"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Friday, January 24, 2014

Looking for Fame in All the Wrong Places

Wow. I’m so happy to be writing this. The event I have been working toward for the past five years is finally happening. I signed a contract with Oak Tree Press for my first historical Western novel. It has a name—Cholama Moon.

Lucky me, right? Actually, the trail has been long and convoluted. One, I suspect, not unlike a lot of other writers.

Several years ago (too shamed to admit how many,) I started writing short stories and submitting them to magazines, way back before there was much in the way of e-pubs. I entered a few contests. Won a number of firsts, seconds and honorable mentions. Plastered my office with these atta-boys to inspire me in the dark hours. (Which I have since taken down because they were about the past, not the future.)   

One of the contests I entered was a San Joaquin Valley Sisters in Crime competition. I don’t write mystery, but the judge liked my story so much that she awarded it an honorary Coveted Dead Bird award.

I continued to write memoir. First, Branches on the Conejo, then Ordinary Aphrodite, about the Baby Boomer experience sans the drug, sex and rock and roll. Through it all, I wrote novels.

If asked to define what I wrote, I would say, “I write mainstream women’s inspirational novels with elements of romance, set in the West.” Agents' eyes would glaze over, but I had a vision.

 One year I pitched a manuscript at the Mount Herman Christian Writers conference. The agent asked a fair question: Did I read Christian genre? Um, not really. Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, Mary Connealy—but, then, who doesn’t? A couple of Amish romances. He was not impressed and I had to face the truth that I was never in the game.     

So, ummm, what do you write? (asked the next agent at another conference.) Well, I write women’s fiction. Ahh…(with an encouraging nod,) Romance.

Well, not exactly. That is to say, true love triumphs in the end, but my books are more than two people running towards each other, gauzy shirts flying. I write mainstream women’s inspirational fiction with elements of romance, set in the American West.

Old habits die hard. But I was starting to wonder, what is so hard about this concept?     

Because I love to read them (hmmm, where had I heard that before?) I began writing plain, old-fashioned western stories with strong female protagonists. Bingo! Historical westerns. Nothing more. Implied in the term are the things I didn’t need to say—inspiration, old-fashioned values, a ton of research, a compelling story. A boy and a girl.

Long story short, the mother of the judge who awarded me the Coveted Dead Bird award was now working for Oak Tree Press, who was (happily for me,) bringing out a line of historical westerns. I queried. She remembered my name (and the story.) She fast-tracked me through the submission process. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But since good luck runs in threes, there’s even more!
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I am a member of Women Writing the West. At one of their conferences I won an audio book contract from Books in Motion. At another conference, I entered a short story in the LAURA Short Fiction competition. A few months ago a screenwriter read it and asked for a script. We worked on it together—emailed it back and forth until it shone. Now my little short story, Last Dance, is the script that two mock production companies are developing at a film school in Santa Fe.    

Suddenly all the unconnected moves I have made in the past several years turn out to be the right moves. Pretty lucky, you think? But every fiction writer has a mantra posted on their computer: “Publication is a Process, not an event.”  

So I’m busy with the marketing process. My next novel is ready for submission. With luck (there’s that word again,) Maria Ines should be released six months after Cholama Moon. I’m working through Oak Tree Press’s 58-page marketing guide and I’m glad that I have done the basics. Luckily, now I can concentrate on the nuances.

Please share how your process has evolved. If only as a cautionary tale, like mine.