By the Book
by Sheritta Bitikofer
Genre: Contemporary Cowboy Romance with an Urban Fantasy Twist
Beau Bremor came back to Brooksdale, Texas to help his brother get back on his feet after the loss of his wife. Helping on Daniel's ranch is one thing, but the well-being of his little niece, Dixie, is in the forefront of his mind. She needs a mother and Daniel needs a wife. When Beau reunites with his former high school crush, a scheme formulates. But, can he keep his objective in mind while he's falling head-over-heels again for the beautiful and witty Tara, whom he is trying to set up with his brother?
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I’ve always been a creative person. I’m an only child and my parents divorced when I was young, so when my mother was working or too busy to play with me, I’d play pretend and come up with stories. My cousins lived right around the corner from me, so I’d sometimes go over there to play. These were the days before internet, cellphones, electronic interactive games, etc. So all we had were each other. We came up with stories together and I found that I always wanted to keep the game going long after we were done. As I grew up, I discovered libraries and books where I could go on adventures from the safety of my own living room. When I learned how to write, I would make these little picture books for my friends. I even came up with a play for my second grade class to perform. I’d done a few short stories here and there through elementary school, but middle school is when I first decided to try and write something a little longer. My English teacher was phenomenal and would have us do these writing prompts first thing before class. I remember one asked us to describe how our morning went. That particular morning, I threw up in the bathroom, so I described that in full, unashamed detail. Everyone loved it! It gave me the courage to explore the craft. By the time I graduated high school, I had written four novels, a screen play, and a short story that I hoped to publish one day. It wasn’t until three years after I graduated that I began to take the self-publishing route seriously. So, I’ve always been a writer. I’ve created characters that have grown up with me and helped me discover more about myself and how I view the world. I’ve developed as a person through my passion and dedication to writing and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
By The Book was actually a very small concept at first. It wasn’t even really sure how to flesh it out until one of my other author friends decided to start and anthology project. I elected to be part of it and finally decided to dust this idea off the shelf and give it a go. There were some stipulations about the anthology project that actually helped fill in the blanks, so to speak. For instance, the fact that it takes place in Texas was a requirement for the anthology and it ended up adding a lot of meaning to the story.
The whole story started with a meme I saw on Facebook and the jist of it was the idea that a character from a book could fall in love with the reader. The first scene of By The Book played out in my mind, when Tara is in the bookstore and Beau walks in. I imagined how confused she would be to be reading about herself in the book, and then read about this handsome stranger who walks in and looks just like the model on the book cover. That was all I had to start with, and like I said, having those few requirements for the anthology really helped. The project fell through before it could start and I was free to do what I wanted with the story. I finished it and went back, adding a few details like the fact that Beau had a crush on Tara in high school, and I added some background drama about his family dilemma with the ranch.
The characters have never been difficult for me to create and my beta readers all love Dixie, Beau’s niece, because the way I’ve written her is so accurate to how a little girl would behave. The only character that I struggled with was Daniel. I wasn’t sure whether to make him a cold, unfeeling kind of guy who was shy and still mourning the loss of his wife, or the resentful older brother who harbored some bitterness about having to take care of the ranch when Beau was a better candidate. Tara’s love for line dancing stemmed from my own passion for country music. I often picture Beau as a counselor I had at a summer camp I went to in Hunstville Texas. Broad shoulders, strong, compassionate. He’s both dynamic and single-minded in that he wanted to do everything he can for his family, while still struggling with what he wants in the end.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
While I write a lot of urban fantasy and paranormal, I also seem to set up camp in the historical department. For that reason, I love research. By The Book didn’t require a lot of the kind of research I’m used to. I watched hours of country line dancing videos the chapter before they all go dancing, which came in handy a week later. My husband and I were at a party and they played Copperhead Road. I had never done the dance before, but I got up and was able to join in all because of my research that I did for this novella. In other books – particularly my historical series – I do extensive research. One time, I spent days trying to look up what a particular bath house in Pompeii looked like for a three or four paragraph scene in my shifter series, The Decimus Trilogy. I watched countless documentaries, read articles, looked through Google Earth, but I couldn’t find this one bathhouse. Then, I went to YouTube and a tourist had shot a five-minute video with their phone of the exact bathhouse I was looking for. I was overjoyed, but furious at the same time because I had held up work on the story until I had this one detail right. Part of my obsessive personality is that I want to make things just perfect, because I fear some history buff will come in and blast me for an inaccuracy.
The series I’m working on right now, The Legacy Series, stretches across time from 1555 England to Chicago 1920s. Each novella skips around countries too. I’ve learned so much through writing that series, probably more than any one person should know. I learned how to cuss someone out in Irish Gaelic, how to present myself in Navajo (in correct clan order), and the history of Australia down to how many people were on the prison ships as they were coming over to colonize New South Wales. I know some of these little details may never make it into the story, but knowing them as a writer helps me to flesh out my characters and know what is and what isn’t possible for the story.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
I start with character names. I’ve tried to start with the outline first, but found it got confusing because I would plot out these scenes without knowing names and sometimes my notes wouldn’t make sense. Once I have my entire cast of characters figured out and how they’re all interconnected, I set to writing the chapter outlines. I used to do bullet points, but I’m starting to chart it all out in a three-column table so I can see notes about character development for each chapter and what kind of emotion needs to be conveyed. I never write a single word of the manuscript until I have the outline completely done and fine-tuned. Even when it’s done, something may come up in the course of writing the manuscript and things change, but I at least like to know where I’m going before I start.
About the same time I’m making this outline, I’ll make some basic notes about how I want the characters to develop over the course of the story. Will she get over a certain fear? Will he let go of a grudge? Stuff like that. Along with the chapter map, it helps me to understand the characters, which aids me when I’m writing out their dialogue and narrative.
Then, I start writing. I like to do about half a chapter a day, which can range from 2,000 to 3,500 words. If I’ve got a good flow going, I won’t stop there and keep going with the rest of the chapter. I like to divide up my point-of-view segments that way. So, you may see that half of the chapter is dedicated to the heroine’s perspective and then the other half is for her hero. Doing only half a chapter a day can help me reset and get into the other character’s mindset. When I’m not writing, I try to immerse myself into the next scene and get the right attitude. My day job is a blessing because I can listen to music, which will help set the mood for when I’m ready to write once I get home. The actual writing process could take me anywhere from a month and a half to two months. The exception was when I wrote a 85,000 word novel in a little over two weeks.
Once the final sentence is written, I usually treat myself to a nice dinner out with my husband or splurge on lunch for myself. Then, I give myself a couple of days to rest and regroup. Sometimes, I’ll work on the plot outline for another book or take some time to read or study the craft. Only then, once I’ve halfway emptied my head of the story, I’ll go back and do a first round of edits. Sometimes I’ll read it silently to myself, but I’ve found that I catch more typos when I have a text-to-speech program reading it to me. That could take me about a week, maybe two, because I’ll spend one afternoon editing two or three chapters.
Once my personal rounds of editing are done, I send it off to beta readers, editors, and carry on with the rest of the self-publishing process.
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