02 September 2013

Baby to Toddler to Published

Jan Grape
by Jan Grape

Our SleuthSayers blog is coming up on its second birthday on the 17th of this month. Wow, we're not babies anymore. We started out not really knowing where we'd go or who we might meet along the way, but it's been fun so far. We have an outstanding group of award-nominated and award-winning authors. We have a couple of writers who had to go on hiatus because of writing deadlines, yet we were able to add wonderful new folks immediately. Now at the terrible two stage, I expect more mystery, murder and mayhem, daily. If you only come around periodically, I suggest you try to come by on a regular basis. You might be surprised at our new running, walking, toddling stage and the very grown up published state.

The idea of comparing SleuthSayers to a baby just brings to mind how a writer is born, grows and develops. Not every writer, okay, there is the odd one or two published the first time out. Those are rare cases. And in reality most of those honed their craft in newspaper or magazine writing or editing. They could even have a background in public relations, advertising or graphic work. It's possible they have a background/work history which they then used to write, like a policeman, a CIA agent, a lawyer, a crime-beat reporter or they were a real private detective. Being a bit of an expert in their field helped their writing craft.

Most writers have to start somewhere in their life, usually at an early age writing. I know authors who wrote a novel when they were ten or twelve or fourteen years old. At any rate, they almost always thought about or wanted to be a writer. I knew one children's author who told stories to her class when the class work was over each day. She quickly learned in telling her tales to stop at the day at an exciting part so the other kids wanted her to continue the story the next day. She was a baby writer who grew up fast.

Another friend who wrote a novel at age 12, went around neighborhood selling copies. I know writers now who write and have children in school. They have to work their schedule around when the kids are gone and then be ready to be a parent when the kids come home from school. I knew one lady who had toddlers underfoot, who would type a line or two, then change a diaper or fix a bottle. More power to her.

I know a lady who is a best-selling author whose husband died from a heart attack and she had three small children and since she had always wanted to be a writer, decided to see if she could make it. She did.

Another writer I know, also a best-selling author who wrote a couple of medical mysteries because his wife was a doctor and he had someone who could help him with the technical parts. Then he wrote private-eye novels and next wonderful thrillers and he stays home and takes care of the kids, being Mr. Mom while he writes.

I always wanted to write and publish books but I worked as an X-ray Technician and Radiation Therapist and after doing that all day and with three kids at home, I didn't try to have anything published. Well, that's not exactly true. I wrote an essay for English class my senior year and unbeknownst to me, my teacher had it published in the school paper. The paper came out that morning and after first period class a bunch of kids came running up and told me that Miss Moore had published my essay in the school news paper. It was What Christmas Means To Me. I was so excited, kids wanted my autograph and that's when I knew I wanted to be a writer. Unfortunately, that publication didn't survive and I don't have a copy of it.

My next publication was a scientific paper on a new machine we got in Austin at Holy Cross Hospital called a telecopier. This was before fax machines. The oncology radiologist I worked with was able to send a preliminary treatment plan using this machine and transmit this plan to an oncology radiologist specialist in Houston (not MD Anderson) where they also had a physicist. The Houston folks worked out all the details and transmitted the final plans back to our department in Austin. The article I wrote was entered in the Local Radiological Society contest and the Texas State Radiological Society contest and I won both prizes. The TSRS sent it to the American Society and they published it in their monthly journal. The local prize was $50 and local publication, but the TX RT Society prize was $500 and the promise of the publication in the national journal. That was the first paid publications and it was about twenty years before I was paid for a short story. And it wasn't a mystery. Another five years passed before I published my first mystery short story. Good thing I kept my day job.

But when I started writing with an eye to actually trying to be published, I was a baby writer. I had to learn to crawl, then to walk, and finally to run as a writer and get published more often.. I learned that as long as I kept writing...not really worrying about getting published but sending query letters out and eventually getting feed-back that I improved. I grew as a writer. And strangely enough I noticed there seemed to be a change, or a growth spurt about every six months. The best way to do that as all you SleuthSayers know and any of you aspiring writers want to know is to write, write, write. and read, read, read.

So keep in mind most of us start out as baby writers and we keep growing with all the trials and pains of a toddler and then a teenager, but finally we learn and become a published author. There're a lot of growing pains along the way but it's worth it. Just ask any SleuthSayer.

5 comments:

Terence Faherty said...

I enjoyed your column, Jan, and I admire your persistence back when you were a beginning writer. Ten years went by between the time I finished my first novel and its publication. Even after a sale, the publication process requires a lot of patience and perseverance. A good column for Labor Day.

Fran Rizer said...

Jan, I remember when I first decided to try fiction, other writers told me, "Fiction is a hard nut to crack. Having been published in nonfiction won't help much." I agree with your comment that the magazine articles published before fiction helped me tremendously in writing skills. Happy Labor Day to everyone!

Jan Grape said...

Fran, I also did a lot of non-fiction, all mystery related. I wrote book reviews, interviewed mystery writers, wrote a regular column for MYSTERY SCENE magazine, became the editor for the Private Eye Writers newsletter. Mostly done for no pay or very little pay. But it honed my writing. And I then started selling my short stories. I was in anthologies with all the best. And I learned and grew as a writer. All part of what I call paying your dues.
And I meant to wish everyone a Happy Labor Day so will do so now.

Jan Grape said...

Terry, it's very hard to keep going with your writing when you get rejected over and over. My first Private Eye novel never got published. It got close three times, an editor left, a publishing house closed, a editorial board turned it down because they had just bought a female PI the week before and didn't think a second one would go. This from a house that published 3-4 male PIs each quarter. So you give up or you keep on keeping on. The PI novel never sold but the policewoman did. And I've had a good dozen short stories published with my female PI characters. Growing pains...and hope I'm still growing.

Leigh Lundin said...

Good points, Jan, and good article.