Now it’s my turn to answer Susannac’s question as to how we each wrote that first book. It’s been fascinating to hear how the other Wenches began, and the differences –– as well as the similarities –– it our stories. As with so many things about writing, there seems to be no sure way!
I’m afraid I don’t have any spiral-bound notebooks full of novels in my past. When I was a girl, I thought I’d be an artist, not a writer, so my basement boxes are instead full of sketchbooks. Of course I was a reader before I was a writer –– that’s almost a given with writers. I read “good” books and “bad” books, and everything else from TVGuide to the backs of shampoo bottles in the shower. Like Susan/Sarah, I was also an art history major in college, which meant LOTS and lots of writing and research. I loved history of every kind, and I loved poking around in archives and the rare book room. (I was less enthralled with the micro-film reader, but it was the only way to read 18th century newspapers.)
I do believe the only way to learn how to write is to sit down and do it, the total pages written being roughly equivalent to the reps in weight training. Course, classes, and seminars can help, but the most important part of being a writer has to come from within. I also believe (and learned, the hard way) that academic writing, the kind of writing so dear and necessary to scholarship and university professors, the kind I labored so hard in school to perfect, is inexplicable to the rest of the world. If you want to write fiction that other people will pay for, academic writing needs to be un-learned as soon as you get your degree.
But soon after graduation, I discovered the perfect cure for academic writing: public relations writing. In short order, I learned to write articles, press releases, newsletters, scripts for promotional films, and obituaries. I learned to write clearly, and concisely. More importantly, I learned to write under deadlines.
My office had a subscription to Writers’ Digest magazine, ostensibly for the student interns, but I read it, too. I began to get pie-in-the-sky notions of writing a book, a historical novel. I wanted a different job that would give me more freedom to be home with my children. Writers’ Digest told me historical romance –– something I was already reading –– was a hot, hot, hot market for fiction writers. I believed. When my daughter was born, I had the unbelievable luxury of six months of paid maternity leave. I didn’t know how hard writing would be, or that the odds against anyone getting published were astronomical. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have tried it.
But ignorance truly can be bliss. I already knew I was going to be up all night, just as I knew I’d never have this chance again, so I sat down and began to write my first book, the manuscript that became “Steal the Stars.”
A first book truly is a labor of love, written only to please the writer. Yes, I made zillions of mistakes, from wandering points of view to not having an ending. It was hard work, but it was also FUN, and I did finish my manuscript before I had to go back to work. I boxed it up the way Writers’ Digest said and mailed off a partial, as requested, to an editor at Harlequin that I chosen because I liked her name. Miraculously, she called, and said she was interested, very interested, and would I please send the rest?
I did, and then I waited. And waited. And waited. I made little scripts for myself before I called the publisher to inquire as to the manuscript’s status, and only got so far as the lowest assistant, who put me off. I imagined editorial meetings where they were making fun of my manuscript. I pretty much gave up all hopes of selling it, and concentrated on my “real” job.
But then one morning out of the proverbial blue, with a photographer in my office ready to go out with me on a shoot, I got The Call. Harlequin wanted to buy my manuscript –– but there was far more to the story than that. That first editor whose name I’d liked had long ago left the company, and my manuscript had been forgotten in an unused desk drawer. The senior editor who’d eventually found it had been so mortified that she’d read it at once, liked it, and made me an offer. But the real excitement came from realizing I’d discovered something magical, something I loved doing, and could get paid to do it.
Of course, it still took me five more books before I was earning enough to be able to write full-time, and now some thirty-odd books later, it still can be touch and go (Ahh, sick days! Paid vacations! Pension and health insurance!), yet now I can’t imagine doing anything else.