Thursday, July 30, 2009

An ounce of prevention

I shouldn't have gotten a laptop. I shouldn't have picked up a pen in the first place. At first, it seemed innocent enough—a few scrawled pages in my sketch pad. I wasn't even using a proper notebook. The idea sat for two years, and I didn't mention it to anyone except my husband and my best friend.

I used to wander around the library and take home three or four titles and enjoy the ride. Now I have a list of books I'd like to read, but when I take my kids to the library, I feel guilty about checking one out, because I should be writing. It kills a whole day because I read books in one sitting- whether they are Harry Potter-size, or a compact 150 page YA. See, there it is again. A year ago, I would have called it 'juvenile fiction', the way the library does, but no longer. To the publishing industry, it is YA. I have switched sides.

I harbored the elements of an aspiring writer: a scribbled story idea, a publication in my high school literary magazine—page one, thank you very much—one college level creative writing class, and a feeling that I had something to say. All I needed was a catalyst.

Don't laugh, but the thing that got me was Twilight. I told you not to laugh.

Reading Twilight did three things for me: gave me hope, showed some rules can be 'broken', and broadened my genre.

As I relived the thrill of first love, I thought "I can do this". I saw myself in Stephenie Meyer- a stay-at-home mom with three boys. (I have three boys plus a 'bonus' girl, but the comparison was close enough.) I kept bumping into Stephenie. An interview on NPR. Friends everywhere toted her books. She requested me as a friend on Facebook, er, um, something like that. And then the movie came out and all the girls from church had a party and went to see it. I kept thinking "My idea is that good."

I'd read that third person limited was the way to go for a beginning writer, and I'd swallowed it. After writing twenty plodding, effortful pages in third person, Twilight reminded me that anything was possible, and I could write in first person. (It pained me to throw out those first pages. Now if I can cut a few paragraphs, I feel I've struck gold.) Suddenly, my character was more than a sketch, she was alive. I started writing eight to ten pages a day, crammed into nap time, play time, and after bedtime.

I alternated going to bed after 2 a.m. with waking up before 6. My husband falls asleep about sixty seconds after head-to-pillow, so I would go to bed with him, wait for his breathing to change, and then get up and write. (I told him what I was doing, but he goes to sleep better if I'm there. Courtesy, not deceit.)

Twilight also changed my perception of 'romance'. My grandma read one Harlequin a day when she was alive. She and her sisters would garage sale (garage sale is a verb. i.e. 'I'm going garage sale-ing.') every Saturday and then trade boxes of books when they were done. She had emphysema, so she was limited to reading and watching 'Dallas' (remember that theme song? Ba, ba BAAA. Ba ba ba baa baaa. Got it stuck in your brain yet? You're welcome!) I'd read five hundred romances by the time I was fifteen. No offense to romance writers out there, but I'm not interested in reading another as long as I live.

So, I deliberately avoided romance because I aimed for more of a book-club-quasi-literary novel. But my character needed to discover what makes the brutality of life bearable, and the only thing strong enough is love. And not just any love. True love. I'd-die-to-save-you-and-consider-it-a-bargain love. So paranormal romance it is.

After four months and 400 pages, I finished and started looking around for an agent. I mean, once the thing is written, that's what you do, right? I typed up a query, and sent it out to…Query Shark. Whew! I could have really messed up there. The Shark hasn't gotten to it yet, but I've changed it ten times (not kidding), so it doesn't matter. Somehow, by reading agent's, editor's, and writer's rants, pleadings, and sad stories (no particular order to those!), I made the transition from wanting to write a story to wanting to sell a manuscript.

So now I'm compiling a list of possible agents to query. (I read yesterday that you should have 50. Really?) I'm half-way through my third major edit, with at least two more ahead of me. I'm developing relationships with other writers, searching for beta readers, and honing my editing skills with my on-line crit group. I'm planning trips to the bookstore to find comp novels and will search the author acknowledgements for their agents, and if that fails, their websites are next. I'm developing an online presence. (See, here I am.) I'm working on a short story that I hope to put on my query as a such-and-such contest winner.

But where is the balance? I supervise as the kids unload the dishes and put their own clothes away. They vacuum and sweep, and then I do it again. I sewed a dress for my little girl yesterday and we wove construction paper placemats this morning. But behind the busy work, I'm wondering if the night swimming scene where the MC is trying to evade the helicopter with its infrared scopes and the alligator that comes to investigate is too busy. Everything is going wrong except the weather…maybe some lightning. But then the helicopter…see? Even when blogging, I'm working on my story.

My condition is chronic, but I'm okay with that, because my next book is about this Egyptian woman who stops the flow of the river of time to search for her lost child. That's a career plan…or a terminal illness. It's hard to know which.

What were your first symptoms of being a writer and how did you come to terms with your diagnosis?


  1. Not to take anything away from your current book, but that next one sounds awesome.

    I can't wait to read what you've written-- Stephenie Meyer inspired or no : )

  2. Thanks, Jeff. That comment ranks you in my top five favorite people:) The idea for my next book is sketchy, but I wrote the opening scene a few years ago and still can't let it go.