The most important book on writing that I have ever read is by Stephen King, aptly entitled, On Writing. At times hilariously funny, King describes years spent typing, while bundled up, in his unheated freezing attic in Maine. Large nails were driven into the bare walls and onto these nails were pierced an untold number of rejection letters from publishers and agents stating their disinterest in his work. Then one frigid night he and his wife returned home with their two small children who were feverish with colds and found in the mail among the pile of unpaid bills a letter from his agent stating that his manuscript had been sold. The title of the manuscript: CARRIE. Thrilling!
After raising my family and having a career as an audiologist, I had a chance to explore two life-long goals. One, learn to play the piano. Two, write a mystery. With a degree in Music under my belt, I couldn’t bear to leave the campus of Metropolitan State College of Denver. In the English Department, I signed on for a beginning class in creative writing.
In a genuine stroke of luck, I discovered that the person teaching the class was Larry Bograd. Larry was a published writer of both plays and fiction. With a dry self-deprecating wit, Larry kept us laughing. But, about writing, he was very serious. His opening salvo was: “I’ve had hundreds of people go through this class. Only two of them were ‘natural writers’. Before you start writing, you have to learn the craft.” Rules? This was beginning to look like work.
And so it began. Action moves the plot. Don’t be obscure when you can be clear. Reveal descriptions through dialogue. Avoid back-stories, information dumps, coincidences and duplicate words in the same paragraph. BEGIN with a question that needs to be answered. The MIDDLE shows a complication. The END is a result of what happened in the Middle. Strong plots result from a character’s flaws (jealousy, temper etc.)In life-psychology defines actions. In writing-actions define psychology. And of course, POV, POV, POV! Best of all: “If there’s a shotgun over the fireplace in the opening, it better have been fired by the end of the scene.” (Larry was a playwright at heart.)
In Larry’s next class, ‘Writing for Children’, I found my niche. Our assignment was to read currently popular Middle Grade works. I could not believe the intense sibling rivalry and even hatred portrayed in these books. I wrote a scathing critique of one and, with a sly smile, Larry read it to the class. I was basically set-upon by my classmates, many of whom were elementary school teachers. “Why, Virginia,” they chorused, “children love these books.”
That did it. I decided to write in this genre and create a mystery within a less dysfunctional family where my central character might not need a live-in psychiatrist by the time she was fifteen years old. Thus began ‘The Willow Lane Mysteries’ series.
I didn’t have nails on my walls but I did have a large accordion file to hold the rejection slips. By the time I’d completed the second book, I decided I would never be published so my writing changed. Now I included events that I hadn’t considered before. My main character began piano lessons with all classical pieces, which I named. She fell for a new neighbor, a handsome boy who was an accomplished violinist and wasn’t embarrassed to show it.
Then, in an experiment, I had the first book set up as an eBook with an attractive cover. I compiled a list of relevant agents and publishers and my clever daughter sent out a release, via ICONTACT, of the cover with excerpts from the book. Several fellow writers let me know that this was not the way to go. I should keep sending standard submission letters, they cautioned.
Two publishers contacted me, one traditional, representing print works and one larger and strictly an eBook publisher. EBooks were suddenly everywhere. I signed on with the eBook publisher and this wonderful team gently eased me through the intricacies of publishing. Thanks to OverDrive, my ebooks are in libraries all over the world. Last year the publisher expanded to print. Now the series of four books (going on five) is available in that format. It isn’t Stephen King or Carrie. But it’s pretty thrilling all the same.
Virginia Rose Richter grew up in Central Nebraska. Inspired by rippling wheat fields, golden wildflowers and endless bright blue skies, Ms. Richter has written the Willow Lane Mysteries for middle grade and early-teen readers of suspense. Ms. Richter attended the University of Colorado and received a MA degree from the University of Denver and a BA degree in music from Metropolitan State College of Denver. Presently, she resides in Loveland, Colorado