The last person Lady Felicity Stratford is expecting to see tonight is her childhood friend Maxwell Trent, the Duke of Highclyff. The dashing duke hasn’t been seen in London in ten years. But tonight, he’s back. And he’s so much more than Felicity remembers.
Before the dancing is done, we’ll find out where the duke has been and what happened the last time Felicity and Maxwell saw each other. And we may just learn that beautiful Felicity is hiding a secret.
Be sure to include a whispered argument, a daring waltz, and an oh-so-annoying interruption. The rest is up to you!
With these words, AvonFanLit was off and running this May.
I found out about the contest through authors I follow on Twitter, scarcely a week before it started. I had no idea what it would entail, but I knew I had to be part of it. Avon – the publishing house behind my absolute favorite authors and so many of my beloved romances – was looking for new writers.
There were a thousand reasons not to participate. My full-time job was especially busy. My toddler was in the midst of a growth spurt that led to tantrums around the clock. Life was getting in the way.
But I couldn’t get the first line of what became my entry out of my mind: “Highclyff is back.”
What would that mean for Felicity? Who was this man she fell in love with and why did he leave? What was her secret?
From that first line, I wove my first chapter, writing early in the morning, late at night, on Evernote and scraps of paper and the Notes section of my iPhone.
Felicity would be engaged, to another childhood friend, Wakefield. With a huge nod to Sweet Valley High fans with his name, Wakefield is blond, handsome, and seemingly perfect. There’s just one problem: he’s not Maxwell.
Felicity’s best friend, Birdie (named as a nod to Don’s sweet nickname for Betty in Mad Men, which was ending right around the same time) was immediately in my mind. I had dreams of her being paired off with Wakefield by the end of the book, but will let you see where the other authors took it!
The conflict, for me, went a hundred different directions before I settled on a final. There would be a duel in Maxwell’s past, but infamously, I couldn’t decide if it should be with swords or pistols. I left it as pistols, but that left a lot of explaining for the other authors in Chapter Two as to how Wakefield’s injury didn’t kill him – you’ll have to read to find out!
As the characters became more real over the course of the contest, I created Pinterest boards to keep handy what Max & Felicity and Birdie & Wakefield looked like – at least in my mind.
In writing the first chapter, the difficulty was having so many avenues to take the story. I wanted to write something tense and dramatic, hinting at Felicity & Maxwell’s pasts, but leaving enough doors open for (hopefully!) the other authors to take the story in their own direction. After a fraught week begging friends to vote and revealing for the first time, to many of them, my secret life as a Regency romance novelist, I found out my chapter had won the first round. Words – and gifs from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – could not adequately convey my excitement.
And I truly believe Avon FanLit has already changed my life – I headed up to the RWA Conference in July, meeting with the other fabulous FanLitters and the amazing editors at Avon; we’ve launched an online community for 2015 FanLit contestants where we’ve shared resources, ideas, and support; and best of all, it’s brought us all one step closer to our dream of writing romance.
Check out the final book, which includes all the winning chapters for the first time in one FREE! e-novella, including a beautiful never-before-seen epilogue from contest winner Eve Marie Perry! A Duke to Remember is available for free on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, Harlequin, and from the publisher, HarperCollins.
Read more behind-the-scenes stories from the other Avon FanLit authors – here’s Eve Marie Perry’s piece on staying true to your own voice, Liana de la Rosa’s tale of how Felicity & Max had their own idea on how Chapter Three should go, Susannah Erwin’s beautiful take on how this contest makes for stronger writers, and Cheryl Tapper’s insight into how she ended the book, why Birdie & Wakefield gave her hell, and some awesome advice from the legendary Beverly Jenkins!
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