Heather Wardell Talks Twenty-Something, Naming Her (Multiple!) Books

CLP is happy to welcome Heather Wardell today as we celebrate Marching Ink and the release of Twenty-Something, available for pre-order now on Amazon.

Thanks so much to Samantha for letting me be part of the launch of “Twenty-Something”. I was weird in my twenties (not that I’m any less so now!) so I’m going to talk to you about one of the weird things I do as a writer. (Only one, or this blog post will be novel-length!)

Twenty-Something CollectionI have always got several novels on the go at once. I do the final draft of one, then let it rest while I do a different second draft, and then they both rest while I plan and write yet another first draft. Right now, for example, I’m at the end of that pattern, so I have Quail nearly done in first draft, Nectarine about to get its final polish before release, and Opossum finished in first awaiting its second draft.

Quail? Nectarine? Opossum? No, those aren’t the books’ titles (how bizarre would that be for a women’s fiction novel?). They’re my code names.

Why do I use code names? It started, like so much of what I do, accidentally. I was working on my first three novels at the same time, querying literary agents with one while playing with another. My first book (a free download) is “Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo”. That’s a bit long to say all the time so it immediately got shortened to “Polar bear”. My third book is “Seven Exes are Eight Too Many”, so that obviously got called “Seven”. (I am the queen of long titles.) The second is “Go Small or Go Home”, and when I told my husband it needed a nickname he said, “Raoul.” (Husbands. Honestly. But it stuck.)

When I went on to my fourth novel it needed a code name too. But I didn’t know its title yet, as I usually don’t until very late in the process, so I couldn’t abbreviate it and get one (and I sure wasn’t asking my husband again!). So I decided to go alphabetical.

Aardvark. Why not, right?

From then on, each of my books has received an alphabetical (with one exception!) code name very early in its planning process. I find this way easier: wouldn’t you rather say, “I’m working on Aardvark then Blueberry” instead of “I’m working on the one where she’s stuck in the car then the one where she’s a chef dating Kegan from “Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo”.”?

In fact, I wouldn’t be able to say the longer sentence, because I often apply code names long before I actually have any idea what the book’s about. The next one will be “Toucan”, for example, about which I know only a little, and then probably “Umbrella” which I know nothing about. Z will be “Zephyr” because I named a character in “Live Out Loud” (“Dinosaur”) that and decided then that such a cool word would have to be a code name too.

How do I pick them? I just let a word come to me. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do when I get to X (other than “X-ray”, which I don’t like), but something will arrive, I’m sure. I’m also going to have issues once I’ve done every letter, but I still have five books left before I get to that point. (Suggestions?)

The one exception I mentioned above to the alphabetical rule is that I released Gemstone (“Good to Myself”) then Igloo (“Pink is a Four-Letter Word”) and then Hippo (“All At Sea”). This happened because I had written the second draft of Hippo and the first draft of Gemstone, and when I started working on Igloo’s planning I realized that it and Gemstone were telling different sides of the same story. Releasing Hippo in between them didn’t make sense, so I put Gemstone aside and released Hippo first then went back to Gemstone and its partner Igloo. (I could have renamed them, I suppose, but that felt wrong. 🙂

I use the code words (or their first letters) all the time in my planning, and though they’re silly they really do help keep me organized.  If you have multiple books on the go, why not give it a try? Just don’t do as I did and give a book the code name “Cookie” and then put a cookie on the cover of a different book (“Aardvark”). It messes with your friends’ minds. 🙂

If you try code names for your writing or for other projects, I’d love to know how it goes! Please feel more than welcome to connect with me at http://www.twitter.com/heatherwardell or http://www.facebook.com/heather.wardell.author, or to sign up for my monthly newsletter with free short stories at http://heatherwardell.com/newsletter.shtml.

Here for your reading pleasure is the cover, blurb, and a never-before-posted excerpt of Nectarine (“Fifteen Minutes of Summer”), which I am aiming to release in May. It’s a sequel to “Seven Exes are Eight Too Many” (currently only 99 cents!) and “Bad Will Hunting” (“Mango” ;), and I hope you enjoy it!

