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“I’ve always wanted to write a novel…”
I hear this a lot. It comes as no surprise to me because I truly believe everyone has a story to tell. But only a few end up actually doing it–getting their stories down and then sending them out into the world. Which ones actually pick up pen and paper, or fire up their computers and actually go for it? There’s such power in taking action on your own behalf, in finally saying, “Today’s the day.”
I have a little card stuck on the bulletin board in my study with a handwritten reminder: “This is your shot.”
Don’t take my word for it. Here’s a quick note from Mary Guterson, author of We Are All Fine Here.
“In college, I didn’t know what to do with myself so I became a speech therapist. I figured I could work in the schools, have my summers off, and make enough money to live off of until some Hollywood director discovered me and made me into a movie star. I’d always wanted to be a movie star. Turned out no Hollywood directors were seeking their next discovery in the halls of my suburban Seattle elementary school. Turned out also, I didn’t care for other people’s children. Major career mistake, any way you looked at it.
“One day, a friend of mine pulled a draft of a novel she’d written out of a drawer and handed it to me. I couldn’t believe it. An entire book, written while I’d been doing my best to enjoy the world of lateral lisps and teachers’ lounges. For years, I’d dreamed of writing, but it had always seemed an impossible dream, as unlikely as my becoming a movie star. Who could just sit down and write a book? I stared at my friend’s pile of typed pages. Then I went home and gave it a shot….”
So there you go. What have you done for the writer in you today?
It’s the 20th anniversary of the publication of my first book. My debut novel was published in April, 1987.
At the time, I was writing two types of fiction. The G.A.N. (Great American Novel) and romance novels. Here is my first author photo. Jay took it with his ancient Nikon SLR and the reason for this Goth-in-the-headlights look is that I was trying to resemble a Serious Novelist who can’t be bothered to straighten up her bookshelves or smile. The dress has literary significance, which I was sure readers would notice. I bought it in San Miguel de Allende, where we went one year because there was a reference to it in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
Back then, we were scraping by on teachers’ salaries, our daughter was two, we had been married nearly seven years and it appears I had no budget for getting a haircut. I probably didn’t have the time, what with the baby, husband and job. My writing time was restricted to nine to midnight every night, and I wrote two books a year that way. (This might explain why my daughter is an only child.) I wrote my first drafts in longhand and typed them up on an ancient Olivetti manual typewriter. After finishing two manuscripts that way, I upgraded to a Sears “Correct-O-Ball” electric typewriter and wrote the next one on that. I tried some sort of computer called an “Adam” which saved its data on a cassette tape and it was a godawful machine. But I sold that book and a few more and got a decent computer made by Bell that had a program called “WordPerfect 4.2″ on it.
Here I am 20 years later, able to afford help with the hair, makeup and photographer (and much more in need of same than the girl above). I’ve given up trying to be serious, and it’s working well for me. Some things that haven’t changed–I still write in longhand on the same kind of paper with the same kind of pen. I still write multiple drafts. I still use WordPerfect (X3, I think). I still haven’t written the G.A.N. but I’ve had a lot of books published. So life is good.
Sitting down and writing a novel is a solitary pursuit, but actually making a 20-year career out of being a published author takes a dedicated team. So many people have helped me along the way and at the risk of hearing a swell of get-off-the-stage music in my head, I’d like to thank some of them here:
- My family, who never set any limits on my dreams and who who made growing up all over the world an adventure
- My adorable husband, for giving me the reason for all this
- My girlfriends (and you know who you are), cheerleading me on and taking the time to read every book I write, even when their book clubs are reading lit-rah-choor
- Wendy McCurdy, then an editor at Kensington Books, for buying that first novel
- The Petri Dish (and you have no idea who you are, but then again, neither does anyone else)
- My writers’ groups on the island and mainland, and organizations for writers–the Authors Guild, RWA, Novelists, Inc. and Field’s End
- My literary agent Meg, aka the Don King of publishing
- My truly gifted editor, editorial director and the whole chain-of-command at my publisher
- My CPA and bookkeeper for taking care of business
- Booksellers, reviewers and librarians for getting the word out and putting my books in readers’ hands
- …and readers everywhere. There is no writing career without you.
Happy anniversary to me!
The one I took today is related to the shocking Newsweek expose about Baby Boomers turning sixty. The part I couldn’t resist was the online quiz to see what I know about Boomer Lit–you know, the books we all grew up on, like Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margaret or Ribsy or Bright Lights, Big City. I didn’t ace it, but my score in the 81-90 range was respectable. So I didn’t know how many wives Norman Mailer has had, and I didn’t know which one he stabbed in the back, so sue me. Oh, and I can’t actually say I’ve read Steal This Book so I guessed wrong there.
Go take the quiz. Tell me how you did.
In my family, everyone reads and it’s been that way for generations. I actually have copies of two books that have belonged to four generations of women in my family–my grandmother, my mother, me and my daughter. The books? To Kill a Mockingbird, and Dandelion Wine. I actually sent Ray Bradbury a letter showing him where we’d all put our initials in our copy of Dandelion Wine, and bless him, the man wrote me back.
I find myself wondering who wrote that quiz.
I was a kid during the 60′s and 70′s, but I remember Five Smooth Stones, Leon Uris books, and a huge revival of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I read The Hobbit as a seventh grader living in Brussels, Belgium. I used to hide out in the school library, skipping class in order to finish. Funny how you recall where you were when you read a certain book, eh?