Why writing a trilogy is like remodeling a house. . . .

We’re welcoming my friend (and author extraordinaire!) Blythe Gifford today.  The occasion is the launch of her new trilogy.  RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR, a November release from the Harlequin Historical line, is the first of three about the Brunson Clan, a family of Reivers on the Scottish Borders during the early Tudor era.


Through some strange combination of karma, fate, and insanity, I found myself in the midst of a major (and I mean MAJOR) remodeling project at the same time I was writing a trilogy.  I was a novice at both and, worse, I was writing the books on deadlines tighter than any I had ever attempted.

All three of us – the house, my books, and moi – lived to tell the tale.  I learned a few things in the process that apply both to remodeling and to writing.

First, you have to have a vision.

For my condominium, I had very clear concept and the designer I worked with was grateful.  Though there are dozens of decisions to be made, most of the time, I could give thumbs up or down right away to a faucet or drawer pull.

In a similar way, I knew the overall arc of the trilogy and of each character, so as I groped my way (see below), I knew yay or nay that I was on the right path.  That was a good thing, since my deadlines did not have room for dead ends.

Second, you can’t figure out everything in advance.

I’m a recovering pantser, so I’m accustomed to starting a book on faith that the details will work themselves out.  But a trilogy?  What if I got to the end and needed to rewrite book one?

At the same time, I thought a remodeling project could be planned, budgeted, and scheduled and then left to run on its own.  (I can hear you laugh, all you who have been through it.)

The answer, of course, is “no” on both counts.  You can’t plan everything and if you did, you would miss the serendipity that makes it special.  Some of my favorite details of the house evolved as we went along, and even the final details of the myth surrounding my family didn’t reveal themselves until I was on revisions for book three.

Third, listen to your team.

I was so lucky on both counts.  I love my editor and I was fortunate to bring a fabulous designer and contractor on board for the remodeling project.  Still, sometimes, I tried to resist the best advice.  When I turned in the draft of RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR, my editor asked for a major shift in emphasis.  While I tried to listen, my muse just threw a tantrum and refused to play at first.  Similarly, when my designer suggested we bring the doors up to ceiling height, I said no, thinking it was a needless extravagance.

You know what happened, of course.  Once I tackled the revisions, they made the story infinitely stronger.  I finally succumbed to the floor to ceiling doors, and they lift my spirits every time I open them.

Finally, some small stuff is worth sweating.

I spent more time than I want to tell you figuring out the garbage/recycling container space in the kitchen.  It was worth it.  I had lived too long with a sack of newspapers in the middle of the floor and if I didn’t plan now, I’d be tripping over them again.  Instead, I gaze at a clean, functional space.  (See picture!)

Similarly, I spent hours with maps and calendars to be sure my characters moved in historically accurate time and space.  These details are ones that bring the story alive for me and, I hope, ring true for the reader.

So have you ever done a remodeling project?  Any words of wisdom?  Or if you are contemplating your first, share your vision.  One lucky reader who comments on today’s blog will be randomly selected to win a signed copy of RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR.



Once part of a powerful border clan, John has not set sight on the Brunson stone tower in years. With failure never an option, he must persuade his family to honour the King’s call for peace.

To succeed, John knows winning over the daughter of an allied family, Cate Gilnock, holds the key. But this intriguing beauty is beyond the powers of flattery and seduction. Instead, the painful vulnerability hidden behind her spirited eyes calls out to John as he is inexorably drawn back into the warrior Brunson clan…

CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD, January 2013, will tell the story of John’s sister, Bessie Brunson and finally, Black Rob Brunson, oldest son and leader of the family, meets his match in TAKEN BY THE BORDER REBEL, March 2013. 

Blythe Gifford has been known for medieval romances featuring characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket. Now, she’s launching a trilogy set on the turbulent Scottish Borders of the early Tudor era, starting with RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR, November 2012, Harlequin Historical.  CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD will follow in January 2013, and TAKEN BY THE BORDER REBEL in March 2013.  The Chicago Tribune has called her work “the perfect balance between history and romance.”  Visit her at www.blythegifford.com, www.facebook.com/BlytheGifford, or on Twitter @BlytheGifford.


