Monday, August 17, 2009

You Think I Do This For The Money?

I’ve been a romance writer for decades. I kid you not. Admittedly, For the first ten years or so, I didn’t really know what I was doing…I just wrote stories that spoke to me. I knew nothing of the publishing industry, nor did I have a clue as to what it took to get your book read and bought by those mysterious entities in their concrete and glass towers in New York. I just wrote.

The first novel I ever wrote filled a 3” 3-ring binder. Every page hand written. Looking back, it was terrible. I blush to admit ever conceiving the thing, much less putting it down on paper where any old person could pick it up and read it (Ahem, Mom!)


My story took place in Scotland in the 1700’s. There was no plot, no GMC. Run on sentences ran amok and my heroine was TSTL. My hero, though, was great. Tall, broad-shouldered, could wield a Claymore like a carving knife and he loved my heroine to distraction. He spent a lot of time saying “Aye, Lass,” to anything she desired. Great guy if you can get him.

In my twenties, time was taken up mostly with raising two rambunctious heroines-in-the-making. The personal computer had been invented and could be bought for roughly the equivalent of the down payment on a Hyundai Accent. However, we were purse-poor. I got a word processor instead.

My second effort at a novel was a western. Oh, God, how I loved those cowboys! This time, my hero was the one too stupid to live. He got involved in robbing a government payroll train and was the goat for the Mexican Bandits. He got caught holding the bag while they scuttled back across the border.

Hey, at least it had something resembling a plot! I still didn’t know anything about the publishing industry, though. That is, until I got a job in a bookstore. My boss was the littlest Partridge girl from, the 1970’s television show.

She put me in charge of kids books, but every free moment (and available dollar) was spent on romance novels. One quiet weekday afternoon, a lovely woman came into the store, headed straight for the romance section and began scribbling in some books. I yelled for her to stop. She smiled and said, “Honey, I’m the author. I just stopped in to autograph these for you. The autographed ones sell quicker than the ones that aren’t.”

I really didn’t hear that last part until later. I was stuck on “I’m the author”. I’d never met a real, live, romance author before. I was star struck. I shyly confessed that I wrote romance novels, and she gave me her card. On the back she wrote an address and a date. She handed it to me and told me to be there at 9:00 am.

Two weeks later, I drove ninety miles (one way) to where this group of authors met. The person who greeted me at the door was none other than Jill Marie Landis. I’d been gobbling up her books and recommending them to anyone who came into the store. And she was shaking my hand!

I joined RWA that very day and made that 180 mile round trip trek every single month for a year. Jill and I became better acquainted and I learned so much from our guest speakers. Things like Character Arcs, Point of View (and head hopping).

I even got to meet every woman’s heartthrob, Fabio. (I was surprised that he was actually a smart guy. Not dumb as a stump as I’d suspected.) And those pecs weren’t bad, either.

Sadly, just as I’d come to love the Orange County Chapter of RWA, my husband’s job uprooted us to Atlanta, GA.

I sat in my driveway and cried. We didn’t have the money for me to keep up my RWA membership. I was adrift in a strange place with no friends, no money and no connections. Then, a couple years later, I decided to visit Georgia Romance Writers. I couldn’t help myself. I told my husband we HAD to make room in the budget for me to rejoin or I was going to leave him. My threat worked.

I’ve been with GRW for 11 years now. I’ve honed my craft and feel that I’m truly 1000% better at writing than I was when I plunked down my first year’s dues.

I’m still not published, still haven’t sold a thing. But I’ve entered contests, submitted my work to agents and editors and gotten some wonderful critiques on my work.

Someday, and I believe with all my heart it will be soon, I’ll get “The Call” and I’ll be able to say I’m a PUBLISHED author.

But even if it never happens (knock wood), I’d still write. Why? Because writing is in my blood, my brain cells and my heart. These characters living in my head demand to tell their stories and I will respectfully and cheerfully submit to their will.

Who knows, maybe when I’m long dead, some descendent will find one of my mouldering old manuscripts up in the attic and decide to do something with it.

30 comments:

Walt M said...

My first a manuscript, a nonfiction work, sits in a three-ring binder. I still have hopes that it will get published, but part of me realizes it may be something the kids inherit.

Anna Steffl said...

What a touching post. I especially loved the impact meeting the published author had on you. People do really admire writers! Even if they don't read that author's type of book, they still think we're something special. Wow. We're part of the mystical club. It's easy to forget sometimes.

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Cinthia,

Thanks for such an inspiring post. Just last night I was pulling my hair out over starting my Capstone project, a well-written novel with no plot and wishy-washy characters. You've inspired me to keep at it, to not fear that each repeated effort will be greeted by the same old criticisms.

Thank you!

