Sunday, November 8, 2009

One Writer's Journey

Sometimes I wonder if being self-published really qualifies me as a writer. But I know Pat Bertram's a real writer, and I love her first two books, More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire. Pat's third book, Daughter am I, has just been released by Second Wind Publishing and it's high on my Christmas List - maybe after you read this it'll be high on yours too. I'm truly honored to have Pat posting to my blog today, and truly inspired by the piece she's written. Thank you Pat.

When I asked Sheila what topic she’d like me to talk about, she said she’d like to read how I got from where I was before to where I am now, and what advice I would give those dreaming of following. So here is the travelogue of that journey.

Daughter Am I is about a quest, so it’s fitting that during a blog tour to promote the book I should talk about my personal quest as a writer. Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. Oh, wait. That’s the first line of David Copperfield! Every quest needs a hero, though, and it’s still to be determined if I will be the hero of mine. I am far from where I want to be, yet I am also aware of how far I have come. Eight years ago, I started out with nothing but time and a desire to get the past out of my head, so I wrote a fictionalized version of my life’s defining moments. Ghastly? Oh, yes! But I did complete the novel, which gave me a bit of satisfaction.

For my second novel, I decided to be clever and compile all the genres into one -- a horror/western/mystery/suspense/thriller/romance/historical/science fiction/ novel. By then I had decided that if I was going to write, I should learn the craft. I’m not being modest when I say I have no innate talent for writing, though I do have a talent for learning, so I set out to learn everything I could about writing. (Here is my first bit of advice -- to learn how to write, you need to learn how to write. It sounds silly, but it’s true.) The very first thing I learned is that neophyte writers often make the mistake of thinking they were being clever by combining all genres into one. Ouch. A painful lesson, though one I haven’t really learned. Most of my books cross genres, though not quite the way I had originally intended.

This second novel eventually became Light Bringer, which was the fourth one I completed, and which will be published in the spring of 2010. I worked on Light Bringer for a bit, then I got the idea for More Deaths Than One, and that story so captured my imagination that I immediately sat down and started writing it. I thought the finished product was great. Wonderful writing. Perfect images. Engaging characters. I even got an agent for it, which says more about the ineptitude of the agent than the worth of the book.

When More Deaths Than One didn’t sell, I reread it to prove to myself that the editors who turned down the book didn’t know a good book when they saw one. Boy, did I have a shock! The thing was dreadful. One character (William Henry Harrison, who eventually became an off-screen -- or rather off-page -- character) told the story to the main character, so it was mostly written in the second person. Eek. And my hero Bob did nothing. He wasn’t even in his own story. So I rewrote the book. Several months later, when the revised book had racked up more rejections, I read it again. Another shock. Still dreadful! It took four major overhauls, fifty books on how to write and self-edit, another novel (while all this was going on, I wrote A Spark of Heavenly Fire), and dozens of edits and copyedits before I finally ended up with a readable book. (Here is my second bit of advice -- when a book is rejected, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the agent or editor is a fool. Perhaps the book isn’t nearly as good as you think it is. Set it aside for weeks, months, even a year, and continue writing and learning how to write. Then look at again and try to assess it honestly.)

I could continue to bore you with the minutiae of my journey, but the point is that I did learn how to write, and you can too. Talent helps, but is not necessary. What is necessary is to learn the craft, to be honest in your self-assessment, and to be willing to rewrite as often as it takes to make the finished product match your vision.

I endured over two hundred rejections during my journey, but what made it worthwhile was finding a publisher who loves my books.

As for the second half of my journey -- finding that publisher -- well, let’s just say it was a matter of persistence. By then I had written four books that I knew were worth reading, so I explored every single possibility. I studied Writer’s Marketplace and Jeff Herman’s directories. I searched agent databases on the Internet. In the end, finding Second Wind was a fluke. I happened to come across a link to their website on a discussion thread, and immediately shot off a query letter. So, here is my final piece of advice -- follow through on every lead that you get. You never know where success will come from.

Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado and a lifelong resident. When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book — character and story driven novels that can’t easily be slotted into a genre — she decided to write her own. Daughter am I is Bertram’s third novel to be published by Second Wind Publishing, LLC. Also available are More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire.

18 comments:

ptbertram said...

Sheila, I am honored to be here. You have been such a constant source of encouragement to me with all the comments you leave on my blog, and here you are again, encouraging me during my blog tour. This tour has been interesting from the standpoint of going back and reliving those early days of writing. At times I think I haven't accomplished much, but now I see that I am lightyears from where I began. The beginning of my journey took place offline in private, and now I am online and in public where everyone can see my successes and failures. It's a bit disconcering at times. Thank you for accompanying me in this public part of my journey.

L. V. Gaudet said...

And learning to write is a journey of self exploration that never ends.

Sheila Deeth said...

