I am sitting here thinking about all my years of writing, what I’ve been through during all of it, and wondering how in God’s name I managed to write and sell 57 books amid all that was going on in my life.
When I started writing I was 34 years old, and we had bought some property that needed a tremendous amount of work. Our sons were only 8 and 9 years old and very active in school and sports. I worked full time and drove 30 minutes each way to work. I did all the grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, most of the mowing, ran errands, ran a son to the doctor every week (he had allergies and needed shots) – all the things most women are expected to do in spite of having jobs. My husband was (and still is) great, a big supporter of my writing, but he was busy with his own full-time work as well as the tremendous amount of work it took to fix up the property we had purchased. He was constantly cutting down trees, hauling brush, helping paint and fix up two cottages we rented, clearing the property, plowing a half-mile driveway in winter, and so on. Both of us were maxed out … yet I found time to write.
I did what I call “sneak” writing at work. I wrote after dinner at home, amid wrestling boys and a tv only about 5 feet away from me (very small house and no office). I often fell asleep at the typewriter long after hubby and kids were asleep (yes – I used a typewriter the first 4 years before I got a computer). I wrote through my father’s death from cancer, a sister’s death from cancer, the stressful teenage years of my sons, one son’s two failed marriages (third one has stuck), another son’s 10-year battle with cocaine (the darkest, darkest, most dreadful period of my life about which I still can’t talk much) – brain surgery for a non-malignant tumor – another serious surgery for yet another non-malignant tumor near my heart – two broken wrists (at the same time!) – and helping run a family business.
Through all that I attended conferences, did some charity work, have gone through four dogs, now have three very active grandsons and try to keep up with all of them. I have two full file cabinets stuffed with folders labeled “Cattle” – “Ranchers” – “Gold Mining” – “Mountain Men” – “Women of the West” – “The railroad” - and on and on and on. I would read anything and everything I could about the American West, and I took notes – reams and reams of notes. I cut out magazine articles from publications like “Old West” magazine and I would file them according to their subject matter – articles I might be able to use for another story. (I did all this before the internet made research so much easier.) I collected hundreds of research books for my own personal library, and nearly all of them have dog-eared pages and lots of underlining.
I was a writing demon, totally in love with my subject, and half the time when I would arrive at work I couldn’t remember how I got there because in my mind I was out west somewhere writing the next chapter to whatever book I was working on. How I managed to avoid killing myself on the highway, I will never know.
I think back on it all and wonder who that person was. I look at those files and wonder when I managed to find the time to do all that. I look at all those published books and wonder how I ever managed to sit and type approximately 6,000,000 words – actually at least twice that because every book usually ends up getting written twice after proofreading. Add to that edits – and the books I wrote that did not get published – and all the articles I have written for magazines and on and on – and I’ve probably penned a good 10,000,000 words.
I can actually remember just about every hero and heroine I ever wrote about. They were all very real for me, which I think is the #1 key to a good book. I lived with them, I WAS them. I truly think that in another life I was a pioneer, maybe an Indian woman. Something has drawn me to the West and the mountains almost my whole life, yet I’ve spent these 66 years right here in Michigan. Thank God I have been privileged to travel west for the past 30 years or so. My husband and I go there every year – at first just as vacations – now we own a condo in Las Vegas where we live for a couple of months every winter, and we still often take summer trips west.
It has been a long journey. I think it actually began in my teens, when I watched so many westerns on TV and most movies were westerns. I loved them. The first book I read that really got me going on the subject was A LANTERN IN HER HAND by Bess Streeter Aldrich. I cannot even think about that book without crying. What a fabulous story, depicting the loneliness of a woman going with her husband to live on the western plains back when there were no neighbors to visit with, no doctors to help deliver babies – when winters were long and dark and lonely – when women gave up their own personal dreams to support their husbands and children.
The book that truly made me want to write was THE PROUD BREED by Celeste deBlasis. What a love story! It’s a generational saga about the settling of California. The heroine was a high-born Spanish woman – the hero a white American citizen. Fabulous story – great historical story-telling. I recommend both books for anyone who wants to read the “real west.” Then along came Louis L’Amour, and I knew his men were the kind I wanted for my heroes. Usually when turned into movies his men were played by Tom Sellek, Robert DuVall, Sam Elliot and the like. Then there was that famous Clint Eastwood “squint,” and the big, blustery John Wayne. I guess I like writing the Old West because men could be men without worrying about going to jail and being sued for a quick punch to the jaw. There is something about a rugged cowboy standing there tall and lean with a gun on his hip and a cigarette in his mouth that just turns me on. Remember those old Marlborough commercials with Tom Sellek? That’s what started his career.
Well, this turned into quite an article, when all I meant to do was a little musing for a short Facebook entry or a short blog. I’ve never been able to keep it short. I tried short stories once for magazines. Couldn’t do it. Every idea turned into a full novel. I’ve written a couple of anthologies, but every time I finished one I thought about how that could have become a full book. And no matter who my characters were, I hated leaving them at the end of a story, which is why I wrote a 7-book series and have written several trilogies.
I don’t know where it all came from, but the stories poured out of my brain almost faster than I could type. Whenever I would finish a book I would feel beaten up and stomped on. I would literally ache. And then I would turn right around and start another story. For a while I was selling 2 – 5 books a year and making great money. Those days are gone now. Writers don’t earn anywhere near what they are worth, but that’s food for a different “musing.”
For all you other writers out there, don’t give yourselves excuses for not being able to sit down and write at least a little bit every day. There ARE no excuses if you are born to write. You won’t need college or other special training. You just need to love your subject and to be a natural-born story-teller. If you do both those things and make time to write, you will succeed. I wish the best of luck to all of you.
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Publishers Weekly Review
"This Western historical is chock-full of danger, with families set on a vendetta, the threat of Emma’s stepfather, and the daily demands of Mitch’s job, but Emma is no wilting lily, proving she is a match for Mitch in every way."
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