Sunday, March 20, 2011

Here's to the glorious 49th!

 Today is my birthday. I’m 49 (really! I was born in 1962).

Am I worried about getting older? Nope. Of course, I’d love to think when people meet me they’ll tell me I don’t look a day over 35, but I’m happy with the experiences, memories and the life I have at this moment.

I remember turning 25, and feeling a sense of panic that I hadn’t done anything with my life yet, that the years were slipping past too quickly. I can smile at that now, but it was a crisis then.

At 39, I remember thinking I was at the perfect age. My kids were still young, but everyone was toilet trained, in school, and I was extremely happy being a stay at home mom. I did a lot of volunteering at the school and as a Cub Scout leader, and I loved every minute. I had time to garden, bake, paint, and it was then that I began to write fiction.

I’d always wanted to write a novel. Composition, English and History were my favorite subjects in school. My highest marks were for anything creative or written. Good thing, since math was baffling to me. I eventually made my career in advertising copywriting, and then in direct marketing. I started my own freelance business, so I could stay at home and raise my children.

But through all this, I dreamed of writing novels, making up stories, carrying readers away to the fantasy places that filled my head, making the historical time periods I love come alive. Every other kind of writing just felt like preparation for that.

Of course, carrying anyone anywhere requires bravery and determination. It took a while (as I suspect it does for most writers) to develop a thick-enough skin and the courage to show anyone my fiction. I had no problem with changes—as a business writer you learn not to fall in love with your own words, because the client is going to want to change them. I once did a project for a government department where thirty people reviewed one document I’d written, and they all had suggestions! My first tentative fiction submission to an agent met with rejection. I was too inexperienced to see that it was a ‘good’ rejection, and said the work had merit, and wished me the best. I only saw the rejection, sadly, and went back to writing in secret.

When we moved from Ottawa to Calgary in 2004, I was responsible for driving my children back and forth to school in the city, which amounted to several hours a day in the car. A full-time job was out of the question, and I decided the time had come to get serious about writing a book.

I joined the wonderfully supportive Calgary chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Our members take writing and submitting seriously. They actively work on their careers and the goal of becoming published authors. They share their rejections, their triumphs and their ideas. I began entering contests and sending things to publishers, and pitching when the opportunity arose. There were more rejections, but I learned to take the positive from each one, and move forward.

I was also fortunate enough to find three wonderful critique partners to work with, too. They helped me fix what was wrong and improve enough to get published. There are times when you can’t see the flaws in your own work, no matter how often you re-read and edit it, but a good critique partner can see it at once.

I made a rule that whenever a manuscript was rejected, it must be submitted somewhere else within a week, whether to a contest or the next agent on the list. I read craft books, attended workshops, listened to lectures, honed query letters and learned the technique of writing a decent synopsis.

I was in Edinburgh in 2009 when I got an e-mail from agent Kevan Lyon saying she was interested in working with me.

Kevan sent the manuscript was sent to ten publishers. After a flurry of interest, I received two offers, and chose Avon.

And so, just nine days after my 49th birthday, my first book, SECRETS OF A PROPER
COUNTESS will be in stores.

Through the whole process I’ve come to believe that things happen when they do for a reason. With two very busy kids in multiple school bands, advanced level classes, and a dozen other activities, I couldn’t have managed a writing career and a busy family a few years ago.

Now my eldest is in university, and my youngest is entering her last year of high school, and I have time to devote to my career. Part of my desire to be published stems from wanting to make them proud, to show them dreams can come true if you do the work, keep learning, and don’t give up.

That’s the secret to luck and the fountain of youth, all in one, and it’s only taken me 49 years to find it.

So I’m not worrying about getting old today. I’m looking forward to the future, wrinkles and all.