Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Writing Stealing Mercy.

Thirteen years ago when my twin babies were 3 years old and starting preschool, I sat down to write my first novel. I didn’t know what to write so I did some research and came across a small, start up company that wanted to publish “wholesome romance.” I ordered a couple of their books, read them and thought piece of cake. Of course, the cake was much more difficult to digest than I had thought, but after many afternoon preschool writing sessions, I completed my first book and sent it off to Ponder Romance.

The editor called me. She loved my book, but it wasn’t right for them. We talked for nearly ninety minutes and our conversation went something like this: You don’t read romance, do you? You should write what you love to read.

I’d always loved mysteries. When I was in middle school I tried to read every Agatha Christie I could find. As an adult, I loved Elizabeth George, PD James, and Laurie R King and I watched PBS Mystery every Sunday night. So, I wrote mysteries. Three of them, which doesn’t seem so onerous until you consider that the first one took me three years. (Alright, I admit I was the mother of six children who attended five different schools, participated on a host of athletic teams, and played four different instrument. Plus I was the first counselor in a young women’s presidency, which doesn’t sound so bad until you consider that the young women’s president was dying of cancer and didn’t want to be released. In short, I was very busy and so it took a very long time for my librarian to discover the piano teacher had killed the insane aunt.)

And then I became a Relief Society president. And my eyes were opened to a grittiness I‘d never encountered before. The world became a darker, scarier place. I stopped watching Mystery and I stopped reading them. I still enjoy novels that present a puzzle and a mental challenge, but I’ve stopped reading and writing mysteries.

Once one of my writing instructors looked me in the eye and said, you are a mystery writer, you are not a romance writer. Well, I can be whatever I decide. And I’m lucky because I’ve a good friend who has not only published more than a hundred novels for Harlequin, but she also teaches. So, I hired her to coach me for the Golden Heart (the Romance Writer’s of America contest).

Stealing Mercy is my attempt at romance. I had so much fun writing it. I love my story, heroine and hero. Still, although it’s sad to say, I think that very first kindly editor from Ponder Romance and the well intended writing instructor were probably right. I’m really not a romance writer, because I’m not a romance reader. Stealing Mercy was probably best categorized as a historical romaction until I threw in the contemporary genealogist. Now, it can probably be put under that huge umbrella of women’s fiction. When Covenant Books requested it, they asked me to take out the genealogist and, to my beta reader’s dismay, I did. Ultimately, Covenant Books wasn’t interested in Stealing Mercy, which doesn’t surprise me. After all, it’s about a brothel.

But, since I intend on self-publishing, I can define the genre, write about brothels and genealogists if I so choose. And only hope that someone (anyone at all?) will choose to read it.

Somewhere in the history of this blog I posted its first chapter. My goal is to publish Stealing Mercy before my Dad’s birthday bash this summer so that when my cousins "ask what do you do?" I can say, I write stories. Please read my book and tell me what you think.

(I love large families.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Nancy Drives the Carpool

Paulie Marshall wrote: “Sometimes a person has to go back, really back – to have a sense of understanding of all that’s gone to make them – before they can go forward.”

I’d like to point out that we bought our fifteen passenger van because Alex, husband to Nancy and the most geared headed person we know, recommended the Ford 150 vans. When we were younger and had flocks of children, Nancy drove a 150 and I drove a 350 extended van. And it was great. There were many times when I had my six children, Nancy and her five children and a couple of dogs in the van. We were always noisy, but generally happy.

Nancy’s kids are now all adults and she drives a Mercedes convertible which comfortably seats Nancy and her dog, Sandy. Last week I asked Nancy if she could drive my carpool. Since she works at the school where my girls attend and I knew that her family has a collection of cars in a variety of sizes, didn’t think this would be a problem.

On the given day, Nancy forgot to trade cars with her daughter and she found herself in front of the school folding four teenagers into a car built for two. Taylor sat in front. Natalie, Miranda and Alex squished into the back, sitting, pretty much on top of each other. No one cried and no one died, although I’m sure there was a lot of bouncing and groaning as they rolled over speed bumps.