30 thoughts on “Bring A Friend Friday – Blythe Gifford on Redecorating and Writing!

  1. Shana Shana says:

    Welcome, Blythe! Before we moved into our current home, we had it remodeled. I don’t know how people live in a home when it is being worked on. It was so stressful, even from a distance!

  2. Connie Fischer says:

    Hi, Blythe! Just want you to know that – yes – remodeling can be a royal pain, but it is always so worth it. My husband and I had a lovely home on the water in Florida with the pool, boat, etc. While it was all very nice, we had gotten to the point that the upkeep of the pool/boat/yard was more than we wanted to do. We were at a point that we were ready for a condo we could lock up and travel while someone else took care of the yard work, etc. Before we put the house up for sale, we decided to replace the tile for larger squares. That was a JOB. Of course, we hired someone to do it and the dust and mess throughout the house was awful. We literally lived in our bedroom and bathroom for days. We had moved the refrigerator in there, the coffeemaker, the toaster oven, etc. We felt like a bunch of nomads. However, add the results to the work that we had done to the place over the years and we sold it for three times what we bought it for. So, patience, creativity, and a sense of humor are all the things you will need but it will be fabulous. Do take and post some before and after pictures. I’d love to see them.

    Congratulations on the first novel of your new trilogy. This is so exciting for you and your readers. It’s rather like giving birth to triplets but getting some breathing time before each one is born! 😉

    All the best and good luck on the remodeling.

  3. Shanon and Connie: I was fortunate enough to be able to live somewhere else while the remodeling was done. But instead of my regular office, I had a temporary desk in the living room. That was an adjustment! And Connie, yes. I’m home now and I LOVE my new space. More pictures to come, but first, I’ve got a trilogy to launch…

  4. LilMissMolly says:

    I’ve only painted the house and replaced a deck with pavers. Does that count as remodeling? Probably not. 🙂

    1. Absolutely it counts! In order to paint, you have to disrupt everything.

  5. Ann s. says:

    We have just started our first DIY remodeling project. We are remodeling our downstairs powder room, we started small. It may be a smaller project, but the dust is incredible. There is dust everywhere, ah well we are having fun and I got out of priming the walls. Thanks for the introduction to a an author I was unfamiliar with, the books sound so good.

    1. Ann, the dust is the worst. I don’t think I’ll ever get it all. Keep finding new places it is still hiding. Glad the book sounds good!

  6. Terri Brisbin says:

    Blythe –

    Thanks for joining us here on Bring a Friend Friday! (and thanks for being my friend!! LOL!)

    I’ve only dealt with small projects – new carpet, taking out wrought-iron railing around staircase and replacing with a real wall, installing French doors — and I wanted to curl up in a corner and cry! So many problems and issues…it makes me want to sell before fixing/replacing anything in this old house…LOL! I know I’m a coward!

    1. Not a coward. I knew I had to do this for YEARS before I was forced into it. Now that it’s over, I can be calm, but I had heard so many horror stories I dreaded it. But I was very lucky! Was a good experience. But I’m glad it’s done. 😉

  7. Hey Blythe! Thanks for joining us!

    We remodeled our kitchen about 2 (or is it 3??) years ago, and I love it now. We expanded, to there were walls to remove and replace, and lots of new wiring and light fixtures, so it was a real challenge to live with. But SO worth it. I love your light colors. We went dark – dark cherry cabinets and dark granite counters.

    As to revising manuscripts…. well, sometimes I do feel as though I’m removing load-bearing walls. And hoping the whole thing doesn’t fall apart. 😯

    1. LOL! Load bearing walls. I so hear you there!
      My condo is small, so I was adamant about wanting everything light. Art and accessories provide the color. But everyone’s space is different. I’ve seen some lovely dark kitchens.

  8. Blythe, I’m a big fan of your books! Looking forward to reading the new one.
    I’ve not done any remodeling, but I AM working on my first ever trilogy (starting revisions for book 2) and I appreciate the good advice!

