That was how it started. As far back as I can remember, all it took was a good book and a comfy chair and I was blissfully happy. By the way, that’s me, age three, reading the dictionary for fun.
Okay, fine. I have no idea what I was actually reading, and I doubt I even knew what the words meant, but even at that age I was drawn to the beautiful bound pages and carefully crafted prose of books.
And thanks to my grandfather (“Pop”) who was the New England Regional Salesman at Simon & Schuster for over forty years, authors such as Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Louis Sachar, Shel Silverstein, Carolyn Keene, Ann M. Martin, V.C. Andrews, R.L. Stine, and so many more greats filled our family bookshelves.
How cool is that? He had access to hundreds of new books every day and would meet big-time authors all the time. For him it was just part of his job; no big deal. But for me, growing up, I thought my grandfather was the real-life, honest-to-goodness Santa Claus. Every month my brother, sister and I would receive a special delivery--a hefty box of books filled with a selection of best-selling titles. It was almost better than Christmas. I still smile when I think about it.
That’s Pop in the red, button-down, old man sweater – the man who, without realizing it, ignited my dream.
So I read and I read and I read some more, and in between I would tinker with writing. It was nothing legitimate. I wrote poems and produced my own children’s books using craft paper and staples. I still have some of those books (picture to the right). I loved creating stories and characters and having the ability to design my own stories on paper. Even at age of nine, I knew, without a doubt, that I wanted to be a writer.
It wasn’t until high school that I became more serious about writing fiction. My senior year I had an English teacher who took me under her wing and encouraged me write more creatively. Ultimately, she is the reason I submitted a fictional writing piece to the Annual Scholastic Press Forum in New England. I took home first place. *gasp* I also got my picture in the local paper. (Clip on the left.)
While it may not have been the Nobel Prize for Literature or the Pulitzer Prize, winning that award was life changing. It gave me confidence and made me feel like I
really was a writer. I think validation is something all writers desperately seek regardless of what stage they are in their careers.
So with authoritative confirmation of my writing abilities, just before I entered college, I decided I was going to publish my first children’s book. I was going to be the next Dr. Seuss.
Yeah, I still crack up over that one. But I was eighteen and had just won an award for my writing. I mean, come on, who was going to possibly reject me?
I went for it. My first offical attempt at getting published was, The Adventures of Molly Mighty, a children’s story, written in rhyme, about a young girl who travels by balloon to the imaginary land of Sillyville. My brother’s friend, Ryan Coughlin, designed the cover art. (The drawing on the left was a mock sketch he did.) I really thought we had something unique and fun. I thought we were a shoe-in for a publishing contract.
Two words: young and naïve.
If winning an award for short-story fiction helped my confidence, delving into the world of agents and publishing companies did the opposite. I was a fish-out-of-water. At that time the Internet was just becoming a thing. Everything was sent via snail-mail and publishing houses were still accepting direct submissions. I pursued the impossible, mailing my completed story with cover letter (bound like I was submitting a school book report) to six publishers. I received six rejections. Looking back I realize I barely scratched the surface. Only six? It was like I didn’t even try. Regardless, at that point in my life, a sixth rejection was one too many for me. In a matter of months I went from feeling like an aspiring author to a writing failure.
The experience temporarily soured my writing dream. I told myself I wasn’t ready for the big leagues. College would better prepare me. Sure. That’s it.
So, in college I worked as an editor for the university paper and, in my free time I wrote short stories and worked at an off-campus restaurant to make some cash.
By the time I graduated college I had a hundred book ideas, a half-dozen short stories, and a few partially completed novels that were absolute and total crap. Publishing anything seemed like more of a pipe dream than ever. So, I turned to something more stable... business.
Over the next fifteen years I worked for three other companies with great people and promising opportunities in areas of Human Resources and Legal Compliance. My job was fast-paced and fun. I truly enjoyed the the systems and project management work, but wanting to write a novel still loomed in the back of my mind.
During those fifteen years I dabbled at writing, starting various stories, but never making it past fifty pages. It's hard to find momentum after working ten to twelve hour days.
I eventually tried my hand at another children’s book. I also found another illustrator. All I can say is that the artwork by Linda La Rose was fantastic, but the stories didn't have traction and ended up in a drawer.
In 2011, shortly after my second failed attempt at children’s book writing, I decided to get serious about my dream. I felt like I had to make a full-time go at it. It was now or never.
In January 2012 I took a hiatus from my career. Within a month I mapped out my first book. By August of that same year I finished the first book. Let me just say, there is no greater feeling than completing your first novel (even if it is just a draft). I did it. Then I decided it would be a trilogy. By December 2012 I finished the second novel in the series and went right into the third.
I queried dozens of agents. It was energizing. The first week I received a request for my manuscript from a large well-known literary agency. I panicked. What if it isn’t good? What if he reads it and rejects my story?
I did receive another rejection. Many of them, actually. That first story, the trilogy still sits a drawer, but I kept writing.
I've since published two books: RIGHTEOUS and FIRST, LAST, AND ALWAYS. I also designed and published a creative writing journal for book lovers: MY BOOKET LIST. Most recently one of my short stories was included in a women's anthology: THE LIFE UNEXPECTED.
Today, I balance the best of both worlds as a Systems and Project Management Consultant by day and a writer by night. At first I didn't think I would want to go back to my old career, but one thing I learned as a writer is that it's not easy to constantly live inside your head. My career helps to ground and keep me focussed. Writing helps me to escape. And in between both, I go back to the muse that started it all... reading the beautiful bound pages and carefully crafted prose of books.
As long as I breathe, I write. As long as I write, I live.