Marsha Canham's Blog

July 25, 2012

The Dragon Tree

Filed under: Caesars Through the Fence — marshacanham @ 3:09 pm

So I’m flashing back eight years and looking at myself through a dark mist (plug, plug, shameless plug) and seeing myself staring at the wall, depressed, confused, pissed off beyond measure. I was about 3/4 of the way through my second book for one of the Big Six and had just been told they didn’t like my title, it didn’t sound romantic enough. They hadn’t liked the proposal from the outset, telling me they thought medievals were a dying breed. They had wanted me to write something “light and fun and not too complex” because, as anyone who has ever read any of my books knows, I do “light and fun and not too complex” so very well. *SNORT*

I think I started out pissed off, when they rejected my initial proposal for the sequel to The Iron Rose, which came out to great reviews, sold modestly well, and had a great tie-in with the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie that was just coming out. I was told no, they didn’t want another pirate book. Pirate books were a dying breed. No one read them anymore. No one was buying them anymore. The hot trend was vampires and paranormals and yes, still Regencies…but light and fun and not too complex Regencies, preferably under 400 print pages, with no blood and guts, and nothing that might make a delicate reader cringe.

Guess that ruled out another torture chamber scene with entrails dripping from hooks on the ceiling. Drat.

I don’t read vampire books, so not likely I would write one. I read one of Stephen Kings back about 30 years ago and I’m still scarred from the experience. I hear a scratch on the window screen and the sphincter instantly tightens. I won’t go into the basement after dark, and I carry a baseball bat with me when I let the dog out at night in case one of those special bats flies past. So yeah, I’m right there. Gonna write a vampire book and scare the shit out of myself all over again. NOT.

That naturally ruled out paranormals as well. I mean I’ve lived through some ghostly experiences. Had a ghost living in the house with us, in fact, but he wasn’t very scary…was a comfort actually when the Ex used to go away on business. Reggie would always knock on the wall if someone was coming up the driveway, which scared the dog but not me. He also enjoyed turning the washing machine on at 3am, but was always polite enough to turn the dial to cold water first. And then there were all the “coincidences” that happened while I was writing the Scotland trilogy. Some of those things were downright spooky, but again, did I want to write about that stuff? Nooooooooooo.  I got the “put it down in writing and see what happens” out of my system with Through A Dark Mist. The prologue to that book was a recurring dream I’d had since I was in my teens. Every six months or so I had it. It always started the same, progressed the same, ended at the exact same moment when the arrow when through her hand.  After I handed in The Wind and the Sea, I was having lunch with my editor and told her about the dream cuz I had just had it again the night before, and she said, why not write it down and see what happens. So I did. And once I wrote it out, I never had the dream again, but that became the prologue for Through A Dark Mist, which of course led to the whole trilogy and, years later, prompted me to suggest another medieval to the folks who didn’t like pirate books and wanted something light and fun from me.

Actually, I didn’t suggest it. I said outright that was the only thing I would consider and if they didn’t want the medieval, then I’d friggin well retire and they wouldn’t get anything out of me.

Thus, My Forever Love started out on the wrong foot from the outset. I was angry and objected to the whole process of quashing an author’s creative juices. It wasn’t just happening at the house I happened to write for, it was happening everywhere. The recession was causing cutbacks in print runs, advances, the number of authors a publishing house could promote with anything remotely beneficial to their career. Most sank like stones. We were told to limit the number of pages, limit the content, write according to the current trend–which NY, not the readers decided was safe and saleable.

I also tend to glom onto a spark that causes the whole writing process to fan into a flame. With The Wind and the Sea, it was the title. I read those words in a magazine one day and saw the whole book unfolding in my head…ships, battles, cannonfire, treachery, warships…. all in five little words.  While I was muttering and kicking things and walking around trying to get inspired to write something “light and fun and not too complex” I visited Casa Loma here in Toronto. A huge medieval castle in the middle of the city, built back in the 20’s, I think, but someone who loved English castles and thought we needed one on this side of the pond. And there in the garden was an iron tree with little dragon heads twisting out at the ends of the branches. The Dragon Tree.  BOING. I had a title. I saw castles and knights, armor and swords hacking and slashing, a young woman running, being chased by a knight bent on killing her…

Piss on light and fun.

So I started writing The Dragon Tree. I don’t do outlines, never have, never will, and, in the good old days never had to write one because the good editors I had knew if I said I was going to write a book about medieval knights, I would hand in a book about medieval knights. Again, I refer back  to a story in the archives about an editor who *demanded* the outline of a book from me. She got feisty and I got feisty, and in the end I slapped a paperback down on a sheet of paper, traced around it and wrote The Last Arrow on the “cover” and sent it in as the *outline of the book*. Luckily she had a sense of humor and accepted it as *the outline*

I think I was discouraged and disenchanted from the outset when I started The Dragon Tree. I’d had enough of the bull, the constant promises that were broken, the orders on what to write and how to write it. And it came through in the actual writing of the book. I can almost pinpoint the exact spot in the story where I decided enough was enough and I knew at the end I was going to take a break from writing.  The final straw for The Dragon Tree came when the editor told me the title was not going to fly. They thought it sounded too much like a fantasy or a paranormal (uhhh…okay, swing that Irony Axe). THEY renamed it My Forever Love and by then I knew I was outta there so I just said yeah, whatever.  I slid into my hiatus and enjoyed the hell out of having my grandchildren around all the time, having no stress, having no deadlines, having nothing at all to do with publishing.

That break lasted almost eight years, until Kindle and Apple and Nook changed the face of publishing.

