The Story Behind Enchanted, Inc.

Most of my best ideas (as in, the ones that actually get published) come to me in a flash, in a road-to-Damascus, comic-strip lightbulb-over-the-head moment. I don’t necessarily remember the exact date or even day of the week, but I know where I was and what I was doing when the specific idea for the story hit me and I knew deep down inside that this was something I had to write.

The book that became Enchanted, Inc. was no different. One morning (I think it was a Monday) in January 2002, I was climbing the stairs to my home office. I was telecommuting at the time, working for a major international public relations agency, and while I’d loved my work for the past year or so, in recent months I’d really soured on the job. It wasn’t the work itself so much as it was the dwindling client load and resulting office politics and paranoia that bothered me. So, even though I was working at home and wearing sweats and houseshoes instead of suits and pantyhose, my feet seemed to get heavier with each step I took up those stairs.

I’d been on a reading binge in the previous few months. It all started with a trip to England the previous October, where one of my first stops was the Borders store in Cambridge, which tempted me with a buy-two-get-one-free sale (for future reference, if you’re planning to do a lot of wandering around and touring, hitting a big sale at a bookstore is probably not your smartest first stop). I loaded up on chick lit books, which at the time were still mostly British and only came to the U.S. months or even years later. I also picked up the second and third Harry Potter books because I thought the “adult” edition covers were cool, and since they weren’t available in the States, that made them souvenirs. I got pretty sick while I was in England, then got sicker when I got home, with what I later found was whooping cough. During the illness and recovery, I plowed through all those chick lit books, then got into the Harry Potter books (yeah, I was late to the game).

And that explains why, midway up the staircase, I absently thought about how cool it would be to check my e-mail and have a mysterious message offering me a fabulous, magical new job. I smiled at the thought and continued trudging upward. Three steps from the top of the stairs, it hit me. It was a near-instantaneous flash that seemed to contain a lot of information, like when they talk about your life flashing before your eyes in the instant before you die. The flash was all about a chick-lit-like heroine who somehow got involved in a magical world. “Ooooh!” I thought, then the concept formed itself into words, in the form of a Hollywood-like pitch: “Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter.” Just thinking about it gave me shivers. I had to grab the hand rail to keep my balance. There was a surge of “This is it! This is my story!” excitement.

But at the time, I wasn’t really thinking about what I wanted to write. It was what I wanted to read. The aspects of the Harry Potter books I enjoyed the most weren’t the magical elements. They were the very ordinary trials of being a teenager (I am essentially a grown-up Hermione Granger, bushy brown hair and all). I wanted to read something that dealt in the same way with adulthood, with the things I was dealing with currently. There was a little voice in the back of my head saying, “You should write it,” but I tried to ignore it.

After checking my work e-mail (no magical job offers, alas), I set to searching for a book like the one I had in mind, with no real luck. “That’s because it’s your book, dummy,” the voice in my head said (my voices aren’t always very polite). I firmly told that voice that there wasn’t really a market for this sort of thing. The fantasy publishers all seemed to want darker, heavier stuff, and this book was awfully girly. There was a woman-oriented fantasy imprint opening, but at the time they just wanted “historical” settings. Meanwhile, the whole point of chick lit was that it was hyper-real instead of the soft-focused, rose-tinged fantasy of romance novels. They weren’t going to want actual fantasy, as in magic and stuff like that. I shoved the idea aside and went back to work on my projects in progress.

Still, that idea was always in my head. I brought it out every so often and played with it, just for fun. I occasionally mentioned it to people I knew in the publishing world, and they were almost always intrigued, but agreed with me that there didn’t seem to be a place for it. Every time I talked to someone about it, though, the idea became more fully formed, mostly because people would ask me questions, and I’d catch myself making up more stuff to answer the questions.

