Guest Post: Debut Author Kristin Contino On Making An Old Story New Again

TLOU_Perfect_364_PRINTLooking back through a long thread of emails, it seems I met Kristin Contino in 2012 when we were both members of the same author group. Then Kristin reviewed The Glass Wives and came to my Philadelphia area book signing in 2013! I also worked as a freelance editor on one of Kristin’s projects.

I’d say we’re intertwined the way only authors can be.

And now Kristin is a debut author!

WAY. TO. GO. KRISTIN!

Today you’ll read how Kristin persevered, wrote through the madness and disappointment, and how THE LEGACY OF US is an old story turned new again— and is published TODAY! 

Please welcome Kristin to WFW!

Amy xo

How My Failed First Book Helped Me Sell My Second

By Kristin Contino

TLOU_Perfect_364_PRINTA survey a few years ago uncovered about 80 percent of Americans list writing a book as one of their bucket list items. Tell someone you’ve always wanted to write a book, and she’ll probably agree with you.

But when you say you actually are writing a book, it’s a whole new story. Some people will get really excited and ask a ton of questions, while others will give you a “that’s nice” look and think you’re pretty much crazy. But either way, you’ll be hearing one question for a long time.

“How’s The Book coming?” anyone you’ve ever met will say every time you see them. Which is great … if you’ve actually got an update. But when The Book just sputters out and dies, it turns into the last thing you want to talk about.

My first novel started as something I did for fun in my early twenties, and I honestly couldn’t tell you when I first put the words on paper. Like most of my friends, I moved back home after my college graduation. The glamorous PR jobs and Sex and the City lifestyles we’d promised ourselves we’d live seemed like ridiculous dreams in those days after 9/11. The economy had tanked, and the majority of my generation lived in our childhood bedrooms, surrounded by a mix of puffy-painted sorority candles, Titanic posters and stuffed animals, without a clue what we were doing with our lives. So I wrote a story about someone like me.

At first my novel, Homecoming, centered around two girls who’d just graduated and moved back in with their parents. One of them falls for her old college boyfriend, who was already living in the “real world” for a few years and had moved on without her. I wrote in dribs and drabs, sometimes not picking up the manuscript for months, or even years, at a time. I finally found a job in my major, working at a PR firm, and became consumed with my own real world life, just like Adam in my book.

A decent number of people knew I was writing a novel, and between friends and family, I got a lot of “how’s The Book coming?” questions. I’d give vague answers, talking about how I was busy at work, it was hard to find time, but it was “coming along.”

The truth was, somewhere along the line, I fell out of love with my story. And while I’d always been a good writer (and had a degree in it), I didn’t have any kind of fiction training, and writing silly stories about Beverly Hills teens as a kid hardly counted as experience.

I didn’t know where to go next with the plot, and couldn’t imagine writing 60,000-plus more words of a story I felt so meh about. At the time, I didn’t have the maturity to do something about it—like read industry blogs, go to conferences, get a critique partner, or join professional associations like RWA, as I would years later.

So after getting about 15,000 words into the book, I stopped writing.

Life went on, and I did all the things that I expected to do in my mid-to-late twenties: got a new job, traveled with friends, got married. Then, not long before my thirtieth birthday, my story changed completely.

I’d been looking for a cameo necklace for a few months, and had scoured antiques stores and flea markets with no luck. I didn’t want a cheap costume jewelry version, so I decided to hold out until I found something perfect.

My mother-in-law had been going through things at her mom’s house, who had just passed away, and one day a jewelry box ended up in my hands. “I thought this looked like something you’d wear.” And there against the pink velvet sat a vintage cameo pendant, ring and brooch. Exactly what I wanted, but much better. She hadn’t even known I was looking for a cameo.

Back home, I wondered about where the jewelry had come from, and how old the pieces were. And somehow, this random conversation with my husband in the bathroom turned out to be the start of a new book. I’d been feeling the urge to write again, and this concept excited me.

At first, it was a loose idea about a necklace and the different people who acquired it over time. I sat down and realized I wanted it to be about a family, versus strangers who all owned it, and there needed to be a modern-day girl … a girl a lot like Liz, my character from that long-abandoned novel.

Then I thought, why couldn’t it be Liz?

