Hindsight is a curious thing. Two years ago, I was living paycheck to paycheck, barely getting by, out of teaching, but not quite out of work, and writing my heart out. Flash-forward to the present, and things look pretty different.I’m still kinda living paycheck to paycheck, but that’s not my paycheck’s fault 😉 I am getting by and more settled in my life than I’ve ever been before. I’m also happier in my life than I’ve ever been before, which is nothing to sniff at, I guess. The writing-my-heart-out part, though, has taken a bit of backseat, something I wrote on in more detail here. But in finding my mojo again, I’ve also spent some time reflecting on why I started writing and publishing in the first place and that has everything to do with Caleb Sawyer and Isabelle Martin.
The two central characters in my Carry Your Heart duo have, for better or worse, lived in my head for years before I ever got serious about publishing. It’s not exactly a secret that the characters existed in a different form, in somewhat similar circumstances, in fanfiction about five years ago and was actually always meant to be a trilogy instead of a duo. These characters just got to me, you know? I felt them, I breathed them, and I felt every word of happiness, angst, and reclaimed love that they felt as they were feeling it. I don’t know that I’ve ever had an experience quite like it since them and maybe that’s because they were my first. I’ve chased it since leaving Caleb and Isabelle behind in Carry You Home and I feel like I’ve finally found it again with the new characters currently taking up real estate in my head.
I guess that’s what led me to this introspection and in hindsight, there are very few things I would change about Caleb and Isabelle’s story. If I had it to do over again, I’d take them out of the motorcycle club setting in a heartbeat, just to any chance of comparison, but hindsight really is 20/20. Their journey is still one I think about, even though I haven’t lived with them since February of 2016.
When I first started writing about them, Isabelle was the character I identified with the most. There were certain aspects of her, particularly her aimlessness in the very beginning of Carry Your Heart, that I could easily relate to. All in all, I think that was part of what made that character so easy to “become” as a reader because she wasn’t necessarily someone’s idealized version of who a heroine should be. She was beautiful, sure, but she was also stubborn to a fault. Stupidly idealistic (there’s that word again) about the future, bitter and scarred by the hand life had dealt, and finally, when it really counted, mature enough to stop fighting the inevitable and just…let it be.
I’ve always sort of seen the Carry Your Heart as Isabelle’s story and Carry You Home as Caleb’s. When I finally got around to finishing their story as one book instead of splitting it into two – which I didn’t and still don’t regret – Caleb became the creation I’d always hoped I’d write.
He is the character I’m the most proud of because he’s a real, living and breathing person. He is so, so deeply flawed. In the first book, he’s arrogant to a fault similar to Isabelle’s stubbornness. He’s living in a dream world, of sorts, and unable to see the consequences of his actions. He’s really a typical 20-something – nothing can touch him and everything will somehow turn out okay. But in the second book, all those past bad decisions finally catch up with him and I’ve never had more fun than laying the groundwork for his ultimate stumble and fall. I guess that’s because I knew he’d pick himself up again and it was the journey that really counted. In the process, he became a true adult, aware of his weaknesses and his failures, and determined to never fall into those traps again. He’d accepted his mistakes and the heartbreaking consequences that followed, but didn’t wallow. Instead, he stood up and did something about his circumstances. It’s the kind of rare strength that drew me in and kept me going – I wanted to finish Caleb’s story and I wanted him to have the happy ending he deserved. He didn’t deserve to live happily ever after with Isabelle at the end of the first book, but by the end of the second, he’d earned every moment.
Still, I don’t know how I feel about the fact that my proudest creation is a male character. Part of me wishes I felt the same way about Isabelle and that’s what’s led me to craft the female character of my next book. Isabelle had a tendency to get too weighed down by being a victim of circumstances – while understandable (and yes, I realize I am wholly responsible for this), it’s not the kind of traits I like to see in female characters in books or movies. I wish Isabelle had responded with a survivor’s mentality instead of the ‘put-upon’ mentality she had through most of the second half of Carry You Home. I say that very carefully, especially in light of current events, but I’m also very cognizant of how I want my female characters to be viewed. That’s something I think about a lot, and so the central character of my next book will have a more active role in her life versus a passive one and I think will be all the more complex, and real, for it.
Without Caleb and without Isabelle, I doubt I would be publishing. When I lost my teaching job in 2015, I don’t know that I would have really had the drive to start taking writing seriously if I didn’t already have a draft of an entire novel sitting on my computer. It was sort of my “why not?” moment. I leapt on it and never looked back. And while I’ve weathered more than my fair share of criticism about the origins of Caleb and Isabelle than I was comfortable with, it’s definitely helped me develop more of a thick skin when it comes to reviewers and bloggers. Navigating the waters of marketing to book bloggers is terrifying and I definitely made some mistakes right out of the gate, but the key is that I’ve also learned from those mistakes too. I don’t know why I thought most readers wouldn’t care about similarities to a certain TV show, especially since there were so many other books out there that were obviously inspired by it if not completely copying. And that was my biggest mistake, for sure, and so those criticisms stung all the more than if I’d come at Caleb and Isabelle from a different angle. But all of this has made me not just a better writer, but a better businesswoman too. In taking stock of the hits and misses, it’s clear to me now what I need to do, and continue to do, in order to make sure my message is really hitting its mark.
So while I’m not writing full-time the way I might like and for the reasons I want, Caleb and Isabelle opened up a whole new world for me. They’ve let me breathe and they’ve let me grow and they’ve helped me come into my own, especially now as I turn to writing my fifth book.
I want to celebrate them and what they’ve given me, and I also want to make sure you’ve had the chance to meet them too. So in order to celebrate them, you can buy Carry Your Heart and Carry You Home from Amazon for 99 cents for a limited time. Hopefully you’ll come to love them just as much as I have.
Follow this link to check them out –> Amazon