A Novel Experience (2012)
But over the next few months a love story between best friends who'd spent their childhood near a river formed in my mind, and I worked out a plot while trying to fall asleep at night. At the end of July we went with our good friends to Elephant Butte for our kids to participate in the Dam-it-Man Dualthlon, and the setting for my story changed from a river to "The Lake" near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. I woke up early one Saturday morning in August and wrote a chapter from Lexie's perspective. I quickly realized that though it was Lexie's story, I had to tell it from Max's perspective. It was more difficult and admittedly less authentic to adopt the persona of a teenage boy, but it was the best way to do justice to the story.
I wrote a few more chapters and sent what I'd written to Mom, figuring that she would talk me out of wasting my time. I was surprised when she did the opposite and actually encouraged me to write. I didn't think I had the time, but she said, "You have 15 minutes a day." I decided not to worry about the end result, but to view the entire experience as practice.
So for the next few months, I wrote for at least 15 minutes every day but Sunday, usually waking up before my alarm clock rang to work for an hour before everyone woke up. I sent Mom every few chapters, and she sent back amazingly kind responses, like: "I can't wait to learn what happens next. If I weren't the grandmother of your children, I'd tell you to send them to a boarding school so you could write non-stop. I want each and every installment the moment it comes off the press."
In September we went back to the lake for the Elephant Kidz Triathlon, and our car ran out of gas on the way home. We waited on the side of the road for about an hour while our friends kindly brought us gas, and I happened to have about 50 printed pages of my story so I read several chapters to the kids with a flashlight. My 8-year old daughter Anna was so sweet. She said, "This is the best book I've ever read! I can't wait to hear what happens next—I just know that adventure is coming!" That made me nervous, since it was a Mormon romance with absolutely no adventure coming. But with my daughter's words ringing in my head I rewrote the first two chapters and added some adventure, putting Max and Lexie in Dad's sailing kayak in the huge storm I was in at the lake last summer.
Anna also helped me invent an "X-class superhero" power to mention at the beginning of the novel. She suggested "Cupcake Girl," who had the power to shoot frosting from her fingers (really hard frosting) and make cupcakes with healing powers. She could also make giant cupcakes to act as a shield or a prison, with a cherry for the key to unlock the fortress. I used her suggestion, as well as my son Ben's characters Strong Man, Blaze, and Splash, and initially thought the characters would just get a passing mention. As I got deeper into the story and it became Max's story more than Lexie's, the Cupcake Girl motif became key to the story (so much that my daughter Rachel complained, "Cupcakes again, Mom? Really?")
My sons Chris and Ben both had good suggestions for titles: The Elephant Butte in the Room or The Truth of Consequences. I'd settled on the first until I talked with my brother Michael, who just happened to be creating a video tutorial giving step by step instructions on how to publish an e-book. Michael talked me out of The Elephant Butte in the Room, saying that the words 'elephant' and anything close to 'butt' should never be part of the title for a romance book. He jokingly suggested 50 Shades of Mormon or Dusk as a rip-off on Twilight. Dave and I simultaneously came up with the title, Cupcake Girl, and within mere hours of telling Michael the new title he designed a tantalizing cover for the book.
My sister Christine was also incredibly kind and supportive, and was the first person to read the entire story, with Rachel as a close second. My nephew Michael Lerohl kindly finished a few days later, so I named a minor character Mike Leland in his honor and gave Michael's best time for a cross-country race to Max. My good friend Andrea Landaker made valuable suggestions that prompted me to write three or four more chapters. Dad gave me advice about the sailing chapters, and Mom spent many hours encouraging me and helping me proofread. Chris and Ben both stayed up until midnight on separate occasions to finish listening to the story, and my husband Dave gave me the ultimate compliment by tearing up as he read.
Dave also helped me design a humorous back cover for the book, and wrote all its critical reviews:
"I'll read pretty much anything she writes; well, she is my Mom" --Ben W.
"I love the artistic way she uses her words to reveal a most riveting story. I also love her because she is my Mom." --Chris W.
"I like reading her story because it is action-packed and has exciting things in it. Can you get me some candy, Mom?"-- Anna W.
"Catherine has a way of reaching into my soul and connecting me with the most amazing characters that I feel I've been best friends with my whole life. Can I use the computer now?" Rachel W.
"Catherine tells an AMAZING... and BEST... story. Sure to be a best seller in a galaxy near us. That's why all of us fans love her so much!" -David W.
Though the book probably won't be ready until after Christmas, I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed the entire process. I loved developing the characters and plot, and found it exciting when I started writing a specific scene and new ideas popped into my mind. As the mother of three teenagers and two strong-willed little girls, I also loved making my characters do exactly what I want them to do! I'm excited to share the characters that have floated around in my mind for the last few months with others. And since the last scene of my book takes place on the grounds of the Albuquerque temple, I have this insanely irrational hope that I might just bump into Max and Lexie there someday.