Friday, April 13, 2007

The Long and Winding Road

Last night I spoke to a Creative Writing class at a local community college, and on Monday I'm leading a workshop (Titled "7 years + 300 rejections = 1 published novel") for the Missouri Association of School Librarians--and the topic at hand is how did I ever manage to get published?? That seems to be the leading question when people first find out I'm a published author (and, I like to think they are asking globally, rather than "How did YOU get published?"). So, here's my story . . .

I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I spent hours as a kid filling notebooks with stories. I still have all the horrible teenage-girl poems I wrote about Todd and Mark and Ron. Oh, and war. I took creative writing classes in college (but I worried that I'd had a pretty healthy childhood and the lack of dysfunction in my life would hold me back). Then I got married and had babies. I was busy. But still, I wrote. Letters. Paragraphs that struck me. And I read. Eventually, my husband left for younger pastures, I raised my sons, taught high school and got a Master's Degree. Occasionally I'd mention to a friend that I wanted to write a novel. As I approached the end of my 30s, I realized I could keep saying that I wanted to write a novel or I could JUST DO IT. So, I did. I started going to writing conferences, I bought books on how to find an agent, and I wrote a first draft the summer before I turned 40.

Over the next 7 years, I wrote and revised and filled in the holes. I sent off letters and more letters (Always with a SASE. Always resulting in another rejection. I like to think I was really bad at writing query letters). I continued to go to conferences and meeting people. Finally, in the summer of 2004 I took the big leap and went to a summer writing workshop at the University of Iowa I met an editor who loved my work and offered to introduce me to an agent. When I got done kissing his feet, I said yes. The first agent I sent the manuscript to called with an offer of representation (and yes, I felt like I'd been sprinkled with fairy dust or something). We sold it to Ballantine 4 months later and then 18 months later it was in the stores. I still get a kick out of seeing it on the shelves. (I keep hoping I'll see someone--on a plane, maybe--reading it. But I'm also afraid if that ever happens I'll accost the poor soul in my excitement.)

So, that's my story--filled with hopes and disappointments and people helping me along the way, and finally, having a dream that began when I was a skinny nine year-old girl, come true in ways I'd never imagined.

Now, I need to get back to work on the next book, currently titled Unexpected Grace. Next time you hear from me, I'll be 47. I'm sure you'll notice the huge leap in maturity!

13 comments:

Larramie said...

Well Happy Birthday, Judy, to a Taurus who obviously didn't give up! Love your dream-come-true story and its thrill that will always linger....sigh. ;o)

Therese said...

Thanks for sharing your tale--and btw, I love your workshop title!

Who's your editor at Ballantine? (That's where I live, too!)

AND--my birthday's fast approaching too (40th), so happy birthday to us Tauri! I'm on the Aries cusp...and am always fascinated at how accurately the blend of the two signs' attributes fits my personality. :)

Lisa said...

Judy,

I read your recent post at Pub Rants and found your site and your blog and am so delighted I did. Congratulations on your successes and thank you so very much for sharing your experiences. I'll be 46 in July and am just starting to work on transitioning my lifelong writing hobby into a bigger part of my life. I consider what you're doing here an incredibly wonderful and inspiring gift.

Thanks again and a very Happy Birthday!

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Thanks, Larramie. I still have to pinch myself sometimes.

Happy birthday, Therese. The forties rock!

My fabulous editor was Allison Dickens, but she left the week my book was released (I like to think there was no connection) and I now have the wonderful Robin Rolewicz -- I love Ballantine--who's ushering you through this whole deal?

Lisa, thanks for checking out my blog--please come back often; we're all figuring this out together.

Larramie said...

YIKES, did I goof! It's only the middle of April, not the middle of May, so you're a true Aries. How does that apply here? Quite simply, Judy, you always get your way...eventually! *VBG*

Therese said...

I guess Larramie's right on the Aries/Taurus thing, unless you don't plan to blog again until the 21st. :)

My editor is Linda Marrow. She's the bomb, I must say! My experiences with everyone there have been first-class (so far!).

Ghost Girl said...

Hey girls, the 40's do rock! I hit 42 last November, and it's fabulous!

Thanks for sharing your journey, Judy. I just blogged about persistence and it's an essential ingredient in any writer's success. It's sort of like the adult's version of the invisible friend--it eggs us on and keeps telling us what to do, even when we don't want to. But no one else sees it the way we do.

Happy Birthday!

Bev Marshall said...

I'm late in saying Happy Birthday, but I wish you years and years of happiness. We miss you down here in New Orleans!! John, too! And Butch says Happy Day also.

Sherri said...

I came over from Miss Snark. I enjoyed reading this post, especially since I see my future in it. Hopefully, anyway, because I recently signed with an agent, and she'll be querying editors shortly.

It's an exciting time. I wish you success with your career :)

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Oh Bev, we miss you too! Give Butch a hug and I can't wait until we can share more laughs and adult beverages. Hopefully the rotating bar will be fixed by then.

Ghost Girls and Sherri, thanks for stopping by. We're all in this together.

Beth said...

The timing on your post was perfect. Though I haven't hit the 300 mark just yet, I'm feeling pretty down about my recent rejection letters. Thanks for the needed reminder that perseverance is key.

:)

The Writers' Group said...

Judy, this is an inspired post. My goal, isn't it important to have goals, is to publish my first book by 40. We shall see. In the meantime, I'm working on my craft just as you did, and I suspect, still do. Thanks so much for sharing your journey.

Amy

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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