THE DAY I WAS CHALLENGED TO WRITE FAST Despite the clutter that seems to follow me around, people tell me I am a perfectionist. I’ll take that label to explain why it takes me an hour to get down a grocery list that is burdened with notes and drawings. If I were a short-story writer, this need to make my work so clean that an editor despairs of finding something to correct might make sense. I am a novelist. When I “tighten” my work, it somehow gets longer. The best advice is to make every word count, leave none untouched, dig into it until your eyes bleed. Great advice, but if I’m going to publish more than two more books in my expected lifetime, I need to be moving on, not bleeding from my eyeballs. Imagine my laughter when my publisher asked me to write a Holiday novel. This was the first of June 2016. I’d just completed Blessed Curse and sent it to her. This Holiday novel was due in the early fall. I spent quite a while laughing and trying to phrase my response. “Are you kidding me? I’m the slowest writer on the North American continent and you want a novel by early fall?” She’d offered me a one-sentence suggestion that ended with, “or something.” I stopped laughing long enough to re-read her email and somewhere in that six seconds, The Muse popped up and said, “We can do this.” “Right,” I said. “I know how we do things. You dictate a wonderful first four chapters and go on vacation while I’m sweating blood to make chapter five make sense with the rest.” “Yeah,” she said, “but this time we’ve got a direction.” Unlike, apparently, all those other times. Here’s the thing about my publisher. Unhappy with the way publishers treated their authors, she began her own publishing firm. A native New Yorker, she approached the job with her usual “clear obstacles with a sledge hammer” manner, hired an excellent couple of editors and got going. She offers writers a chance to grow in their craft, doesn’t require they take the same cast of characters and make up new stories for them, doesn’t require they write what she wants. She encourages them to write what they want and does all she can to support them while they do. In short, she’s a keeper. It had, at that point, been two years since my last publication. I was “perfecting” Blessed Curse all that time. With the Holiday novel, she’d offered me a challenge although she’d not stated it as a challenge, more like an opportunity. I decided to try it. A character danced on to my page, a kick-ass lawyer from Miami with a smart mouth and plenty of determination. She was young, rich, powerful and happy. She’d been victimized by an ass of a boyfriend who’d stolen her passwords and used them to steal her money. The last thing she wanted was a man in her life. The male lead was filled by an architect from San Diego who liked women just fine, but had no time for commitment. Somewhere behind them a couple of shadows lurked, their need so apparent it made my heart hurt. Further back still, a darker shadow waited, her intent not apparent, her need deeply hidden. I worked up an outline sort of thingie, which is as close to pre-writing as I get, and sent it to my publisher. She liked it, but she didn’t send a contract. I accepted that as a further challenge. She was waiting to see if I could pull this off. By mid-July, I had a novel. It was long enough and had the structure to be a novel. I emailed her that I had it, gave her the word count and told her she couldn’t have a peep at it until the absolute deadline. She sent the contract the next day. My perfectionist tendencies, having taken a back seat to my need to prove myself, returned with a vengeance. Between mid-July and the end of October, I edited the novel every day. My eyeballs bled as I considered every word, tightened every paragraph, checked every fact. I delivered it on the last possible day. The first editor returned a note saying she’d never seen a cleaner manuscript. The second editor was so impressed, she sent me a sweet note opining that Christmas Across Time was an excellent example of how to write a romance novel. Obviously, my first foray into writing a novel within a reasonable time was a success. Having thus pulled off what I considered a minor miracle, I returned to my newest manuscript, a paranormal about a group of immortals. I’d done it once, right? I could do it again. I am now into the third iteration of The Risen. I have (finally) a plot I can live with. The characters haven’t changed since I first had this idea many years ago. One of the problems is I have no real deadline for The Risen. The rest I will lay at the feet of my “perfectionism.”