2016 has been the year of the question: What kind of writer do you want to be?
It’s something I’ve been trying to figure out for years. When I was young, I loved writing stories. Then in Middle School, I wrote a column for the school paper, The Ram Page, and decided I wanted to be a journalist. I studied Journalism in college, and started writing columns and articles for a regional paper. Then six years post college, two years post marriage, I found myself writing stories again. It didn’t take long for me to figure out I had a lot to learn.
With very limited options, I signed up for an Institute of Children’s Novel Writing class, sent off my money, received my course instructions, read the first chapter of the workbook, wrote a chapter, sent it to my instructor, repeat. She (or he—I never knew) read my work, critiqued the pages, sent it back with suggestions and instructions, repeat. By the end of the class I had a YA novella that was totally unpublishable.
Then I met Maggie Osborne. She was speaking at the local library, was well-published and willing to teach. Under her tutelage, I wrote a Harlequin Intrigue that was totally unpublishable. A few years later, my husband and I were moving back to the Front Range and she introduced me to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. That was in 1988. Since then I have been part of the RMFW family, made a number of lifelong friends, found my voice and a support system that has sustained me through the good and the bad of publishing.
In the summer of 1998, I was offered a three book contract for my Birdwatcher’s Mysteries. Then, with the first book in the series scheduled for release, the second book turned in and three more books on contract to write, life threw me a few curve balls. One required I spend two months in Israel in the Fall of 1999 while one of my daughters received medical treatment for an auto-immune disorder; the other required a prolonged battle against breast cancer (ultimately successful) that delayed the fulfillment of my contracts in a timely fashion.
It turned out serendipitous. In Israel, I came up with the idea for DARK WATERS (published in Sept 2015), while the battle against cancer meant I was late turning in manuscripts in the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series, impacting the momentum of sales. While my editor was supportive and understanding, the publisher viewed it smart business to cut their losses and chose not to renew my contract. I was devastated. BUT being out of contract meant I could focus on writing DARK WATERS.
It was a joy to have the time I used to have to write books. I could write at my own pace, ruminate over story, research to my heart’s content and polish my prose to perfection. Fast forward, I now have two publishers—one for the thrillers and one for the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series. DARK WATERS is out, Book #6 in the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series is out, and I’m midway through my editor’s revisions on RED SKY, scheduled for June 2017. AND yet I’m once more facing decisions.
Writing two books last year was hard. So, do I write Book #7 in the Birdwatcher's Mystery series or work on another thriller? Do I sign new contracts or take the Tony Hillerman approach, write a complete book nomatter how long it takes, polishing until I'm satisfied, and then try and sell it? Or do I sign a new contract with my traditional publisher, opt to go Indy, or quit and take up traveling full time?
Simple choices? Not!
While writing is art, it’s also a business. We may love to write, to play with words, and create stories that captivate readers, but once we’re under contract, there are expectations. It becomes a job! So, do I want to work on deadline, do I want to make money, do I want to practice the art of writing, can I do all of the above? Do I want to keep writing to a theme, or branch out and write a different book, a different genre altogether?
As a new monthly blogger, I plan to tackle some of these questions, share some of my own insights, struggles and perspective. If any of you have a topic you’d like me to address, please send me an email.
Meanwhile, for me, September has been the month of conferences. First there was Colorado Gold (a great con), and now there’s Bouchercon. These are two very different conventions. Colorado Gold is a teaching conference where you can take writing classes, meet agents who may want to represent you, read for editors who may like your book. Bouchercon is a mystery fan conference designed to showcase mystery writers and introduce them to readers, where already established writers can meet with their agents and editors and attend publisher parties. This year at Bouchercon I was up for an Anthony Award for Best Crime Fiction Audiobook, a big award in the mystery community. I didn’t win. Hard! But “it’s an honor to be nominated.” In truth, I had several people tell me that “the win is in being nominated.” Maybe, but I thought winning meant walking away with the Anthony. One dear friend put it best, “It sucks not to win. I’ve been a loser seven times and it never gets easier.” She bought me a drink and made me laugh. But, while it may suck to lose, I'm counting my blessings. It’s much better to have lost to Louise Penny than Paula Hawkins.
The real “win” for me was the opportunity to sit on a panel with Lee Child. The Rogue Women Writers (a group of eight women writing international espionage and geopolitical thrillers, who blog at www.roguewomenwriters.com) were assigned a Friday afternoon slot with Lee moderating. For those who don’t read the genre, Lee Child is the #1 international thriller writer of the Jack Reacher novels. Now, I’m smart enough to know that nearly everyone in that room was there to see Lee, but still…what a thrill it was speaking to a standing-room only crowd. Thanks to all my RMFW friends who attended. A lot of you know how intimidating it is to sit in front of an audience and talk about yourself. Not only were you there to support me, but you Tweeted, Facebooked, shared photos, posted comments and took the time to tell me you thought the panel went well. FYI, I thought you all did well, too!! In my book, RMFW and the whole Rocky Mountain writers’ community rocks!