Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Rest of the Story

Willow said yesterday in a comment that she'd wondered how I got started writing -- here's the rest of the story, lifted from the FAQ on my website (which, in case you look at it, is sadly in need of updating.)

Q – How did you start writing?

A -- O moon, moon,/ Way up in the sky,/ I love you though/ You have but one eye. That was my first poem. I was very young and my grandfather’s secretary typed it on an orange index card, giving it great legitimacy. I always did well at creative writing in school and had a vague idea that I would like to be a writer. I took one creative writing class in college and produced a truly awful short story called (blush) “Too Late the Snow.”

Then I got married just a few months before graduation and taught English for nine years and then we moved to the farm and ‘life its ownself’ just overwhelmed me. Occasionally I would write a poem, or a little story, but mainly for my own enjoyment. During the years my younger son was playing soccer, I would pass the time during his practice (yes, I was a soccer mom) writing down everything interesting I could remember about my family and childhood.

You see, my idea of getting published was The New Yorker. And---I can’t remember---I think I sent them something –maybe a poem – 30 or 40 years ago. And, oddly enough, they turned it down. So if I couldn’t be published there, I guess I just decided to hell with it.

But then in 1999 a friend and I wrote a how-to book featuring the forty plus quilts that the women of our community had made over the past twenty five years. A publisher bought our book and we had the great joy of seeing our work in print. This was fun.

So when Karol, my co-author, said she was signing up for a writing class at our local community college, I signed up too. The class “Writing Fiction That Sells" was taught by Bill Brooks, who writes westerns as well as, recently, more literary novels (Stone Garden, Pretty Boy, Bonnie and Clyde; A Love Story). This was in September of 2000. The class met one night a week for six weeks and Bill covered fundamentals of plot, setting, characters, dialogue, etc.

Most importantly, I learned that you have to have an agent. Bill told us how to query agents and discussed various things such as the importance of the first sentence, paragraph, page of the book. He also encouraged us to start a novel, rather than just do unrelated pieces. That’s when I began Elizabeth Goodweather. Bill suggested that we write what we knew and write what we read. I read lots of things but I have always been a fan of mysteries. I felt that I had a pretty good idea of how they work and I also felt that, as a first time author, I would have a better chance of being published with a series rather than a stand alone type book.

At the last class, I asked Bill to tell me what he thought was my greatest strength and what was my greatest weakness. He snorted and said “You don’t have the passion it takes to write.” (He didn’t say what my strength was.) I guess I took that as a challenge.


Four of us from the class (there had been only 6 or 8 ) decided to keep meeting and read to each other what we were working on. We did and I tried to do a chapter a week. But life kept intervening and it was almost a year before I actually finished my first novel and started trying to find an agent. I worked very hard on my query letter and sent them out in batches. The rejections slips started coming back and it was pretty disheartening but every once in a while there would be a personal note of encouragement which kept me going. Finally, after what seemed like years but was actually three months, I received an offer of representation from Ann Collette of the Helen Rees agency

Now the novel I had written was about Elizabeth Goodweather but she was not at her farm in the mountains; instead she was on vacation at the coast. (This for the simple reason that I had been at the coast just before the class began and had been intrigued by the Blackbeard legend.) My agent showed my novel to several editors and each time she got a response something like “Well written -- an engaging character. But a series needs to begin in the main character’s home surroundings so that readers will fall in love with the setting as well as the character.”

“Well,” said Ann, (God bless her!) “Let’s put this aside. Write another one with Elizabeth in the mountains and I’ll sell that. And maybe later on you can redo the first one and let it come third or fourth in the series.”

Disappointing – but I knew I could do it and I knew the next one would be better. So I wrote Signs in the Blood. And I was fortunate enough to end up with a two book contract with Bantam Dell and the incredible Kate Miciak as an editor. And now I'm on my sixth book -- still with Kate and still with Ann .

That first book? It's on some dusty floppy disk somewhere. The last time I looked at it I found it a tad embarrassing.



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5 comments:

Margie said...

Hi Vicki, I am so happy to be back visiting all my favorite blogs. I love the rest of the story, your writing career was indeed destined, and being able to take rejection is useful in all walks of life, a life lesson. Thank you for visiting Margie's Crafts in my absence and again on my return. I love to read your comments.

willow said...

Vickie, this is all so very intriguing. I feel inspired and at the same time so out of touch with the process of it all. Thanks for these posts, I poured over every word.

Merisi said...

"That first book? It's on some dusty floppy disk somewhere. The last time I looked at it I found it a tad embarrassing."

This really touches me, it being written by somebody who has five published books under her belt nad a sixth one in the works! Thank you!

Carol @ TheWritersPorch said...

Vicki, you are exactly where you are ment to be doing what you are ment to do and doing a "damn fine job" of it! *muwah*

Vicki Lane said...

Hi, Margie -- I enjoyed visiting your blog and seeing your pictures from France.

Willow -- I was totally unaware of the process when I began -- just winging my way through! There's worlds of help on the Internet -- and you have a friend right here to answer questions if you pursue your idea of writing a memoir.

Merisi -- They say every published author has an unpublished first book (or several) under the bed gathering dust.

Thank you, Carol! At least my alleged career keeps me out of trouble.