I can do this

“I can do this.”

In July of 2012, I found a local ACFW group and in August attended my first meeting. The president invited me to join them at the annual conference being held in Dallas the next month.

I like people but I’m an introvert. I’m a writer who, most often, communicates much better on paper with the option of editing my words than verbally communicating where words cannot be extricated from the air or altered once released from the cavernous mouth.

So, what did I say to the invitation that would include riding in a van all the way to Texas with complete strangers? I said, “Sure! I have to discuss it with my husband but I’d love to go!”

And afterward, I was kicking myself and had to give myself a pep talk.

“I can do this,” I thought. I’ve been on various church trips. I’ve attended women’s conferences. It couldn’t be worse. Or could it? Maybe my husband would advise against it.

He didn’t.

So I registered. I paid for a hotel. I made the necessary arrangements for my family while I was gone and prepared to make the best of the situation. No matter what.

And I’m glad I went.

The camaraderie between the ladies, the respect and consideration they showed me, as well as each other astounded me.

At the conference, I met new people; people who were not just writers but were fiction writers. Hours culminated into euphoric days as I connected with people who spoke the same language, shared the same challenges, and understood the journey of storytelling. I learned new things in the workshops and I had a great time!

The best though was pitching the revised version of the same novel that was taken to Denver and both an agent and an editor was impressed enough that they asked me to send the full manuscript when I returned home.

Unfortunately, once home I tried to contact the agent to inquire about the best way to send the manuscript to her and she must have been abducted by aliens or fallen into a sinkhole or been snatched by zombies because there was no response. None. Even after several attempts. Perhaps she had a sudden change of heart or she got fired. I still don’t know what happened.

Still hopeful, I sent the manuscript to the editor who had requested it and while she had good things to say, she ultimately did not believe it fit their needs.

I know this is the moment where most writer’s cry or become defensive or have some other sort of meltdown.

I simply shrugged it off.

Don’t get me wrong, I would have been elated if the manuscript had been accepted but it wasn’t; not because of poor writing and not for the lack of trying. Therefore, I tried again. By the end of the year, I was ready to send another query and once again the manuscript was rejected. However, the agent sent the nicest rejection a writer could hope for; saying that she liked the premise but hadn’t fallen in love with the sample pages and because it was a subjective business, I should keep trying to find representation. As crazy as this sounds to most people, I will cherish this rejection as long as I live.

My First Conference

After college graduation in the spring of 2008, amidst kids, church obligations, and life’s little dramas, I tinkered with another manuscript; a family saga. I also studied, because a degree in English didn’t fully prepare me for the vast amount of information needed to launch a career in fiction writing. So my shelves began filling with reference materials on character development, plots, subtext, conflict & suspense, as well as those titles pertaining to the business of writing. And although I’ve never read any Stephen King novels, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Stephen King on Writing.

Once this manuscript had been completed and revised, I realized the work wasn’t shaping into what I’d hoped, so I moved on to yet another novel; this time trying my hand at romance. I called it All Things New and I studied some more. I established office hours for myself and finished the novel in 2011. Finally ready to send it out, I discovered a few more obstacles to my publication goals. I couldn’t find editors that would accept unsolicited manuscripts. A large percent of agents didn’t accept them either. Imagine my delight when I stumbled across Jerry Jenkin’s American Christian Writers group, which offered the opportunity to pitch the novel to agents and editors at a conference in Denver Colorado.

This was it. This was my chance to be discovered. And since I had no idea what to expect, I went into the situation with an incomprehensible peace. At the very least, this was a step forward in my professional career. I registered and studied all their ‘do’s and don’ts’ of attending the conference and mentally prepared to “network.”

I flew into Denver, a truly beautiful city and was shuttled to a luxurious hotel. After a tasty dinner that night, each member had the opportunity to sign up for an appointment with his or her desired agent/editor. This free-for-all scramble could have been a nightmare, but it wasn’t. Members moved about in respective regard without temper tantrums or foul language. The next day I was even more impressed. Conference members extended friendly greetings and were quick to give, as well as receive, business cards. An air of professionalism permeated each workshop.

