Here’s the short version of my writing journey:
- It began in 1999 as a result of a decision I made while heavily medicated by painkillers.
- Writing a mystery novel was my first endeavor. Unfortunately, I stink as a mystery writer.
- So I moved on to children’s picture books. I stink even more with those. (Just ask my rejection pile.)
- Then one day, I read HOPE WAS HERE and fell deeply, truly, madly in love with young adult novels.
- I sold my first young adult novel in 2005.
- A horrible, horrendous second-book slump crippled my creativity for a few years.
- No, scratch that, I allowed a horrible, horrendous second-book slump to cripple my creative. (I’m all for accountability.)
- I sold my second young adult novel in 2010.
- Since then, my roller coaster journey has been full of ups and downs. I’ve learned many lessons, made tons of mistakes, seriously considered quitting on more than a few occasions, and reinvented myself approximately fifty times with renewed energy because the bottom line is that…
- I absolutely love being a writer and really, my journey has just begun.
Want more details? Okay, here’s the long version, which includes an explanation of those painkillers. (Perked your interest with that one, didn’t I?)
I’ve always loved books. One of my favorite memories as a child was Book Day, back when my mom worked for Random House and they’d let employees take home remained books once a month. I always knew it was Book Day from the way Mom would blare the horn from start to finish on our farm’s long driveway. Her backseat would be COVERED with books and for the rest of the day, I’d be excused from all chores so I could read.
One day a chipmunk was walking down the path. He was so, so, so, SO hungry he could eat 99,999 trees and 4,444 deers. And one peanut. Just then he saw a lake so he ran as fast as he could, and drank the water till the lake was all drank up. And people say it is the biggest lake in the world. But he was not full at all. He wanted one more thing. He wanted a peanut.
“All drank up” was not a typo. I wasn’t the brightest child, okay?
My love of reading continued throughout high school. Sweet Valley High books? Oh my gosh. Loved them. But despite getting an A+ in Creative Writing, (my only A in high school, actually,) pursuing writing as a career didn’t seem like an option. I was too brainwashed by my preconceived notions that aspiring writers were honor roll students, the ones who chaired the newspaper committee and had big Harvard-type college plans. Not people like me, a farm girl with a pathetic transcript.
So instead, after a brief spin at community college, (which I quit because it interfered with my bar hopping schedule,) I went through a menagerie of jobs such as a grocery clerk, telemarketer, gym membership salesperson, cocktail waitress, bartender, secretarial temp, real estate agent, and during my broke college days, one of those roving costumed characters at holiday mall parades. (Memories of being terrorized as a candy cane still haunt me at night.)
Sure, sometimes I’d fantasize about writing “The Great American Novel,” but that’s all it was, a fantasy. I still believed no one like me could be a writer. Besides, my eventual job as my husband’s administrative assistant was too stressful. And I had young kids, so forget it. Then in 1998, a severe migraine put me in the hospital and I realized it was God’s way of telling me I needed to make some serious changes in my life. When I came home from the hospital, half zombied on painkillers, I decided to follow a new path and become a writer. That night, I sat down and wrote two chapters of a novel that popped in my head.
And no, I’m not showing you that. Painkillers, remember?
At first, I wanted to write mystery novels like Jessica Fletcher and worldly, sophisticated books like Sidney Sheldon, and epic novels like Jean M. Auel. But in my mind, I was still that college drop-out farm girl. Who’d want to read anything I wrote, someone who wasn’t mysterious, worldly, epic or even sophisticated?
Then my husband bought me WHERE THE HEART IS, by Billie Letts. Have you ever read the right book at the right time and it changes your life? This is that book for me. I was blown away by the dynamic, amazing characters and how the author simply told their story. It made me realize that I should embrace my voice – with all its quirks – instead of trying to be someone I’m not.
