Howdy, Wranglers. Today, I'm honored to welcome one of my very favorite authors to the round pen--Kathleen Gilles Seidel. She is one of the reasons I fell in love with romantic fiction--her writing is gorgeous. Kathleen is the author of fourteen contemporaries, which have won most major romance-market awards, including two RITAs. She has a PhD in English literature and was chair of the Washington Romance Writers for two years. She recently released digital versions of four of her classic titles grouped as "The Hometown Memories Books." Her website is www.kathleengillesseidel.com.
I'm touched to welcome Kathy as she shares some pretty intimate thoughts with us. . . .
You know how when you gain weight, you never mention it in hopes that people won’t notice what is, let’s face it, a very obvious fact? That’s how I feel about what I am about to say –it’s something that I never mention, hoping that people won’t notice, fearing that saying it will call attention to it, will label me as a loser, but here it is – my most recent book was published in 2008, and I have not sold one since.
My career got off to a incredible start in the mid-eighties. An unagented manuscript sold to Harlequin in six days counting mailing time and became one of the launch titles for the Harlequin American line. I won two Ritas, was mentioned in Romantic Times every month without ever buying an ad, etc., etc. But now . . . my agent is slow to read my manuscripts, and then the rejections come in—We would love to work with Kathy, but not on this project . . . .
I have plenty of excuses. My husband died in 2008; I had breast cancer; menopause knocked my creativity on its once-substantial ass; my previous two books were women’s fiction and had terrible numbers. But focusing on the excuses isn’t useful for me and would be boring for you. So I am using this blog to ask why I haven’t given up, how I keep from being discouraged.
First, I have no financial pressure. Being Mrs. Stock Option has been far more lucrative than being a writer. Financial pressure makes some writers write faster and work incredibly hard at marketing and promoting their books. Financial pressure makes other writers become editors or book doctors . . . or realtors or project managers. Having money allows me to keep writing; having money may keep me from writing hard enough.
I also keep going because I have no idea who I am if I am not a writer. Yes, I do lots of other things, plan fundraising events, serve on Boards, but those are things I do. Writing is more than that. I sometimes wonder if writing has become more of a hobby than a profession. But I have a hobby. I sew. There’s a difference. Even though characters and a story don’t have the urgency that they did when I was in my 20s and 30s, I feel lost when I don’t have them with me. What am I supposed to think about when I turn off the light and try to fall asleep?
And having a plot and characters in my brain makes me not only sleepier, but a better parent, friend, and neighbor. When my brain isn’t busy with my characters’ lives, I turn into Lady Catherine de Brough, put on Earth to tell what other people they ought to be doing. This does not endear me to my grown daughters. How much better to be managing my characters’ lives because, indeed, without me they are nothing.
So how do I keep from getting discouraged?
I do have some very loyal readers. Liz Flaherty has never let up, reading me a few times a year because of how much my books mean to her. The statistical importance of those readers may not be significant—and I am sure that I exaggerate it in my mind—but the importance of them to my morale is huge.
I have also constructed up a wall of self-delusion and pretend that I don’t care about conventional authorial success. Last summer an independent publisher released digital versions of four of my back titles. As instructed, I redid my website and started a blog. And I started caring, checking Amazon numbers, the hits on the blog. Early in my career, I would have jumped higher, smiled more, but not now. I hated it. So I went back to pretending that I didn’t care.
This pretense allows me to hide from my greatest fear, that the four rounds of chemotherapy have robbed me of the magic of my imagination. As I write this blog, I realize that the psychic cost of pretending so hard may be more damaging than the oncology treatment.
A more healthy strategy is that I work hard not to feel like a victim. When those awful numbers on my women’s fiction titles were proving to be such an obstacle, I looked long and hard at those books and accepted that the publisher did everything that it could; the problem was with the books that I wrote. While they had women’s fiction subject and women’s fiction plots, I still wrote as a romance writer with the same relationship that a romance writer has with her reader which is, I now believe, different than in the women’s fiction market. Now those numbers are far enough in the past that I can’t blame them for anything anymore.
Now that I have made this admission to all of you, I am thinking about what else may have brought me to this place, decisions that I unknowing made, but those thoughts are still inchoate.
When I accepted Nan’s invitation and decided to write something other than the usual “how I got started,” a little part of me was hoping to have a happy ending. My agent has just started circulating a new manuscript and I could let go of the possibility that I might be able to close with some happy news. But however quickly editors used to read my books, they take their time now, and I have no news.
Instead I finish with an irony. To see if other authors had similar stories, I Googled “romance writers who have quit,” and was stunned to see that an online Writers’ Digest 2013 article cited me. Oh, fabulous. If Writers’ Digest was calling me a quitter, then I must be. I clicked on the article. Far from calling me a quitter, the article, which was about writers quitting their day jobs, instead quoted me about being in it for long haul. Okay, if Writers’ Digest says I am in it for the long haul, apparently I am.