Thursday, November 06, 2008

The “Q” word, part 2

Okay, I won’t say there’s been panic in the streets…but close. (Yeah, I flatter myself. My crit partner’s paying attention…and maybe three other people. But, hey, it counts.) That’s worth looking at in and of itself. Which we will do, as we go along.
First of all, though, let me say a couple of things about the word “quit.”

Very few four-letter words inspire the same knee-jerk reaction from writers as that one does. I mean that literally. You can hang around writers who’ll cheerfully pollute their (and my) airspace and ears with cusswords of all variety—colorful, even scatological—over the slightest thing…with a smile.
But you mention the word quit, and their blood runs cold.
Or they look real, real nervous.
Or they get defensive, maybe even condescending.
Or they pretend they didn’t hear it.
Or…they laugh. Sometimes derisively, sometimes…not so much so.

Because quitting writing is something real writers never do. At least not real writers who also eventually expect to get published in some recognizable form in the English- (or any other language-) speaking world. This is a given.
This is also a fact. If you quit, those words will not only never get on your computer screen…they’ll never get to a reader. Any reader.
Ergo, since no one has yet mastered the technique of sending brilliant prose via brainwaves to an editor whose brainwaves will pick it up without typos...the act of quitting, stoppage—even taking a break, for heaven’s sake—means you’re one day (or a lot of days) farther away from gaining space on the page, the bookshelf, and the marketplace.
So of course, if one wants to have one’s name on a book cover, the first advice one has to remember to follow is Finish the Dang Book. Which means Not Quitting.

Fast-rewind to our previous installment of this chat, however, and you will see that this particular writer has an impressive track record of perseverance.
I mean, for heaven’s sake, I joined RWA in 1988 for the express purpose of entering the Golden Heart competition—because I wanted to win that thing so badly I was willing to part with hard-earned dollars to actually join an organization.
Those of you who know me know what a step that was. In high school, I was a great “joiner.” I was in lots and lots of extracurricular activities—but that’s the clue. They were activities. I did them with people who were already my friends. So for me, at the age of 36, to jump into a professional writers’ organization in which I knew not a soul...well, let’s say it was an act of what felt like colossal chutzpah at the time, not to mention almost dizzying optimism.

Lots of water has gone under that particular bridge in the ensuing years, but one thing that remains out of all of it is that I’m not usually One Who Quits easily.

So, you may ask, why quit now?
When I have one published book that slipped neatly under my belt, and now has slipped just as neatly out of that belt and is back in my hands to sell…someday…again?
When I’ve won a major writing contest, even if it was years ago?
When I’m probably just that
one more submission away?
Putting aside the ack-ack response to that last sentence :-), let me elucidate.
I am quitting being the writer I am now.
I am quitting that so I can go back to
being the writer I used to be.

Okay, now you’re scratching your heads, but at least you’re not tearing any more hair out. I hope.
So what do I mean by the above?

Rewind again…to 1998, when I was a Golden girl. If you woke me from a sound sleep at that point in time and asked me my goal, I would have said, “A three-book contract with Silhouette Romance.”
I knew where I was headed, and I had no doubt I would get there.
But then some things started to happen.

It takes some of us a long time to internalize others’ expectations, but it takes me almost no time at all. Some of them, of course, I can resist. But others...find their way in.
Because I wrote clean books, with no sex on the page, I was starting to notice the winds of change toward fewer and fewer of those kinds of books...and more of the steam I had no intention of writing.

It was about that time that someone suggested for the first time that I write inspirationals—because they were “clean.” This notion, I pooh-poohed out of the gate...for a number of very good reasons, most of which had to do with my Catholic roots, and some of which had to do with the truly hinky lack of quality I was seeing in so-called inspirational romances at that time.

To be blunt, early on, those books weren’t very good. I didn’t like them, I didn’t know anyone who did, and so I’d be darned if I’d sell to one of those markets—even if I could break in somehow, which I doubted. Since my characters liked to dance, go to movies, play cards, drink wine, and were even known once in a while to say a “darn,” a “gosh,” or a “shucks”....well, there wasn’t a chance in Hades I was going to get one of my little books accepted by a standard inspy house any time that I could see, not without gutting most of what my characters were otherwise free to do in the real world. :-)

But the suggestion stayed with me.
Through more and more rejections of my sweet, traditional romances...
Through rejections of my dark, murky romantic suspenses...
All the way up to the day when I thought, “Oh, okay. What the heck. Let me see if I can try one of those things.” But I wasn’t going to start from scratch; I felt I had a much better shot if I took one of my already squeaky-clean books and...gave it an extra dimension.

I did it as a lark. Honest.

And then, liking the first three chapters of what I’d done, I thought, “What the heck,” and entered the Faith, Hope, and Love RWA Chapter’s inspy contest with it.
And it won second place.

Second place.

To which—had I been prone to say such things then—I would’ve said, “Woot!”

This was something that thrilled me to the skies. Heck, getting good scores on a contest always does that for me—but to get good scores in a contest with your first try at one of those weird little “religious” books that you swore up and down you couldn’t write?

That made me start thinking...
What if I, in my heart of hearts, was actually an inspirational romance writer?

Little did I know that I was opening a Pandora’s box by even asking that question. By even thinking myself into that framework...exploring it...and wondering if that would be, indeed, where I was going to “make it.”

In retrospect, I have come to realize that that question led me down a desperately wrong path. Maybe not a wrong path for anyone else...but a wrong one for me.

Why and how it did so, I’ll talk about in my next post.

More to come,


Mary Rose said...

I am fascinated! I'm hoping your story has a good ending!

And I have never, ever seen a Catholic inspirational novel. It would be nice to read a romance where Catholic traditions were mentioned. I've also thought that Catholics were more "real" with their life, too. Heck, years ago at my parish festival, they were raffling off a "Barrow O' Booze!" A wheelbarrow was filled with bottles of liquor, ready to raise money for the church and school. My Protestant friends were shocked when I told them the story.

Too funny!

Deb said...

I think there IS a market for your stuff. The people out there publishing do not know this, to their everlasting shame.

I, too, hope your story has a good denouement, and more...I EXPECT one, 'cause you're a horking good writer despite what all these folks say.

In an ocean of "no", all it takes is one "yes." I believe that "yes" is coming.

Donna Alice said...

Totally agree -- I held off joining the ACFW because of my Catholic roots. And I'm not real sure I'm an inspirational writer--but hey, I'm willing to give it a good old Catholic parochial school girl try.

Totally agree on the q word too. I think most writers reinvent themselves as we go along. I'm a much better writer now than I was when my first piece was published at age 18 - a rabid letter to the editor about the Equal Rights Amendment - before it was passed!