When I sat down and re-read the book, I realized the characters weren’t so much the problem; I loved Liz, and her best friend Addie, and even her sometimes questionable ex-boyfriend. It was the plot that needed work. So I lifted Liz and her friends out of their world and dropped them into a new one, sifting out the dull pieces, and keeping the sparkly ones.

It took a fair amount of tweaking, but I was able to recycle a large part of Homecoming, repurposing the old storyline to fit the new one. Liz aged by five years and lost some of the angst, but not all of it. I added two new POVs: Liz’s grandmother, Ella, and her great-grandmother, Gabriella. I threw myself into reading about Florence in the early 1900s, remembering the places I’d traveled with my friends and imagining my characters there. And suddenly I had a book that I actually wanted to write.

The pages added up each day, and slowly, I started telling people I was working on a novel again. Instead of making me cringe, “How’s The Book coming?” kept me accountable. And this time, I actually had something to say.

It took a few years of writing, querying, and revising more times than I’d like to admit, but that story, The Legacy of Us, was the book that got me my first contract. So if you’ve got a novel under the bed, you never know … it might help lead you to the one.

1597869_763516739604_1419117978_oKristin Contino has been writing stories for as long as she can remember. Her childhood love of reading and writing translated into a career as a freelance writer and editor, and her work has appeared in retail, business, and parenting publications. She lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her family, but dreams of moving to her favorite city, London. The Legacy of Us is her first novel.

You can find Kristin on the web at www.kristincontino.com, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

14 thoughts on “Guest Post: Debut Author Kristin Contino On Making An Old Story New Again

  1. Thank you, Kristin Contino, for your honest story and Amy Sue Nathan for your helpful blog. This interview really hit home with me, except for the part about having a writing degree. I am currently taking a deliberate break from revising to spend time on home renovations. But my brain keeps dreaming up scenes to add, which mean major changes to the plot. This winter outdoor projects will cease and I will write and revise, again.

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  2. Great post, Kristin! I can relate to your story very much as I have two dusty completed novels hiding in the crevices of my computer – neither of which I feel deserve to be laid to rest for all time. There are threads that can be drawn from old manuscripts and woven into new or refurbished ones. Just as you have shown, maybe what it takes is a new seed, a new angle, a new way of looking at the old. Your mother-in-law’s mom’s pendant was the seed for you. That is an inspiration to other writers. It makes me think of my second novel and how I can revamp it and use it as the secondary storyline in my current project. I can also fully relate to the “How’s the book coming along?” question. It made me giggle because there are times, I could rip those words as they’re spoken time and time again and hurl them across a field along with the body they’re attached to. Thank you for this relatable post and all the best with your debut novel. I will definitely be checking it out.

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  3. Hi Kristin, I loved reading your post about how you returned to writing your old manuscript Homecoming and made it into your book The Legacy of Us! I was reminiscing about how I graduated from college a million years ago (in the late 50’s) but did go live in the big city of Manhattan. Those days were happy, carefree, and although I wrote in my journals about those days, I didn’t write a book. Your journey of how you came to write your book is so intriguing,,,finding a cameo you always dreamed of having from your mother-in-law, then how that evolved, hooked me! Time was all you needed to add to your experiences about Liz. I can’t wait to read your book! Thanks and best of luck!

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  4. Kristin, this is a terrific post. I did the same thing with one of my novels, Beach Plum Island: I lifted a potter who lived by the sea and was struggling to raise her children alone out of a terrible crime novel and dropped her smack into a family mystery about searching for a brother she never had. The writing zoomed along from there and I sold the book. Being a successful writer means being able to literally think outside that dusty manuscript box. Set your characters (or settings or plots) free and you might be amazed by what happens. No writing is ever wasted–we always learn something from it.

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  5. I love hearing the story behind “the” story, Kristin! And the origins of Liz and Addie. I love how characters grow organically…they were there the whole time, just waiting patiently for you to find the right story path!

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  6. What an interesting and encouraging post! Good luck with the book.
    I was revising and editing a very old story to put on my blog earlier this year and told my daughter it felt like cheating – and she told me that Jane Austen had two periods of writing, and in the second she essentially revised all the first lot of stories for publication. So now I say I’m doing a Jane Austen when I open that dusty old drawer and root around for an old idea to renovate! Maybe some of her genius will rub off.

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