Sunday, March 13, 2011

Reflections on This Writer's Journey

As I prepare for the release of The Cat, The Lady and The Liar on April 5th, I've been thinking about my career, one I came to as my second job after being a nurse for 35 years. I've realized that each book is like one of my children, each with its own personality, each connected to events in my life—some events good, some bad, some truly terrible, some absolutely wonderful.
The first book an author publishes is always different, and like a first child, seems like a miracle. How did this ever happen? I remember thinking. Holding a "real book," as my husband likes to say, with my words between the pages, was something almost as memorable as the day my son came into the world. Almost. 

My real life kids had weddings within about a year and a half of each other, and in between, I wrote ... wait for it ... A Wedding to Die For. No surprise I felt like I could have actually murdered someone during that time. To be honest, I think it was the funniest book I've written. Truly a happy time, if not stressful.

But life doesn't always treat you kindly, and after I turned in my third book, the notes back from my editor started out with something like, "This book is so sad. You have to make it funnier." I'd been diagnosed with Lyme, so yes, the sadness was there. And perhaps fear as well, fear that the illness would cost me my dream job—mystery writer. 

My editor is quite good at reading the subtext, and at that point the subtext was pretty heavy. I worked hard to make the book better and I believe I succeeded. To this day, Dead Giveaway is one of my favorites.

After writing eight books, I've pushed through the arrival of grandkids, Lyme relapses, a terrible reaction to a simple surgery that nearly killed me, having to take early retirement from my day job because of my illness and so much more. How can those events not seep into the pages? They do, of course, and in unexpected ways. 

When my editor asked me to write a new series with cats front and center, I was excited. But unless I could write two books a year, I had to say goodbye to Abby Rose, of my Yellow Rose series, at least for a while. That affected me more than I ever expected. See, I don't have the stamina to write two books a year. Abby's a part of me and it felt as if I left town and bought a new house somewhere far away. I still miss her ... and one day I am sure she will visit me and everyone else again.

That tiny bit of grief over "losing" Abby, filtered into the first cat mystery without me even realizing it. More notes from my editor about a "sad book." I sure had to examine the novel--and myself. My editor was right, of course. Then I faced my biggest rewrite ever. That sure wasn't fun! But in the end, I have grown to love my new story people. Creating a town from pure imagination was literally and figuratively new territory. The Yellow Rose books are set in Houston and the landscape was already there for me to explore. I thought it would be easy to create fictional Mercy, South Carolina for The Cats in Trouble series. Not really. But the fictional kitties—Merlot, Chablis and Syrah—came with their personalities already set. It seemed magical, really.

So there you have a tiny bit of my story, and I'll bet every writer has their own journey—different and yet the same. But one thing we have in common—we were all readers first. We are readers, just like you. 

What parts of your story are memorable, changed your direction or surprised you? I would love to hear about them.