Monday, July 29, 2013

So you think you want to write a book...

On almost a daily basis I have someone tell me (either in person or through email) that they would like to write a book. Some people tell me in a straightforward, confident way. Others express this desire with embarrassment. Then they usually ask me how I got published and to advise them along the same path. So I have decided that for the next few weeks I am going to use my blog to give both my experience and my advice to anyone who is interested. 

I believe that every single person who has ever been born on earth has a story inside them. Some people have many stories. But not everyone was blessed with the ability to control the written word.

Some people are blessed with the ability to see musical notes and convert what they see to beautiful music. I can see the notes. I have the desire to create the music. But I can’t turn notes into music. Some people can see a beautiful scene and convert what they see onto canvas. I can see beautiful things, but I can’t transfer what I see into art. I can’t even take a good photograph (always crooked, usually someone’s head is cut off). I believe it is the same with writing. Please understand that I am not comparing myself to great writers - think of me more in the same category with photographers who can take pictures without cutting off their subjects' heads!!!!!

People seem to feel that the stories within them will be more real if they are in book form. I agree that everyone’s stories need to be written down. Even if they will never be books your stories will be of value to your posterity and the therapeutic benefits of writing help to soothe and ground us. In the process of writing your story/stories you might find out that you are a wordsmith. If, however, you determine that you are not a ‘writer’ any more than I am a musician or an artist – your stories will still be written and they will still have value.

Now, having said that – I will proceed with my writing/publishing experience:

I wrote my first 'chapter' book when I was in the 4th grade. My mother said it was 
wonderful. My grandmother said it was super-wonderful and offered to buy me a 
typewriter. (I'm sure it wasn't nearly as good as they claimed, but their 
encouragement was sufficient to keep me trying). During 5th and 6th grades I 
became obsessed with a television show called “Here Come the Brides” about a 
group of women who were imported from New England to the Pacific Northwest 
where women were in short supply. So during recess I used to write 'scripts' for 
this television show. My friends would sit around me on the steps of the school 
and as I would finish a page they would pass it and then wait on the next page.
By high school I had graduated to spiral notebooks. I would write a chapter and 
then pass it to my friends. They would read the chapter then return it to me for the 
next installment. I was also a voracious reader. I would check out a book every 
morning at the school library and check it back in the next day (even if it meant 
staying up half the night to finish it). I read every spare moment – sitting in the gym 
during PE, during classes, at stop lights. The only books that took me two days 
were Gone with the Wind and Dr. Zhivago.

As much as I loved reading and writing, I never considered it as a career. My 
mother died of multiple sclerosis when she was 43. I had four younger siblings 
and one Christmas I realized that I had more memories of our mother than they 
did - since I was the oldest. So I used a memory as the basis for a short story 
and sent it to them for as a gift. And that is how my adult writing ‘career’ began. 
I didn't even know there was such a thing as LDS fiction, but when I went out to 
Salt Lake for my grandmother's funeral and visited a bookstore I was properly 
introduced. The thought occurred to me, as I was thumbing through books written 
by women who would later become my friends,  that I could probably write a book 
like this. Later my aunt commented that she thought my short stories about my 
mother were very good and that it was possible if I tried another type of 
writing I might be able to get published. I appreciated her kind comments, but 
didn't seriously consider it until almost a year later.  

As our eight children were born they didn’t really add a lot of expense. They didn’t eat much, we passed clothes down, we didn’t really go anywhere – not on vacations or even out to eat. But then they grew and college and missions loomed in the not so distant future. And I started to worry. My husband assured me that the Lord would provide. I believed that too – but I needed to know HOW! I thought about it and worried and finally decided the only thing I could do to provide the extra income was to write. So I came up with a plan and took it to the Lord. I promised to work hard, but knew that without His help success would be impossible. Then I began.

