Did you know that my seventh novel, The Second First Time, began as a different title? And did you know it was inspired by an (almost) actual event?
I’ll tell you all about it.
The Second First Time is about “a second chance at once in a lifetime,” to coin a phrase my aunt Gabriele often says of her marriage to my uncle Joe, the second for both of them. The novel, about two friends who make a second attempt at love after a false start and a cancelled road trip, was, in a way, a false start as well.
Flashback to February 2015…
I had been contracted to write Pasta Wars in late fall of 2014, and I was under a tight deadline to finish a first draft by March 1, 2015. I had recently moved back to my native Long Island, and I was nursing a broken heart. Pasta Wars was helping me in that I was determined to write true romantic comedy, and was writing scenes that made me laugh. However, after reading an article about a study in which two strangers were paired to answer questions that grew increasingly personal and intimate to determine if they, too, would connect in personal in intimate ways, the idea for The Second First Time—originally titled The Do-Over—was conceived. In fact, the idea was so loud and demanding to be written that I had to interrupt writing Pasta Wars and write as much as I could before I had no choice but to resume Pasta Wars and make my deadline.
I wrote 30,000 words of The Do-Over in two weeks.
The Do-Over had been an apt title in its original conception. I’d started writing the book when I thought my best friend—a fellow novelist who lived in Montana—and I not only weren’t going to get together as a couple, but also weren’t going to be able to repair our friendship that had taken a hit. One of the things I love about writing novels is that, as Nora Ephron said through her character in Heartburn, I get to control the story. Since my friend and I never got to take our road trip in reality, I figured we’d take one on the page, so to speak, and answer the questions I had seen in the news article. Only we’d do it vicariously through Sage Merriweather and Jonathan Moss.
In other words, I needed the do-over, a chance to work things out the way I’d them wanted to. I wanted to tell the story my way. And I figured as long as I’d get my way on the page, then the reality would be no big deal.
After those two weeks and 30,000 words, I resumed Pasta Wars. And then something happened.
Not only did we find our way back to our friendship (not in as dramatic fashion as Sage and Jon), but we also fell in love—the real deal, this time—and by the time Pasta Wars was done and The Do-Over was contracted for publication, we were engaged to be married. We even took our road trip!
Turns out the story did go the way I’d wanted to. We’d gotten our do-over before I had a chance to finish it on paper.
Obviously, I was overjoyed about the way things had turned out. But as a writer, this unexpected romantic turn of events had actually worked against me. I found myself at a loss for the emotional thread and motivation of the story. Whenever I write a novel, I need to be emotionally connected to the main character in one way or another. I need to empathize with her (or him). I need to relate to her struggle in one form or another, be it dealing with loss or rejection or self-confidence. The initial spark of the story had fizzled out, and the stakes were no longer present, if they ever had been in the first place.
The idea was still there, however. I just had to figure out how to make it work, and make a new personal connection to it.
In an earlier incarnation, I’d tried to work in a love triangle, but it didn’t seem authentic and the dynamic didn’t work. In reality my friend—and fiancé—and I had done the inner emotional work we’d both needed to do to be able to come back to each other. And we’d done it while separated. Sage, however, had a long way to go in terms of shedding her baggage, and thus the road trip was an inner journey as well as an outer journey for her. I had dug deep and thought about what I had struggled with throughout much singlehood in my twenties and thirties, and from there the new what-if was born. Sage’s do-over went deeper than working things out with Jon. She needed to re-purpose her life’s story, especially where her father was concerned.
The result was a story and a novel that was quite different from the one that had busted out of my chest like the alien during those two weeks in February, but also one I loved when I’d finished it.
The title change had been suggested by my publisher, Lake Union. I had been resistant at first, but my editor, literary agent, and fiancé had convinced me to consider it. My husband had said, “What about The First Next Time, sweetheart?” I made one little change, and we all agreed it was the way to go. I made some final rewrites and edits to the book to support the change, and then it was go for launch.
The Second First Time launched about six weeks after Craig’s and my wedding. We even took a road trip across New England for our honeymoon.
My second chance at once in a lifetime is a love story. The Second First Time is also a love story, both the writing of it and the story itself. As a reviewer said, “This is how real life love goes. Ups and downs, insecurity, overthinking, honesty and communication it’s all there, wrapped up in love and respect.”
That’s exactly what I want my readers to walk away with.
Do you have a second chance story? Tell me about it in the Comments!
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.