Friday, March 02, 2012

How Did I Get Here, Part 2

My talented, beautiful and intelligent daughter-n-law, Melanie (I have two daughters-in-law who fit that description, so I have to specify) wrote that she gave up two things she loved to do--writing and ballet--because she couldn't make a living at either.  Young, I had no such practical ideas. In college, I majored in English because I liked to read. A career? Pouf! I was a daughter of the fifties. Some man was going to marry me and take care of me, presumably while I read Silver Screen and ate bonbons. Soon I found myself with a Ph.D. in English and no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. Oh, there was a man to take care of me, but that went awry after nearly twenty years.
I had always written, starting with short stories as a ten-year-old and progressing to stories of teen-age angst that Seventeen, that bible of young girls, rejected without hesitation. I found myself doing pr and editing a medical journal and an alumni newspaper--paste-up and all in the old days, though I'd had no journalism training. Once I had that Ph.D. and children and was a stay-at-home wife and mom, with a nanny thank-you-very-much, I settled down to write. There were literally days when I thought I'd write if I only knew what to write. Unlike some senior citizens who become successful authors almost by accident (See Radine Nehring's excellent post on the subject at, I was always dead set on a career. I had banished that girl who wanted to read and eat bonbons.
Flash forward forty years. No blatant self promotion, but I have over sixty published books--fiction for adults, fiction for young adults, a lot of nonfiction for young readers, some miscellaneous titles such as a literary biography and a cookbook, and now mysteries. I also have some rather nice awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from Western Writers of America. I'm neither rich nor famous, but it's a respectable record for a writer. Still it was never enough. I wanted more. Once a woman who was my sister in spirit suggested I'd had as much success as I could expect and I ought to quit worrying about it--she was always forthright. But that wasn't my way.
I had as many rejections as acceptances--or more--over the years, and I have every author's stack of rejected manuscripts that will never go anywhere except to my archive at the Southwest Writers Collection at Texas State University-San Marcos. Bantam/Doubleday stayed with me for much of 1990s. amd several childrens' publishers and book packagers were steady clients in the late '90s and early in 2000 until the market changed, so they said. I never had a secure long-term publishing home with enough faith in me to work out a career plan.. 
Today my mystery career is off to a great start--the first Kelly O'Connell Mystery published, another due in April, another in August, the start of a second series in January, and a fourth as-yet unwritten and unscheduled Kelly O'Connell Mystery due in 2013. There's a lingering question in my mind about why I had to be in my seventies for this sudden roll I'm on, just as I wonder why I wasn't at thirty the woman I am now. My brother says he sees it as me re-inventing myself once again, which he believes I've done a few times before. He wanted credit for that statement, and I am glad to give it because I take it as a compliment. I think the capacity to re-invent yourself, if that's what I've done, comes with age and perhaps as a close friend suggested grace.
My new blooming career is thanks to Turquoise Morning Press. I'm a big believer in the small press movement that, along with self-publishing digitally, is changing the publishing world forever. But I doubt I would have been swept up in this movement thirty years ago. I wasn't ready, and neither was my writing. Almost certainly, retirement had something to do with this, freeing me to focus on my writing and also freeing me of a lot of stress. I'm also a fan of retirement, although all those years I would have told you I had the ideal job as director of a small academic press. And what I learned all those years on the "other side" of publishing stands me in good stead. Yet I'm a poster child for retirement, and a fan, if somewhat reluctantly, of aging. Just joined a Facebook page called Spunky Seniors--you gotta love it.


Elaine Gray said...

I loved to read that because that is kind of what I have done except I haven't got that first book published yet or even finished it. I wanted to write since I was 19 but had seven kids so was hard to find any time. Now they are all grown I am trying and I am 66. I have wrote for three newspapers but I have a lot to learn and I am learning it. I have received lots of rejections form magazines. But we all do. One day you will see a book by Elaine Gray.

Judy Alter said...

I'll be watching for that book, Elaine. All good luck to you as you grow and learn about the business of writing.