My Road to Becoming An Author

                When I was ten years old, I wrote a poem for an assignment in Mrs. Search’s fourth grade class. My older sister Sharlynn read my poem and said, “That’s really good. You should be a writer.” Sharlynn’s words triggered something in me, and from that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a writer.
                Having come to this momentous decision, I immediately sat down and wrote an account I had heard of my great, great grandmother who came to the United States from Denmark at the age of sixteen. Someone in my family helped me send my story to The Children’s Friend. Many months later it appeared in the magazine on their children’s page, and I had my first intoxicating taste of being published. This prompted me to write a novel. I was at that time enamored with Nancy Drew, and inspired by her, I wrote a mystery. I don’t recall its title or characters, but I do remember that it was fifteen pages long, hand written in my fourth grade scrawl, and that the lost money was discovered hidden in the rocker of an antique rocking chair.

                Over the years since then, my writing has won several awards and has appeared in a variety of magazines. However, writing has been for me more of a hobby than a vocation. I had multiple ideas for novels floating around in my brain, and early on made a couple of attempts at writing one, but like my mystery novel, they went nowhere. Then a few years ago, a friend brought me a stack of books to read while I recovered from an illness. One of the books was so poorly written that I couldn’t stand to read past the third chapter. I wondered how the author had managed to get that novel published—the idea that it might have been self-published didn’t occur to me. When I looked inside the front cover, I was shocked to see that the author had a long list of books she’d written. I don’t recall the title of that book or the author’s name, but I owe that woman a thank you. All of the beautifully written novels I’ve read over the years have only intimidated me when it came to the thought of writing one myself. However, that poorly written novel prompted me to think, “I can write at least that well. And if that woman can write novels, so can I.” That thought motivated me to finally grasp one of the ideas I had floating around in my brain and begin the formidable process of putting it down on paper.
                The actual writing, rewriting, having readers give input, and rewriting again took a little over two years. This was partly because my busy life gave me little time for working on the novel, but also because I really didn’t know what I was doing when it came to writing a novel. I learned a great deal from the experience. Once the book was complete, I began trying to find a publisher. I knew from research that many of the large publishing houses would only consider books submitted by an agent, so I began looking for one. From doing that I learned that finding an agent is a lot like looking for a job. Everyone wants you to have experience before they’ll hire you, but no one will give you a job so you can get experience. After spending a couple of years contacting agent after agent, I decided to forget that and start looking at smaller publishing houses that would look at un-agented submissions. The submission process is a slow one. Writing etiquette dictates that you only submit to one publisher at a time. Each publisher had its own list of what it wanted in a submission: a query letter, a two page synopsis, a four page synopsis, the first ten pages, the first three chapters, or some combination of these. Replies took three weeks to three months. Only a few wanted to see the entire manuscript. Most simply replied with a courteous rejection, if at all.
                The seventh publisher I approached was Books To Go Now, an indie publisher based in the state of Washington. I was cautiously optimistic when they asked to see my entire manuscript, but did not allow myself to become too hopeful. A few days after emailing them the complete manuscript, I received a reply. The first paragraph said their editorial team had reviewed my book and enjoyed it. Moving on to the second paragraph, I fully expected it to begin with, “However, we regret to inform you that it does not meet our editorial needs at this time.” I’d received enough of those messages that I assumed they were the only kind that ever came. Instead, the second paragraph began with, “We would like to offer you a contract.” I was so stunned by that line that I had to read it twice to make sure I understood what it said. Even then, I spent the next two days thinking, “Okay, where’s the catch?” I even took another look at Books To Go Now, just to make sure it was a traditional publisher and that I hadn’t inadvertently submitted my manuscript to a vanity press. Finally, I allowed myself to believe the exciting reality that my days of sending out queries were over. My book, The Reluctant Courtship of Jack Allan, was going to be published. I was finally a novelist.
                As I worked on The Reluctant Courtship of Jack Allan, new ideas and twists for the plot came to me. Characters became real and sometimes behaved in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Often when my family would gather and discuss what was going on in our lives, I would feel tempted to say, “Do you want to hear what happened to Jack?” I would have to remind myself that Jack Allan and all the other characters who inhabit the town of Corbett, Idaho, and even the town itself, are all fictional. I hope for those who read my novel, the characters become just as real as they are to me.

