My Writing Life: The Beginning or “How to Bore Your Reader and Send Them Fleeing to a Better Blog”
By Sherry Siska
So, somewhere along about 1993, while working in marketing for a fiber optics company, I rekindled my interest in writing. One of my colleagues had earned her Master’s degree in writing and wrote lots of short stories and such. She convinced me to attend a conference at a local college.
Writing a short story
In preparation for that conference, I wrote a short story – not very good, I must say – called “Number One with a Bullet”. The story was a “light” mystery of the sort I enjoyed (and still enjoy) reading.
The story was a “light” mystery of the sort I enjoyed (and still enjoy) reading. It featured a young, female DJ who had an overbearing mother, a seemingly perfect older sister, and a plot that was, well, lacking. But, I loved it and was proud of it anyway! Later on, I actually had the audacity to submit it to a couple of places. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Prodigy’s Authors in Waiting
I had my daughter in February 1994 and became a “stay-at-home” mom once again. This time, though, I had a brand new fun toy: a computer! I joined Prodigy, the online community that was not AOL. I can still see the long cord stretching across the room from the bulky computer to the phone jack.
Prodigy had message boards dedicated to all sorts of the things. I gravitated to one about mystery novels and quickly fell in love with it. The people on the board were a smorgasbord of personalities and were all quite nice. Some up-and-coming writers such as Harlen Coben and Polly Whitney frequented the board, too. There also were some pretty successful folks online as well: Rebecca Forester, Peter Straub, and several others.
Submitting to Magazines
Most of the folks on the board were wannabe writers, and we were blessed because those who were already successful were generous with advice. I wrote a number of short stories and actually had a Christmas story published in a compilation put out by the local daily newspaper. That gave me the courage to submit to magazines some of the stories I had written.
Of course, none of them were accepted.
But, one particular story, about a young girl who loved to run and an old man who taught her about Wilma Rudolph, received a great rejection letter from an editor at Highlights magazine for children.
For some reason, that rejection felt like a WIN and gave me hope that, maybe, someday, I could be a “real writer”.
I started keeping a free write notebook and constantly wrote in it. One day, I noticed that I kept coming back to the same group of characters and they all seemed to know each other. Maybe there was a story there.
The Madams of Mischief
I’m not sure what made me think I could write a novel.
I started it several times, in several ways, and it just wasn’t working. One night, though, as I sat in bed nursing my new baby, I realized that I had been trying to tell the story from the wrong character’s POV. And, not only that, but I knew exactly how the novel started and how it ended. I couldn’t wait to get started. The novel, a light mystery featuring my female DJ from that first short story, took me a long time to write, but I stuck with it and I actually finished the thing! A couple of my Prodigy pals (by then, we were all on AOL instead) read it and gave me great feedback. Then, Rebecca Forester, one of the kindest and most talented women I’ve met, read a couple of chapters and suggested I send it to an agent she knew. Then, a miracle: the agent agreed to represent me!
No one bought the novel, but I have a file full of really positive rejection letters. One editor, in particular, was interested, but my agent sort of dropped the ball, much to my dismay.
The Divas of Doom
In the meantime, I started a second novel, featuring the same characters. By the time my agent sat on it for a year, I was becoming discouraged. I dithered around for a while, giving her the benefit of doubt, but a health crisis brought sudden clarity. So, I fired her.
That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
No longer could I casually fling “My agent says…” into a conversation. Bummer, but I had to do what was right for me and my writing. On a whim, with zero expectations about the outcome, I sent the novel to the St. Martin Press best first mystery novel contest and it made the short list! Divas of Doom didn’t win, but that was okay. Out of thousands of entries, I had made the very short list of finalists! I felt like maybe I actually had a modicum of talent.
Back then, self (or indie) publishing was not looked at the way it is today. It was usually called vanity publishing and cost a lot of money. Not until Amazon came along did the seismic shift in publishing happen. These days, it’s not only okay to independently publish, but it’s been embraced by some super talented and well-respected people, including Rebecca Forster, who is even more successful as an independent that when she was with standard publishers.
In 2012, after encouragement from some great friends, I dug out my first two novels, rewrote and re-edited them, and decided that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by making my dreams come true. I gave up on the thoughts that I needed permission from “big people” to publish. I decided to Be Fearless. I made mistakes along the way, but eventually, I wrote and published the third book in the series.
And now, I’m here: working on book four, blogging, and looking forward to continuing the journey and finding out where the path leads.
Photo credit: stocksnap.io by Snufkin
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