By the time you read this it will be the day after Valentine’s Day, and I spent yesterday agonizing about what to write.
This angst over Valentine’s Day and romance is not unfounded. My first book was a romance. In Passion’s Defense was about a defense lawyer falling in love with a prosecutor during a gruesome trial. That should have been my first clue that perhaps mayhem rather than meet ups was my cup of tea. But I was slow on the uptake, and I wrote eight category romances. I think they are pretty darn good and they got better with each one. I wrote my heart out for Harlequin but I couldn’t seem to color in the lines, so I started writing women’s fiction. The editorial freedom, the more intricate plot lines, and the emphasis on plot rather than relationship helped me thrive. Dreams, Seasons, Vanities were just some of my titles. I wrote a lot of women’s fiction, but still I hadn’t hit my comfort zone as a writer. Then two things happened that sealed my fate.
First, the incredible RWA bookseller—Michelle Thorne—delicately informed me that my idea of romance was the hero chucking the heroine on the arm and giving her a smile. She was right. I was not a sexy writer in the years when other authors were pushing the envelope. My editor at Kensington was more direct. He said ‘You have to stop killing people before they get in bed!’. In essence he fired me from romance. I was devastated. Later I realized this was the silver lining in my very dark cloud.
When I started writing thrillers I found my passion and isn’t passion what love is all about? Still, without the learning curve of the romance genre, without the editors and readers, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to break up with women’s fiction as it was defined all those years ago and move on to my literary partner for life.
That doesn’t mean I left romance behind completely. Every book I write is based on relationships, but the emphasis of stories is little different from the classic romance novel. And then there’s my mom. One day she asked if I could write a book-without-bodies. I wrote three. On my mother’s ninetieth birthday, I presented her with a trilogy of sweet, romantic comedies: The Day Bailey Devlin’s Horoscope Came True, The Day Bailey Devlin Picked Up a Penny and the Day Bailey Devlin’s Ship Came in. These books encompassed every thing I love about romance: humor, honesty, confusion, honor, and affection for not just one man but all the men in Bailey’s life. Young or old, they be a lover or father or friend, it was all about love. I will always be most proud of, be in love with, the Bailey Devlin Trilogy because it reflects my definition of romance.
Today I put those three books in a boxed set and I hope when a reader finishes the stories, her (his) heart will be fuller, there might be a tear in her eye, she will have laughed out loud and then will turn around and pass all that feeling on to someone she loves.
Happy Belated Valentine’s Day.
So my brother called the other day (actually 2 days into the new year) and said: I have a friend and she wants to write a book. Can you just talk to her and tell her everything you know? I already gave her your phone number.
I have five brothers and sisters, a mom and any number of cousins, in-laws and friends who have each made this request on various occasions. I am always happy to help new writers, but I’m not crazy about my phone number passed around. First, I was probably the only teenage girl in the world who hated talking on the phone and that hasn’t changed in the last 50 years. More importantly it is impossible to distill 30 plus years of writing and publishing experience into a quick conversation and have it benefit a new writer.
The good news is that there is email. Email allows me to put information into a manageable format, provide links to appropriate sites that will help the writer, and allow that person to save the conversation for future reference. Here are some thoughts for the author willing to pay it forward, the writer looking for help, and the brothers and sisters who love to share the author in the family.
THE REFERER: Ask (preferably not with the new writer standing in front of you) if the author has time to help and how they would like to be contacted. Always allow the author to beg off even though most won’t. Writing is a time consuming business and multiple requests can feel overwhelming especially when an author is in the middle of a big project.
THE REFEREE: Be prepared. This tells the author that you are willing to work hard. Preparation should include a basic understanding of what you want to write (genre, form, etc.) and your goal (traditional or indie publishing, to create a career, expand a hobby). Have a short list of specific questions. Don’t try to cover the entire industry in one conversation.
Be respectful. An established author has built her business through trial and error, hard work, rejection and acceptance. Often she has paid for classes and conferences. Respect her hard work, commitment, and risk.
