How a Failed Short Story Turned into One of My Best Novels

All the Way Home

by Liza Jonathan

I probably shouldn’t be admitting this, but I find short stories really, really hard. Especially romancey ones. Why? Because I can’t stop myself from developing these complex back stories for the characters, and then it gets too long and collapses under its own weight. Yada Yada. Every writer has their weaknesses, right?

So, when all my author buddies were telling me I should submit for a cowboy anthology, I thought, why not? I just needed to write something with a romance, a happy ending, and significant heat that has to do with cowboys. Five thousand words. The genre could be anything from time travel, to science fiction, to fantasy or straight contemporary, as long as a cowboy was involved. Easy peasy.

Or so I thought. I struggled through several really terrible potential plots. My long-suffering husband listened to them all, as thoughtfully as he could. Finally, he gave me a pitying look and said “honey, are you sure you want to submit for this?”

Those, of course, were the magic words. Now pride was involved. I was not going to let this measly little 5,000-word challenge stop me. Hell no! I’m a writer, by God. Was I really going to let this assignment kick my ass?

Fuming, I went out to run some errands, letting my mind drift, as I often do, while I’m driving around. Cowboys…cowboys…cowboys… After cycling through several objectively ghastly fantasy ideas involving white horses in the woods, I finally smacked the steering wheel in frustration. Maybe I should just do an erotic sex scene with a cowboy and his buckle bunny. Something simple, like that.

But then, the magic thought that started it all occurred to me. “What happens to those women—buckle bunnies, as they’re pejoratively called—after they stop chasing fame and cowboys?” That opened the door that Jenna, my heroine, walked through.  It made her far more than just some groupie. It created the trauma that made her a teen runaway. It placed her in that barn she’d fled to, years later, when she’d crossed paths with Wade, the rising rodeo star. It fueled their love affair and their breakup, years before this book begins. And it is the motor that drives the plot from beginning to end.

It’s a story about running. Running away from the things that hurt you. Running to the love that can sustain you, if only you give it a chance.

For the record, I did finish the short story. I submitted it too, but it didn’t make the cut. Thank God. It was terrible. And it really was a much better book. At least I think so. I hope you do, too.