Whenever one of my books is published, my friend, a former and still missed member of my writing group, calls to ask if I will talk to her writing class, which is in a high school that ranks among the top in our state. I always say yes, and regret it until it’s over, when I decide it wasn’t so bad after all.
The first time I went I brought a box with me; evidence of what it takes to become a published writer. I had a folder full of rejection letters, displaying the range from a sloppily scribbled “No!” on my query letter, to a poorly photocopied form letter, to the best: faint praise with a “Sorry, not for us. Good luck.”
I also included in the box a print-out of the first forty-page version of the book. It had been printed on perforated computer paper with holes on the side to move it through the printer. The book came out in 2002, long after printers required such paper. To say the book took a while to get published is an understatement.
I brought with me some sample chapters marked up by my writing group and I explained the value of a critique partner. I showed an old copy of The Writers Market which their teacher had given me. She, too, is a writer, an excellent one, but not actively working on her writing. It was a choice she made when she went back to teaching.
I also pulled out from the box a small notebook that I used to write notes to myself of ideas that randomly came to me. I showed off my light-up pen, a present from my husband which was as much a gift to himself as to me. If I had something important to jot down during the night, I could do so without awakening him. Lastly, I pulled out the corrected proof of my first book, and admitted how embarrassing it had been to see my name on the top of every left hand page, like I had any right to brag so many times.
I don’t think I really wowed anyone during that first school visit with the tools of the trade, or the detritus from my efforts to get published. I didn’t bring the box a second time.
Over the years I have refined my presentation. Now I speak about my efforts to create characters people love, settings that feel real, and situations that keep people turning the page. I mention what fun I have when the characters surprise me and start doing their own thing. I talk about the long hours and never-ending task of editing and refining my work so it is the best it can be.
I think I am in a better position now to explain the process. Speaking about it this time, in reference to my newest book, Vengeance Runs Cold, the fifth in the Wally Morris mystery series, I could explain the inspiration for the book. It was as simple as water damage in the wall of my basement. All I had to do was imagine the who, the where, the what, the how, and, most importantly, the why (as aside from the obvious--a leak somewhere) and I had enough material for my story. Writing isn’t so easy, I told those young writers whom I’d been reluctant to face, but it is definitely worth the effort.