Why be a writer? Because you’re burning up with stories and ideas you just have to get down on paper (virtual paper these days) or you’ll go mad–probably are a bit crazy anyway. I have this theory about writers, those who are on medication and those who should be. I am, but wasn’t for years. Not until my breakdown right in the middle of Chapter Two of my upcoming release, Kira Daughter of the Moon. Took me years to finish that novel. *Note, it’s also essential to love chocolate and coffee, or in my case, Earl Grey tea. Writers function on caffeine. Avoid the whiskey.
In the beginning (about age twenty) I drew a picture of a clock with a dissatisfied face and angrily named it a ‘watch-gog’ because I felt that’s all I was doing, watching others live their dreams, and yearned to throw myself into a creative venture. But what? All my family members were artistic and Lord knows I’d tried. Painting and drawing eluded me. I was no hawk-eyed photographer. I’d made some swell collages, but that didn’t seem enough. My arts and crafts weren’t as expertly done as others. Though, I must say, those tuna fish cans I decorated with Christmas scenes were charming.
Yes, I loved to write, since I could hold a crayon, and poured myself into poetry and short stories. Was there something more? For the next twenty years I crafted pieces about rural life and gradually gained the seed of confidence to give myself permission to attempt those historical romance novels I so loved to read. At long last, I’d begun. Could it be, was I actually a writer, and how would I know when I’d ‘arrived?’
Mountains loomed before me, and still do, with every new book. Publication, of course, was the ultimate pinnacle of success, but I discovered contests–some quite prestigious. If I excelled in those, not only might it pave the way toward my giddy goal but would lend me the credibility I hungered for. Certain I was ready for the initial launch, I entered my first RWA® Chapter Contest. While awaiting the results, I planned my acceptance speech for the awards banquet. Whether they even had one or not, I don’t recall, but clearly remember sitting in utter bemusement holding those first score sheets. “You broke every rule,” wrote an equally bemused judge.
Rules??? Was Charles Dickens guided by rules, and what of Jane Austen? *Note to self, you are not Dickens or Austen, nor do you live in their time period. But that same judge tossed me a lifeline, “You have talent,” she said, “apparent in your beautiful descriptions.”
This at least was a place to begin. And so I did. With each step forward, there was always someone along the way to lend yet more constructive criticism which I balked at, but eventually accepted and grew from. Along with those beneficial guides were individuals who continually smacked me down. Most of them were called agents and editors. But I got back up, brushed myself off, and onward ho I went. I cherished the good rejection letters, a personal note containing a high-five along with the inevitable ‘but.’ But, your work doesn’t—fill in the blank.
Yes, indeed, I’ve had hundreds of rejections over the years. To cheer myself up, I’d throw mini rejection parties (weekly) attended mostly by myself and the dogs. We jigged around the kitchen to lively Celtic music. Well, at least I did. They tolerated being leapt over in my spritely steps. Being on Riverdance was another dream, but I digress. (Often)
Back in the snail mail days, my dear hubby handed me my mail referring to these inevitable replies as my ‘Dear John’ letters. To gain the fortitude needed to open these dreaded missives, I inked the initials C. D. H. on the outside of my SASE which stood for Courage Dear Heart, a reference to my beloved Aslan from the Narnia Chronicles by CS Lewis. Later, I found it easier to be rejected by email, though not a lot.
Eventually, after about ten years, I landed an excellent agent and thought this is it–I’ve arrived in the Promised Land! But no, not even she could sell my work to traditional NY publishing houses, no matter how much she extolled it or how many awards I’d garnered. They didn’t want stories set in early America. Not sexy, not kewl. Since when?
So my agent and I amicably parted ways and I spotted a new ship on the horizon, an untraditional publisher, fast–gaining recognition, The Wild Rose Press. Right off, I was smitten by the name and their rose garden theme. Next to writing, my passion is gardening. At the top of their homepage is a rose that looks very much like my favorite variety by English breeder David Austen called Abraham Darby. It was a sign unto me. I was forever seeking signs…must be my superstitious Scots-Irish forebears. It’s also Biblical…
Many years and awards later, I have multiple books out with The Wild Rose, more releases coming this fall, and several self-pubbed titles. My best-selling novel, American historical romance, Red Bird’s Song, is the first book I ever wrote, oft rewrote, and the one mentioned above in that contest where I broke all the rules.
I’ve learned so much in my journey, it’s difficult to know where to begin when offering advice to aspiring authors. One nugget I’ll share is to be specific in your word choices. Don’t ‘move’ across the room when you can stomp or tip-toe. Rather than a vague choice like ‘object,’ how about a dusty heap of bones? Anything that gives a clear visual will grab the reader far better than iffy imagery. Appeal to all five senses–make that six, and don’t neglect the deep sense a character possesses of what has been, is now, and may be. Take care not to overuse words, expressions, descriptions, or words ending in ‘ly.’ No doubt you’ve heard this countless times, but ‘show don’t tell’ is vital. Keep any telling to relevant snippets interspersed with action and dialogue.
Most of all, write what you love and persevere. Learn from those helpful guides along the way. Keep on going like a sled dog in a blinding snow storm. For years, that’s what I compared myself to. Remember,“You are not finished when you lose, you are finished when you quit.”
Did I ever threaten to quit? Many times. And then I’d ask myself, what are you gonna do now. Write, of course. It’s what I do.
*Image above of me writing with some of the grandbabies beside me. Pic of my favorite rose taken by daughter Elise. The rest of the images are royalty free.