Meanwhile, other snippets of ideas I’d had floating around in my head for a while started attaching themselves to this concept. I’d wanted to write about a small-town Southern girl in New York ever since my first trip to New York in 1994. I’d been a little scared to visit the city. I’d heard all sorts of stories about how weird and dangerous it was, how rude and impatient the people were. But that wasn’t my experience at all. I found the people friendly and helpful, and I wasn’t the least bit frightened. Oddly enough, I could see that people around me weren’t necessarily having that same experience. The same people who ignored them would be helpful to me when I smiled and drawled at them. The longer I stayed in the city, the heavier my Southern accent became. I felt at the time that there was a book in there.

When that idea collided with my “Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter” idea, I decided that my heroine would have to be a small-town Texas girl in the city. I’m not sure where the idea of her ordinariness being a superpower came from, other than that it seemed to have spilled out of me during a phone conversation with my mother. I think I was struggling with the idea that I would pretty much have to have my heroine discover she has some kind of power, because that’s the way fantasy stories go — the unlikely hero discovers he’s the heir to something or the bearer of something or the secret long-lost whatever who has great power. I couldn’t have her stay totally ordinary and still have a story. Or, could I? What if being ordinary was what made her different, and that was the big discovery? It totally inverted the fantasy expectations. Over the year and a half after the concept first hit me, I gradually added little bits and pieces to the idea.

Then in the summer of 2003 I was at a writing conference in New York. During the conference, I went to a reception where a new fantasy line was being launched. One of the editors working on the line came over to my group of friends, introduced herself and asked if we had any questions. I asked if they’d ever consider a contemporary story. She said they might, and I mentioned this crazy little idea I had. She was quite intrigued by the idea (one of my friends swears she started breathing faster), so I told her more — making most of it up as I talked. She handed me her card and told me she wanted to see it. I told her none of it was written yet. She said, “Then what are you doing here? Go write!”

Because of other contacts I’d made during the conference, I had some other commitments for projects I needed to turn around, so that was what I worked on when I got home. In September, I finally settled down to research the story, then added a side trip to New York to an East Coast trip to research locations. I outlined most of the story on the plane on the way up, and most of the rest of it came to me as I walked around the city. In early October, I started writing, and it just poured out of me. Within a week, I had the first three chapters and a synopsis, which I sent to the editor.

But I was having too much fun to stop, so I kept writing until I had a complete book, and then I had that sense that I maybe had something good, so I queried an agent, who asked to see it and then took me on as a client. After some revisions, the book went out to a bunch of publishers, this time targeting the mainstream fiction and chick lit imprints rather than fantasy.

If this were Hollywood, that original editor would have bought the book, but I got a rejection from that publisher around the time that I was getting rejections from a bunch of other publishers. Still, I’m grateful because without that editor’s enthusiasm, I never would have written the book. On July 22, 2004, I got an offer from Ballantine Books, and the rest is history.

Where some of the individual ideas came from (SPOILERS):

Katie Chandler was more or less fully formed in my head. It was more a case of discovering her than developing her. I think she’d actually been floating in my subconscious, looking for a story to inhabit, ever since I got that idea of a small-town Texas girl in New York. She always insists on being her own person. For a while, I was trying to mentally cast her as Renee Zellweger in the Jerry Maguire era, but as soon as I started writing, she tossed that aside. That wasn’t her. I still haven’t mentally cast her, and I’m trying not to because there have been film studios looking at the project, and I don’t want to get settled on someone, only to be disappointed.

Merlin showed up in the book in a weird, roundabout way. I always had in mind that Katie would have a co-worker who was an ancient wizard who’d been revived recently, and he was getting to know the modern business world by reading current business fad books, but since he lacked the context to go around them, he’d take them far too literally. Then one day I was sitting on the bank of the Trinity River at Campion Trails Park, brainstorming characters in a spiral notebook, and it struck me that this should be Merlin rather than any old wizard. I went to the library and checked out a bunch of books about Merlin, from fanciful fictional versions to scholarly analysis of the Merlin myth. Then I took the main points that were generally agreed upon (like that he had gone into some kind of magical hibernation), threw the rest out the window and made up my own character. The business fad books ended up not making a big impact in Enchanted, Inc., but they do show up in the sequel.

