I have been writing in some form or other all of my life, primarily personal journals, but my biggest adventures and life lessons came from stumbling into the world of novel-writing. And I do mean stumble.
I am an Accidental Novelist. (See previous post here.)
I wish I could say I went on to great fame. But I didn’t. (No yet, anyway. <g>) I have had a lot of crazy, disillusioning experiences. Promises made and broken by literary agents and publishing house editors. My style of writing does not fit perfectly into the marketing niches of romance, sci-fi, women’s fiction, mystery, you-name-it. Agents pressured me to “write funny” because that’s what sells. Editors said my writing was wonderful if only . . . If only it was shorter. If only it was longer. If only it was a family saga. If only it wasn’t a family saga. If only it didn’t have paranormal elements. If only it had a vampire. I managed to sell a couple of time-travels before my editor asked me to submit ghost stories. Every time I wrote a proposal to fit an editor’s specific request, I failed miserably.
I walked away from the business many times but I didn’t stop writing. I continued to attend conferences all over the United States. Travel has been one of the highlights of being a writer. So many times I have said, “If I never sell another book, I will always be grateful how writing has taken me places and expanded my life beyond anything I imagined.” Even though I dreamed of publishing again someday, I was not eager to deal with the New York houses. I couldn’t jump through the hoops. Many writer-friends managed to play the game successfully. Sometimes a slot would open in the publishing schedule that needed to be filled ASAP. Their editors would ask them to shorten their deadlines by weeks or months to satisfy the publishing machine. They missed family trips, celebrations and graduations because they needed to turn in their manuscripts early. And how many times have I heard of manuscripts being turned in by the deadline but the editor was too busy to read it to approve release of the acceptance check? Too many. (In all fairness, editors are overworked and underpaid!)
As years passed, I watched some of the best romance writers in the business hit difficult times—a family crisis, divorce, cancer, caring for an elderly/dying parent—resulting in a slowed writing schedule. Or completely stopped. Their dedication and loyalty to their publisher meant nothing. If they missed a deadline or their latest book didn’t sell enough, they were penalized in one way or another. Payments delayed. Contract negotiations stalled. Sometimes the author was unceremoniously dropped. Coincidence? I don’t think so. After all, publishing is a business. But all those tightened deadlines to fill an empty slot meant nothing in the end. Many of the authors were so disheartened they quit.
But I kept writing.
When digital books came on the scene, I balked. Not that I looked down my nose at self-publishing! No, the real deterrent was the mind-boggling amount to learn, not to mention production money and hours of PR that were required to self-pub. No, that wasn’t for me. I’d rather spend my time writing.
I continued to submit book proposals and enter contests. I thought my dry spell had broken when I won a contest and landed a reputable New York agent. But he sat on my book for two years, making excuses every time I asked for updates. When I decided to sever ties, he said it was just as well because he no longer represented category romance or unpublished authors. (My book was mainstream women’s fiction and I am a published author.)
Unable to sell my own work to a New York publisher, I accepted an invitation from a friend to help her write true crime stories about her experiences as a private investigator. Not an easy transition. But it was writing. I learned so much along the way. However, as with my own novels, I could not find an agent to represent the narrative non-fiction.
Then, two years ago, a prolific writer and long-time friend was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away within a few short months. Charlotte Lobb wrote romances and mysteries as Charlotte Maclay and Charlotte Carter. Long ago, I mentored her for two years before she sold her first romance to Harlequin. She also had some ups and downs in the business. And yet she authored over fifty novels. As her books sales far surpassed mine, she expressed her exasperation about my own career. She kept telling me I was the better writer, which was very kind of her. But, deep down, I didn’t have her fierce determination to damn the rejections and forge ahead. I let a few deceptive agents and editors undermine my faith in myself.
Charlotte’s death was my wake-up call. At that time, I realized I was the same age she was when she sold her first book! She would say, “I write faster than you because I don’t have time to waste. I only have so many years left and I have to make the most of them!” And she did! She loved nothing more than to be home at her computer writing those books. If we were at a writing workshop that was not meeting her expectations, she would not waste time waiting until the end. She would quietly slip out the back door and go home to write. After her husband, Chuck, retired, the two of them took “research trips” to Europe and South America that she would turn into another book.
At her memorial service, I was ashamed of myself for wasting so much precious time. Char was one of my biggest cheerleaders and she was gone. It was too late for me to be able to call her on the phone to tell her I finally sold another book.
