Friday, May 11, 2012

The Novel I Was Hell Bent to Write: HOTLINE TO HEAVEN

By Saralee Rosenberg

Yesterday I finished writing my novel for girls. Again. It took two and a half years, fourteen versions, eight different titles, a thousand cups of coffee and enough paper to equal two trees in Oregon (after losing a manuscript in progress, a hard copy is my bff). 

One would think that a book requiring this much time and energy would have been written by a beginner. But HOTLINE TO HEAVEN is my fifth novel. It’s just my first for girls.

When I decided to try my hand at writing for a younger audience, I thought of it almost as a calling. I would dazzle middle grade girls with my “high spirited” humor while delivering life lessons through the back door. Readers would laugh the whole way through but never see the preachy-stuff coming. Kind of like a print version of Leave it to Beaver.

It didn’t work. The plot was banal and the main character, Stella, witty but annoying. Editors urged me to keep going but to ditch the sermons.

In the next versions I made the main character, Hannah, more multi-dimensional but apparently there were too many adults involved in her decision making. Editors urged me to keep going but to ditch the parents. “Think Charlie Brown and the Muppets. Adults should be seen not heard.”

In the versions that followed (I’d been at it so long I referred to them as the anniversary editions) I gave birth to a new main character, Haley. She was a virtual orphan who occasionally passed tall people in her house but didn’t speak to them very much. Editors urged me to keep going but to ditch, well, everything. 

Clearly I could entertain and enlighten, but I would get nowhere if I kept using a mallet instead of a pen.

Last summer, fed up and discouraged, I re-read my four adult novels and made a great discovery. I didn’t need to abandon my voice and style to appeal to a younger reader. I simply had to tell a story that mattered.

I started over from page one and yesterday the jury rested.

And the verdict? This new version is everything I hoped. Funny, touching, honest, deeply revealing and a hell of a good story. Maybe even a little empowering but without the neon sign that screams: YOURAREOFFICIALLYEMPOWERED.

Mostly it’s a heartfelt tale of a thirteen-year old psychic who channels her dead mother until she is blamed for the disappearance of the boy she likes.
I am still in shock that it took me as long as it did to connect with a young heroine, but I don’t regret the journey. I so enjoyed being immersed in her world, fraught with family secrets and friendships gone bad. 

My hope is that girls (and maybe their moms, too) will hold the book close to their hearts and think, wow. That was a great ride.

Or as my character, Haley Jacoby, says: Sometimes when you think your life is falling apart, it’s really falling into place.

May it be.

Saralee Rosenberg is the author of four contemporary novels: A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, FATE AND MS. FORTUNE, CLAIRE VOYANT and DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD (all from Avon/HarperCollins). Visit her website


  1. Congrats, Saralee!! I know that this one will be just as fabulous as your other four novels. So excited that HOTLINE is ready to be seen by the world!!

  2. What a journey. YOU ARE AN INSPIRATION!!!

    Can't wait to read this new and exciting manuscript ... and fingers crossed for a swift and wonderful book deal. The world is ready for Haley! xo

  3. Saralee, your story has inspired me to keep on plugging along. I've been stumbling, stopping and restarting this current novel of mine for months. But to hear you, a published novelist, talk about how many times you've changed your story. 14 versions? Well, I'm powered up and ready to write today! Thanks for sharing and good luck! Go, Haley, Go!

  4. I, too, have been a part of this journey and glad to hear you've completed the book to your own satisfaction. I can't wait to read it! I'm sure you will become the best new thing for young adult women. Thanks for sharing the story of this book....Good Luck!

  5. Here's what great writer you are, even on your missteps, you left me wanting more! What a great post, Saralee! And congrats on a hard-fought accomplishment! I love how the main character's name changed with each revision. It's an inspirational post and I wish you grand success with your new book!

  6. Love the title and will look forward to reading.

  7. Hey, I live in Oregon and we want our trees back!

  8. This sounds great! And, I'm right there with you on the rewrites . . .

  9. I teach high school, and I know girls will love this book. I'm looking forward to sharing it with them. Your stick-with-it-ness is encouraging and reassuring. And what a great line by Haley.