Okay, we’re back on the historical journey of my writing life from my beginnings as a general market romance novelist to my current career as a Christian fiction novelist. Thanks for taking a step back in time with me. Today, we’re going waaay back to when I sold my first book. In last week’s post, I told you about my early fifth grade writing experience and that fateful trip to a Romantic Times convention in Savannah (GA) much later where I decided to embark on writing again. This post picks up with my return home after that conference.
Well, writing a book wasn’t as easy as it seemed when I was listening to those three women at the conference. I realized I didn’t know how to get started. The smartest thing I did at that point was join Georgia Romance Writers, the Atlanta Chapter of Romance Writers of America. I don’t remember now how I learned about the organization but it must have been at the convention. Anyway, I attended my first meeting, where there was only one other black person, Carla Fredd, also a beginning writer attending her first meeting. I believe it was destiny; you’ll have to ask Carla what she thinks.
Sometime later Carla and I, along with two other GRW members, Bridget Anderson and Ami V., formed a critique group. I think we met once a week, but again I’m relying on memory here. I distinctly remember that because I working full-time, I wrote on the weekends. I didn’t allow myself to leave the house on Saturday morning until I’d written three chapters, which for me was three chapters. I remember being motivated do those three chapters so that I wouldn’t have to attend the upcoming critique group meeting empty-handed.
When I think about our early critique meetings, I have to laugh. We were excellent examples of the blind leading the blind. We had no clue what we were doing. We figured out point-of-view together; we struggled together with active and passive voice. Mostly, we supported and encouraged each other. That was the upside to being in a critique group. The downside was that sometimes our comments went too far. We’d begin to change, or want to change, each other’s stories. I think I was first one in the group to make a sale because I was the first to figure out that comments from others were merely points to consider, not requests that had to be heeded.
It took me about a year to write that first book, which I titled Dreams. I started querying agents and publishers after I had a good first three chapters and a synopsis, figuring that any interest would be a great motivator to finish the book. I compiled a large collection of rejection letters during this period, most of them form letters that weren’t even copied squarely on the page. It’s funny now, but it certainly pained me back then. I’d drag myself to the mailbox, holding my breath, wondering if I could bear another rejection. But I could and I did. Finally, a few people asked to see my manuscript. And more rejections piled up. More wondering if I could bear the rejection. More learning that I could.
My turning point came when I attended my first Romance Writers of America conference and met Monica Harris. When Monica was an editor at Dell, she’d turned down my manuscript with a personal rejection letter. Now those were prizes! A personal rejection letter beat a form rejection everytime. Anyway, when I met Monica at the conference she had moved to Kensington to start Arabesque Books, a new line of African-American romances. She suggested that I submit my book to her at Kensington, which I did.
Monica bought the book (this was about a year after I finished writing it). I remember our phone conversation when she made me the offer, which is another funny story. She said she wanted to buy my book; I say okay you can have it; she said, “But I haven’t told you how much yet.” Now, this shows you how desperate I was to be published. What I did was cute but it was also unwise. That said, I’d probably do the same thing again. Sad, isn’t it? But I really wanted to be published. I’m sure some of you can identify. Still I have to warn you not to be as eager as I was. It’s more important to sell well than it is to sell. End of advice; back to story.
A year later, Dreams was published as Bands of Gold (their title). Like many first books, it has a lot of “me” in it. In fact, my cousin read it and called me up and asked, “Is this book about you?” I had to explain to her what fiction meant. 🙂 Actually, she wasn’t the only one to ask me that question.
I was very excited about the publication of my first book even though there was no publisher tour, no radio gigs, no print advertising. I did what I could in terms of promotion and felt I was well on my way to a grand career as published author. I’d learn later that I needed better benchmarks with which to judge success.
Bands of Gold was a personal accomplishment that stands as a precious moment in my life. When I wrote that book, I wrote it thinking my main character, Christina, was a Christian, but I didn’t include that in the book explicitly. I’m not sure why I didn’t. Nobody restrained me so I had to have restrained myself. That self-restraint may have had a bit to do with what was going on in my life at the time. Christina was dealing with true love after achieving a certain amount of professional success and so was I. Issues of love and expressions of love were prominent in her life and in mine. Unfortunately, we both made bad decisions as a result of following our feelings instead of our faith. As you can imagine, we both ended up heartbroken.
Bands of Gold in one of the three books included in the upcoming Harlequin re-issue, Sweet Passion. I’ll tell the story of the second title in that collection next week. I hope you all are encouraged by these stories because I’m encouraging myself as I tell them. Thanks for sharing my journey.