I generally find writing books about new beginnings easier than those about old beginnings. What do I mean by old and new beginnings? Old beginnings are in the past: you already have some kind of template to work from when you encounter something similar again. New beginnings have never happened before.
Although you could argue that all beginnings are old—we have some measure of experience that informs how we handle ourselves in each beginning—I’m talking about similar experiences. For example, many new parents are surprised by all the work involved in raising a baby. Many new employees find it hard to acclimate to a new workplace, even if they’ve done that job before.
Most of the storylines in both my YA books and my sweet romance series focus on new beginnings. But one book in particular focuses on old beginnings. Writing from these two approaches is actually quite different.
Introducing New Beginnings in Books
Pauline in Tea Shop for Two experiences a mix of old and new beginnings. Her romance with Todd is a new beginning. Her return to town after a successful career as a mascot actor is a mix of new and old: she’s never been fully in charge of her mother’s tea shop before, but she worked there often in her youth.
Even the creation of Tea Shop for Two is a mix of old and new beginnings. I’d been chin deep in Between Worlds but wanted to begin another series to keep my creative juices flowing and to challenge myself. Since Between Worlds has almost no romance in it, and I love my Christmas romance movies, I opted for the sweet romance novel.
Looking through old ideas, I came across a draft about a character named Tamara, written roughly three years earlier. I liked the idea—I’m fascinated by who people really are under the masks they wear. (Granted, sometimes I’d rather not know.)
But I’d also developed a new fascination with theme-park mascot actors. Who in their right mind agrees to be paid minimum wage (so far as I know) to wear the equivalent of two parkas in 35˚C weather? Or encase themselves in foam and fleece with hardly any vision and whip around on ice skates or jump through a flaming hoop to land a slam dunk?
I wrote those impressions into Pauline’s life experience. We meet her as Perry the Peregrine in Tea Shop for Two:
A new song distracted Pauline. She jumped off the parade float to high-five fans and flex her arms for the kids, who returned the gesture while their parents took pictures. A few adults reached for her tail, but the extra security detail Ben had ordered pushed them away. She jumped back on the float to cool down in front of the fan and take sips from the camel pack, the straw of which she held in her mouth the entire time. Another uncomfortable aspect of the day.
“You’re loving this, aren’t you?” asked Derek, who stood on the float with her.
Pauline nodded as she began clapping overhead, getting the audience to join in and cheer, “Peregrines to victory!”
“I’m glad it’s not me in there,” he said. “Those two photo sessions were enough for me.”
She patted him on the back to thank him for stepping in while she’d been away and took another sip. Even though she’d frozen a good amount of the rehydration solution into ice cubes, her drink was already warm. She could’ve brewed green tea in there, come to think of it.
“By the way, Ben just confirmed some good news over the system.”
Pauline waved to the crowd in the other direction, but she was listening.
“When we get to the stage in Nathan Philips Square, the prime minister of Canada wants a photo op with you.”
Pauline whipped her head to face Derek and her gloved hands flew to Perry’s beak. She couldn’t wait to tell…well, no one. But who cared that she couldn’t tell anyone? This was the ultimate life, even if she lived it in a rotisserie oven. She pumped her arms in the air.
[Tea Shop for Two, chapter 11]
When Teens Face New Beginnings
Adults have the blessing (or curse) of many beginnings. Depending on their age, increasingly more beginnings may be old ones.
But fourteen-year-old Juliana in Between Worlds hasn’t lived through enough life-changing challenges to have many old beginnings. Almost everythingfor her is new: the city, the home, the school, the dance school, the friends… She even meets her extended family in person for the first time. Until then, they didn’t appear any bigger than the images on her parents’ devices or laptops.
Moving halfway across the country is not a new beginning Juliana looks forward to:
Mom pressed her lips into a tight line and took another deep breath before she spoke. “The oldest of Anne’s kids still live at home and she cooks for them so they can focus on their studies. We didn’t make this decision lightly, Juliana. Neither of my siblings can check in on Opa every day. Trust me. I talked to them.”
“And not to me.”
Another deep breath.
“He also doesn’t want strangers in his home every day. So, since both my job and your father’s can be done anywhere in the country, it makes the most sense that the three of us move.”
Juliana slammed her hand on her lap. “But my life can’t just happen somewhere else in the country!”
Her father shot her look, this one telling her to keep it down. “You’re a teenager,” he replied dryly. “There are thousands of schools in Canada, most with hundreds of students for you to choose your friends from. Same with dance studios. Your ‘life’ can very well be done anywhere in the country.”
Juliana propped her elbow on the table and stared at the TV over the bar. Why did Mom have to bring this all up again?
[The Move, chapter 3]
Even though Juliana started at a dance studio once before and even had a “first day of school,” she would’ve been so young that her memories are shaky at best–if she has any at all.
New beginnings come with a great deal of transition, some of it very painful. But taking time to experience this newness, to explore it, can bring about wondrous surprises. Juliana discovers her great-grandmother’s artwork, and as an artist herself—albeit a performing artist—she finds herself bolstered by another teenager’s creative work. It’s self-affirming and helps her move forward.
Working With Old Beginnings in Novels
Novels don’t have to focus on new beginnings. In Teas of Joy, Claire and Richard have been married fifty years and in their respective lifestyles for at least a year when the novel starts. No moving, no new relationships, no new jobs, nothing.
Dawn’s phone dinged.
“It’s Dad, wondering if you’ll be on time,” she said.
Claire had a coy smile on her face. Richard Robinson, the man of Claire’s dreams. Dashing when they’d met in their twenties, and still dashing in his seventies. “Tell your father perfection is worth the wait. And that he’d better not be playing a Rolling Stones song.”
The feud that had started it all: Were The Rolling Stones or The Monkees the better group? The Robinson jury was still out on that.
“And tell him we’ll be on time,” Claire added. “If he wants me walking across the dance floor to a Stones song, I’ll respect his choice. You don’t survive fifty years without making concessions. Just so long as it’s not ‘Can’t Get No Satisfaction.’”
[Teas of Joy, chapter 1]
On the one hand, writing about such an old relationship gave me lots to work with, such as Claire and Richard’s differences in music and their personal histories. But the decision to work from old beginnings also created difficulties. For example, I had to find a way to follow the romance arc readers crave, but without a meet cute, first kiss, and other familiar scenes. How could I accomplish that? Plus, what could I uncover about Claire and Richard that they didn’t already know about each other?
Of course, Claire and Richard have conversations and experiences that contribute to the conflict, but old beginnings drive the plot.
In the end, Teas of Joy became a beautiful story of love, forgiveness, and a long relationship that grew even deeper.
New Beginnings, Old Beginnings…Main Thing: Good Story
Regardless of what kind of beginning I use in each novel, my ultimate hope is that my readers enjoy their time in the worlds I’ve created. At time of writing, I’m working on the final book of Between Worlds, which will deal with the many new beginnings that have been happening in the series, and Love on Belmont 4, which, as a second-chance romance, will focus on an old beginning.
Have you ever thought about old and new beginnings in the stories you read? What have you liked? Feel free to leave the titles of other books here so readers can explore new authors!