond. I like cheap carnations more than roses. I forget our anniversary all the time…. So you see the torture it would have been to include a reception? I’ve repented, and am writing one into my next book, “How to Love Tyler West.” I didn’t realize how important that wedding was to readers. Just remember how many books Stefanie Meyer made readers wait through for a wedding, and be thankful I finished it in just one. The most important thing in Table for Two for me was the sealing together of the family of God. That was the crowning event of the book for me.
*Update: The most common 2 complaints are now "I wanted to strangle Jana. She put Alex through too much." and "There's a dragging part while we're waiting for Jana to come to her senses." The dragging part is my mistake. There was a scene where Jana had a secret meeting with Brad to forgive him and Alex was mad, mad, and more mad. My editor helped me see that Alex was too lovable to be that angry. Instead of cutting the associated scenes out I only cut out Alex's anger. I should have cut the scenes too. As for the Jana being frustrating I just smile because I remember wanting to strangle Stefanie Meyer's Bella. (But still, sorry.)
I’ll add more quirks as I think of them.