Still, it took a while to figure out where that voice belonged. First, I tried my luck with several picture books and I submitted this dummy to any publisher who accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Surely I could be the next Dr. Seuss since picture books are easy to write, right? Wrong. SO wrong. Picture books are incredibly hard to write, and call for a special talent that I simply don’t have, seeing how no publisher was interested in any of my picture books or BOBBY THE BASS series.
Then I read what is, in my opinion, one of the best young adult novels ever written, HOPE WAS HERE, by Joan Bauer. I fell in love with the genre and started reading every young adult novel I could get my hands on. It was as though I finally found my home!
A year later, I finished the rough draft of a young adult novel that’s never been edited and most likely never will, but the act of finishing a novel – however awful – felt like a huge accomplishment. Then I wrote a mid-grade novel that was an okay book. Not great, just okay. After signing up for a college class taught by Christine Lincoln, however, I learned my biggest lesson yet. From the start, Christine amazed me with her passion. When she talked about her stories, she’d sometimes cry, or bust out laughing from the love she had for her characters.
I wanted that passion.
So I abandoned the mid-grade and wrote the opening chapters of BEAUTY SHOP FOR RENT, putting passion before publication, and focusing my efforts on learning how to be a better writer. Two years later, I sent my manuscript to Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio. She offered me representation one week later, and one year later, sold it to Harcourt, Inc.
Oh, how my dreams came true!
Oh, how writing became so much easier, after having my talent acknowledged by an agent and publisher!
See, a long time ago, a lovely writing mentor told me that things actually get harder once you get published. Hearing that made me want to throw my pen at her. Seriously? She was published! She had an agent! She had the golden ticket whereas I’ve been busting hump and spinning wheels for years with no success! Oh, the audacity!
But the thing is … she was right.
Getting an agent and landing your first book deal does not grant you automatic entry into the We Figured It Out Club. I learned this lesson during a horrible, horrendous second book slump where I allowed family, financial, and business stress (hello, housing market crash,) to rain on my creative parade. I also spent way too much time tap dancing with a going-nowhere novel that failed because of my reluctance to dig deep into the core premise of eating disorders. (Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to face my own past issues, maybe not.) So one utterly frustrating morning, I decided to (once again) reinvent myself, ditch all current projects, and take new action.
Step One: I prayed to God, asking for guidance toward my next novel.
Step Two: I laid down on the sofa with a notepad.
Step Three: I vowed to not get up until I had a new book idea.
Surprisingly, it worked. A few hours later, bits and pieces of a ditched manuscript called Clara Barton’s Fist Fight, (which could possibly be one of the world’s worst titles,) merged together with fond memories of our family’s many camping trips to form the beginnings of JUST FLIRT. Writing this novel proved even harder than BEAUTY SHOP, however, due to my insane quest to use three rotating points of view, something that never quite felt right from the start. (Hint: if you have a nagging voice in your head telling you what’s wrong with your manuscript? Don’t be stubborn. Listen to it.)
After dropping it to two points of views, (sorry, Roxanne,) the manuscript sold under the original title of NINE RULES OF FLIRTING. (Well, actually, the first title was Clara Barton’s First Fight, then The Superflirt Chronicles, then Superflirt, then Flirt, then Nine Rules of Flirting. I’m surprised the poor thing didn’t have an identity crisis.)
So. What have I been up to lately?
Well, I’m in the process of submitting a mid-grade novel about girls’ baseball in the 1970’s called THE GLORY GIRLS OF STOCKYARD COUNTY that I absolutely love, love, LOVE! I’m also editing a fun fairy tale novel, writing a superhero mid-grade that’s probably the craziest thing I’ve ever written, and I’m learning about the amazing awesomeness of Scrivener … seriously … WHY HAVEN’T I TRIED THIS YEARS AGO? It’s fantastic. Simply fantastic.
But most importantly, I’m still loving what I do, despite all the crazy ups and downs.
And with that, I wish you a wonderful journey! Happy writing. 🙂