Hi Pat. Like I said, I'm honored to have you here, and I really enjoyed reading about your journey. It's very encouraging to know real writers don't just magically appear with all their skills intact right from the start.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Yes, Sheila, being self-pubbed makes you a real writer. Nice to meet you, btw.

Pat, guess what? Yup. All linked at Win a Book.

A. F. Stewart said...

It's nice you made to the end of the twisty road and are now a published author.

Russ said...

Thank you Sheila for asking Pat to be your guest and for asking her such a perfect question.

Russ said...

By the way, I'm Mary Russel signed in under my hubby's name.

Thank you, Pat for your amazing answer. It is encouraging to know that all of your hard work eventually paid off. Great job of sticking to it and being willing to take the steps necessary to improve your writing.

Congratulations on your many successes.

JaxPop said...

"...be willing to rewrite as often as it takes to make the finished product match your vision."

I like that. Also agree - put the MS aside & work on something else for an extended period of time. Amazing how the rewrite comment comes into play after letting it marinate.

Sheila - being self pubbed doesn't detract from your accomplishments AS A WRITER.

Deborah J said...

What an excellent article, Pat. DAUGHTER AM I is indeed a journey. The characters you have created undergo so many twists and turns, the intrigue is heart-wrenching and compelling. As with your other novels, this one is a great read and I recommend this title not only for crime fiction lovers, but for anyone who enjoys wonderfully crafted words.

Helen said...

All very good advice. And I loved reading about your journey!

Helen
Straight From Hel

DBR said...

Sheila, thank you for featuring Pat on your blog, and for asking such a great question.

Pat, thank you for sharing your journey. As you pointed out, it's hard to see how far we've really come unless we take the time to look back. By sharing what you've been through, you are an encouragement to others, including myself. The writing life is a series of lessons--about the craft of writing, about human nature, and about ourselves. As I mentioned in my blog a couple of days ago, if you don't like to learn, don't be a writer.

Best wishes as you continue your journey.--D. B. Russell

ptbertram said...

Sheila, I always thought real writers magically appeared. So many bestselling writers seem to be able to sit down and spew out the words, do a quick edit, and presto! Another book. Some write four or five a year. That is so not my way.

Susan, how wonderful to see you! It's been such fun having you follow my blog tour.

A.F., It's odd, but I don't feel as if I've made it to the end of the twisty road. There are still twists and turns ahead of me as I figure out how to promote, how to write my WIP, and how to juggle!

Hi, Mary. I worried that I shared too much, but if anyone enjoyed what I wrote, then it was worth . Thank you.

JaxPop, didn't Hemingway rewrite one of his books sixty times, and then Maxwell Perkins still had to edit it extensively? No wonder he said there were no great writers, only great rewriters!

Hi, Deborah! Thank you for the wonderful words. I like "heart-wrenching" and "compelling." Such balm for a writer's heart!

Helen, thank you. I am so pleased you stopped by to read about my journey. It was a wild one, that's for sure!

D.B., That is so true -- if you don't like to learn, don't be a writer. Learning is such a big part of the process -- not just learning how to write, but learning about ourselves. And, of course, learning all the thousands of bits and pieces of life that give our stories the element of truth.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Kudos to you both for this interview. I couldn't agree with you more, Pat, about persistence. As bestselling romance novelist Parris Afton Bonds once told me, "Talent is cheap. Persistence is what gets you published."

Sun Singer said...

I've enjoyed all of Pat's books as well as discussing our fiction on each other's blogs. This interview is an example of the wonderful depth Pat brings to her work.

Personally, I hope Pat's tour ends soon so she can get the lead out an finish "Light Bringer."

Malcolm

James said...

Hi Pat, Sheila,

Nice post. It's been fun following and conversing with Pat in her online activities. Even better, I found Heavenly Spark of Fire to be an excellent read, a unique thriller which keeps raising the stakes throughout the book.

James Rafferty

ptbertram said...

Hi, Jean! Thank you for stopping by. Persistence is important. I read recently that many people fail because they give up right before they achieve success, though that sounds like a bogus statistic to me. How could anyone possibly gauge something like that?

Malcolm, you're in luck! Light Bringer is in the final editing stage, and should be published in the spring. It's my fanciful apocalyptic allegory that I need to get the lead out and finish.

James, thank you for stopping by. I am thrilled that you enjoyed A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and I appreciate the comments you leave and your participation in my discussion groups.

Linda Kage said...

Thank you so much for sharing, Pat. I love stories with happy endings and I'm glad yours ended well. I also like hearing about a writers journey; makes me feel like I'm not alone in all this rejection business, I'm just not as far along on the path as others that came before me!

Stephen Tremp said...

I'm self-published too and loving the learning process of how to make this all work. I am still trying to find an agent though and sign on with the big boys.

Stephen Tremp