When I got my rights back to most of my backlist books, I started out with the earlier ones and knew the writing needed some updating, some freshening up, but it was a case of removing adjective overkill and making the characters less weepy, whiny and blushing. China Rose blushed so much I wanted to smack her upside the head by the second page she appeared. Bound by the Heart had gone to print in a day when Rosemary Rogers-type ravishings and rapes were popular and while I didn’t necessarily enjoy writing a scene like that, I was new and followed the sheep over the cliff.  Reissuing it gave me an opportunity to elevate Morgan Wade above a neanderthal and I removed, happily, the rape scene and reworked it. Some readers think I was influenced by political correctness….not so. The rape scene in The Wind and the Sea stayed put because it was logical and suited the characters in that moment.

When it came time to go through My Forever Love, I actually winced. On every other page. I studied the reviews and realized that all the faults the readers spotted were justified. The heroine was sappy, some of the situations were forced and illogical, and frankly the writing was…mechanical. With the other books I had gently revised, I often found myself thinking: damn, I wrote that, it’s pretty good.  I even got caught up in a few twists and surprised myself (the memory is the first thing to go when you reach troglodyte status). But with My Forever Love…nah.  It needed more than just gentle revision. It needed a whole new rewrite. And that’s what it got. Hopefully I’ve removed some of the blah-ness and made the characters more sympathetic. Tamberlane is a tortured hero who has never known love, his family has shunned him, the Templars have excommunicated him, he’s been branded a traitor and a coward. Amaranth is a battered wife who finally finds the nerve to bash the bastard over the head and escape. When she finds out she didn’t kill him, as she originally thought, she knows he will hunt her to the ends of the earth to make her pay for it. Toss these two together then add in a plot to assassinate King Richard, a brief cameo appearance by the Black Wolf, and I’m much happier with the end result.

And I have my title back. The Dragon Tree. I hope the readers agree with the improvements. It’s available now at Amazon and Smashwords, and soon to Barnes and Noble. Apple might take a week or so longer, but it’s coming *g*



  1. “Piss on light and fun.” Oh how dearly my angstbunny heart loves that. Yes, yes, yes. Cannot wait do read the “real” version of The Dragon Tree.

    Comment by Anna Carrasco Bowling — July 25, 2012 @ 3:24 pm | Reply

    • LOL Anna. Yeah, my angstbunny sometimes blurts things out, but wtf, that’s just me. *S* Anyone who knows me knows I talk that way RT as well. LOL

      Comment by marshacanham — July 25, 2012 @ 4:08 pm | Reply

  2. OMG! I can’t wait to read this– why had I never heard of it before (under either title)?? I’m so looking forward to another one of your fantastic stories. I know I won’t be able to put it down!! THANK YOU!!

    Comment by Karen Berg — July 25, 2012 @ 3:43 pm | Reply

    • Thank you Karen. You probably never heard of it before because print books have a shelf life of about three weeks before they’re packed back into the cartons and shipped out to make room for the new three week wonders. I hope you enjoy The Dragon Tree.

      Comment by marshacanham — July 25, 2012 @ 4:07 pm | Reply

  3. Good Lord, isn’t it amazing how wrong those supposed “experts” got it? No pirates, “light and fun”, no medievals, only paranormals… did they honestly think that romance readers only come in one (rather flaccid and bland) flavor? I suppose it’s smug to have the benefit of hindsight, but they really did get it completely wrong. I suppose they also thought romance readers had a collective IQ of about 60.. or maybe 61..

    Anyway, love the title, love the cover. Buying it right this second…

    Comment by Ruth — July 25, 2012 @ 3:43 pm | Reply

    • Thank you Ruth. And I don’t really want to say what I think about the mentality of some publishers. I’m too sweet and gentle-natured to do so. *SNORT*

      Comment by marshacanham — July 25, 2012 @ 4:06 pm | Reply

  4. I am overly thrilled for my tablet now, for if that’s what took you back to your “fantastic” writing, I am forever greatful! Since getting my reader last Christmas, I have found some great stories from some fantastic authors that I am positive I would have never come across. And you are among the top of my list!! THANK YOU!

    Comment by Glenna — July 25, 2012 @ 3:47 pm | Reply

    • Thank you Glenna…and you’re right. A lot of authors who have had their books collecting dust on backlist shelves somewhere are giving them a second chance, introducing themselves and their stories to a whole new generation of readers who might not have ever tried them or heard of them before. Full kudos to ebooks everywhere, and to the readers who search for those *new* authors to enjoy.

      Comment by marshacanham — July 25, 2012 @ 4:05 pm | Reply

  5. I have so missed your blogs from here in Florida. I must just not get to them on FB. You always brighten my day with the way you write. Can’t wait to read the new version.

    Comment by Margaret S. — July 25, 2012 @ 5:46 pm | Reply

  6. I just love your blogs! You say it like it is . . . no pulling punches, no games, no bullshit. A woman after my own heart. 🙂

    Having said that, I’m very excited to read “The Dragon Tree.” I know I have said it before, but it bears repeating. I’m thrilled you are writing again. I never look at the synopsis, at the page length, at the title, nothing. If it has your name on it, I’m on it. I know it will be a page turner that will be brilliantly written and keep me on the edge of my seat. Yep, I’m one very happy camper that you have your rights back, have re-published your books and are writing again. Looking forward with glee to more sleepless nights because I just can’t put your book down.

    Carolyn Hughes

    Comment by caseykelly3 — July 25, 2012 @ 7:32 pm | Reply

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