                The Reluctant Courtship of Jack Allan is available on Amazon as an eBook or in print. This link will take you to my author page where you can find it. It is also available as an eBook at Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, Kobo, Playster, and many other online book outlets.             
                Here is a sample of the first few pages of the book so you can see if it’s something you’re interested in. Happy reading.

Ruby Henderson was not a large woman, just a shade over five feet and a skosh over one hundred pounds. That afternoon she was wearing a vivid paisley patterned top with hot pink polyester pull-on pants. Her outfit was brighter than the neon “open” sign which hung in the window of Maxie’s diner, and it was the outfit as well as the wildly bobbing hand which caught Jack Allan’s attention as she half trotted, half hobbled across her front lawn toward the quiet country road.
Jack raised two fingers off the steering wheel in a gesture which served just fine for most social interactions requiring a wave. However when Jack’s wave did not end Ruby’s onslaught, he realized she was not simply being social.
Ruby lived a quarter of a mile through a potato field from Jack and was his nearest neighbor. He knew she had his cell phone number on speed dial, but she seemed to prefer to speak with him face to face for matters she deemed really important.
Jack pulled the slate-colored, mud-spattered pickup onto the shoulder of the road in front of Ruby’s house, his truck’s tires crunching loudly on the gravel as he rolled to a stop. He lowered his window.
“What’s up, Ruby?”
“Jack,” Ruby panted, slightly out of breath, “I wanted to make sure you’re going to the senior citizens’ dance tonight.” 
The question puzzled Jack. He was barely the other side of thirty so did not qualify as a senior citizen, but it was not his age which caused Jack to be puzzled. The town of Corbett, Idaho, had little going on, and no one checked AARP cards at the door of the monthly senior citizens’ dance. Everyone was welcome. What caused Jack to be puzzled was that he was not a regular at the dances. In fact, he could not recall the last time he had been to one.
“I wasn’t planning on it,” he said. “I’ll be working pretty late.” He was about to add that the Utah Jazz—which despite being three hours away and across a state line was the nearest professional sports team—had a basketball game that evening. And he fully intended to watch the game when he finally did get done with his day’s work. 
Ruby didn’t give him the chance. “You have to come, Jack,” she insisted firmly. “I have someone I want you to meet.”
Jack felt the smile slip off his face. “I don’t think so, Ruby. I really don’t want to be set up.”
“Who said anything about setting you up?” demanded Ruby. She scowled at Jack through her black framed glasses, which stood in stark contrast to the cloud of pure white hair surrounding her face. “I merely said I wanted to introduce you to someone. My granddaughter, to be exact. She arrived yesterday to interview for a job at the school. If she gets it, she’ll be moving in with me, and she’ll be your neighbor, so I thought the two of you ought to meet.” Ruby spoke rapidly, her voice stern and scolding, and Jack, who had been raised to respect his elders—especially widows—responded with due contrition. Still, in his heart he knew a set up when he heard one.
“Okay, Ruby, but how about you just bring her by on your way to the dance?”
“Oh no, that wouldn’t do at all,” Ruby snapped. “I was counting on you to dance with her. She doesn’t know anyone and I don’t want her to spend the whole evening sitting on the sidelines.”
Ruby was a hard woman to turn down, and Jack felt his resistance begin to crumble. He didn’t want to. He knew he’d regret it. But he relented.
“Maybe I could come for an hour or so.”
“Good,” Ruby replied, a hint of triumph in her voice. “Her name is Alyssum.”
“Yes. Like the flower. My daughter named all of her girls after flowers. Such lovely names—Chrysanthemum, Begonia, and Alyssum.”
“What does she look like?” Jack regretted the question the moment it came out of his mouth. That was not the kind of question one asks a grandmother about her granddaughter. It was like asking, “How hot is she?”
But Ruby didn’t seem to mind. She mulled the question over and then replied thoughtfully, “She has nice teeth.”
Jack suppressed a grimace. Just how unattractive was this Alyssum if the best thing her grandmother could say about her was, “She has nice teeth.”
