It’s like this. When I was in grade seven, I stood up in front of my long-suffering classmates, heart hammering in my skinny chest, and droned out my first public speaking assignment—a memorized essay I had compiled about dinosaurs. I covered the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous waterfronts. At least ten of my classmates dozed off and one appeared to fall into a full-fledged coma, alarming Mr. Hughes, my teacher. Indeed, my performance was so pitiful, he must have felt sorry for me, because he gave me another chance. “You have until Monday morning to redeem yourself, young lady,” he intoned. That gave me exactly three days to pull together a brilliant speech.
Being a staunch advocate of pain avoidance and a coward to boot, I turned the problem over to my mother, knowing full well she would jump to my rescue. She rose to the occasion and spent the weekend writing a delightfully funny story entitled, “On Housebreaking a Puppy.” On Monday at 10:00 a.m., I delivered a brilliant essay that knocked the socks off my delighted classmates and a relieved Mr. Hughes. Nobody fell asleep this time. My classmates thought I had developed a sense of humor over the weekend, and my mother and I received an ‘A’ for our efforts. After that, I figured, why mess with success? My mother wrote another couple of polished pieces brimming with adult humour to round out my primary school writing career in style, and I slunk into high school with high marks, low self esteem, and a conviction that I couldn’t write an essay if my life depended on it. Feeling like a total fraud, I made no attempt to write another creative word outside of essays and technical reports for several decades.
Fast forward many years. Over time, I grew tired of wearing little business suits, struggling with panty hose, and fighting rush hour traffic. I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I was certain of one thing—it wasn’t a consultant. One sunny day in June 2003, a good friend and primo energy healer (she refers to herself as a “soul healer”) called up our spiritual guides, guardians, and gatekeepers to channel an unforgettable session during which I made a life-changing decision. I walked out of her house knowing that I wanted to write books. Not dry, boring, technical treatises, but fresh, funny romantic suspense novels.
And so the seed of a thought took root. Always an over-achiever, I quit my day job to attend a five-day seminar entitled How to Write a Novel. After all, how hard could it be to write a novel? Thousands of authors did it every year, some of them more than once. I read a couple of how-to books, joined the Ottawa chapter of RWA, rolled up my sleeves, and plunked myself down in front of the computer. As I stared at the blank screen, I held onto my thought for dear life — I am writing a romantic, funny, sexy, scary, exciting, knock-their-socks-off novel.
One year and 104,167 words later, I finished my first draft, dusted off my hands, and announced to my critique group, “There! It’s finished.” After the shrieks of laughter subsided, they pointed me to a book entitled The Basics of Editing Your Novel, and I realized the fun had just begun. I re-worked that sucker several hundred times, cursing the thought that had spawned this monster.
Another year slipped by. Finally, I was ready to unveil my new baby and submit the cherished manuscript to a lucky editor. I formulated new affirmations: “An editor out there is waiting for THE JAGUAR LEGACY,” and, “THE JAGUAR LEGACY is a mega-best-seller.” After the first five, or maybe it was six, rejections, I admitted to myself, to God, and to my critique group that there might, just might, be a teeny, tiny problem with my writing. I hit on the brilliant idea of entering contests. At least, I thought, I would receive feedback on what I was doing wrong.
Boy, when I’m right, I’m right! Learning can be humbling. I soon discovered that the only way to survive the crushing blows of constructive criticism would be to treat the entire process as an academic exercise—an advanced degree in novel writing, so to speak. So each time the contest results arrived, my first priority was to consume my entire body weight in chocolate. Then, I shoved my ego out of the way, analyzed the judges’ comments, and absorbed the critique. After all, I had paid for this punishment and I wanted my money’s worth.
Turns out I had made every beginner’s mistake in the book. For the next twelve months, I removed all head-hopping; I chopped the dreaded back story from the first five chapters; I ridded my book of pesky adverbs by making each verb as punchy as possible; I switched from passive to active tense; I threw away my first three chapters and started the story at the beginning of the action; I forced my characters to confront their greatest fears; I trashed some of my favourite scenes because they didn’t move the plot ahead; I ramped up the suspense; I addressed all five senses; I anchored all conversations to specific actions so there were no ‘talking heads’; I made sure I described the location of each scene; I switched to deep third person point of view. I nipped, I tucked, I tightened, and I never stopped learning my craft.
Little by little, the comments grew more complimentary. On August 18, 2006, the moment I had been dreaming of for three years arrived. Twenty-one rejections, six tons of chocolate, six hundred and ninety-seven re-writes, and two first prizes later, I received ‘The Call’ from Lachesis Publishing for my first book, The Jaguar Legacy.
And it all began with a single thought.
Maureen Fisher is the author of the paranormal romantic suspense novel, THE JAGUAR LEGACY. You can visit her website at www.booksbymaureen.com.
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