I burned my first novel, written at age 10, in a fit of embarrassment when I was 15. My second novel, written a couple of decades later, spent six months with a major publisher who rejected it, the editor said, because he didn’t know how to sell it. My short stories and my third novel sit in boxes and files. Not an auspicious beginning for a fiction writer, was it?
Yet after a satisfying career writing nonfiction ranging from aerospace manuals to horticultural books to equine journalism, I won an award at my first love: historical fiction.
By 2008 the publishing world had changed. Vanity publishing became self-publishing, and an author in a smaller market such as the Western (even as broadly defined as it is), could self-publish respectably. After being ignored for months on end even by people who had asked to see the book, I lost patience and chose that option.
The Western Writers of America is the only genre organization to accept self-published books along with traditionally published works. I entered and won the Spur. This year I entered God’s Thunderbolt in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. I wanted to see how it would fare outside its niche market and its target audience. I’m gratified that it finished in the top 1%.
What made the difference?
- Determination: I’m older now (a lot older). I have the kind of determination that comes from knowing time is running out. It’s literally now or never. I’m determined to be the best novelist, the best writer, I can be.
- Objectivity: After a lifetime of reading (and a PhD in English literature), I can tell the difference between good and bad writing. I took a look at some of the writing in files and boxes, and discovered to my horror that it stunk.
- Problem-solving: That objectivity led me to learn what the problems were in my writing and to fix them. It wasn’t easy, but I was determined to be a good writer.
- Education: I educated myself by taking fiction-writing classes online and at the local community college. I read (and still read) books on writing fiction. The PhD taught me how to analyze novels, not how to write them.
- Patience: Despite my age, I didn’t hurry this process of becoming a good novelist. “Make haste slowly” became my mantra.
Success, though, is not the end. It’s not a matter of prizes or money earned or recognition. My definition of success is to know I’ve done the best work I’m capable of. In that sense, I’m on a never-ending quest. As the poet William Wordsworth said, there’s “something evermore about to be.”
Author of God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana
(2009 Spur Award for Best First Novel from Western Writers of America)