When I start doing interviews for a new release, I’m always asked how I got started writing. Because the real story is a long one, I give a brief version or answer that I always wrote. Here’s the rest of the story….
The first story I ever wrote was called The Pink Dress. I stapled the pages into a book and drew a cover. I don’t remember how old I was. Maybe eleven. Many years later, I wrote a short story, submitted it, and received a rejection from Redbook magazine. I was fourteen and I still have the story and the rejection slip. I still remember the feeling of rejection and disappointment when I received it. My first complete novel was titled The Rebel. I’m actually too embarrassed to tell you what it was about, but the title would have sold well to Silhouette, don’t you think? In fact it probably has. I was sixteen when I wrote it.
I wrote in notebooks for years while my children were growing up, and I started a couple of books that way. I never got serious until my youngest daughter went to first grade. I was lost without her, but instead of having another baby, going to school or getting a real job, like many women with empty nest syndrome, I decided that was the time to write the book I’d always wanted to write.
All The Tender Tomorrows. Great title, eh? Ambitious undertaking. Great characters. No plot. Passive, passive, passive writing. A totally unsellable time period. I typed it on an old manual Smith-Corona, with an “A” that struck half a line below all the other letters, and the manuscript underwent at least three or four complete rewrites.
I didn’t know it was passively written. I didn’t know it was a time period no one would buy. I thought it had a great plot—I was involved. LOL I sent it to many, many publishers—most major publishers, in fact. What they should have said in their rejection letters was: “This doesn’t fit our present needs, and if it ever does, we’ll shoot ourselves.” But they didn’t.
However, I did not receive constructive rejections; I got vague form rejections. But I did learn to persevere. I wrote the whole thing from beginning to end and rewrote it as many times and as many ways as I knew how. And if one of those publishers had told me how to change it to make it better, I’d have done that, too.
Soft Summer Magic came next, a contemporary. The pool man story. Spoiled rich girl gets her comeuppance when her father’s Midwest bank goes broke and she has to work as a nanny for the guy who maintained her pool—and she learns he is the owner of the company. A slim bit of conflict. A lot of steamy romance and sexual tension and some love scenes I still remember…not terrible. Would it sell today? Perhaps rewritten. Will I? No.
Brotherly Love a.k.a. A Kindred Oath followed that. It was another contemporary. A young man’s dying brother makes him promise to take care of his widow after he’s gone. Some conflict. Some plot. Fair characters. Not redeemable. But I sent it out, too. Both of those were rejected by all the contemporary publishers.
Through All The Tears. This was an attempt at the inspirational market. (I also tried to sell articles and devotionals and all other kinds of projects in between these stories.) Dumb story. Dumb plot. Didn’t finish it. But it had some really well written pages in it, so I was developing something. A voice perhaps.
The Birthright was a story I loved from its very conception. I fell in love with my research on this endeavor. The first draft had page after page after page of all the fascinating details I’d learned. I included nearly my whole notebook full of notes into the story.
Mind you, this was still before I ever found a writers organization. I was reading the outdated how-to books from the library and thinking I could do this. I worked on this story for a few years. After several rewrites—and buying a second-hand IBM Selectric typewriter, I had a good thing going. I really thought I was uptown with that electric beast. Baby, I had arrived. This book would be a best seller.
I mean this typewriter even had those nifty little eraser papers you held against the paper and re-typed over—no more globs of white out all over the striker keys, or white out plastered so thick on the page, it chipped off all over my desk.
I did great—unless I took the page out of the carriage. It was not impossible to get it back just exactly the way I took it out so I could fix it, but there’s only so much time in a year, you know?
I submitted that manuscript to all the publishers. And they all rejected it. By that time I was the query letter queen. I knew just what to say to get them to ask for my entire book. Everyone asked to see it–no one wanted to buy it.
Around this time I found RWA and a local chapter. And I started learning. All along I’d thought I was so prolific. I never had writer’s block. I just sat down at the keyboard and wrote and wrote and wrote. Words flew off my fingers onto the pages.
Well, then I learned about passive writing and studied Swain, and found out about motivation/reaction and feeling/action/speech and CONFLICT! And I learned why I’d blissfully written so easily for so long. Ignorance was bliss. I was writing crap. Fixing it was a monumental task.
At this point, since I’d learned so much and was now such an improved writer, I decided to start something new.
This Business of Love. (I’m still going to use this title someday.) Another contemporary attempt. I had joined a critique group by this time. Boy, was it hard learning how much work my writing really needed.
The characters wouldn’t leave me alone, so I went back to The Birthright. I rewrote it. And then I got very, very, very brave—and had it critiqued by (the late) Diane Wicker-Davis, an Avon author and member of our chapter at that time. A few weeks later, I got the critique; Diane went over her thoughts with me. She’d Xed out page after page and written “nothing happening” in the margins. I couldn’t look at it or go back to any writing for two solid months. But in my heart, I realized she knew what she was talking about.
I was never going to have a better opportunity, so I rewrote it again, using her edits and suggestions. And I submitted it again–and had it rejected by an agent who actually gave me two pages of suggestions. I rewrote it again. And she rejected it again.
I stuck it on a shelf.
My next project was Rain Shadow. By that time I was taking care of my first grandchild while my daughter worked, still raising two children at home, and working 40 plus hours a week at a “job” job. When I look back, I can’t imagine how I managed it all, but I did.
I wrote every available minute. When I was writing Rain Shadow, I was working some pretty crazy hours, but whenever I wasn’t at work, I was in front of my computer. My children took turns fixing supper, and they learned to leave me alone while I was working. My husband, who’d never turned on the washer in his life, learned to do laundry. I wasn’t always happy with the results, but hey, he did it. For nearly a year, I barely attended any family gatherings. My husband took the kids and left me home, undisturbed, to work.
The first editor I sent the manuscript to was one I’d met at a conference—I spent the entire morning before the appointment in the bathroom being sick. She asked to see the complete manuscript. For months, I waited on pins and needles.
She rejected it: Anton was unheroic and Rain Shadow was unfeminine. Well what did she know? She was just the senior editor at Big Publishing House. Being me, I had the manuscript out to other people and places, too, and soon an agent called to tell me she loved the story and she was sure she could sell it. Harlequin bought it four months later.
Then I learned about line edits and copy edits and cover art sheets, and after the dust settled, I went to the pile and thought, “Hmmm….” I pulled out The Birthright, which I had retitled Heaven Can Wait in one of the many rewrites, and mailed it to my editor, with a letter asking what I could do to get her to by it. A few weeks later, she called with the answer. “Cut a hundred pages and much of the God stuff.” I did. She cut more. I finally saw that book in print.
After selling Land of Dreams, Saint or Sinner, and Badlands Bride, my agent convinced me to test the contemporary waters, so I’ve written several contemporaries over the years as well.
The Preacher’s Wife, which will be out in just another week or so, is my thirty-second published book, and my first inspirational for Steeple Hill Love Inspired. I’ve come a along way since stapling pages and drawing my own covers, but I still enjoy the process of creating stories.