Monday, November 28
The Book Under the Bed
I wrote The Growing Season sometime in the 1990s--I think. I've slept since then, and written many more manuscripts that have gone to their imaginary home under the bed. The Growing Season had another title to start with, but I don't remember what it was. It had somewhere around 60,000 words if I remember right, and its protagonists were named Micky and Pat. Micky was the widowed mother of four teenagers and Pat the widowed father of two. They lived in the country in central Indiana (just like me), Micky was short and a little overweight with curly brown hair (just like me), and I thought it was a wonderful story.
I was new to RWA, new to everything romance except the reading of it, and RWA in general and the Outreach chapter specifically were more help than I can begin to thank them for. I gritted my teeth and entered The Growing Season in its first contest.
It won it. I was on top of the world. I knew, without any doubt at all, that I was on my way.
The prize in the contest was a critique by members of another chapter. By the time I finished reading the individual comments, I was ready to give up writing forever. I have no idea how the manuscript won the contest, because the women of the Saskatchewan chapter hated everything about it. Including the curly-haired Hoosier heroine. In my mind, in my heart, it was me they hated.
From 15 or so years out, I can still feel the pain of those comments. The experience made me a kinder (some would say mealymouthed) judge of other people's work. It also cost me three months of productivity, because that's how long it took me to start writing again. Only after those three months was I able to sift out that those other writers--many of them much more experienced than I--were right about point of view, about the strength of secondary characters, about...many things.
It took years for me to know for sure they were wrong about some things, too. When they indicated the Rules are written in stone. When they said no one wanted to read about less-than-perfect heroines or rural people who carried around ten extra pounds.
I feel melancholy when I think of Micky and Pat, of the hopes I had for their story, of the dreamer I was then, but grateful for the things I learned. I've sold five books since then, started God knows how many, and finished...well, a lot more than five. I'll never drag most of them out again. But thank you, Micky and Pat. I'm still on my way.