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Getting to Yes: The Doctor Next Door

by Red Sage Publishing

It’s been a long time since Catherine Berlin first sent me the manuscript for her e-book, The Doctor Next Door. I want to say it was about a year ago, right around the time when we were letting Red Sage insiders know that we were looking for manuscripts for our new e-book program.

Cathy wasn’t on the Red Sage author roster, but for a few years she and I have known each other casually and had even met once in person. I’d never seen any of her work before, but one thing led to another, and Cathy sent me this manuscript. It ended up being one of the first manuscripts we bought for our e-books program, and I’m pretty sure it was the first we bought from someone not already writing for Red Sage.

A funny thing happens when an editor receives a manuscript from someone she knows personally. We get very, very nervous. You see, we like our friends, but we also know that most of the time, we’ll end up rejecting our friends. And that means we’re in danger of having our friends become a little less friendly. Hazards of the trade.

So I was already bracing myself in the normal fashion when I cracked open Cathy’s manuscript. What a surprise, though! She could actually write! The voice was breezy and fresh, almost deceptively simple, and that was the first thing that drew me to her writing. Not her plot or her characters (though of course, they’re good), but her voice. She has this remarkable knack for paring down the text and writing clean, graceful sentences. But somehow, she ends up with rich images and characters, and let me tell you, that particular combination of plain and vivid is very hard to achieve.

So all of my editor bells were ringing over the quality of her prose, and Cathy and I went to work on shaping the scenes almost immediately. Normal, dull, editorial stuff that happens to a manuscript before it goes to press.

And that’s when I got my second surprise.

Every time I read that manuscript — every single time — I found myself getting lost in one particular scene. I would become so wrapped up in the scene that I’d forget to analyze and edit it. I noticed one day, reading through the manuscript again, that I actually checked the page numbers and thought, “Only 12 more pages until the picnic.”

“Picnic” is a shorthand term to describe a scene in which characters eat meals together, any kind of meals in any location. According to editorial lore, if a book is heavy on picnics, it’s also light on plot. It’s not that dinner scenes are wrong or bad. It’s just that usually, they act as placeholders or window dressing. When nothing else is happening and you need your characters to interact, have them cook and eat a meal, right? So picnics are almost never my favorite scenes in a book.

And here was a picnic — almost a literal picnic, though it takes place in the heroine’s living room — that was not only a good scene, but it was the scene. I couldn’t get enough of it.

It comes as no surprise to me to learn that the reviewers and customers are crazy about this scene. They’re calling it the kilt scene because the hero, Brandon, desparate to make a good impression on his romance novelist neighbor, shows up at her home dressed like the Scottish warlord hero from her most recent novel. Gen is touched, of course, even as she’s giggling at his determined eagerness.

And yes, she does find out what he’s wearing under his kilt. More than that, I won’t say!

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