    1. Thanks for your kind words. And congratulations on your new release. I really enjoyed this trilogy, and I hope you enjoy yours, too. Using new writer muscles, for sure!

  9. Polly says:

    In the early 80s my husband and I tackled restoring an 1860s home in Aurora, Colorado. It entailed stripping pea soup-colored paint off the oak staircase and banister and scraping decades of paint layers from the 8 foot window frames. Between learning how to be parents to our first baby and only evening and weekend hours to work on it, progress was turtle slow. We’d barely broken the surface of the massive project when a job transfer to Florida took us away. I’ve always hoped the new owners picked up where we left off instead of slathering on coats of paint like so many previous owners before us did.

    Tying in the progression of writing a story to remodeling a home was so clever, Blythe. Your story sounds wonderful. Congratulations!

    1. Polly, I am full of admiration for people who DIY. It’s so hard when you have so many other competing obligations. It must have been difficult to leave the job before you could see the final results. And glad you liked the analogy!

  10. CateS says:

    All I can say is that sometimes it is sooooo worth it to have a professional do the job… We got a new paver patio installed… I’ve done one and this was soooo much better – although much more expensive.

    1. Cate, I’m with you. I brought in a pro!

  11. Stefanie D says:

    We bought a house last year and I got to redecorate all of it. I loved it!! To me it was important all of the rooms fit well together. So I chose about 3 different colors that return in most of the rooms.

    1. Picking colors is the fun part, isn’t it? And everytime you look at them, they make you happy!

  12. bn100 says:

    Haven’t done any and don’t plan to. Good luck with yours!

    1. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it! If you’re pleased with your place as it is, you’re very lucky.

  13. Lexi says:

    My husband and I remodeled our first house, the only thing we hired out was the making of the cabinets. We totally gutted the kitchen, took out a wall inbetween the kitchen and iiving room, and redid the floors. A huge project but we loved doing it (well…there were some fights, we were newly weds after all). But the result was so worth it, and we grew as people through it too. Now we got that out of our system, learned more about each other, and very rarely have disagreements. Worth it? A thousand times over, and I love him even more today than when we got married.

    1. Lexi – That’s what romance is all about! Triumph over adversity. What great memories and bonds you made with that experience. Nice story. Thanks for sharing.

  14. catslady says:

    The only room that we’ve remodeled was our bathroom and that’s probably why we haven’t done anything since lol. Just moving the cast iron tub was quite a feat and now I wish we had just repainted it because the new one got scratched from a baby tub. We took out tiles and put in a surround type which I thought would be easier to clean – nah! I do like the glass doors though compared to the curtains. We wallpapered, put in new floors, new sink, cabinet, mirrors, new toilet – the works. And I had a new baby at the time so not probably as bad as writing a book but a pain nonetheless lol.

    I love your type of story and it sounds like something I would really enjoy.

    1. catslady – Wow! That sounds like a lot of work. I can see why you didn’t attempt another. And thanks for your kind words.
      Nancy – thanks to you all for having me!

  15. Hi Blythe, so glad you could join us today!

  16. RobynDeHart RobynDeHart says:

    Thanks for joining us, Blythe. We did quite a bit of remodeling/redecorating in our previous house, but we built this one so we haven’t really had to do much here. We did have a half-wall put in, but it took less than a day so it was totally stress-free. But it can be a really stressful situation.

  17. Hi, Blythe! How are you? So nice to have you here…As for remodeling, no. But my husband is threatening. I plan to move into your condo until it’s done. Good luck with the trilogy. It sounds fantastic!

  18. Barbara Elness says:

    I’ve done a few things in my house, no complete remodels, but had new floors put in for almost the whole house (3 bedrooms, dining, office, living and hall), a shower stall retiled, painting done and new countertops in the kitchen. My strategy was to grab a good book and keep out of the way. 😀

  19. Janie McGaugh says:

    I haven’t done any real remodeling, though I had someone come in (years ago) to put in some additional cabinets in our kitchen. That was a one-day job, so I didn’t have to deal with my house being a mess.

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