I started writing when I was 8 years old, but with school and then working never had the energy to do it seriously. So, thirty years later, when my husband’s job took me across the country from Philadelphia to Seattle, I told him I was going to write for five years and if I still hadn’t made any money I’d go back to work. I joined a writer’s critique group and spent four of those years trying to write short stories. Didn’t happen.
Then I started something I soon realized was going to cover three generations. I knew I had started a novel, but I didn’t believe I had the perseverance to write a novel – that’s why I was trying to write short stories. To my amazement, I completed the book.
While the book was reviewed by a couple of agents, its real value was that it showed I could do it. I could keep going until it was finished. I could rewrite and correct and still stay involved with the work. I loved it and wanted to do more, but my five years was up. I got a job.
Five years later I had a short break between jobs and decided to write as much as I could while job hunting. Something fun. I’m a puzzle doer, and I like to read mysteries, especially cozy mystery series. So What Did You Do Before Dying? was born.
About a third of the way through I got another job and the book went into a drawer (figuratively speaking, since I work on a computer). A little over ten years later I retired (early, so I’d have years left to write). I started spending four hours a day writing. It was heaven. I finished the first draft of the book and starting a second one. This writing was FUN! I sent What Did You Do Before Dying? to the leader of my old writer’s group. I sent her the first chapter of the second book in the series, too.
She said to throw out What Did You Do Before Dying? and start with the second one. I was crushed.
I kept working on the second one, trying to figure out how I was going to introduce the important parts of the first one as flashback. It didn’t work. Somehow, I had to make the first one good enough. So I tucked away the second book and went back to the first.
Then my husband was diagnosed with stage four terminal cancer. The next four years my writing tapered off until it was nonexistent, though I did send out What Did You Do Before Dying? to several agents and publishers with no success. When my husband was gone, I moved back to Traverse City, Michigan, to be near my aging mother. I had a hard time finding the motivation and energy to write again. I joined a writer’s group at the local library. Then I attended the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference and, in particular, a session called Writing the Breakout Novel by agent Donald Maass. It was like opening a door. I knew that his techniques were the keys to improving What Did You Do Before Dying?
When I had spent as much time as I could on that, I returned it to the drawer and went back to the second book. I told myself that if I had three books completed publishers might take me seriously. They like mysteries and romances in series. Besides, I didn’t have the heart to start sending it out again and face all those rejection slips.
Then Mary Jo Zazueta talked to my writer’s group about how she helped people self-publish. I knew that was frowned upon by the publishing world, but decided I didn’t care. I wanted my book out there right now. After all, I’m not getting any younger.
I pulled What Did You Do Before Dying? out of the drawer and reread it to decide how much more work it needed. Wow! I liked it. I asked Jean Bryant to read the book again. One of the blurbs on the back cover is her reaction.
So, how long did it take? About 23 years. But you won’t have to wait that long for the next one. Why Did You Die In the Park? is due out early 2009, and Who Wanted You Dead the Most? Will follow on its heels.