Updated: Mar 28
1. I came up with the title when I wrote the initial half-draft, and it hasn't changed.
Confession: I love giving my books quippy, punny, idiom titles. I am one of those people who actually loves puns; my puns are, in fact, always intended. When people in real life or movies actually use the phrase that inspired my book title, I sit up straight, point at the screen, and gasp like it's the most amazing and unexpected thing ever. Which, to me, it pretty much is.
2. I've always had an interest in mortuary science and seriously considered becoming a funeral director myself, so I knew I wanted to write a book about mortuary science eventually.
Every time I tell people this, judgy eyes and horrified expressions come into play. I get it: a lot of people don't want to know about what happens after death. A great many more people cannot fathom why someone would voluntarily choose a profession revolving around death. While I did not want to get my embalming license, I was drawn to the funeral directing side of the profession: planning funerals, consulting with family members of the deceased, doing clerical work. Of course, I ultimately ended up choosing a much different career path, but my interest in mortuary science never left me.
3. A real life funeral home inspired this entire story.
In my small Appalachian hometown resides one of the most beautiful funeral homes known to man. It's a stone's throw away from the dance studio where I took ballet lessons for over ten years. As a child, I'd often stare at it through the window, never knowing it'd one day inspire a novel. As a young adult, I'd pass the funeral home a few times a week on my way to my part-time job. On one such occasion, a single lamp was lit and shone through the upstairs window like a beacon of hope. My writer brain noted that lit lamp and immediately came up with a character: a neurotic mortician's daughter. I'm not sure if anybody actually lives in the second half of that beautiful funeral home, but I do thank them for turning on the lamp that day. Without it, my beloved white whale of a book might not exist today.
4. It took over 34 attempts until I wrote the draft that stuck.
Read next: "Tenacity."
5. The original love interest was an entirely different character.
When I first envisioned this story, I knew I wanted to go for an "opposites attract" dynamic for my two main characters. As a newbie to YA Contemporary Romance, I didn't really think outside the box. The original love interest was a walking stereotype: a dense, popular football player more interested in chasing skirts than applying himself in school. Yeah, basically one of the most tropey characters to exist in this genre. For the first twenty or so drafts, I was perfectly content to write this love story between the stereotypical jock and the neurotic mortician's daughter. Only, I wasn't entirely content. Something was missing, that special spark that always made me root for my characters to fall in love. It wasn't until a dear friend of mine pointed out how cliché my character was that I considered maybe, just maybe, the original love interest was holding my story back. I brainstormed, and I brainstormed some more. The football player became a daredevil. The same character with the same name but a much different personality. Even after the legal name change, I still couldn't connect to Original Love Interest. He needed a complete overhaul. That special missing spark quite literally became a Sparks. From then on, I knew I was getting closer to writing that much-coveted 35th draft.
6. The plot of this story was totally different at first.
Speaking of huge story changes, my book idea about a neurotic mortician's daughter was quite different in the early days. Originally, it involved a boy completing his bucket list and the mortician's daughter (whose name was also different) helping him check off each item. While I do actually like that idea, I'm happy about the direction this story ultimately took.
7. I came up with the final missing story element in October of 2021.
As I mentioned, changing the love interest brought me one step closer to successful Draft 35. But even after I invented the replacement love interest, I had quite a few missteps. I am fanatical about writing structurally sound first drafts, and while a lot of people might tell me to just push through, I cannot do that if my Writer Half knows something is missing. On a crisp October day in 2021, I was on my way home from work, lost in yet another daydream about this story. The foliage was a patchwork of the most vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows. As I rounded the corner, sunlight peeking through the canopy of leaves and dappling my windshield with tiny golden flecks, it happened. An idea emerged, brighter and more brilliant than all the colors of autumn combined. The missing story element. While I am not an overly emotional person, I had tears in my eyes when I finally veered into my driveway. Truly one of the most magical experiences of my life.
8. Draft 35 was torture to write.
I don't know if it's because I'd failed so many times, or if I had that vague feeling I was writing into a void, but Draft 35 was insanely difficult to write. Plucking out my eyelashes one by one would've been preferable to writing that draft. At the time, I was working the most stressful job of my life: a call center that was the mother of all call centers. I'd wake up every day with absolutely nothing to look forward to, except that small chunk of time when I'd work on my book. I had to practically wrench every word from the mire of my brain and force it into the page. I even stopped working on this draft at one point, only to pick it up a month later at my mother's behest. (She is my number one cheerleader, and I'm eternally grateful for that.) There was only one scene in this novel that came easily. The rest were slow, plodding, brain-melting torture. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
9. This story helped me maintain my sanity when I worked a very unhappy job.
Over the past four years, I've worked two jobs that almost broke me. Both involved phones and irate customers more interested in blaming me for their problems than letting me find a solution. The first job might've been even more egregious than the first, if only because it forced me to get out of the house every day. (Say hello to John Muir.) I truly loved most of my coworkers, but interacting with people, both on and off the phone, for eight hours a day drained this introvert. I grew increasingly more unhappy and had the feeling I was manacled to my desk by way of invisible chains. The only thing that job could not take from me was my imagination. Every day, it transcended my fusty cubicle and soared to heights unknown. Oftentimes, while I was steeped in the drudgery of my nine-to-five, my saving grace was this story. I'd cling to it like it was a piece of driftwood in the midst of a turbulent sea. I'd imagine the two main characters interacting, and it would bring a smile to my face no irate customer could dim. I will be forever indebted to this story and these characters for helping make it out of that job in one piece.
10. This story is the definition of a Beverly Clearly quote.
I've only read one book involving mortuary science, and even that didn't quite pique my interest in the way I hoped. For one thing, the main character wasn't a mortician's daughter. She decided, of her own volition, she wanted to go into mortuary science after high school. And while that book was interesting and beautifully-written (save for some language and one random scene seemingly thrown in for shock value), it still wasn't the book I've always longed to read: the YA version of My Girl. Needless to say, my WIP is the culmination of Mrs. Cleary's quote.