Then, it was the appointed time to pitch my novel. My first pitch – ever. I practiced at length making it sound as un-practiced as possible. Yet as I calmly sat in front of her, feeling as though I were showing off my firstborn child, she said, “this isn’t a romance,” and went on to say the premise sounded interesting but “you need to learn your genres.” Strangely enough, this wasn’t as discouraging as one would think because the next day I had the opportunity to pitch the novel to an editor who also seemed to like the premise but didn’t think it would fit their readership. Additionally, I was able to discuss the novel with a different editor at dinner. (This is an important part of the conference.) Since agents and editors were hosting the tables at dinnertime, this gave everyone additional time to network as well as discuss their work if asked. Agents and editors were humans too. Courtesy was encouraged and I think for the most part, extended.

And while I didn’t go home with a contract, I went home with knowledge, with some homework (learn my genres), and a certain level of professional confidence. I had survived my first conference and I was on the right track.

In the Beginning

“She has a big imagination.”

These words have been used often to describe me as a child and I believe they were the beginning of my journey to publication. Long before I could write a single word, my mind was filled with stories.

Several times, I loaded my dolls into my dad’s inoperable Rambler and took imaginary road trips to far away places. Other times, I became a lion who roamed the mountains looking for missing family members. One summer, I stayed with my aunt and uncle and their front yard became the Wild West where I roped wild horses and met a handsome stranger, who, in my mind’s eye was Little Joe Cartwright from Bonanza. On more than one winter day, my neighbor friend and I became Eskimos tromping through Alaska (our two yards) with our pet Polar Bears. We tried to build igloos, but they never materialized.

The difficult part of having a big imagination was school, because not all my teachers appreciated my doodling, daydreaming ways, and certain subjects only intensified my mind’s desire to wander off. Nevertheless, I began to write my first story in the third grade. I wrote one or two chapters but never finished. In junior high, I wrote poetry and my English teacher encouraged me to enter a contest but by the time I was bold enough to do it, I’d missed the deadline. Throughout high school, I knew I wanted to write. Something. Anything. Everything. Yet making a career out of it seemed far-fetched. So, when it came time to declare a college major, I chose Elementary Education.

At 18, I began my first adult novel but never finished. Notice a trend here? Determination and tenacity did not come to me easily. Then entered a young man who swept me off my feet. Marriage, full-time job, and a move to another state factored into my decision to put college off until later.

After kids, a few college classes here and there, a Children’s Writing Correspondence course, and moving several more times, the dream of becoming a published author had only grown. After my husband finished his training, I wrote and finished my first novel. I was ready to be published.

Except the novel was really bad and the critique group that read the first chapter, constructively pointed out numerous mistakes. Unfortunately, a big imagination wasn’t enough. I really knew nothing about the craft of writing. So, I returned to college and obtained my degree in English. I wrote another novel and attended my first writer’s conference secretly hoping that I’d be one of those few, lucky ones that went home with a contract in hand. However, a decently written, finished manuscript wasn’t enough either. I had a lot to learn about the publishing industry and I’m still learning, still unpublished, but still dreaming the dream.

Research for Plain Lies

Horse StableIn Plain Lies, the main character, Erin Galloway, inherits an equine boarding business from her father. I’ve always liked horses. However, I am a small town girl who enjoys the heartbeat of a big city, which means that writing this novel began with research and a road trip.

One fall day in 2013, I went to Village Ridge, Missouri and toured Diamond Farms, a 650 acre ranch and equine boarding business. The owner graciously answered my numerous questions and allowed me a quick look into the operation of such a facility. I learned so much from the owner’s expertise and was impressed with his obvious commitment to providing the very best accommodations for the horses. I also met one of the boarders who allowed me to give her horse a peppermint. I still chuckle when I remember the way the horse responded to the mere sound of the plastic-wrapped candy being opened. Needless to say, this beautiful facility inspired countless mental images for Saddleback Ranch.

The next step in my research involved sitting down with a couple people who owned horses and I learned a new term; founder, which is a condition that occurs when a horse has been allowed to graze too long. This is serious business because it can cause irreversible harm to the horse. This tidbit of information never found its way into the novel but I tried.

I also purchased a book, Karen Leigh Davis’ The Everything Horse Book, which offered tons of information about buying, riding, and caring for an equine companion. And, as always, the Internet promptly supplied answers to my last minute questions. I’ve enjoyed the journey as I learned about horses and those who own them, who become very attached. Now I understand why. While they require a great deal of care, they are beautiful animals with distinct personalities.