It’s deadline time for me—and maybe for some of you, too. My eyes are red and baggy. My house is a maze of neglect. My yard looks like a habitat for Sasquatch, and my grandchildren no longer recognize my voice (Ok, so I’m exaggerating a little). But I’ll survive. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 30-year writing career its that the only thing worse than having a deadline is NOT having a deadline.I’ve learned a few other things, too. Let me share them with you.
I started my first novel in the late 1970’s when my youngest started school. It was a time of big, epic books, and I already knew what I wanted to write. For years I’d been fascinated with the Spanish conquest of Mexico, and especially with the woman known as Malinche, who served as interpreter to Hernan Cortes. I wanted to tell her story. The research took me a year, the writing another 18 months. A year later, to make a long story short, I sold MISTRESS OF THE MORNING STAR for more money than I’ve received for any book since.
It gets better. The same publisher bought my second book and signed me to write a series of family saga books about an English family in 1800s China.
I thought I had it made.
My first China book came out as a lead title. By the time I finished the second, the market for epics had died and hot romance was in. I was 100 pages into the third book when I got the news that my contract was cancelled and the publisher was closing up shop.
In the next two years the only thing I wrote was a ghost (literally) job for a writer who’d died in the middle of a male historical action adventure series. I split the small advance for the remaining books with the man’s sweet widow. The books were pretty raunchy for their time, but he was an excellent writer. I had to imitate his style, and I learned a lot. However, my writing career was at such a low ebb that I took a full time job, which turned out to be a good move—but that’s another story.
The week I started my job, my agent sold two proposals to a new publisher. The first, an epic I’d started years earlier, barely made a splash. But they loved, the second book—my very first western! They loved it so much they asked me to write under a pseudonym so they could promote me as a new author. They were grooming me to be one of their stars.
I thought I had it made.
The month CAPTURE THE WIND came out as a lead book, my publishers lost their financial backing and went into bankruptcy. That book was everywhere. But I didn’t even receive the last installment of the advance.
For the next four years I sold nothing. Those years, which I call my dark years, were filled with family tragedies and other difficulties as well. I wrote proposal after proposal. Nothing worked. Until…my agent sold a western proposal to a brand new line, Harlequin Historicals. I had found a home, and I’m still there.
Do I think I have it made? Not on your life! I’ve learned not to take anything for granted. I’ve learned to roll with the punches and change with changing times. Most of all I’ve learned to be happy and grateful writing stories I love and sharing them with my readers.
How about you? How do you deal with setbacks? Have you ever had to reinvent yourself? What advice would you offer a young person?
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