Jenny Hartwell’s tale about pivoting to publish should be a familiar one to anyone who’s aspired to publish, whether it’s a novel, a short story, or even a blog post. And about chocolate. How could anyone complain about a love story involving chocolate?!
At a writing conference I attended a few years back, the entire panel of agents and editors announced to the crowded room full of eager authors that historical romance was a tough sell these days.
Huh. Too bad I was pitching my historical romance to them the next day.
After going nowhere slowly with my story of carriages, ballgowns, and duels at dawn, I returned home fighting despondency. What to write next? I took a long walk, thinking about the power of pivoting. Romcoms were just taking off. Could I pivot from writing about English ladies in the early 1800s to penning pithy tales of modern love? Could I make pop culture references? Could I be funny?
The answer, surprisingly, was yes.
Before I discovered this, though, I had to search the depths of my soul. What do I love? Truly, madly, deeply? Love enough to spend countless hours researching and writing and editing the topic? The answer came readily enough: chocolate. I loooooove chocolate. However, the sweet treat itself was not a plot. But what about everyone’s favorite chocolate story from childhood, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? What if I slammed it together with the breakout enemies-to-lovers romcom, The Hating Game by Sally Thorne? I returned from my walk invigorated, pivoting, and ready to leap into something new.
It turned out, I adored writing contemporary romance. I love pop culture, and now I had an academic purpose for my subscription to People magazine. Including references to Taylor Swift, Star Wars, Axe body spray, the Hemsworth brothers, and Lord Voldemort was fun. And more important, it was funny.
I had to modernize the story of the impoverished Charlie Bucket, turning my main character into Charlotte Beecher, a twenty-something chocolatier who’s out of work and getting desperate as her bills and student loans pile up. Thankfully, she wins a social media contest for one of five internships at a gourmet chocolate company, my spin on Dahl’s five golden tickets. The interns compete in a series of challenges with the winner earning a high-level job at the chocolate company. One of the other interns, Mister Tall, Dark, and Haughty, is all spreadsheets and number crunching, and when he and sunshiny Charlotte go toe to toe, sparks fly!
Once I’d worked out my plot, I had some serious research to conduct. And by research, I mean eating chocolate. Studying chocolate. Making chocolate. Let me tell you, it was a tough gig. Luckily, I live in the same city as two gourmet chocolate companies, so I set up tours, tastings, and a truffle-making class. It was extraordinarily delicious and educational. I even met the eponymous owner of one of the factories, and I gushed to her—perhaps a bit too gushingly, now that I look back with the distance of time—about how I was writing a novel based on a factory just like hers with a female owner just like her. I asked her for a selfie. I rambled. I preached on the transcendent joy of her salted caramels. And…I’m lucky there were no restraining orders issued.
Writing the book was both easy and hard. The dialogue flowed. I could have my characters swear. I didn’t have to research how long a carriage journey from London to Bath on dirt roads would take. But…I was also living in my house while it underwent a six-month renovation. Jackhammers and writing are not boon companions. I loved this story, though, so I figured out how to write despite the construction. I wrote in my car. I wrote on friends’ back porches while they were at work. I hummed along to the member of the construction crew who was fond of belting out Cher tunes while I typed away. And at last, my enemies-to-lovers chocolate factory romcom was done.
There is quite a bit that happened in between typing The end and the publication of my debut, but that’s a story for a different day. My Sweet Enemy was released by Entangled Publishing on February 8. Being published and seeing my book out in the world, the result of my career-changing pivot, fills me with more transcendent joy than eating a salted caramel.
And that’s really saying something.
Jenny Hartwell has a confession–she loves People magazine as much as Pride and Prejudice. Her fun, pop culture–adoring side shines in her contemporary rom-com novels set in a gourmet chocolate factory while Jenny’s Regency romances feature strong damsels and swoony lords. Her writing has won or finaled in numerous contests including the Golden Heart, The Emily, Four Seasons, Fool for Love, and The Catherine. Jenny lives with her family in the verdant Pacific Northwest. She loves movies, travel, and staying up late with a good book. And, of course, chocolate. Jenny is represented by Lesley Sabga of The Seymour Agency.
Blurb for My Sweet Enemy
Sunny chocolatier Charlotte Beecher is unemployed, in student debt, and on the verge of hawking her beloved copper pots just to make ends meet. So when a gourmet chocolate factory chooses her as one of five candidates to help re-launch the company in their Charlie and the Chocolate Factory–inspired competition, Charlotte begins to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Fellow contestant Luke Wells complicates her plans to win by a landslide with his flow charts and marketing projections. Mr. Tall, Dark, and Haughty is all about the bottom line and is as bitter as she is sweet. And when he snubs Charlotte in the first challenge, misunderstanding or not, she transforms from cream puff to jawbreaker. Bring. It. On.
But when these two rivals find themselves distracted by delicious attraction, will they let their passion get in the way of winning the competition?
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