THE AUTHOR IN THE MIDDLE: Be gracious and as effective as you can be. A new writer will be nervous speaking to an established author, so put her at her ease. Then remember that there is a fine line between useful information and too much information. Usually it is possible to tell how much the Referee can absorb from their first contact. If a new writer can’t articulate whether they want to be an indie or a traditionally published author start with the basics, direct this writer to blogs on publishing and offer recommendations for coaches and writing classes. The nuances of the industry would be lost on a true newbie.
Set parameters. I am always grateful when a new author asks if it’s okay to check back in. I love the request as much as I love to hear the progress. As new writers become grounded, their questions often help me rethink my work as much as it helps them move forward.
Don’t miss Lost Witness, Rebecca’s newest addition to The Witness Series, a Josie Bates Thriller.
Join over 2 million readers of The Witness Series!
I was speaking to a new writer the other day, and I was impressed by her clarity. She knew enough to understand the life of a writer is tough, but she was willing to work hard. What really impressed me, though, was when she asked if she could share what I told her with her husband because he was her biggest fan.
I told her that put her ten steps ahead of most people since family support is critical for an artist. No message board, chat room or critique group can truly duplicate a family’s faith, their unflagging support, and, if a writer is very lucky, loving honesty. I know because I was showered with that kind of support from day one.
While I may have started writing because of a crazy dare, my first stab at writing was pretty traditional. By that I mean it was awful. I threw away the pages (there were no computers then). One day when I was cleaning I found that sad little manuscript under the sofa. The story I considered idiotic, my husband believed was incredible merely because I had created it. That gesture – pulling the pages out of the trash and hiding them to preserve my ‘brilliance’ – was enough to make me sit down and try again.
When that book sold, I dared to dream that I had actually started on a career path. It wasn’t an easy one. There were challenges and frustrations, joys and excruciating anticipation. For every two steps forward there was one step back, and all of it was shared with family. In return, family gave back encouragement, sympathetic ears and selfless celebration when it was called for. Often my husband did the household chores after his own long day at work so I could write in the evening. When I wrote during the day I kept my two toddlers quiet for a while by putting an old typewriter on the floor, threading it with paper, and telling them to write their book while I wrote mine.
Books were sold, books were rejected, books were started and never finished. My family endured my tears and meltdowns when things looked bleak. But when something good happened the celebration was a family affair even if it was just a trip to McDonalds for McNuggets in those early days. It was my husband who found the Kindle opportunity before I even heard of it. One of my children is a writer now and we spend long hours in the kitchen talking craft. My other son works in Hollywood and brings a whole knew point of view to my storytelling.
Over the years, over the course of penning 39 books, nothing has changed in our household. My family are my biggest fans (even if my husband can’t remember the titles of my books). I am so grateful for every word they’ve ever spoken, every hug I’ve received, and every chore they’ve undertaken in service to my work.
Throughout my thirty-year career I also learned a very important lesson: to return the favor. Whether a person writes books, don judge’s robes, manages an office, waits tables, pilots an airplane, or is a cop on the beat; no matter what we are in the ‘real world ‘the best gift we can give and receive is the utter, undying, unshakeable faith in those we love.
No matter who you are, what you do, or what you dream give the gift of goodwill to someone you love because it will come back to you ten fold.
Don’t miss Rebecca’s new release, Lost Witness.
Join over 2 million readers of The Witness Series and never miss a Josie Bates Thriller.
A: Thank you .
Lost Witness is in preorder. It will publish December 1 and I am stunned that this book is a reality. To explain why we need to rewind five years.
In October 2014 Dark Witness, the seventh – and I thought last – book in The Witness Series was published. Originally the first book, Hostile Witness, was presented to publishers as a stand alone novel. When an editor at Penguin/Putnam offered a three-book contract I accepted even though I had never written a series.
Silent Witness and Privileged Witness followed. In the three years it took the publisher to bring those books to market editorial direction changed hands, the marketplace started shrinking and the series progressed no further. My rights to the three books were reverted and, after writing for twenty-five years, I thought that perhaps it was time for me to kick back and retire. That was when my husband said: “Have you heard of this thing called Kindle.”
Fast forward to a career second wind as an indie author. I republished the first three books of The Witness Series and they spent over two years on Amazon’s thriller bestseller lists in the U.S. and UK. Over 2 million copies of the series have been downloaded to date. I continued to add books and finally penned Dark Witness. Not one for bow endings, I left one character walking into the sunset assuming my readers would imagine an ending for him to finish the story.
