Today the spotlight shines on … well, me. I know it sounds a bit “fat-headed” but I’m not sure I’ve ever explained my own “path to publication” here. And in a way, looking back is good for puncturing the “hot air” that comes from winning a national award like the WWA Spur for Best First Novel — for which I will be *eternally* grateful.
A writer’s ego is pretty fragile when it comes to failure, but can inflate to enormous proportions when success finally comes. Trust me on this. I am the first to admit I didn’t expect a win — Double Crossing doesn’t have a horse for its cowboy hero, doesn’t have a gunfight, doesn’t have a heroine who had traveled further west than Chicago. But in a way, that makes it unique. I’m proud of the book. I think it’s a solid story, has several great twists and a heavy dose of vivid imagery — my specialty — plus historical accuracy.
Double Crossing is not the first manuscript I ever wrote. It’s my sixth. I didn’t intend it to be my first published book. I first wrote scenes for a medieval and abandoned that in the early 1990s. Then I wrote a (terribly bad) mystery, a huge mainstream historical (by huge I mean 400,000 words, no joke), two fair historical romances and a pretty good short contemporary. I’d worked hard on every one, struggling to learn the “craft” of what makes a story, and came close to snagging a contract with one historical romance submitted to the Harlequin Historical line. Alas, the rejection came for both the historical and the contemporary. And I hit a wall.
Weary, I switched to writing for children’s magazines. I was surprised how quickly I succeeded — with several puzzles being picked up by Jack & Jill and Turtle plus several smaller non-paying mags. I soon realized that my artwork and picture book manuscripts didn’t measure up, however, in the incredibly tough market. I had to decide. Get a graduate degree in art (meaning I’d have to go back for an undergrad degree, since my credits had expired) or figure out how to push myself “over the transom.” I chose the easier path — or so I thought.
Life has a way of biting you in the behind. I’d been accepted into the Writing Popular Fiction program with part of Double Crossing’s first chapter. I was slated to start in January of 2008. I hadn’t written a full draft in years. I’m glad I spent three or four months writing Double Crossing as a “practice run.” But that draft wasn’t even close to the polished book that just won the WWA Spur Award.
Once I got my feet wet again, and realized I had plenty of strengths in my writing, I decided to write something fresh — a mystery. I also “revisited” some of the writing craft books I’d read (or skimmed) long ago. Swain. Hauge. McKee. McClanahan’s Word Painting–a favorite of mine. I also read “How to Writer Killer Fiction” by Carolyn Wheat, which cemented the differences between suspense and mystery in my head. I added James Scott Bell, Donald Maass, Noah Lukeman, James Frey and plenty of others. And since I was writing a mystery for my thesis manuscript, I studied scads of series — Cleo Coyle, Troy Soos, Carolyn Haines, Victoria Thompson, Kathy Lynn Emerson, plus stand-alone books by other authors.
Why? To get a feel for story arc versus series arc, for characterizations, for plot twists, dialogue, details, etc. The one bit of advice I will give, to anyone wanting to write, is to READ. Not to “copy” an author’s style. That comes from writing one manuscript after another, plus revising again and again. Reading is also important. You can see strengths and weaknesses in others’ work easier than your own. Hopefully you’ll learn by that. Critique groups, partners and mentors are important too, but I learned to separate the wheat from the chaff in comments. I learned when to trust my own gut. I learned that I’d bypassed the importance of developing my characters’ emotions — a big revelation. That seemed to be the missing key.
So, armed with a Master’s degree from Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction, with a completed mystery manuscript, I fished the market. I rewrote my mystery. I rewrote Double Crossing. I entered contests — and again, Double Crossing placed before Fire Point. People either loved or hated my mystery. Hmm. I used 2010 to revise both manuscripts and query agents, submit and write non-fiction (for far better money than I expected.) And then, when I realized Double Crossing’s “blended” genre *and* my historical mystery were both tough sells, I faced another decision. Self-publish, or seek a small press publisher.
I’m grateful to Astraea Press for offering a home for Double Crossing. Their “pure fiction” line fit my own standards — no profanity, no “pink part” sensuality. Good reading for ages 14 to 140. And I am writing the sequel now — well, not right now. But I hope to finish and publish it this year.
Here’s the “blurb” for Double or Nothing, to “wet your whistle.”
November, 1869: Lily Granville, now heiress to a considerable fortune, rebels against her uncle’s strict rules in Sacramento, California. Ace Diamond, determined to win Lily, invests in a San Francisco dynamite factory for a quick “killing,” but his status as a successful businessman fails to impress her uncle. An explosion at the factory, mere hours before Lily elopes with Ace to avoid a forced marriage, sets off a chain of unforeseen consequences. Despite Lily’s protests that her new husband has been framed, Ace is dragged off to jail as the culprit. Evidence mounts against him. Lily must learn who was actually behind the diabolical plan… and save Ace from the hangman’s noose. Will she become a widow before a true wife?
Thanks for reading! Keep checking back for other authors in the coming months.