That day I felt as if she was whispering in my ear, “I don’t give a damn how you do it, get back out there and publish again.”
I started with online classes covering the basics of self-publishing. Daunting? Oh, hell-yes. I also hired a professional editor. I hired a cover artist. I hired a web designer. I learned how to format manuscripts for eBooks and print-on-demand. I took more classes on social media.
I formed Sweetbriar Creek Publishing Company, published two of the narrative nonfiction true crime novels and re-issued some of my back-list books. I have new manuscripts to polish and send to the freelance editor. With luck and a few more hours in every day, I will see the new books published within the coming year.
How the hell I got here is anyone’s guess. It’s a miracle I’m still writing. I am, as I said, an Accidental Novelist. Now I am also an Accidental Publisher. But the places I have been and people I have met along the way have been the biggest, most positive influence on who I am today.
And I owe it all to writing.
I was six or seven, sitting at the redwood picnic, my feet dangling from the bench, unable to touch the concrete. I had a thick green pencil in my hand. The blue-lined tablet paper had random chunks of wood that caused staccato breaks in my printed letters. I loved the words, “Once upon a time.” Every story started the same way. I don’t remember if I showed my stories to anyone. Probably not. If I was caught writing or reading, my mother would say, “If you have nothing better to do than sit around, I have some chores for you.” She was an educated, working woman with a four-year degree in nursing. Not until I was an adult did I wonder why she did not encourage me.
However, I did have a junior high English teacher who nurtured my writing, inviting me to write for the school paper. But when my family moved to a large city, my high school guidance counselor insisted on filling my schedule with science classes. In twelfth grade, I finally found room in my curriculum to join the school newspaper. After turning in a sample article to the teacher, she asked where had I been for the last three years. But her effusive praise did not endear me to the other students who had worked their way up from newbies to senior staff. They made it clear I did not belong.
Despite my apparent writing skill, reading comprehension was difficult. I struggled to maintain good grades, hoping for a scholarship to a college where I could major in journalism. But that didn’t work out. I enrolled in a junior college where I discovered I had more success writing English essays than analyzing classic novels or breaking down sentence structure. I also didn’t have the chops for the highly competitive career in journalism. (Or so said the instuctor.)
Leaving my writing dreams behind, I married a wonderful man and started a family. An eye exam disclosed astigmatism and and myopia (nearsightedness), which explained my difficulty with reading as well as retention of what I read. With prescription glasses, my world transformed from a pencil sketch by Van Gogh to crisp, clear images. I no longer had to re-read a page several times to absorb the information.
Even though I wrote in my journal every day, even though I read more and more books, even though I secretly wished I could go back to college, I didn’t think I would ever become a “real” writer. I was happy to be a stay-at-home mom, enjoying doing things with my kids that I never did when I was young. In hindsight, I know now that I had no self-esteem from long-buried childhood trauma. I battled food addictions intersperced with bouts of bulimia and addiction to diet pills. As a result, I was forty pounds overweight.
Searching for a healthier lifestyle, I followed a friend to Richard Simmons’ Anatomy Asylum where he had designed a program specifically for the overweight member. First, a half-hour motivation class addressing the reasons behind overeating, then an hour of low-intensity aerobics, ending with a brief cool-down as the instructor shared an inspirational thought for the day.
After I lost most of the excess weight, the club manager suggested I become an instructor. Though the idea seemed crazy, I really loved motivating others to reach their goals. So I gave it a shot.
Soon I was teaching three mornings a week. My biggest challenge was finding new topics for the half-hour motivation. One morning, I asked everyone to think of one thing that they’d once wanted to do but never got around to it. It could be anything–ride in a hot air balloon, skydive, see a Broadway show, paint a picture. Sometimes we are unhappy with ourselves for giving up on our dreams so we reach for food to fill that void. We need to look back on those old dreams, and see if there’s still a spark of desire. If so, we can take small steps, like signing up for a painting class. Or save loose change in a jar for that balloon ride.
One of the members asked if I was living my dream. I laughingly replied that a motivational weight-loss instructor had never entered my mind! I had always loved to write. The next day, that same person gave me a college class schedule with “Writing 101” circled in red! She had also picked up a registration packet for me. In one of those “put up or shut up” moments, I signed up for the class, of course!
During the second semester, the teacher read my assignment aloud. I braced myself for his critical analysis. Instead, he looked around the room and held up my paper. “THIS is good writing.” That assignment is the first page of the first chapter of my first book published by St. Martin’s Press.