I think I knew all along that there would have to be a gargoyle in the story. I love Gothic architecture and have spent my share of time gazing at castles and cathedrals in Europe. I have a little gargoyle figurine from National Cathedral in Washington on my living room bookcase. Because of that thing for Gothic architecture, I love Grace Church in New York. I was pretty sure it had to have gargoyles, and I’d even made up my mind that my gargoyle would live there. Thank goodness I visited New York to specifically research the book because, much to my surprise, there were no gargoyles on that church. I walked around it, staring intently, and all I saw were carved human faces. Then I realized that was the point. The gargoyle wasn’t always there, and not everyone could see him when he was. Sam was himself from the very start. His voice was in my head, and he just jumped onto the page for me.

Owen and Rod started out as two problem characters. I knew that Katie would have a co-worker who wasn’t that good looking to her but that everyone else would think was gorgeous and that she’d have a co-worker who really was gorgeous. But these two guys refused to come to life. I tried to fit archetypes onto them, and it seemed like the one who really was good looking would be a charmer, while the other would be the type who was everyone’s best friend. That seemed too obvious, so I switched them, and suddenly these two guys came to life (this was in the same riverside brainstorming session in which Merlin insinuated himself into my book). Owen’s shyness followed from there, and that ended up defining his character (there’s a reason he’s so shy, which is hinted at in the first book and which becomes more apparent as the series progresses).

Owen may seem quiet and unassuming on the page, but in my head he’s the most talkative, pushy character. I was midway through writing Enchanted, Inc. when he more or less took over my brain and insisted on telling me his life story (which was interesting, considering that part of his life story is that he doesn’t know his life story). For a few days, I didn’t get much sleep at all because it was like every night when I went to sleep, he’d sit on the edge of my bed and tell me all about himself. Although I’d always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to write a series, he was the one who insisted on me getting more concrete about it. If the books weren’t told in first person from Katie’s point of view, he’d take over entirely (and he could do it if he put his mind and his magic to it). He’s also the one who seems to get the most jealous when I try to write anything else. The best way I have to come up with ideas for the series is to try to write an unrelated project. Then I’ll get no sleep because Owen will start hounding me with ideas. I still have to love the guy. He’s probably my favorite person I’ve created.

The magical market came from a research error on my part. In the original manuscript, I simply have Katie visiting the Union Square Market after her interview at MSI because that’s her touchstone for “normal.” I’d spent a lot of time wandering that market when I was in New York researching the book. On my next trip to New York, after I’d sold the book, when I was meeting with my editor and researching the sequel, I discovered that the market wasn’t open on the day I had Katie visiting it. But then I remembered that I’m dealing with magic, and there are a lot of things Katie sees that most people don’t see, so why couldn’t it be a magical market? That ends up actually being more powerful because the thing she clings to as a touchstone for “normal” ends up not being normal at all. By the time I met with my editor, I was able to give her a solution to the problem I’d discovered. I was surprised to find that I’d out nit-picked the copy editor, who questioned a few other of my location issues but who hadn’t noticed I had the market open on the wrong day. I added a paragraph or two to the manuscript when I was reviewing copy edits, and problem solved. The magical market appears again in book two.

My agent gets the credit for the frog-kissing sequence. In the first draft, Katie and her co-workers go out for drinks and talk about men. Katie makes her off-hand remark about kissing a few frogs to find prince charming, and the others tell her that’s not as effective as she’d think. Then they go out to dinner and then to a magical nightclub. My agent pointed out that conversation and said they shouldn’t just talk about kissing frogs, they should do it. Then my weird brain went to work and I decided that it would be even more fun if there was someone who was under the illusion of being a frog, so only Katie saw him as human. Then I remembered how in fairy tales the frog prince tends to fall in love with the woman who freed him, and thus Katie’s lovelorn suitor was born, as was the very out-of-place Philip. Both Jeff and Philip, the frog guys, continue to appear in the series. Some of the material from the original girls’ night out in this book found its way into another girls’ night out in book two.