Sunday, May 16, 2010

Getting Into Trouble

You'd think something as important as a new career would start with a bang--but my writing career started with a whimper.

I've worked in bookstores all my life, and I love my work. Not only do I get to spend all day, every day playing with books and talking to readers, but I'm able to put ideas into people's hands and encourage them to buy the books I love.

But working in retail means you're on your feet all day, every day, and after twenty years, it had taken its toll. My feet were permanently fixed in a high-heel slant, like Barbie doll feet. And they hurt.


I needed a sit-down job.

I decided to try medical transcription. I type fast, I'm a good speller, and I love using big words like desquamation and borborygmi, so it seemed like a great fit.
Unfortunately, doctors drone. And desquamation and borborygmi aren't nearly as entertaining when you realize they're happening to real people.

But I dutifully tapped away at the keyboard, transcribing my little heart out. Once in a while, though, I needed a break. So I'd bring up a new document, free my mind from all the depressing medical jargon, and start typing freely, letting whatever I was thinking flow from my brain to the screen.

Here's what came out one day:

A chicken will never break your heart.

Not that you can't love a chicken. There are some people in this world who can love just about anything.

But a chicken will never love you back. When you look deep into their beady little eyes, there's not a lot of warmth there--just an avarice for worms and bugs and, if it's a rooster, a lot of suppressed anger and sexual frustration. They don't return your affection in any way.

Expectations, relationship-wise, are right at rock-bottom.

That's why Libby Brown decided to start a chicken farm. She wanted some company, and she wanted a farm, but she didn't want to go getting attached to things like she had in the past.

She'd been obsessed with farms since she was a kid. It all started with her Fisher Price Farmer Joe Play Set: a plastic barn, some toy animals, and a pair of round-headed baby dolls clutching pitchforks like some simple-minded version of American Gothic.

Take Atlanta, just give her that countryside.

Well. That was way more interesting than pachyonychia or zooerastia.*

I kept going, and eventually learned that Libby was a big-city journalist fleeing a failed romance. Determined to live a solitary, self-sufficient life, she moves to the most isolated area she can find: Lackaduck, Wyoming.

She's looking forward to a quiet, peaceful country life--but then Luke Rawlins shows up. Luke is a genuine Wyoming cowboy who looks like Elvis, talks like John Wayne, and cooks like Martha Stewart. Suddenly Libby's not alone anymore. She's not looking for love--but she tells herself it's okay to have a friend who makes your heart beat a little faster.

I'd never written fiction before, and I loved it. I loved the feeling of discovery as characters revealed themselves, and the way I could organize real-life events to point out little truths about our lives. I loved living on another plane, among people of my own invention.

And when I went to my first writing conference, I discovered that I loved talking to other writers, learning tips and tricks to make my books better, and studying the business itself.

Then, when I read my first few pages in front of an agent, they loved my writing. At that point, it had a long way to go, but the encouragement went straight to my head, and I started believing I could actually get published.

Miraculously, that belief stayed intact despite the inevitable rejections and crises of confidence that every writer encounters. And finally, this March, Cowboy Trouble hit the bookstore shelves. Since medical transcription never really got a grip on me, I'm still working in the bookstore--but now I'm selling my own book right alongside the work of all the authors I love. So who cares if my feet hurt? Not me!

I know my writing career started much later than many; most of you Casablanca ladies probably knew you wanted to be writers from Kindergarten or so. But do you remember the moment you first realized that this is what you were meant to do? Stories, please!

* Actually zooerastia could be pretty interesting, as long as we're talking shape-shifters.


  1. "A chicken will never break your heart." LOL Terrific first line and a great story hook, Joanne!

    As for when I began writing...well...I'm willing to bet you woke up to your writing identity at a younger age than I did--though I don't think age matters.

  2. Hey Joanne, I work in a library, standing 8 hours a I feel your pain. I learned to wear VERY comfortable shoes. I haven't found a Texas hero yet, but it sounds good. A man with a wolf tattoo asked me out to lunch--providence? Coward that I was, I turned him down. LOL

    I included you in Heart of the Highland Wolf, as a writer friend who writes about hunky Wyoming cowboys...since the heroine is a romance writer herself who becomes momentarily disillusioned about writing hunky Scots and decides to write about hunky Texas cowboys because her friend writes about hunky Wyoming cowboys! :)

    I was making up stories and sharing with my friends since I was little. My parents were both artists (as a hobby) and when I tried to paint, they told me to stick to writing. :) And between that and creating award-winning teddy bears that have found homes as far away as Australia, I left the paints alone!

  3. I got my first short story published in my school paper when I was in first grade, Joanne. It was about witches.
    Now many, many years later, I write fantasy.
    There's a meaning in there somewhere, I'm sure. :}

  4. Mary Margret, I agree - age doesn't matter! Except I wish I'd discovered the rewards of writing earlier. I just had my chart done by a friend who is an astrologer, and she said that's what I was supposed to do all along!

  5. Terry, that's so INCREDIBLY cool about "Heart of the Highland Wolf." I can't wait to read it!
    A man with a wolf tattoo...interesting! Had he read your books? That would be a little scary.
    I painted for years before I took up writing - I guess I misinterpreted the creative urge. So glad we both discovered what we were obviously meant to do!

  6. Kathryne - I'll bet that witch story was adorable! And being "published" at age 6 or 7 must have been a thrill!

  7. I think the moment I knew I was meant to be a writer was at 2 a.m., January 2000. I always go to bed early, like before 10. And I didn't want to go to sleep because I was writing my first book and couldn't wait to see what would happen.

  8. Love your first line! Glad to know there is another slow starter out there like me. I didn't even read romance books into a few years ago, let alone think about trying to write one. Now I wonder what took me so long! At least we got there eventually, and all the other stuff we did before helps us be better writers now (at least that's what I tell myself!).

  9. I love hearing how it all started for authors. The stories are diverse yet always similar in the instant love and passion that permeates one's heart from the moment the words begin to flow.

    Everyone knows my story I suppose. I saw a movie that I fell in love with. That began a love affair with Jane Austen and the Regency. That led to reading Austen fanfiction where I searched fruitlessly for the sequel dancing in my head. Reading other writers gave me the courage to type that first sentence - the same one that had been running through my brain for months - and before I knew it I had enough for three novels! The rest is history, as they say. :)

  10. I began writing because I couldn't find what I wanted to read, but it took me about thirty years to get from that idea to my first published novel!

  11. Wow, January 2000 was a good month for writers! I've written all my life, but that's when I really began writing for someone other than myself. I started writing a contemporary Pride and Prejudice with a twist of Persuasion and was hooked. I wrote about 330,000 words and someone said "You really need to get this published." As if getting published was easy. I thought she was nuts, but it put the bug in my ear and I never looked back. I got my first offer in July, 2007.

  12. Thanks, everyone, for telling your "beginning" stories. It surprises me how varied they are. It just goes to show that if you're susceptible to the writing bug, it will get you one way or another. There are so many roads to this work, but they all lead to a kind of satisfaction you can't get anywhere else.