With the release of Unattainable by Crimson Romance, an imprint of F&W Media, I’ve finally achieved one of my lifetime goals—perhaps the only reasonable one, considering the cost and scarcity of boxes at the Kentucky Derby. Or Triple Crown winners. Took me much longer than I intended, this journey to ‘writer.’ So how did I finally—finally!—get here?
Before I share a few of the bumps, lows, and peaks of my road to writerdom, I need to make something crystal clear: I have nothing against—and have participated in—independent publishing. Some of my best friends, best-selling authors, have published independently, and some authors have eschewed ‘traditional’ publishing altogether and helped changed the chokehold traditional houses had on what readers could find. But having the editor at an established publisher send me a contract—I’ve pursued that as long as I can remember.
Until this morning, I’m not sure I could have told you why—but I think I finally know. As I mentioned in bios and the like, I sold a poem in first grade. Yes, $1.50 didn’t set the world on fire, but it felt pretty cool. My father and mother couldn’t quit gushing about my writing. I had actual talent, they said so. I had a future as an author. The praise filled me with confidence and hope.
But my father was a sick man, and his mother a mean, small woman. When I stood up to him, on issues that aren’t relevant here—suddenly, I couldn’t write. I’d never amount to anything, never have anything published. I should burn everything and quit writing. My grandmother told me it was lack of experience—I’d never had any, so I’d never have any. My father continued to hammer at my utter lack of ability, and after an incident with a letter to Dear Abby—I believed him.
I wrote anyway, of course. It’s the curse of real writers; we can’t stop, even if we have no talent. No hope. We stop, sometimes, and we cry—a lot, if we’re using the royal “we” and just talking about me—but we go on.
When I married outside my ethnicity and my father’s dictates, he put me in the hospital by attacking me when I went to pick up my writing and John Davidson records from what once was my home. Before he tried to kill me—which I also decided belatedly had been his intent—he pointed to every possession I had, burning in the yard. My manuscript The Phantom Stallion—hardly YA by today’s standards, but a hundred and something pages of sheer equine genius. None of it borrowed from Walter Farley’s Black Stallion, but all inspired by him and royal jockey Dick Francis.
My script for John Wayne. The one I’d read to a college friend who used to joke there were rumors because I went to her room every night until I finished reading it. She claimed she loved it. Little by little, people began paving over the gaping holes in my road to writing success. (How sad that John Wayne and Dean Martin never knew what a blockbuster Preach would have been!)
After my husband, in the country illegally at the time, was deported after my oldest son was born, I packed everything in an old yellow Plymouth my sister Stephanie procured through the blessings of small town faith, and moved to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. I left a box of writing with a sweet lady, but I never got back to retrieve them. Were they any good? I have no idea.
In Nuevo Laredo, faced with the cultural shocks of living in a foreign country while being unable to speak the language, I started a novel, Papers, about how difficult rules, regulations, and paper make life. For twelve years, my husband and I went through the fights of obtaining legal status for him, while one child eventually became four, and I learned to speak and write enough Spanish that I could see all the possibilities for new stories and poetry in new languages.
But still—rejections came. I’d hike and take buses across to Laredo, Texas, find enough money from somewhere to pay postage, stick in that old SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope—something I learned from Writers Digest.) And I’d get rejections.
Writers know about good and bad rejections. Most of mine were bad—form letters that showed nothing. My dad was right—I had no talent. Would never sell anything.
But Avon sent me a personal rejection for Love’s Lasting Song, saying they almost, almost had purchased it. That ‘good’ rejection kept me going for years to come.
I was working at a local hardware store, using their address (with their permission) because I had no U. S. address until I moved back to put my children in school, when I got another rejection. I threw it in the trash can, unable to bear the defeat anymore. I couldn’t survive financially, I had no talent, I needed to accept defeat.
And then I remembered that I’d seen a magazine logo instead of the typed magazine address I’d sent. I snatched the envelope out of the trash, found a check for $25.00 and glowing praise from a magazine for a poem they’d purchased.
Take that dad.
Within the space of a year or two, I sold a poem to McCall’s (yes, they once published poetry), short stories to Cat Fancy and Touch, another poem to a religious magazine—I actually had a lull from rejection. A smooth patch of road, going the right way.
Of course, after that, I hit the bumps again. A major—okay, the major—romance publisher twice expressed interest in a manuscript, kept it a year, then sent both back without comment.
Meanwhile, my sister Vicky suggested I go POD with Love’s Lasting Song. Always supportive, and a technical editor, she saw merit in the story that Avon almost pulled the trigger on. I took her advice, and had a physical book in print in 2001—and I loved it. But still…I needed to be published by a ‘real’ publisher. (This was pre-ebook explosion, and again—a personal thing, not an insult!)
As the ebook revolution changed publishing around the world, and as I fumed over Casey Anthony’s acquittal on murder charges, I remembered my short story that looks at the first ghost story I ever heard in Spanish—La Llorona, or the Wailing Woman. That gave rise to the anthology, independently published. But still…the road stretched on. Sadly, I couldn’t stop seeking the grail of acceptance from a traditional publisher.
And so, when I submitted Unattainable to Crimson Romance, and saw an answer two days later, I did the check in the trash can at first glance. The e-mail said something about “wowed.” But it was a rejection. There was an attachment…
I clicked out of e-mail. Drat! How come I got a rejection if I “wowed” someone? So I reopened everything. The attachment was an explanation of the contract. My road finally ended, and my journey was over.
It isn’t really of course; the road continues, and I couldn’t be happier.
Almost everyone celebrated with me. Someone, not unkindly, argued that Crimson Romance isn’t a traditional publisher at all. Oh, no you don’t! Don’t mess with my destination—most of the big houses now have e-book first imprints. I’d even thought about submitting Unattainable to Avon’s new digital imprint, but F&W Media prints Writers Digest and Writers Market, which were once my only road maps. So–I chose Crimson Romance, a blessed choice along that broken road that country artists Rascal Flatts celebrate.
When roads end, you’re either where you’re supposed to be, or you go on. One of the captions I sold to Argus hangs on a colleague’s wall at school: Insanity. Think of it a survival skill.
Guess I go on.