Against My Better Judgment: A Story Grows Up - B.T. Polcari

Against My Better Judgment: A Story Grows Up

Hello, everybody!

In my earlier post, I talked about how Against My Better Judgment was born. Just like how a child grows from helpless dependent infants to adults with successful lives, the story of Sara and Mauzzy has gone through so many transformations along its journey to publication.

As a parent, your children go through various stages of challenging activity and behavior. It starts off all sweet and exciting, with a cute cooing infant and the good baby smell (pre-dirty diaper, obvs). Soon they become mobile and eventually start walking, and all you can see are furniture corners. Then come the terrific terrible two meltdowns and very public tantrums. Middle School…let’s not even talk about that. HIGH SCHOOL? I’ve decided my son’s junior year was an elaborate episode of Punk’d. And then there are the “what in the heck were you thinking” moments (yep, junior year rears its ugly head again). There’s a brief exciting moment of college move-ins, then squashed with the move-outs (“Honest, Dad – I’ll have the place clean by the time you get here.”). Finally – Graduation. I raised my hands, thanked the Lord, and gleefully thumbed through the boat catalogue. The smooth sailing continued with beautiful marriages, successful careers, and wonderful families.

Throughout your child’s journey to adulthood, you’re working hard to teach them right from wrong, keep them safe, help them grow up without being a helicopter parent, and working on your patience (breathe in, hold, breathe out). And you’re a proud parent every step of the way.

Well, it’s been pretty much the same for Against My Better Judgment. By mid-October 2013, I had the first draft completed. It was my powder-fresh newborn baby. My very large newborn, sitting at 99K words. I put it in a three-ring binder, used a wistful Mauzzy image for the cover, and gave it to my daughter, Maria, for her birthday. The title was The Saga of Sara Donovan and Mauzzy. Reading back through it today, this was a good start. But as I learned over the past few years, good won’t get you published. Not even great will — it has to be exceptional in order to get plucked from the infamous “slush pile” that all agents and publishers rummage through on a daily basis. After all, only 1-2% of submitted manuscripts get published.

In December 2013, I heard about a platform called Wattpad in which people post their stories for members to read, comment on, critique, etc. I joined, spent six months reworking the story under the pen name Erica Sumner, and posted it in mid-2014. I also changed the title to Distortions, Mirages, and the Art of Deception. My baby was growing up, coming in at a robust 108K words and weighing about the same as a middle schooler.

I spent the next two years rewriting the story, my child “slimming down” to 105K words, as I learned the intricacies of writing fiction from some excellent writers on Wattpad, including Lina Hansen, who also recently released a novel on 1 July 2020 called In My Attic ( I also changed the title yet again to Chronicles of a Wineaux: Chicken Soup Can’t Heal Cell Phones and commissioned the below cover for use on Wattpad (thank you Lucy Rhodes of Render Compose!).

Along the way, on Wattpad, the story was:

  • Selected by Wattpad as a Featured Story;
  • Awarded First Place in the Humor category in The Summer Awards – 2017; and
  • Awarded Second Place in the ChickLit/General Fiction Category in The Heavenly Awards – 2017.

My story was growing up and exhibiting the potential that all parents see in their children come high school. As momentum built, I was contacted in 2017 by Dawn Starling on Wattpad. She recalled reading my work and extended an invitation to join an elite writers’ critique group called The Next Big Recognition. I learned so much from the talented members and received such tremendous feedback and encouragement on the story that I attacked the manuscript with newfound confidence and belief.

In early June 2017, I heard the ShoreIndie Contest was accepting submissions for three days only for its inaugural contest. Writers could submit their blurb and the first five pages to three of the contest’s ten professional editors for a chance to work with an editor free for seven weeks. After reviewing the submissions, one of the editors, Cynthia Luna, requested a partial submission from me for the first 50 pages; five pages that included the story’s darkest moment and percentagewise where in the story it occurred; the last two pages; a synopses; and what I was looking to get out of the experience if I was selected. I was elated and responded with the requested information the same day. In fact, I told her: “I am thrilled beyond words. Sad, for someone who likes to write.” Three days later, the contest made its announcement on Twitter for the ten writers who won the first round and were selected for the semifinals. I sat in my office by myself watching the feed scroll by and—I was selected by Cynthia! Talk about shock.

Cynthia and I worked away for the next six weeks, tearing the story apart and putting it back together. We used an innovative collaborative approach that allowed us to save time and work far more efficiently than the traditional editing process allows. As a result, the story slimmed down from 105K words to a svelte 74K. The story was also renamed for the last time to Against My Better Judgment. This experience with Cynthia taught me so much about pacing, among other things. The story ended up not being selected by the three-person panel of judges for the finals, but when I asked Cynthia if she thought the story had a shot at being published, she didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely, 100%.”

With Cynthia’s unwavering support and confidence in the story, I started the querying process for agents and publishers (not dissimilar to the college application process). I’ll talk about that long, humbling, and frustrating journey in the next post. Of course, since the book is being released September 16th, you know it has a happy ending. But there’s more to the story.

Stay safe and healthy!