Sally

P.S. As for embarrassing first efforts, I have an entire crate of stories I wrote in high school. I should burn then before I live to regret it. : )

Tami Brothers said...

Great post, Cynthia! It's amazing how we come to our GRW meetings, sit with people, visit about what they are writing, but never truly know someone until they write a post like this.

Keep at it. I wish you all the best. We have to believe it will happen one day!

Tami

Cinthia Hamer said...

Walt, now that you're published, who knows what will happen to that ms? One day you might pick it up that unpolished stone and shine it up. You might have a diamond, you never know.

Anna, I have to remind myself of the same thing. We ARE special and I think too often we forget just what an amazing sorority (sorry guys, but most of us ARE female! ;) )we belong to.

Sally, best of luck on your project. We all know what a great writer you are, so YOU CAN DO IT!

Tami, I think that's the key we have to BELIEVE IN OURSELVES. Because if we don't, who will?

Debbie Kaufman said...

Cinthia, that's perseverance. I am still working on my first and am in the realm of believing it will be published. I guess we'll see.

I try to bring guests/aspiring writers to the meetings and it's funny, but they have the same reaction you did. I guess all of us are surprised at the friendliness of romance writers!

Walt M said...

Cinthia,

I'm published in magazine articles only. No books published yet. I said "first manuscript" as I have other completed unpublished manuscripts.

Cinthia Hamer said...

Hi Debbie! Didn't get much of a chance to speak to you at the meeting. Love the new 'do!

I, uh, am a bit embarrassed to admit this, but published authors are to me what movie stars are to most other people.

Years ago, my dh delivered the mail to a legendary sci-fi author. I couldn't have been more impressed than if he'd delivered Brad Pitt's or Julia Robert's mail. LOL!

At every GRW gathering...(and National, OMG!)I get wobbly-kneed when I look around at all the "stars". :)

Cinthia Hamer said...

But you're published, Walt. Imagine all the exposure you're getting when one of your articles is published. That's amazing in and of itself. That's a helluva lot more than some of us can say.

Marilyn Baron said...

You met FABIO? Hello!

Just kidding. If the writing in your post reflects the writing in your novels, you will definitely be published. I laughed all the way through the post.

It's in the cards. And when you do an author signing you can tell the story of how you got started. I know it will happen for you.

Marilyn Baron

J Perry Stone said...

Your words always settle me down. I've had monkey brain going on lately (jumping from vine to vine) and you KNOW the kinds of things I've been going through. But this post is like writing Prozac.

So okay. I'll be at my next GRW meeting and let me know when you have a free day, Cindy, because I need your eyes and brain.

Wonderful post.

I love anything where an author isn't afraid to show a genuine, vulnerable side.

Had to laugh at this though:
"He ... was the goat for the Mexican Bandits (and) ... got caught holding the bag while they scuttled back across the border."

Sandy Elzie said...

Cynthia,

Great! Really enjoyed learning more about you.

Did you notice all the first-timers at the meeting on Saturday? Two of them were at my table and they were amazed that published authors would actually take the time to speak to them and encourage them. Like you, they were awe struck.

Yep, romance writers are a great group and GRW is the cream of the crop.

BTW, I have some of those...embarrassing old dusty manuscripts. I recently dusted one off, updated it and have just sent it out. We'll see what happens. (g)

Sandy

CiCi Barnes said...

It may have been heartache to up and move back then, but we're glad you did. Love having you as part of GRW and PFHT.

I remember my first GRW meeting. I sat down at the table opposite this lovely lady who talked up a storm with me. She introduced herself as Sandra Chastain. My heart lept into my throat and my words stumbled all over my tongue. A real, honest-to-God author, right there within reach and she talked to me as if I was somebody.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could be that person for another aspiring author someday? I'll never give up trying.

Thanks, Cinthia for sharing your story.

Cinthia Hamer said...

Sorry, had to do the "domestic godess" thing...

JPS, sure missed you Saturday. But I had Anna S sitting next to me. That was fun. :)

Marilyn, thanks for your confidence in me. When I have a signing, I hope all the Hot Tamales are sitting there along with me. And yes, I really did meet him. There's a picture buried somewhere in this raven's nest of a house.

Sandy, I certainly did notice all the newcomers. We're getting to be quite popular. Wonder how much of it can be attributed to a certain blog??? :) Good luck with your submission! (toes crossed).

Okay, time to get ready for w-o-r-k. {{{shudder}}} I'll check back in tonight.

JPS, I'm leaving you in charge.

Cinthia Hamer said...

Cici, Ain't Sandra great? And she cooks a great turkey, too. :)

Maxine Davis said...

Cynthia,

Really enjoyed your post! We have similar backgrounds. Heck, I think just about all of us have similar backgrounds. I've written for decades too. At the bookstore, I just could not find the setting I wanted, the storyline I wanted or the characters, SO, I decided to write what I wanted to read. Now my goal is to write what editors and agents want to read!