“As long as people keep talking about me, I’m happy.” Former reality-TV contestant and current fashion designer/celebrity reporter Summer Meyer lives by those words. Since her time on the “Ragged Royalty” program Summer’s been looking for her big break in either fashion or show biz, whichever will let her show her family of literal geniuses that she can still be a success without being smart. Touched to be asked to help her ex-husband Kent and his crazily private fiancée Madeleine-Cora plan their nuptials, Summer throws herself into taking charge of everything and being the perfect bridesmaid and even making MC’s bridal gown. At the same time, she’s juggling her romance with show-mate Aaron and her growing friendship with Kent’s brother Ron and the pressure from her celebrity-gossip-site boss who’s demanding every intimate wedding detail Kent and MC would never want shared. If Summer shares those details with the world, she’ll get the attention and approval she’s always wanted, but she’ll lose her friends and the people who matter most to her. Are her fifteen minutes of fame worth the privacy they’ll cost?


heatherbook“Fifteen Minutes of Summer”, Prologue


I recognized Mimi’s camera crews’ SUVs as the limo turned into the church driveway, and my heart pounded so hard I felt sure everyone could hear it. Something was wrong. Those people should have been far away.

“What the– MC, did you ask for–”

“God, no.” MC stared out the window, her hands clenching on the silk skirt of the wedding gown I’d made her, at Mimi and the camera-toting men standing near the front of the church facing a crowd of guests and groomsmen and the groom himself. “A camera crew? Of course I didn’t. And Kent wouldn’t have either. What’s happening?”

I tried to look as shocked and horrified as the other three did. I wasn’t shocked, not in the same way, but I was definitely far more horrified. This wasn’t what I’d agreed to, at all, and I had only moments to figure out how to resolve it before everything fell apart.

No surprise, I didn’t come up with anything, since if I’d been smart enough to do that I wouldn’t have been stupid enough to be in this mess in the first place. Liv, though, barked at the limo driver to keep moving, to go back to Holly’s house where we’d gotten ready for the wedding.

The driver shook his head and pulled to a stop in front of the church where he lowered all the car windows at once, letting in the cold February air and the sound of everyone arguing.

“Put those up,” Liv ordered, panic in her voice, “and get out of here.”

He didn’t respond. He also didn’t drive away, and the camera crew rushed toward the limo.

I could not let this happen, so I threw myself out of the car shouting frantically, hoping to somehow fix everything with just the right words. “No! Get out of here! I told you no! Not like this!”

Those were apparently not just the right words, because Mimi followed her guys toward me waving papers which I knew were the printout I’d done with her detailing the church’s location.

Unable to believe this had all gone so much more wrong than I’d imagined in my worst nightmares, I burst into tears, but through my sobs I heard Mimi say with satisfaction, “Shouldn’t have given me the details then.” Knowing the others must have heard that too, that Kent and MC and the man I’d thought might be my future knew what I’d done, made me cry even harder.

Mimi’s crew passed me, ignoring me, and I turned enough to see them shoving their lenses into the open limo windows. Kent snapped at Mimi to leave, but she laughed and said, “Fine, whatever. Doesn’t look like there’s going to be a wedding today anyhow. Let’s bail out before the cops arrive.”

Standing with my hands over my mouth, struggling to breathe through my misery, I could now hear the rising sirens she’d no doubt already noticed.

The crew backed away from the limo, and I heard the driver say, “Outta the car, then. I go with them.”

Fresh despair struck me. I’d been the one to recommend the limo company, and Kent and MC weren’t stupid. The driver so publicly connecting himself with Mimi and her crew meant things were about to get even worse for me.

I watched, wanting to help but not knowing how, as Liv scrambled out of the car then eased MC in the big white dress I’d worked so hard to make gorgeous out onto the driveway while Holly burst out of the other side and rushed around to assist her soon-to-be-sister-in-law too.

“See you on your honeymoon, Kent,” Mimi said, in the most sickly-sweet voice imaginable, and my heart raced even more at the blazing fury in Kent’s eyes. She wouldn’t, but Kent didn’t know that and I had no way to tell him.

Mimi and her crew piled back into their SUVs, and the limo driver took off after them around the church’s horseshoe-shaped driveway, scattering gravel behind him, and I did the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life.

I made myself face MC.

She was staring at me, her eyes wide and agonized. I’d often seen her showing no emotion at all, but I could see everything she felt now and it tore me apart. “How could you,” she said, sounding near tears. “Was it for money? Or your career? You sold us!”

Knowing I couldn’t make things right but longing to, I said, “I tried to stop it.” Memories of exactly how hard I’d tried, and what I’d done, flooded me, and my eyes welled with tears again. I brushed them away and kept going, babbling away about how I’d thought they wouldn’t mind and tried to fix things once I’d realized they would and hoping with all my heart I could somehow convince her to forgive me.

