Sunday, July 24, 2016

Blogiversary Guest Post: Once Upon A Typewriter by Katie Oliver


                ONCE UPON A TYPEWRITER

When we got married, my husband Mark knew I liked the Beatles, feared spiders, loved Woody Allen movies, and loathed oysters. He knew I was painfully shy and geeky and that I pretty much hid behind my long brown hair.

And he also knew I 'liked to write' and that I had 'a few things' that I'd written in my spare time.

My single claim to publication fame at the time was a letter I'd sent off at fourteen to the editor of the now-defunct Washington Star newspaper. Oh, and I'd had a couple of stories published in the high school newspaper, The A-Blast (our football team was the Annandale Atoms, go Atoms!), and that was it. It wasn't much of a writing resume (although in my defense, I hadn’t sent anything out to publishers yet).

But Mark snuck a few of my stories out of the box where I kept my typewritten pages hidden and read them. And he thought they were pretty good.

'Not,' he informed me, 'that I normally read that kind of stuff.' ('That kind of stuff' being romance or romance fiction. He was, and still is, a non-fiction, World War II, History Channel kind of guy.)

Still, he believed in me enough to go out when we were still young and financially struggling and buy me an Adler electronic typewriter.

Now, this wasn't your mother's IBM Selectric. This was a state of the art (at the time) save-an-entire-line-of-type typewriter. You could type a line of text, save it, delete it, or change it before you committed it to the page.  It even had a spell checker. And it was very expensive. Money-we-really-didn't-have expensive.

Yet my husband, bless his heart, bought it for me because he says he knew - he just knew - that my stories would be published one day.

If that isn't love, I don't know what is.

So the pressure was on. I had to make good on his faith in me, and get my stories published. In those days, the only alternative to a traditional publisher was a vanity press. Which meant YOU paid THEM to print and publish your book; selling and promoting it was also entirely up to you. There was a stigma attached to publishing a book this meant you were (a) desperate or (b) unpublishable.

I tried to produce a book worthy of publication, I really did. But writing - much less finishing an entire book - proved difficult to impossible with the demands of a full time job, a commute, two small boys to care for, and a household to maintain.

I ended up with what I called my 'box of crap' (which I still have, BTW), a typing paper box crammed with my mostly unfinished efforts - regencies, romantic suspense, a Civil War historical (I actually finished that one), a supernatural novella, and even some vampire erotica. I was nothing if not eclectic in my attempts at fiction.

Finally, in frustration at the lack of writing time, with a lot of drama and tears and shouting, I shelved the idea of writing, of being a writer. For several years I wrote nothing. Zilch. Squat. But...I continued to read voraciously. I bought Romantic Times magazine and read each and every article, every month. I learned the mechanics of writing – the craft of putting together a plot, characterization, creating suspense, and building conflict into every story. I read books about writing. I thought about writing. I missed writing.

Fast forward several years later, after working and raising kids, when the kids finally flew the parental coop. I began to write again. And boy, did it feel good.

When things slowed down at work, I had time to sit at my desk, catch my breath, and I start writing my first book.

I ended up eight months later with Prada and Prejudice. I thought it was pretty good. My husband thought it was pretty good. My friends at work thought it was really good. So I took a deep breath and decided to find myself a literary agent and see if she thought it was good.

She did.

Eventually Nikki sold my book – and two more – to Carina UK, Harlequin’s new digital imprint. I got the news over the phone at work, in an empty conference room on the first floor. To say I was giddy with excitement is an understatement. I walked on a cloud of happiness for weeks afterwards. I think I may have even had little bluebirds twittering and flying around me, like Cinderella. As a writer, I’d finally found my happy ending.

The moral of the story? If you aren’t published yet but want to be, don’t give up. Keep writing. Persevere. Read everything you can, and don’t just read it – study it. Learn the craft of writing – pace, plotting, conflict, foreshadowing – and apply it to your own writing. Don’t let anyone discourage you. Seek writing critiques from your friends – and pick friends who’ll be honest with you (honest enough to tell you the truth if your story really sucks).

But mostly – and I know this is a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s true…believe in yourself.

And then sit down, and write.

Katie Oliver loves romantic comedies, characters who "meet cute," Richard Curtis films, and Prosecco (not necessarily in that order). She currently resides in South Florida with her husband, two parakeets, and a dog.

Katie has been writing since she was eight, and has a box crammed with (mostly unfinished) novels to prove it. With her sons grown and gone, she decided to get serious and write more (and hopefully, better) stories. She even finishes most of them.

Here's to love and all its complications...

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