Shortly afterward, a friend said she admired me for going after my dream of being a writer and becoming a published author. She seemed wistful as if something was on her mind. Once again, I found myself asking, “What is your dream?”
She answered dismissively, “Oh, it’s too late.”
“No. Tell me.”
“I wanted to be a nurse. But I’m too old now.”
“No, you’re not! Your boys are in school. You could take classes at the community college during the day. If you want it, do it!”
She did! She graduated and eventually became a lactation specialist. A few years later, I met a young couple at a dog park. They were expecting their first baby. After the little one arrived, they raved about an amazing nurse who was a God-send, giving them her phone number so she could answer any questions. I was thrilled to learn this sweet nurse was my dear friend.
Not only has writing influenced me in many more ways, it turned out to influence others, too!
Disclosure: I am participating in the “Writing Contest: How Writing Has Positively Influenced My Life,” hosted by Positive Writer. – See more here.
Picture of Gratitude (POG) Day 4. The morning sun breaking through dark storm clouds is a perfect picture of how I feel today.
Due to the dire circumstances with my 5-yr-old great-niece, I chose to write about Alyssa instead of posting POG #3 yesterday. (See it on Instagram.) In case you missed my “#PrayersforAlyssa” post, she fell through a 2nd floor open window onto concrete and fractured her skull. Doctors warned the first seventy-two hours were critical regarding the brain swelling. Today dawns with great news of her improvement! She battled a fever for a short while yesterday but that crisis passed. Xrays show no other broken bones or injuries. Now she is sitting up and talking. She was allowed to stand for a little bit before put back to bed.
I am so grateful for answered prayers. So many people shared my plea for prayers on Facebook–real-life friends and my cyber-friends. Friends of their friends shared. Over sixty-two shares were shared again and again. I have no idea how many prayed for little Alyssa. Hundreds and hundreds. I may never know or be able to thank them individually. Still, I appreciate every single one of them taking a few moments from their busy days to sending healing love and prayers. Bless all of you, wherever you are!
My 5-year-old grand-niece. Alyssa, desperately needs all your prayers and positive energy!
From her mommy (my niece): “Last night the girls opened their bedroom window in the rain storm to hear a neighbor. Alyssa couldn’t see so she decided to get up on the window…. She fell from the second floor and landed on the concrete. Her skull is fractured …. Her brain is bruised/swollen. …. Drs are saying the worst is yet to come with swelling. Please pray for sweet Alyssa.”
I am too far away to do anything but pray and reach out to as many friends as possible. Even if you do not believe in the power of prayer, you can take a moment to look at her picture and imagine her just this way — healthy & happy & smiling again.
Share as much as you wish. #prayersforalyssa
Update: Alyssa’s fever has gone up. We know this is the most difficult hours right now. Must not lose hope.
UPDATE (Saturday late afternoon): In case you missed it in the thread, Mommy Staci posted: “Your prayers are working, her breathing tube is out and she is breathing on her own.”
UPDATE (Sunday morning): Mommy Staci posted: “Alyssa is improving. We had body xrays and have been downgraded to another room in ICU. Fever has broke and vitals to normal.”
I am so happy to wake up to more good news about Alyssa improving!!! Your prayers and shares have filled me with enormous gratitude! Bless all of you for showering Alyssa and her family with love and healing faith!
UPDATE (Sunday afternoon): Mommy Staci posted: “She had sips of water and juice. Xrays show no broken bones beside skull fracture.”
UPDATE (Sunday afternoon): Mommy Staci posted: “Alyssa is so strong. She was able to stand up and sit. She fell asleep in the chair and now is back in bed sleeping.”
[Shared from my Facebook Post: https://www.facebook.com/gilliandoyleauthor]
For decades I lived two blocks from a major thoroughfare, Palo Verde Avenue in Long Beach, California. For a few years, I volunteered for the Gray Whale Census at the Point Vincente Lighthouse on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. PV Pennisula is also the setting of a murder in the true crime novel co-written with Deanne Acuña – LOSING LISA: Intuitive Investigator Series, Book One. Not once did I stop to wonder about the name.
Since moving to Vegas valley I learned the green-bark trees that seem to be everywhere are Palo Verde trees. (The word actually means “Green Stick” in Spanish.) Lately, they have been full of beautiful small yellow flowers. Not only do I enjoy seeing them, now that I know their name, I’m reminded of my old home . . . and I am grateful.