Monday, February 13, 2012

Origins Blogfest...My Journey So Far

Recently I began reading the blog of a local writer named Brinda Berry and through her blog, I learned of the Origins Blogfest. Lots (and lots) of authors have signed up, and since I tend to sit around biting my lip trying to come up with interesting blog posts, I signed up also. It seems like a fun thing. On days when I struggle to write a sentence, it's a good and cathartic thing to go back in my life and remember what made me want to write in the first place. Why is it that I have obsessed with writing since I was a small child? I am nearing 40 (will be 39 in July), and I haven't exactly written the best sellers I thought I would when I was a teenager. In fact, I haven't done most of the things I always said I would. Yet, this is one dream I CAN NOT let go of. Why? Even on days I want to give up and find a new dream, I can't. I can't. Why?

The answer must be in my origins.

Me and my Mom June 1975, the day referred to
I am one of those rare folk who has memories back to toddler years. My first memories take place when I am  not quite 2 yrs old. I can recall running through my aunt's house in my panties with her son's coat on...well, not really on. I put the hood of the coat on my head and let the coat hang off of me. I was pretending I was a super hero and the coat was my cape. I remember my Mom carrying me into the mall in North Little Rock on that same day to have my picture taken. She stood me on the floor just inside the entrance of the mall. I was barefoot, and it was June of 1975. I couldn't walk on the asphalt outside because my bare feet would have been charred flesh. However, the floor of the mall was cool and dry. My Mom took me down the escalator to the lower level. Today that level is the food court, but back then there was a fountain at the base of the stairs. It had many colored lights that the water flowed over. I wanted to get in that fountain badly, but my Mom said, "No, no, baby. Hot burn. Hot burn."

Me, almost 2, after my cousin took his coat back 
Well, she didn't have to worry about me touching it then. I had touched a hot stove not long before, so I sure as heck knew what "hot burn" meant. Any time my family wanted me to stay away from something, they said it was "hot burn." Whether it was or not. One day my cousins were eating strawberries under a tree in their backyard (it was around this same time and I was close to this same age). I asked my cousin John for a strawberry. He said, "Oh, no, baby. You can't have these. These are hot burn." He just didn't want to share with me. I wouldn't eat strawberries for years after that....but I digress.

I think having such a stark and clear memory plays into my writing obsession. I remember smells, textures, colors, facial expressions, clothing, songs, what people were wearing at certain times...I remember a lot. My memory was great to have in school because I could ace tests with little effort. If I read something, heard something, or saw something...I remembered it. I honestly think this helps me in writing. I enjoy visiting those memories the way I visit my characters in their worlds.

From my very first memories, I can recall how my Mom and Dad loved to listen to music. Whenever Meat Loaf would sing "Two out of Three Ain't Bad" I would stare out of the car window and play scenes in my head. I would imagine lovers dancing and saying sweet things to each other or (in the case of the above song) tears as one loved more than the other did. Even at 4yrs old, I knew that was messed up. I would hear Sheena Easton singing "My baby takes the morning train" and I would visualize the song and make up stories in my head. My Dad loved Three Dog Night and Credence Clearwater Revival. For some reason those edgier rock groups gave me the creeps...just a little bit. When their songs would play, I would imagine danger and night time. I would think about bad guys being hunted by the good guys. I would dream up adventures.

I'm not saying I didn't like their music. It just had a different feel and effect on my imagination.

When I was in 2nd grade and we got our report card for the FIRST nine weeks of school, I noticed that it said I was at 1st grade reading level. Well, that just wouldn't do. I was in 2nd grade! It didn't matter to me that it was still the beginning of 2nd grade. This girl doesn't like to be behind anyone. I took it on myself to rectify that little situation. By the end of that school year, I won an award for reading 53 books. And my reading level shot up. By the time I was 11, I was at a 12th grade reading level. I LOVED to read. That report card galvanized me to read, and I am thankful for it. I read The Prince and The Pauper by Mark Twain that year. It lit my imagination on fire!!

