I wrote about my life. I wrote about make believe lives. I wrote the obligatory last-two-people-left-on-the-planet post-nuclear stories every Baby Boomer claimed as his or her own special territory. I published my first story in Katy Keene Comic Books when I was nine years old and that first taste of the writing life was addictive. I was definitely hooked. I wrote for comic books. I published Letters to the Editor in 'Teen Magazine and Ingenue. I won contests. I dreamed about a life where I'd see my name on the cover of a book but as I grew older I came to believe less and less in its probability. You needed to know somebody, I was told. The publishing world was a closed shop. You needed connections, a patron, or failing that a fascinating life.
Hey, I was a kid from Queens. I wouldn't have known fascinating if it bit me in the--well, you get the picture....
I began to poke around with writing a novel but a little roadblock called cancer brought me up short in January 1980. You want to know the truth? It might have been the best thing that ever happened to me. I learned one of those life lessons that usually take you forty or fifty years to fully understand: Life is short! Life is precious! Don't waste a second of it.
And I didn't. Two years later I sold my first book to Harlequin and my life changed forever. I sent in my manuscript on Thursday February 21, 1982 and four days later the telephone rang and I heard the amazing words, "We want to buy your book."
How I wish you could have seen me. I was standing by the kitchen door of our North Babylon house, the picture of cool sophistication, as I listened to Vivian Stephens explain the terms of the deal to me. You would have thought I'd sold a first book every single day of my life. Yes, I said. Sounds wonderful. Thank you so much for calling. I look forward to our association. That cool sophistication hung on until I hung up the phone, took a deep breath, then promptly threw up on my shoes.
I was thirty-one years old, unagented, unschooled, unfamiliar with anything to do with the business of publishing. To put it mildly, I was in shock. My husband was working in Manhattan at the time (and finishing up his degree at night) so it would be hours until I could break the news to him. This was too exciting to waste on a phone call. I wanted to see his face when I told him that my dream had finally come true -- and came with a $6000 advance!
He pulled into the driveway at midnight. I was waiting in the doorway, holding a bottle of champagne and two glasses. I didn't have to say a word. He knew right away and the look of joy and pride in his eyes warms me now, years later, long after the advance faded into memory.
A lot has happened to me in the years since that first sale. I've learned that this is a difficult and demanding business (it takes a tough writer to write a tender book) and that I am happiest when I am most ignorant. I've also learned that a good friend, a writer and pal who truly understands, is worth her weight in good reviews and royalty checks. I'm lucky enough to have three who know all there is to know and love me anyway.
I'm older now but strangely enough not any wiser. Writing is tougher than it used to be but the love I feel for the process (when it's going well, that is) is indescribable. I'm actually living my childhood dream. It simply doesn't get any better than that.
I guess the question is, do you have to wait for some disaster like cancer to strike before you pursue your dream?
How do people become writers? There are many different paths to publication, but of all the writers I know and have read about, they all have one thing in common. They love to write. Jennifer Ashley, who is going to be one of our guest instructors at Misque this summer, addressed this in her blog today, "http://www.jenniferonwriting.blogspot.com/."
When I start running around with my eyeballs rolling in mad circles, my friends and family tell me "Calm down, and for today, don't write."
You might as well say "Don't eat." or "Don't breathe."
Because when it comes down to it, I'm a writer because I love to write.
I am a professional writer because I found a way to take doing what I love and turn it into a career. In other words, now I get paid to do what I enjoyed doing anyway.
It simply doesn't get any better than that.