Hang in there. I think we'll both be published some day!

Susan May said...

Cinthia,
I need to send out apologies to some editors for some of the earlier stuff I sent them, but we all have to start somewhere. Joining a writing group changed my writing life. I know I wouldn't be publsihed today if it wasn't for joining a group. Dues can sometimes be hard to come by but they are necessary.

TerriOsburn said...

Wonderful post, Cinthia!

I'm one of the lucky ones who found RWA almost as soon as I started writing. I'm still working on MS #1 but am more determined than ever to do this.

And I feel the same way you do about authors. I worked in radio for years and was never that impressed when meeting the artists. It was nice, but didn't make me fangirl nervous. But I stumble like a lune when I meet authors. LOL!

I know you'll be on the shelves soon. And I'll be so excited to stand in line for your autograph. :)

Dianna Love said...

Beautiful post Cinthia and DEFINITELY stick with it. And don't any of you dare burn or throw away your earlier efforts. There's nothing better to show you progress than to look back at something you did in the past year, five years, ten years, or whatever.

And you know what? That first effort was great because you actually sat down to put your thoughts on paper. You forget later on what an accomplishment that is when you're writing all the time, but writing those first words were a step into the unknown.

I can't wait to stand in line for all of your books. I have a shelf cleared just for you that I expect you to fill.

Dianna

Michelle said...

Great post Cinthia. I sometimes wonder how the years pass so quickly and then I look at the pages piling up - it's a great measure of accomplishment to see that you have written pages and great friends to show for the years we all spend working so hard at this!

Cyrano said...

Cinthia,
I adored your post, so heartfelt, so well written, so inspiring. Like JPS said, it was like writing Prozac, or in my case, writing Pristique (it's a new one and it really chills me ever so nicely)
Your tale about meeting the author in the bookstore was great. Hopefully one day, I'll be that author, scribbling my name inside books for the masses. Won't that be fun!
This, I believe, is our year. We've been at it for a while, learned a lot from GRW and RWA and now we just have to apply that knowledge and get our work out there.
We're gonna do it!
You're gonna do it!
BELIEVE IT!
That's my gift to you today, a little bit of writing Pristique!
Have a lovely afternoon,
Tamara

Tammy Schubert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tammy Schubert said...

Hi,

Your straight-from-the-heart post is lovely. You've come a long way since your first book (can't believe it was handwritten--just can't imagine doing that). The key is to keep plugging away. Your call will come. When it does, we've got to go celebrate.

You made me laugh when you described the moment you met your first author. It made me reflect on my first GRW meeting. I was star struck. When some of the authors stopped to talk to me, I could barely get basic sentences out of my mouth. I'm able to speak to them like a normal person right now, but I'm still in awe of what they have all accomplished.

Tammy Schubert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linsey Lanier said...

Cinthia, Thanks for being so honest about those old manuscripts. I have a couple of 500-page stinkers stored away, too. Gotta crawl before you can walk.

Your journey is an inspiring one. RWA chapters (especially our beloved GRW) are a godsend. I wish I had joined years earlier.

You sound like you have the persistence to make it. Hope you do one day!

Glad to other people were star-struck by published authors, too. I remember babbling ridiculously when I first met Stephanie Bond.

Linsey

Cinthia Hamer said...

Evening, everyone.

Thanks so much for all the wonderful, positive posts! You have no idea what balm it is to come home after a long day at work and a harrowing drive home in a torrential downpour and read your responses. :)

Wish I could respond personally to every one of you, but I'm just too danged tired.

Wishing you all pages and pages of perfect prose, melodic metaphors and no run-on sentences.

Love,

Cinthia

Nicki Salcedo said...

Cinthia, we were separated at birth. I've written a historical and the western is still brewing in my head. Had a poster of Fabio in my college dorm (half in jest, half in admiration). I will write because I love it. I know you'll be published one day...soon!

Ana Aragón said...

Cynthia,

What a wonderful, heartfelt post. And Fabio isn't dumb as a stump? Really? That's so great to hear!

I also started a historical that was really, really dumb and I have a western I'd love to write. Love cowboys.

Thanks for sharing. I can't wait to see your books on my bookshelf!

Ana

Cinthia Hamer said...

Nicki, if you ever decide to take up that western historical again, let me know. Would love to critique with you. Ana, you, too!

Yeah, Ana, he isn't dumb, intellectually speaking, but how smart is a man who'd shave his chest hair and then try to convince the world he's a blond? Those outgrown roots will getcha every time! LOL!

Carol Burnside said...

Cinthia,

I'm in agreement with Marilyn. If this post is an indication of what you're capable of, your manuscripts must be quite good. Best of luck with your writing. I can hardly wait until we're all published!