How 32 CANDLES Went from Manuscript to Soon-to-Be-Published Novel

Just in case you’re wondering how 32 CANDLES went from manuscript to soon-to-be-published novel, here’s a reprint of my May 2009 Fierce and Nerdy post on the subject.

So as you may or may not have noticed, I haven’t been talking about the writing process much lately. Many of you might have thought this was because I got sick of navel-gazing. But c’mon, I’m a neurotic writer — which means that I will never, ever stop obsessively picking at my own belly lint. I mean ever. So get that thought out of your pretty little heads.

Alas, I haven’t been writing about writing lately b/c the saga of my first novel has been changing too fast to keep you up to speed til now. Here’s the recap, if you haven’t been with us up to this point — oh, and if you don’t want to go through the whole chronicle, just skip down to #4. That’s when it really gets good.

1) Around Christmas 2007 I finished the rough draft of a novel about an ugly duckling named Davie Jones who becomes obsessed with getting a Molly Ringwald Ending (a beyond perfect 80’s movie ending), even though she’s completely unpopular, the daughter of the town hooker, and extremely poor. She eventually escapes her small Mississippi town, reinvents herself as a lounge singer in Los Angeles, only to re-meet her high school crush 15 years later. I dubbed the book Molly Ringwald Ending, and I worried on my then-one-person blog that no one would like the novel that I had spent almost two years cobbling together.

2) After months of rewriting, I emailed the book to my sister. She declared it good, so I sent it off to a fabulous book and screenplay editor named Karin Gutman, who I had met after my story was chosen for the Spark! Six-Year Anniversary Storytelling Event and inaugural CD. I approached choosing a book editor like dating. I had met quite a few highly-qualified book editors, but you know I got to talking to Karin (who’s also a Spark! producer) at the big storytelling event’s after party, and we ended up having such a lovely conversation about all sorts of things outside of novel writing, so I decided to go with her. Karin did a brilliant edit which inspired many more months worth of rewrites. She also suggested that I change my title to A Molly Ringwald Ending, so I did.

3) After many more months of rewrites, I had a draft that I was willing to send off to agents. However, having gotten a BA in English and an MFA in Dramatic Writing, I knew from experience that I wasn’t that great at copy-editing my own work — I’ve got a crack-cocaine like passion for commas, ellipses and dashes that must be rehabbed by others, and no matter how much I re-read, I can’t ever seem to catch every writing error, changed character name, and so on and so on. So despite feeling a little impatient at that point — I sent it to my fellow Smithie and great friend Emily Farrell. And she sent me back the best copy edit in the history of copy-edits. I would highly recommend her to any writer and you can contact her here.

4) So about a year after I finished my rough draft, the novel was final ready. And by “ready,” I don’t mean “perfect.” I mean that I was so sick of worrying over it that there was nothing I could do but send it out into the world. I’m sure my parents felt the same way when they sent me off to college. So I spent the 2008 Entertainment Production holiday hiatus sending out letters to agents. I happily ended up with Sarah Jane Freymann from the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency in February. I chronicled that process here — and yes, I once more compared it to dating. Leave me alone.

5) As it turns out, A Molly Ringwald Ending is totally not fair-use. I sent the actress’s agents a heartfelt letter through Sarah Jane. And Molly Ringwald’s lawyers sent back a huge … no. So I asked you guys to help pick a title, and much to my surprise, 32 CANDLES totally won. That’s all chronicled here.

6) So in April the newly-dubbed 32 Candles finally went out to a bunch of publishing houses. You think I’m going to say this was like dating again, and you’re totally … right! The thing about dating is that you put yourself out there, and you only have your instincts and your experiences to guide you. Along the way, you meet guys that you like who don’t like you back. And guys who like you, but is it the right match? And a lot of in-between. People end up together in all sorts of ways, but I maintain that it’s best when both parties choose to be with each other with equal enthusiasm.

7) Which is why I’m just beyond happy to say that 32 Candles has been sold in a pre-empt to Dawn Davis (ed. Pursuit of Happyness; The Known World; Act Like A Woman, Think Like a Man; Black Water Rising) at HarperCollins, which means the book will be hitting a bookshelf near you (as long as “you” live in the States) some time in 2010ish. 2011 if the publishing gods deem it necessary.

Of course, I’m beyond thrilled. Thrilled and extremely shocked. No matter how hard one works towards a goal, I don’t know that anyone’s ever truly prepared to actually get what they want. I’m still surprised that I love my husband and that he loves me back. I’m still having a hard time believing that IVF actually worked and I’m going to be a mother in less than 2 months. Quite frankly, it’s just astounding to me that so many good things could happen. I can remember sitting in my dorm room 12 years ago and believing that nothing good would happen ever again after my mother died.

But good things did happen, are happening. And I’m so incredibly grateful, I can’t even put into words how very much I’ve appreciated all of your support throughout this process. Just thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s only May, but I can already say that this has hands down been the best year of my life.

100% Love,


Ernessa T. Carter is the author of the novel, 32 CANDLES, which will be released by HarperCollins/Amistad on June 22, 2010. Pre-order your copy on Amazon here.