“Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance.”
Living near the cave of one of the ancient Sibyls spurred my imagination. I felt its intrigue from the first time I entered and I knew there was a story in me waiting to be written. But write a novel? I had a decent command of the English language and some success with essays many years before, but I had never written anything lengthy. Still, I considered it. At the time though, I observed the details of the place but was too absorbed in learning the language and joyously inhaling the heady thrill of Italian culture to do much writing beyond some diary notes.
Back in the States a couple of years later, the idea lingered, but I was a busy mom and full-time teacher. I was writing but it was mostly curriculum development and related books for the classroom. Ideas for the Italian novel ran through my mind but I wrote nothing down.
Five years later, my husband’s job took us to Germany and I was on a two-year leave of absence from my job. It was the perfect opportunity to transfer ideas from my mind to paper. Using an Apple IIe with all of ten megabytes, I pecked away at my first draft. One friend read it and gave it faint praise, like it was “cute” or something. I wrote to another friend, a writer, and asked her to read my manuscript but she declined, perhaps for fear of offending me with honest criticism. I realized I had work to do but once again life got in the way. Our stay was extended and I was not only caught up in cultural immersion and language lessons, I was teaching again.
Six years later back in the States again, in addition to a new teaching job, I started a new graduate program. I was also developing a new curriculum, writing grants and presenting at many conferences. I hadn’t forgotten my book but I only worked on it when I got away to Maine on weekends. Progress was snail-like.
Nine more years later, I decided to take early retirement from teaching to focus on writing. I got serious about revising my book and joined a summer writing group in Maine. Feedback was helpful.
I sent out dozens of queries to both agents and publishing houses and got enough letters of rejection to paper a small room. I was momentarily excited when I received high praise from an agent who wanted to represent my book at Book Expo America. The caveat was that she wanted me to pay for the privilege. I started researching and found out that legitimate and ethical agents are members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives. (She wasn’t a member). I was also advised to check out the web site Preditors and Editors to help me avoid scams. I had learned a lot—the hard way.
My next step was to find another writing group closer to my home in Massachusetts. That was a mixed experience but I learned more about punctuation (like rules for quotes and the differences between a hyphen, an en-dash and an em-dash) and also the benefits of networking at conferences of professional writing organizations.
Since my target audience was teens, I joined the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. At a couple of its conferences, I was able to take workshops and meet with editors for feedback. I found these encounters invaluable.
I followed up with a couple of weekend-long writing workshops, one through a university and another run by an established author.
Through all of these years, I revised, revised, and revised until I had something I was proud of and I sent it off to a copy editor.
I decided to opt for self-publishing because I liked the idea of being in control of the process. I knew it would be time-consuming and tedious but I had taught in a middle school of technology and I like the challenge of figuring out tech details.
“Upheavals at Cuma, an E.T. Madigan Mystery” was published in 2014. The learning curve was a slow uphill struggle and it took many years from the conception of an idea to completion. I had learned much and felt satisfied that I was able to put a story I felt compelled to write in print.
That was not the end, but actually a new beginning. To my surprise, I was brimming with ideas for more E.T. Madigan Mysteries. I wanted to continue writing and I wanted to get more and better support. I have since found that with critique partners and local writing groups. I ‘ve learned to network and absorb advice from other writers and editors and I’m pleased to say that I’ve published two more E.T. Madigan Mysteries in the last three years. The learning never ends though and that’s a good thing.