23 May 2016
Last Sunday the Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter (Austin, Texas) hosted the annual Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers/Mentors Program. For those of you who didn't know her, Barbara was a founding officer of the Heart of Texas SinC Chapter, and one-time president of National SinC. She was a cozy writer extraordinaire and a good friend and mentor to a lot of aspiring writers.
I've been honored to be asked to be a mentor for several years now, and again I was delighted to meet and critique a new aspiring author's work. I'm always happy to see the new crop of writers coming up – happy and a little bit intimidated. Fresh faces and fresh ideas are always intimidating.
But seeing these newbies takes me back to when I was (fairly) fresh faced. I've written all my life, it seems, but although I had boxes full of half-written novels, finished short-stories, a couple of plays, and even some very bad poetry, it wasn't until I was thirty-five years old that it hit me that I could actually do this. I could be a writer. All I had to do was try. This epiphany came to me when I was in the audience at a club, listening to a local singer/songwriter. Someone in the audience asked him when he was born. Strangely enough he was born the same year as I. And that's when it hit me. Here was this guy with a talent that might not last him much longer – all sorts of things can go wrong with vocal cords and throats and the aging process is not always kind to such a physical talent – and he was out there doing it. Four nights a week he was using his God-given talent to express himself and to entertain others. And here I sat, with (what I hoped) was a talent that could last a lifetime. Writers don't age out of their talent, at least I hope not.
So I went home and asked my husband if he'd like to support me for a while. I wanted to quit my job and write full time. He agreed, although he told me years later, he never thought I'd be able to do it. Even with little faith, he still supported me, so I didn't get mad when he confessed. I was very lucky. The first short-story I wrote got published. I never got paid, but I got published! Then I got a really bad romance novel published. The first (and last) one I ever tried. The publisher went out of business before the book hit the stores, but I still got my check for $100. I'm afraid that without these first two “success” I might not have been able to suffer through the year of rejections of my first mystery. But I came up with a plan, a new goal: To paper my downstairs bathroom with rejection letters! Luckily, I only got enough to do one wall before someone said, “Yes, I want it.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. That first mystery came out in 1988, and there have been thirty-something since then. I'm not saying this is the easiest career, but I'm thinking maybe that singer has retired by now, but I'm still going. Strong, I hope.