I still hadn't settled on being a writer when I grew up. It was a couple of years later that the bug finally bit. I was 10 years old. when the movie The Outsiders came out. Wow. I loved that movie. It had drama and adventure. It had a huge heart! I loved Ponyboy and I was in love with Darry! That was still a few years before Patrick Swayze become Johnny Castle and told the world that no one "puts Baby in a corner." He was gorgeous. I come from a poor family just like Ponyboy. My family was every bit as poor as the Curtis family, but I remember being so glad I had my Mom and Dad and all my aunts, uncles and cousins...and my Grandma. My whole family were roofers. Just like Ponyboy and his family.

Teen Me, no that's NOT a mullet. I had on barrettes.
When I discovered that the movie was based on a book...a book written by a teen-aged S.E. Hinton...I was ecstatic. I had read that book over and over long before I was required to read it in junior high. S.E. Hinton is the reason I wanted to become a writer. That same year (when I was 10) I had to read some sentences in my English class at school. I made my teacher and the other kids laugh, and I got a lot of compliments on those sentences...that pretty much sealed the deal. I OFFICIALLY wanted to be a writer.

I studied everything I could get my hands on after that. I read magazines on writing. I read the articles in The Writer's Market and I studied all the guidelines. I read any interviews with "real writers" that I could find. I joined a writer's group as a teenager and met a great writer for Harlequin named Gina Wilkins when she came to speak to our group. She was encouraging and gave a little bit of advice. I am grateful to her for taking the time. I was naive and had no idea how many people wanted her to pause in her own writing to help them. She was kind to a kid, and I never forgot.

While I was in high school, I entered a short story contest at my school. I got third place for that year's anthology. It was so funny. The two stories that beat me were both poignant drama...serious literature type stuff. My story was about a girl who dreamed every night about a pirate that she fell in love with...then after the dreams stopped she ran into her "pirate" in real life and discovered he had been having the exact same dreams. I remember one day as I walked into one of my classrooms a very popular basketball player called out my name. When I looked at him, he said, "I read your story." Then he smiled at me and winked. One of those, I wish I knew you thought like that before type winks. I got a lot of good feedback on that silly little story. I think it was because it was fun.

I've had plenty of missteps along the way. I basically wasted my 20's. I probably shouldn't tell this story, but I will anyway. I tend to be pretty open about my own stupidity. When I was in my early 20's I had the idea of a teen time travel book. A girl goes back to the 1930's with her best friend. While there, she saves the life of the brother of her best friend's grandfather, and in turn clears their family's reputation. It was actually a great premise. I was so incredibly stupid that I queried Simon Schuster with it. I wrote my very first query letter before I had ever written a word of the book. In my idiotic reasoning, I thought that since Writer's Market said they reply in 3 months that I had time to write the book and get it ready.

They replied in just under 3 weeks and wanted to see my outline and three sample chapters. I still had nothing written. I basically threw something together and sent it off...and of course promptly got my first rejection letter. I took my first chance at getting published and blew it like a trumpet.

Over the years, I've found the whole process of the writing business to be daunting. It takes a lot of time and effort to produce a polished and worthy manuscript. Then (in the old days) you would have to shop that ms around. Some publishers would accept unsolicited manuscripts, so you could send off your query, proposal, and/or whole manuscript to be tossed into a slush pile in some overworked editor's office. At which point you would wait months to receive a reply...usually a polite rejection form letter. Or you could do the same process as above, only instead of publishers you would send your baby out to agents and hope they would like you and want to jump on board your bandwagon with you.

IF you got accepted and were one of the lucky ones who sold a book, you then had to wait for the book to be released. The whole process can take months or even years. Sounds fun, right?

I used to sit down to write, and I would find myself distracted by this. It didn't make me lose my passion for my story, but it just bothered me and I thought about what a pain in the butt the whole process was. It put me off. Not off writing...I can't change who I fundamentally am...but it put me off the business of writing.

Then along came Amazon. I no longer needed to beg for the golden key to the golden gate. If I like my stuff, I can put it up. Period. If I decide later I don't like it, I can take it down and either revise or trash it. But the point is that the whole process is up to me now. I get to pick the cover I want. I get to decide for myself if my writing is good enough. I get to keep up to 70% of my royalties! Maybe my stuff will sell and maybe it won't. The point is that my whole life as a writer is up to ME for the first time EVER!!!