Jack mentally chewed over the situation as he pulled away from Ruby’s house. There had to be a way he could get out of going to the dance. He debated faking a sudden bout of food poisoning but quickly dismissed the idea. If he told Ruby he was sick, she’d come right over to nurse him just to be sure, and if he didn’t produce vomit, she’d know he was faking. The one beacon of hope Jack found was that he had only promised to come for part of the dance. Perhaps he could show up late. That way he could watch most of the game on TV, listen to the rest of it on the radio during his drive into town, and arrive in time to dance the last couple of dances with the granddaughter who had nice teeth and was named after a flower.
Jack’s plan was a good one, and it would’ve worked if Ruby had not been a very determined woman. Wearing an old pair of sweatpants and a day’s growth of whiskers, Jack managed to view the beginning of the ball game in peace. Unfortunately, that peace only lasted fifteen minutes. Then his phone rang.
“We’re leaving for the dance,” Ruby informed him. “Are you about ready?”
“I just got in from work. I’ve still got to eat and cleanup. I’ll see you there.”
Jack thought he handled the exchange quite well, figuring it would buy him another hour. Ten minutes later the phone rang again. It was Ruby.
“We’re here.” The sound of band music in the background would have told Jack exactly where “here” was if he had not already known. “Are you on your way?”
“Ruby, it’s only been ten minutes,” Jack protested. Give me some time to get cleaned-up.”
Jack hung up and went back to his ballgame. Ten minutes later Ruby called again.
“Have you left yet?” The gruffness in Ruby’s voice came clearly through the phone.
“Not yet.”
“I could come get you if you need me too.” It sounded more like a threat than an offer.
“I can drive myself. I’ll be there in half an hour.”
“Well hurry up. Time is a-wasting.”
Realizing Ruby would be calling back to check on his progress, Jack went into the bathroom. He turned on the water in the shower so it would warm up while he ran a razor quickly over his face. He felt his chin and cheeks. He hadn’t done a perfect job of removing the stubble, but it was good enough. He stepped into the shower. The warm water felt nice, and he leaned back against the tiled wall while the water washed away the grime of the day. It was mid-May. All of the grain was planted, and the potatoes were nearly done. Jack had spent most of his day checking the sprinkler systems which would water his crop for the summer. It wasn’t particularly dirty work, so the grime wasn’t as bad as it often was when he came in for the evening, but there was a good deal of oil under his fingernails.
How did I let Ruby talk me into this? he chided himself. The only person he had a harder time saying “no” to than Ruby was his mother, and those two women seemed to have made it their life’s work to find him a wife.
“It breaks my heart to see you alone,” his mother was fond of moaning to him. Or she would scold him saying, “You really should date more. A girl isn’t going to just show up on your doorstep.” If she was in a sentimental mood, she would pinch his cheek as if he was a four-year-old and say, “Any girl would be lucky to have you for a husband.”
Rather than nagging Jack on the subject of marriage, Ruby’s strategy was to point out possible mates to him. Jack recalled an incident from the summer before when Ruby had spent a good ten minutes scolding him for letting the sprinklers in his wheat field hit her flower garden. She ended by saying, “You should really ask out Elwin Carlson’s niece. He says she is a real nice girl and has lost considerable weight the past year,” as if the only way Jack could make up for causing powdery mildew on her roses was by having dinner with a woman neither he nor Ruby knew.
Now Ruby was even offering him her own granddaughter. Jack knew he should feel flattered.
And it wasn’t just Jack’s mother and Ruby who seemed intent on finding Jack a wife. He couldn’t count the number of times he’d been approached with invitations beginning something like, “My sister has a friend…” Jack felt certain that everyone in Corbett over the age of forty had a niece or a cousin or the daughter of a friend they wanted to set-up with him. No, Jack’s mother and Ruby were not the only ones trying to get Jack Allan married, they were just the most dedicated to the cause.
Jack tried to imagine how Ruby’s granddaughter would look as he scrubbed halfheartedly at the oil on his hands. He imagined Ruby fifty years younger, her hair mousy brown instead of white. He kept the glasses and scowl and added nice teeth. The image almost made him laugh out loud. He gave up trying to scrub off any more of the oil and turned off the shower.
Half an hour later, Jack was pulling on a denim jacket when the phone rang again. He answered it and without even waiting to hear who was on the other end said, “I’m just walking out the door, Ruby.”


Popular posts from this blog

Eating Shrimp and Self-Isolating

The MTC--Amazing Place, Amazing People

Because of My Children