I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was seven years old. I had just read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and I fell for it, hard. The desire to write something that would elicit the same emotions in others that Little Women evoked in me was so intense, it was almost frightening. Thirty-six years later, I finally realized my dream.
It was shortly thereafter that I wrote my first little story. I brought it immediately to my terribly busy mother of eight. She was pulling weeds in the backyard but I will always remember how thrilled I was that she stopped her work to read it. What’s more, it was clear that she wasn’t simply going through the motions. She gave it her full attention and when she was finished, she smiled at me and said, “You should be a writer”. My fate was sealed.
The following year I announced to my class that I was going to be a writer. My teacher suggested that I was a tad ambitious but her doubt only cemented my determination. Between Jr. High and High School, I took four years of typing classes. I read copiously, mostly fantasy, now commonly known as speculative fiction. I wrote short stories, epic poetry and song lyrics.
It wasn’t until after I had graduated from high school and began working as a receptionist that I attempted my first full length novel. It was a fantasy (I was a passionate anglophile steeped in the canon of Arthurian legend) written during work hours which is why, I suppose, I was never able to focus on it properly.
When I was twenty-five, I decided to read what was known as a “regency romance”, better described as “Jane Austen era romance for the discerning mind”. Smitten instantly, I knew, a few books in, that this is what I wanted to write.
I penned my first full length book during my oldest child’s nap time. He was a prolific napper which meant he didn’t sleep much at night, but no matter; I had a book. I never submitted it for publication but I felt great about having written one in its entirety.
A few years later a friend asked me if I would like to join her in taking an adult education class: “How to Write a Romance”. I was fairly certain the class would focus on contemporary romance, something in which I had little interest, but I decided to take the course, anyway. Our initial assignment was to write the first scene of a romance novel, which the students took turns reading aloud in class the following week.
Eventually, it was my turn to read and I could hardly wait to learn my teacher’s reaction. When I arrived at the part where the hero rose his brow haughtily, she interrupted me. “Why in the world would your hero do such a thing?” she demanded.
“Um, well, I don’t exactly, except that’s what the heroes in regency romances do.”
“Well, for heaven’s sake,” she said, throwing her hands into the air (she was deliciously intense and I admired her so much I wrote her into my story the very next week) “write a regency!”
As I had been raised with a profound respect for authority, I viewed her suggestion more as a command. By the following week, I had written the first chapter of Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind, which I read aloud in class with some trepidation. I was certain my instructor would interrupt me as she had the other students but I managed to read without a word from her until I was done, at which time she said: “You are publishable!”.
At this point I had been waiting for someone other than my mother to say these very words for nearly twenty years. I was now unstoppable. At one chapter per week, it took me six months to write Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind, which I hadn’t the courage to submit to a publisher until a few years later.
Sadly, the regency romance genre was going away and I waited too long to submit. By the time I received my first rejection, I knew of no other options. I put the book in a box (I am clearly aging myself) and wondered whether or not I should write another. I stayed active, for a while, with my various writing groups but the needs of my growing family soon made it impossible to focus on anything else.
Looking back, I am absolutely certain I made the right decision, but at the time, it was a difficult one to make. However, I knew that if I did not fully “give up” the idea that I would ever be a professional writer of lovely books, I would feel torn and the pain would be too great. Such is the lot of the temperamental artist who feels genuine pain when forced to stop writing to attend to a dirty diaper. It seems I was stoppable, after all.
About ten years later, the friend with whom I took the writing class sold her first manuscript to Avalon Books. I was so happy for her! She sold a second and I was so happy for her! Then she sold them a regency romance (I must confess, I am responsible for getting her hooked on those) and I felt the first twinge of envy. I pushed the feeling aside, however, and turned my attention to whether or not this was one of those times that called for the sending of flowers or balloons.
This friend, however, wanted for me the same blessing she so happily enjoyed. She emailed me, called me and pressured me until I finally agreed that it would be wonderful to see my Magnum opus between covers. (When I did finally see my words inside of a real book, it was so surreal that I became light-headed and nearly swooned.) She was so certain that Avalon would publish my book that it came as a bit of a shock when they rejected it only two weeks later. However, the rejection letter came with a few suggestions for changes that, if made, could lead to a more promising submission.
I sent my youngest off to school, dragged my determination out of my socks and went to work. I resubmitted before the month was out and, finally, thirty-six years after my mother decreed my fate, I “got the call” (a grand moment that I’ve already blogged about.)
Avalon Books went on to publish the sequel to Miss Delacourt, known as Miss Delacourt Has Her Day, a fact of which I am rather proud as sequels are somewhat unheard of in the traditional regency romance genre. Shortly thereafter, my publisher and all of its backlist were sold to Amazon.com. My Miss Delacourt books were republished via Montlake Romance and my journey as a bona fide writer was well under way. There are now two additional full length books added to the Miss Delacourt series (all of which can be read with great satisfaction as stand alones) a novella, and three short stories, as well as a spin off series in the works based on a secondary character from Miss Delacourt’s world.
There have been more than the three women I have mentioned who have supported, helped and aided me in my journey and for each and every one of them, I am very grateful.