“You should never have done it, no matter what you thought,” Kent snapped at me, cutting me off, and my last hopes of being forgiven died with my unfinished sentence. I’d never seen my ex-husband so angry. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

I couldn’t answer that question, not without ruining everything I’d been working to gain for months. I looked at the group, desperate for one friendly face, but they all looked as angry and disgusted as Kent. Aaron even turned his back on me as if he couldn’t stand the sight of me.

Lost, I started crying again, but the sound of another car approaching distracted everyone from me.

The police officer stepped from her car and Kent immediately said, “I’m sorry for bothering you. They’ve left now.”

“We got all three vehicles for speeding at the end of the road,” the officer said, her voice crisp and cool but with a hint of sympathy. Sympathy for Kent and MC. Because of what I’d done to them.  Knowing they absolutely deserved that sympathy, I couldn’t hold back even more tears. “We’ll keep them busy for a while, so carry on with your wedding.”

Kent mumbled, “Will do,” and the officer left.

Nobody spoke for a long horrible minute, then MC threw words at me like the limo’s wheels had thrown the gravel, hard and sharp and without pity. “No. No way. You don’t get to cry. You’re the one who did all of this. Just because you want your career to take off. You ruined our wedding and you think you get sympathy? Not a chance. Get lost!”

Could I somehow tell them the whole story? Would they believe it? Would they forgive me?

I looked at Kent, trying to judge, but his icy face told me I couldn’t and they wouldn’t even before he said, “Go. Now. I never want to see you again.”

Though I knew it was pointless I ran my eyes over the gathered wedding party and guests one more time in search of a supporter. Ron’s eyes met mine, and locked hard, but they held no support. Not even close. He hated me just as much as his brother now did, and no wonder. I’d ruined his brother’s wedding. I’d ruined everything.

Seeing that emotion in Ron’s eyes was more than I could bear. I spun away, the tears rising yet again, and rushed down the driveway.

I couldn’t let myself look back.

Once I’d gone down the road enough that I was out of sight of the adorable country church Kent had chosen to marry his second and what I knew would be final wife, I huddled in my coat and cried until I had nothing left.

Then I pulled out my cell phone and called for a taxi to pick me up.

The rain started moments after I made the call. I stood for twenty minutes, shivering and dripping and doing my best to keep my mind entirely blank so I wouldn’t have to relive how horribly I’d just ruined every relationship that mattered to me, until the cab finally showed up.

“Yeah, you’ve been waiting a while,” the guy said, not sounding apologetic, as I scrambled into the back seat. “We’re busy today. Why didn’t you wait inside?”

“Couldn’t,” I said, wiggling my wet frozen feet in their stupid pink high heels.

I willed him not to ask me why, but he didn’t. No doubt he didn’t care.

Nobody cared, not after what I’d done.

And the most hellish thing was, I’d only been trying to help.

Twenty-Something, A Collection

To Be Published April 14 – eBook format only

Pre-Order on Amazon Now

Twenty-Something CollectionHard Hats and Doormats by Laura Chapman
After losing out on a coveted promotion at work, Lexi Burke is done playing the nice girl. Her first order of business: Giving in to her longtime workplace crush. But Lexi soon learns that balancing a workplace romance and her job might be harder than she anticipated.

A Questionable Friendship by Samantha March
While Brynne and Portland seem to have an ideal friendship, cracks are starting to show as their lives take a turn for the complicated. Not willing to go to one other with their secrets, one woman begins to feel shut out and the other enters into a web of lies to protect herself. Their journey will explore several questions of friendship, and show that happily ever after might not be in the cards for everyone.

Breaking the Rules by Cat Lavoie
When Roxy Rule shares a passionate kiss with her lifelong best friend, she must come to terms with her feelings for him while dealing with two sisters in full crisis mode, a boss who makes her want to stab herself with a letter opener and a fiancé who can’t wait to walk down the aisle. Can she keep it together–or will she break under the pressure?

Amazon Pre-Order: http://bit.ly/twentysomethingamazon

Add to your GoodReads shelf!



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1 Comment

  1. March 25, 2015 / 7:34 pm

    Love this insight into your fascinating process, Heather!! 🙂 The new novel sounds great! What a gorgeous cover!!

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