There’s a lot of life lessons to be learned from this experience.

Even though after one look at Taylor, Nancy knew her car was inadequate for the job, she still showed up and did the best she could with humor and grace.

Just like the ducking that occurred when Nancy and crew passed a police car so they wouldn't be cited for clearly breaking the seatbelt law, sometimes you have to keep your head low and try to accomplish what needs to get done without drawing unnecessary attention.

As we get older and pass from one stage of life to the next, it’s easy to forget. As a mom of teenagers and young adults, I sometimes forget about bottles, pacifiers, and the need for large vans.

On the days when my semi-grown children are challenging, it’s easy to feel nostalgic for the days when they brought me flowers and drew me pictures. They were sweet and my memories of their childhoods are tender, but I have to remember the tantrums, spilt milk and the carpet that smelled of spit up and urine.

And then be grateful for the convertibles of this stage of life.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When the Hooray Goes Away

Last week I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the LDS Storymaker’s writing conference. I loved it and I learned a lot of things. I found every workshop I attended helpful and most made me stop and rethink my work. Storylines, concept, and theme – it’s all a little more clear and focused. But, I think the most important thing I learned was something I discovered pretty much on my own.

At lunch time, I randomly sat down next to a literary agent. We chatted. She told me she represented young adult fiction and I told her I had written such a thing. She told me to send it to her. This has happened to me before. I’ve met agents, they’ve requested my work, and my typical response is cool, calm adult behavior on the outside and childlike yippies and hoorays on the inside. This time, no yippee, no hooray, more of a thoughtful hmmmm…..

I took a class on marketing your book (an excellent class) and the presenter discussed the marketing strategies of different authors. One author spent eight hours a day, six days a week, for three months doing book signings in Costcos. Another author had a $10 thousand dollar marketing budget from her publisher and spent another $10 thousand of her own. She didn’t make anything on her first book, but is now making money on her second and third book. Even my friend Neal, a brilliant writer who collects awards like redheads grow freckles, is never home. He spends days, weeks and months away at school visits, which is noble work, but he's not writing and he's not home. Which might be fine for Neal, but it wouldn't be fine for me. (I'm a hermit.)

I spent the weekend with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. I’d get up early in the morning and run along the canyon to the Bountiful temple. The mountains were covered with snow. The air is clear there. From Cynthia’s window you can see the temple and the Great Salt Lake. It’s incredibly beautiful. On a wall in Cynthia’s entry she’s hung pictures. She has ten children and 26 grandchildren.

I tried to explain to Cynthia some of my ambivalence towards the agent’s request and this was her advice. (I applied it to my writing, but I think it could be generally applied to any situation). Look at your next five years and what do you see? I see graduations, missions, babies and weddings. I think it’s completely possible that five of my six children could marry in the next five years. Maybe some would even marry within months or weeks of each other. Babies could happen. Can anything be more fun than weddings and babies? Certainly, sitting at Costco for three months would not be fun. Traveling from school to school would not be fun. My life is full… much too full to do anything I don’t want to do.

And so, I’m passing on the agent’s request and considering self-publishing (excuse me, I mean indie-publishing) and not because I’m tempted by the siren song of greater royalties. It’s silly to believe that anything I personally published could sell as well as something backed by a professional team armed with experience and thousands of marketing dollars.

But, maybe, for me, that’s not the point. I’ve written for years without any monetary compensation and so I’ll continue. I’ve written mysteries, romances and young adult stories, because at that moment, that’s what I wanted to write. Currently, I’m working with a very cranky, somewhat hostile ghost. I wouldn’t have that luxury if I had a publisher to please. The ghost shouting my ear wouldn’t exist if I had to listen to editors, an agent and a publishing house.

It’s odd and yet freeing to abandon a life-long dream, to set it down and say this really doesn’t work for me.

Because, quite simply, I don’t want to turn something I love into work.