I have a couple of short stories up right now. The Prisoner is not doing well. In fact, I've only sold a few copies since it was release last April. I think only friends and family bought any. I keep thinking I will take it down and see what changes I can come up with to make it better. I'm sure I can improve the story. I think the main things that keep it from selling is that the title is pretty generic. MUST CHANGE THE TITLE! And the cover is a bit bland. It was only my 2nd attempt to ever design a cover. It is the story of an agoraphobic woman who is about to commit suicide when an escaped convict breaks into her home.

The other is a story called Shattering Inside. The cover of that one probably needs to be changed also. It is a drama I wrote in college many years ago for a creative writing class. It is the story of a girl who was sexually abused as a child and has struggled to get past the abuse. When she finally thinks she has healed, she learns that her attacker has passed away and it causes all of the old feelings to come back up.

I put it up because I wanted to make sure I could teach myself the process. I can't afford to pay anyone to design my covers or format my stuff. I wanted to be sure I could do it on my own. I put the cover together and uploaded the story. I didn't even tell my friends or family that I did it. It was my very first title to ever be published on Kindle.

The story (with NO promotion from me at all) immediately began to sell. Not much. Just a couple here and there. So, last summer I tried an experiment. I made the book free on Smashwords (where nothing seems to sell). Amazon would not allow me to set it to free there, so I waited for the internet spiders to realize it was free somewhere else and finally make it free on Amazon. When it did, the change was amazing. The story started being downloaded left and right. Thousands. Within a few days it was in the top ten on Kindle's free fiction list (I think #7 was as high as it climbed) and in the top 100 of Kindles overall free fiction. I was in shock. I left it free until about November and it got strong downloads but it never reached the ranks it did in the summer. I set the price high at $2.99 (I consider that a bit high because it is a short story and not a novel, but it was an experiment...just to see what would happen), and it continued to sell. After the first of the year, I put it back to .99. It continues to sell here and there...just a few copies so far this month. It's even gotten decent reviews, though I think the book is a bit polarizing. People seem to either like it or hate it. My rank on Goodreads is right at 3 stars. Not great.

I'm hoping to do much, much better with my next release. But I am still learning and I'm nowhere near where I want to be as a writer. I just want to finish stuff and write MORE WORDS! That's the hardest part...for sure.

Anyway, that is my journey so far. I am working on a thriller right now called Swagger and a drama called Coffee. Hope to have them both up soon.

Good luck to all of you out there with dreams you can't let go of. Hang on tight and never give up.


  1. I loved reading your story! Who didn't love S.E. Hinton's Outsiders and all those delicious Harlequins. Congrats with all your writing success you've had so far. :)

    1. Thanks. Yes, S.E. Hinton is great. And so many other authors inspired me. From Paul Zindel to Mary Higgins Clark. So many great stories out there.

  2. Hi Lisa. I'm just dropping by as one of the blogfest co-hosts, and am now your newest follower. Nice to meet you!

    1. Thanks! That's awesome! I hope you will check back often. Nice to meet you also.

  3. I wish I had your memory! Such a special gift...especially for writers! Thank you for sharing such a compelling ORIGIN story! :)

    1. Thanks for reading it. I know it was a

  4. Awesome story! Great pictures. I homeschool three kids! Age 10, 14, and a senior. I love it.

    1. Homeschooling is a trip, isn't it? It's nothing like other people think it is, and each family is so different. Every time I even entertain putting the kids back in public school, someone will just say something offhand about their child's school and it reminds me of why we chose to homeschool in the first place.

  5. A bit tough to get to 212 people in one day, so I'm sorry for the late Origins blogfest visit. Thanks for sharing your great story. I have yet to read Outsiders but you've got me interested. :)

    your newest follower,

    1. Thank you! How did you get through Junior High without reading The Outsiders? :) I hope you enjoy the blog.

  6. Thank for sharing your story! its wonderful..

    1. Thanks, Jeremy. I was afraid it was too long. :)