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 called Beauty Shop for Rent in 2005.
- It came out in 2007.
- 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, Just Flirt in 2010.
- It came out in 2012.
- I wrote a mid grade novel that I absolutely adored … this was my baby, y’all, and I thought an editor was buying it since it went to second acquisitions, but instead, she sent a painful rejection tearing the book to shreds and my heart along with it.
- I lost my passion for writing.
- I started Joyful Miles with some friends in April, 2016 that I also absolutely adore but was also a way to avoid writing. Joyful Miles was easy, it came naturally to me and there was little risk of rejection other than an occasional thumbs down.
- Somewhere along the line I decided to give writing another go.
- Yep, my roller coaster journey has been full of ups and downs. I’ve learned many lessons, made tons of mistakes, and reinvented myself more times than I can count 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.)
Months before Just Flirt was set to release in June 2012, my editor left FSG and I was assigned to a new one who already had many other books on her plate, so I got a little lost in the shuffle. But I was still grateful, because I could have just as easily been cancelled.
Still, things fell apart for this novel.
The publisher wrote a blurb that I absolutely hated and did not reflect the theme at all, so I had to get my agent to fight for a change. Just Flirt also came out during the worst summers of my life so I can’t help but having a few negative feelings toward this story. It’s a shame, really.
But life moves on and I kept writing. One completed manuscript felt like a dud so I put that one on the shelf. I dabbled with a women’s fiction novel, but then my heart turned to a mid grade that I absolutely loved and adored called The Glory Girls of Stockyard County.
This story was my baby, my heart and soul, one I poured everything into.
My agent had high hopes for it as well, so neither one of us were bothered by the first five rejections. An editor I had met and befriended at a conference was interested in it, so my agent shipped it her way as an exclusive submission.
We heard nothing for months.
Then there was news that it went to first acquisitions, which is a TREMENDOUSLY great sign!!! It means the editor thinks there’s potential!
And then … oh my gosh, we found out it went to SECOND acquisition!!! My baby was going to sell and see the world!!
Then came the waiting.
And more waiting.
And then … the email. From the editor. With news that it had been rejected.
Not only that, she absolutely shredded the story and had not one good thing to say about it. I was CRUSHED. Devastated. In shock and my agent was also a little pissed about being led to the garden gate only to have it slammed in our faces.
But still, she’s a fighter and sent the novel out immediately to the next editor on the list, one who did love it but not enough to buy at that moment. She did graciously offer me detailed notes and said she’d give it another look.
The notes were brilliant.
And could have truly helped my story.
But my passion was gone and I didn’t have the energy for another awful rejection, a fact that I’m not proud of, but there you go. The sad truth.
In the years that followed, I tried to regain my passion. I wrote another mid grade, a couple women’s fiction novels, and a young adult. But the passion and magic hadn’t fully returned.
Along the way, I also started Joyful Miles in April 2016 with some friends. We had a podcast, a blog, a YouTube channel, followers that I absolutely adored, and I had so much fun. I don’t regret time spent on Joyful Miles at all … but it was a way to hide from writing. Joyful Miles was a total blast. Safe. Easy and natural for me. And with little risk of rejection, other than an occasional thumbs down on a video.
But all the while, writing kept calling. It pecked at my stagnant creative soul, giving me a sense of lost identity and uncertainty from not following my true life’s purpose.
So here we are, in March 2020.
And I am about to embark on a two-month digital media cleanse. No blogging – either here or at Joyful Miles. No YouTube. No Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Nothing but writing my current women’s fiction work in progress, taking MasterClasses, and Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Formula 101 courses that I just signed up for.
Who knows, maybe one day I’ll give The Glory Girls of Stockyard County another try. I do love that title…
And with that, I wish you a wonderful journey! Happy writing. 🙂