For five years while I wrote two more series – The Bailey Devlin Trilogy and Finn O’Brien Crime Thrillers – I got emails from readers demanding to know when the next Josie Bates book would be published. They wanted me to write the ending or the next chapter in these characters’ lives. They wanted the adventure to come from my head, not theirs.
I wasn’t ignoring these pleas; I simply had a horrible case of writer’s block. I loved Josie and Hannah, Billy and Archer, but I was terrified of making a big decision about their lives. I was also afraid that I didn’t have the skill to reclaim their unique voices.
At the beginning of this year I received one more email about Josie and the reader convinced me that it was time to meet the challenge of the next book head on. At first the dialogue was creaky, and the plot meandered. One day inspiration hit. I suddenly knew how to begin the book. I knew the end of the story. I knew the last words that had to be spoken. I had been ‘lost’ and because of the readers insistence I found my voice. In doing so I reclaimed Josie’s wisdom, I heard Hannah’s compassion, Billy’s unwavering devotion, and Archer’s steady guidance. I was home again and it felt darn good.
I want to thank the readers who pushed, prodded and cajoled. I didn’t know that I was missing Josie Bates, but the readers did. This Thanksgiving I am thankful to them for making Lost Witness possible.
PREORDER LOST WITNESS now ($.99) and join over 2 million fans of The Witness Series.
For the last year I have been obsessed with one word: lost.
One of the reasons is that I have been working on a book entitled Lost Witness. I didn’t choose to write this book; I did it because fans of The Witness Series wanted to know what happened to Billy. After Dark Witness, my intent was to let readers imagine the next chapter in my character’s life for themselves. The more they asked, the more I retreated from the responsibility of making those creative decisions. There were a hundred permutations of the relationships the readers wanted me to address, a thousand ways I could disappoint the people who had invested so much of their reading time in Josie Bates and friends. In short, the fear of disappointing them, myself, and, most of all, these characters we all love created a most fearful case of writers block—and then life stepped in to completely paralyze me.
First, my fabulous, incredible, 95 year-old mom moved to Missouri to be near more of my brothers and sisters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This was not something she wanted to do; it was something she needed to do. She now lives in a beautiful place where she is safe and secure, with at least three of her children seeing her everyday – something I couldn’t do no matter how much I wanted to. I am keenly aware that she felt a terrible loss when her house was sold and she left dear friends here in California. Her move left a hole in my heart, too. There was the sadness that comes with this kind of separation even though I knew the decision was for the best. While this was going on I lost seven friends. Some were closer than others, but all of their deaths were surprising. Six of them were my peers, and that knowledge alone brings a huge reality check with it.
Lost Witness became a symbol of twelve months of upheaval, of real life stopping my work dead in its tracks. Days, weeks, and months came and went and I thought I would never write again. I didn’t know how to answer readers who wrote asking about my progress so I stayed silent. I visited my mom; she visited me. I went to memorial services, and I shed a few tears, and I read books, but I didn’t work until one really good day. That day I talked to my mom and she was excited about a lecture she had heard, she had gone to dinner with a new friend, my sister had taken her on an adventure, and my brothers had stopped by for Margaritas.
I visited the widow of my dear friend, Richard, and we talked about his books and remembered what a wonderful man he had been. Part way through that day I had an epiphany about the book that was languishing on my computer. It was time to move forward, not move on.
I began to work on Lost Witness in earnest. I heard Josie, Archer, Hannah and Billy’s voices clearly in my head. There would be no bow ending, but that was okay. I don’t think the readers expect that either because life isn’t perfect. Life is hopeful and exciting. It is about resiliency, and courage, and memories of lives well lived, and about loving those who remain.
I am so thankful to the readers who made me realize that I had somehow done more than write books—I had created lives they cared about. They felt a loss when Josie’s voice suddenly went silent, when Billy hadn’t been accounted for, when Hannah was alone. It took a while for me to understand what they were telling me, but I finally got it. Loss is never the end, it’s simply the beginning of another part of life. It doesn’t matter if those lives we care about are real or imagined, we still want to know what happens next.
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