I remember the exact moment that I finished my first full-length novel, Sweet Thing. It was two short months from the time I began writing it that I danced around my tiny home office in Thousand Oaks, California, screaming, “I did it! I wrote a book!” I couldn’t believe that it happened so fast. Had you told me five years prior, when I was teaching seventh grade English, that I’d soon be a full time novelist, I would have laughed in your face. I had to muscle through even the simplest college essays, so novel writing was never on my radar.
But to say that I wasn’t always a writer would be a lie. I wrote fiction from the time I could form sentences. At the wise age of seven, I was writing poems, short stories and love letters to “pretend” boyfriends in the military ––thus the romance writer in me was born. I went on to write non-romantic screenplays in college, even working in film and development before choosing a career in education. While I was teaching, I’d go absolutely bonkers in front of the class, raving about the latest YA hit. The thrill of sharing book excitement with my students was so much more fulfilling to me than teaching grammar. I loved the written word, always had. Yet, I still would have chosen landscaping my backyard over sitting at a computer and writing for months on end, only to have three hundred pages that may never be read.
Something happened to me at after I quit teaching to be at home with my two small boys. I found the oddest focus on time that one wouldn’t associate with new motherhood. Changing diapers, mashing food, rocking babies and repeating the Yo Gabba Gabba theme song in my head over and over does not seem conducive to ones creativity or ability focus…but it was. Because I was either going to start drinking tequila at 10AM or I was going to find something to channel my pent-up energy into. Every day when the boys napped, I’d go into the office and write. I didn’t know where the story was going, but I wrote. Every night after I put the boys down for bed, I wrote. I wrote and wrote and one day, I danced around that tiny office in Thousand Oaks screaming, “I wrote a book!”
My husband was in disbelief. I think he thought I was watching YouTube videos the entire time I was held up in that office. He was hesitant to comment or even read what I had written. I mean, after twelve plus years together, suddenly your wife says, “I wrote a book.” And you’re thinking, What if it’s unreadable? What if it’s terrible? What am I going to say to her? It’ll break her heart. At first he shied away from having anything to do with it, but he has since become my biggest fan. It just took readjusting both of our radars and accepting that I was capable of writing books.
When I finished the first draft of Sweet Thing, I still didn’t know what I had. I had sent thirty pages to my best friend who was a lit major turned lawyer and I told her, “No BS.”
She called me the next day and said, “I need the whole book, now!” I thought maybe she was so tired of reading depositions that anything seemed good to her.
I then sent the entire manuscript to her and two other friends, who within three days, called me in tears, saying, “I can’t believe you wrote this.” Biggest insult/compliment ever! It was true, I had done it…but I still wasn’t calling myself a writer yet.
I went back into the office, where my frantic fingers clicked on every website, searching for how to get a book published. There were so many hits and conflicting messages; I didn’t know what to believe. I asked a hybrid author I knew for advice. She has both traditionally published and self-published books and she gave me all the info I could ever need to self-publish my new baby. The one message that stuck out to me was that she said, “Do not ever pay someone to publish your book. You should be getting paid by a publisher otherwise you self-publish it for free.” That’s true to a degree, putting it up on a retailer site is free, essentially, and you can create a free print-on-demand paperback through Createspace, but you still have to pay for editing, marketing, publicity, formatting, cover etc., and I wanted to put out a quality product, so I invested the time and money. I spent nine months with three freelance editors and a writing workshop group, who all worked to help me make the book better. I learned to take criticism while maintaining my voice. I learned that there’s more to the production of a book than simply writing it.
When it was time to self-publish, I was confident that Sweet Thing was, at the very least, readable. What I didn’t expect was for people to grasp on to it and to love the main character, Will, with such passion. Messages came spilling into my inbox along with sales numbers. The rankings improved everyday and before I knew it, I was being courted by agents…and I was a USA Today bestselling author. It was a magical soup, a combination of luck, timing, perseverance and patience. I also had to accept that it would be eye-opening and sometimes painful. I knew I would feel extremely vulnerable putting my words out there for the whole world to read. “There will always be bad reviews,” My mother told me, days before the book was released. Surrendering to that vulnerability and embracing it gave me the most powerful sense of freedom. I wrote a book and that was enough for me.
Barely a month after self-publishing, I was selling Sweet Thing along with two other book ideas to Atria of Simon & Schuster and my lovely editor Jhanteigh Kupihea. All thanks to my agent, Christina Hogrebe and her hard work and belief in me.
The new world of traditional publishing came speeding at me, and with that came the news that my book rights were also purchased by France, Italy, Germany, Slovenia, Turkey, Romania…and the list goes on. My little book would be translated! Who would have thought? I also sold audio rights along with three more books to my devoted publisher.
A lot of people have supported me on this journey. It’s impossible to do it alone. And now, as my fifth full-length novel, Swear on THIS Life is about to hit the shelves, I’m feeling more and more grateful to the devoted readers and supporters. Swear on THIS Life is my first novel about a writer and within the book there is a message of surrendering to vulnerability and putting yourself out there… and sometimes readjusting your radar so new paths will open up.
Many months after my first book was published, people would ask me what I did for a living and I would say, “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” Now I’ve learned to say, “I’m a writer; I was always a writer, it just took me some time to figure that out.”