Three years ago, I wrote a crazy little book that won two crime writing awards. (Okay, not three years ago. It won the Derringer and Arthur Ellis three years ago, which means I wrote it two years before that. Trad publishing takes time… but I digress.)
That year, I also won a national short story contest, with prize money of
$3000. The year after, I was shortlisted along with Margaret Atwood, for
another fiction award. (That was the year pigs learned to fly in Canada.)
The Toronto Sun called to interview me. They titled the article,
“Queen of Comedy.”
“You’re famous!” said an interviewer. “How does it feel to become an
“That was one long night,” I said. “It lasted 26 years.”
This blog post was inspired by Anne R. Allen
Not long ago, Anne had a post on her Top 100 blog: 10
Reason Why You Shouldn’t Publish that 1st Novel
(It’s terrific. Check it out.)
But that got me thinking about my own “overnight success.”
Here’s the thing. I started writing fiction for money in 1987.
(Nineteen Eighty-Seven!! Big shoulders and big hair. Wasn’t that two
years before the Berlin Wall came down?)
I won my first award (Canadian Living Magazine) in 1989. By the time
my first novel hit bookshelves, I already had 24 short stories published, and
had won six awards.
Plus The Goddaughter’s Revenge – the book that won the Derringer and
Arthur – wasn’t my first novel published. It was my fifth.
I’ll drill down even more. It wasn’t even my fifth novel written.
It was my seventh. The first two will never see the light of day.
One has gone on to floppy disk heaven. Although if God reads it up
there, he may send it to hell.
I would never want ANYONE to read my first two novels. Writing them
taught me how to write. I got rid of bad habits with those books. I
learned about the necessity of motivation. The annoyance of
head-hopping. And the importance of having a protagonist that people can
like and care about.
Yes, my first novel had a TSTL heroine who was naive, demanding, and
constantly had to be rescued. (For those who don’t know, TSTL stands for
Too Stupid To Live. Which may occur when the author is too stupid to write.) Even I got sick of my protagonist. Why would anyone else
want to make her acquaintance?
In my first two novels, I learned about plot bunnies. Plot bunnies are
those extraneous side trips your book takes away from the main plot. Each
book should have an overall plot goal, and ALL subplots should meander back to
support that one plot goal in the end. My first book had everything but
aliens in it. All sorts of bunnies that needed to be corralled and
Speaking of bunnies, I’m wandering. So back to the point:
IN 2015, some people saw me as an overnight success. I was getting
international recognition and bestseller status. One of my books hit the
Amazon Top 100 (all books) at number 47, between Tom Clancy and Nora Roberts.
But that overnight success took 26 years. I had one long apprenticeship.
I tell my students to keep in mind that being an author is a journey.
No one is born knowing how to write a great novel. You get better as you
write more. You get better as you read more. You get better as you
learn from others.
Being an author is a commitment. You aren’t just writing ‘one
book.’ You are going to be a writer for the rest of your life. Commit to
it. Find the genre you love. Write lots.
And you too can be an overnight success in 26 years.
(The Goddaughter. She’s a much more likeable protagonist, even if she is a bit naughty.)