As the descendant of a civil war scythe-murderer, I suppose I have murder in the blood. While I have been known to kill an insect or two when provoked, thankfully my own interest in murder is only paper-deep.
The fellow to the right isn’t my actual ancestor and neither is the one to the left, but you get the idea. The scythe-murderer isn’t so very scary after all, though it was said at the trial “he was a hard man.” What actually happened…. well, it’s a mystery, no one really knows, and it’s another story, a long story, for another time.
But back to me…
I never wanted to be a fiction writer. Although I was a voracious, precocious reader from an early age, I never dreamed of being a writer, never thought I could be one. But my brother says I was always making up stories as a kid. I don’t remember telling him that, but I do remember the stories in my head. I thought everyone did that, that it was normal. Apparently not.
Even though I didn’t want to be a fiction writer, I did write fiction as a kid. When I was ten, I wrote my first novel long-hand in a booklet I made myself (this was in the days before laptops). My little friends saw me and decided to make books too and so my first writers’ club was formed. Then the teacher decided everyone in class was going to write books… And then my classmates hated me because they all had to write books and considered murder…. It’s a miracle I made it out of fifth grade alive.
For a long time after that, I stopped writing novels. During my teenage and college years I was more interested in good grades and boys, not necessarily in that order, and avoiding anything artsy, to my great regret now. It wasn’t until I got to grad school and was looking for ways to avoid writing my dissertation in medieval history that I returned to fiction writing. (Don’t try this at home.) Bad idea, very bad idea working on two completely different things at once. Both my first novel (deservedly buried in a drawer with a couple of other novels) and dissertation suffered, and went slowly, excruciatingly slowly, but I persevered and eventually finished both.
Along the way, I came to understand that a story in your head isn’t quite the same as fiction on a page. Imagination is definitely necessary for fiction, but it’s not enough. Writing is about getting the words right. (Yeah, I know, how obvious!) Well, it’s not as easy as it might sound, especially for someone who never really wanted to be a writer in the first place. It took me years of hard work–workshops, courses, how-to books and articles, joining writers’ organizations, an awesome local critique group (see my Writing Life), and lots and lots of practice to get published.
I am represented by Helen Heller at The Helen Heller Agency.