For the next 8 months I worked on my first novel. I did it largely in long hand, transferring it to the computer after I had it 'mapped out' on paper. (I would never do that now - tremendous waste of time). I made two serious mistakes with this first manuscript. I tried to write about a place I had been only once for an overnight stay when I was seven (California) and I tried to write about a lifestyle I'd never experienced (movie star). Once I was finished I found the names and addresses of all the LDS publishers (about 6) and sent copies of my manuscript out. My plan was to wait and see what happened before I invested any more time in this venture (I had given every moment of spare time and cut back sleep to 5 hours a night in order to finish the first manuscript). But it was summer time and the kids were out of school and spare time was a little more abundant so I decided to go ahead and try another one. I sent off my second attempt a week before I started getting rejection letters on my first manuscript – which was a huge blessing because I think if I’d gotten the rejection letters first I might have been discouraged and quit.

The second time around I placed my characters in a small southern town (very similar to my father's hometown) and mixed in everyday things (that I actually have experienced) with the murder and mayhem (that fortunately I have not!). Covenant contacted me a couple of months later and offered me a contract. Hearts in Hiding was published in May of 2001. I had to 
re-write my first manuscript twice before it was finally published as my third book,  
Until Proven Guilty. 

So I had very quick success and there is no doubt in my mind that it was purely a miracle.

Next week I’ll give suggestions on how to find out if you are a wordsmith 
(and ideas to help you to practice your writing craft).

New Blog Feature - Book giveaway

Beginning in August I will have a monthly drawing for a free book! Everyone who comments on any blog post during the month will be entered in the drawing. I will post the winner on the last day of each month and request mailing information via email. This month’s free book will be A Motive for Muder by Maureen Bateman.

Meet Erica Coleman—a gifted and quirky private investigator with an OCD-like passion for neatness and symmetry, a penchant for cooking, (ten terrific recipes are included), and a weakness for chocolate.
Erica imagined that her trip to Florida would be a slice of heaven—a chance to get away from it all and catch up with her best friend, Wendy. But one day into her vacation, all hope of fun in the sun is dashed when she stumbles, literally, over a dead man on Wendy’s driveway. With police closing in on her friend as their main suspect, Erica must find the real killer before Wendy ends up behind bars. With Erica’s skill, solving the mystery should be a piece of cake but then a second homicide-attempt hits close to home. There’s no way to sugarcoat it, a murderer is on the prowl, and no one is above suspicion. As the plot thickens, it appears Erica may have bitten off more than she can chew, but she forges on, sifting through mounting evidence until she hones in on the killer who has a most surprising motive for murder. With a dash of romance and some surprising twists, this thrilling mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page.

Recipe of the Week

Macaroni Salad -

1 lb box elbow macaroni                  2 chicken breasts
½ head of lettuce                               1 cucumber
1 can of medium pitted olives          Salt and Pepper
Mayonnaise                                       Dash of garlic salt

Boil chicken breasts. Remove from water and allow to cool. Chop into small pieces. Cook elbow macaroni according to package directions. Drain and set aside to cool. Chop lettuce and cucumber into small pieces. Drain olives and slice in half. Put all ingredients in a large bowl and stir in mayonnaise (start with 1 cup and add more as needed). Add salt, garlic salt, and pepper to taste.

What are the chances . . .
When Cathy and Ricky got married her brother Andy was about to turn six. He was running around at the reception having a great time – eating all kinds of good foods without much supervision. Just when it was time for me to help Cathy get out of her wedding dress he came up and told me he didn’t feel so good. I told him to sit down and quit running around on a full stomach. Then I went to help Cathy. A few minutes later someone knocked on the door and gave us the bad news. Andy ignored my advice and continued to run. He passed Ricky, who was headed to the men’s restroom to change out of his tux, and Ricky noticed that Andy’s shoe was untied. Trying to be a good brother-in-law he bent down to tie Andy’s shoe. And Andy proceeded to throw up all down his back. All over that rented tux. On Ricky’s wedding day. Wow.


Cathy said...

haha, it's a funny wedding!

Allison said...

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I, too, want to write a book, and it hasn't been easy because English isn't my native language. I look foreward to reading your next blog post. :)

Sara DeWitt said...

Betsy, this is so great! You are one of my favorite authors and I love reading about your journey to become one. Thanks for sharing!