Thursday, April 10, 2014

How in the Heck Did I Become an Author?

This week I decided to shake things up a bit and share something a little more personal with y’all.  Sure, I am filled with stories about my crazy boys that will no doubt make you laugh, but nothing is crazier to me than the story of how I ended up writing books for a living. 

Sometimes when I tell people that I am an author, I feel like a bit of a fraud.  It may seem silly, but the truth is that when I was younger I absolutely DETESTED writing.  All through high school and college, I dreaded any type of writing assignment and term papers were the absolute bane of my existence.  I didn’t mind doing the research, but having to condense the information and organize it into a coherent argument was something that I had no desire to do.  I would sooner have requested a rousing game of bridge with my parents.

After I graduated from Northwestern with a BS in Psychological Services, I briefly pursued a career in Social Work, but found myself becoming too emotionally attached to my clients.  So I traded in Social Work for the more corporate friendly Human Resources and spent thirteen fairly enjoyable years working my way up the proverbial ladder.  I spent a lot of face time with employees and looked forward to welcoming them to the company, helping them get settled and guiding them to building their careers.  Fairly early on, I realized that I just signed myself up for a career that was riddled with writing assignments.  You wouldn’t think that HR would be a career that would require a lot of writing, but it actually does.  I had to write policies, newsletters, presentations, web page content and the dreaded disciplinary actions.  

Throughout the years, I was given more and more of the writing assignments in my department and found that the more practice I had, the easier it became.  Before I knew it, instead of feeling like a chore, writing became something that I enjoyed doing.  Imagine that?  While the subject matter of my writing was rather boring, taking information and conveying it in a way to make it easy for people to understand had somehow become a lot of fun to me.

After I had my second child, I decided to be a stay at home mom.  I had no desire to fork over my entire salary for daycare and decided to make good on my promise to stay home with my children if I could.  (I had NO idea what I was getting myself into, but that is a discussion for another time.)  Once my younger son was about a year old – and actually started to sleep - I found myself getting restless.  I needed some kind of project for myself; something that I could create.  A few months later I had a dream that I wrote a book.  It seemed like a crazy idea at the time, so I pushed it aside, dismissing the idea as an early mid-life crisis.  (Very early!)  But the idea just wouldn’t go away and one day I found myself writing down my ideas.  Before I knew it, I had outlined the entire book!  

If you have read my first book, French Twist, you already know that I elected to write about the very interesting story of how my husband, Sebastien, met and were married in six short months.  I happened to meet him in a bar, of all places, while I was living in California. He had come over from France to work on a project for his company’s US branch and within five weeks of meeting we were engaged and five months after that we were married.  Our courtship was full of highs and lows and funny little stories.  I decided take our story and turn it into what is currently termed Chick Lit.  It is one of my favorite genres to read since it is filled with relatable, charming women who take me on adventures and make me laugh.  The story of how I met my husband has all of these elements in spades, so why not write my own Chick Lit novel?

I thought it was a great way to start writing because I didn’t have to craft the story myself.  All that I had to do was tell it!  It did not take me long to realize that “just” telling the story wasn’t going to be so easy.  I quickly learned that real life contains far too many people than would be a reasonable number of characters in a book.  If I included all of the people who were actually involved in our story, the end result would have been too confusing for readers to follow. 
So, the next step was to condense the characters and the events so that the main points of the story come across.  After doing this, I had a much deeper appreciation for screenwriters who have to adapt books to the big screen.  There is just no way to keep everything!

Once I had revised my cast of characters and my plotline, I slowly began writing the first chapters.  I started sending chapters to my sister to read since she had experienced much of the content herself and she had read more Chick Lit than any person I knew.  It was an added bonus that she could write well herself.  For good measure, I had a couple of other people read my book and gratefully accepted their notes as well.  You would be surprised how easy it is to miss simple typos in material that you had not only written, but read and reread many times over.  It just boggles the mind!

The last thing that I needed was a book cover.  In addition to her talents as an editor, my sister is a gifted artist.  (I often tell her that she got all of the good genes in the family.  She; however, does not agree.)  I gave her a few ideas for the cover and she whipped it up for me in no time.   I couldn’t believe it!  I now had all of the elements of my book in place.

The interesting thing about today’s world is that if you want to publish a book, you no longer have to shop it around to various people and hope that someone will like your work – especially if you are not quite sure that you want to be a full-time author.  There are numerous websites where you can self-publish your book and even more websites that offer tips and tools to help you along your way.  I am a huge fan of Amazon, so I decided to go with the Kindle Direct Publishing Program for the eBook and CreateSpace, an Amazon Company, for the hard copy.  The entire process was user friendly:  all it took was a little bit of elbow grease, and a lot of help from my husband (he is a formatting genius), for French Twist to become a reality.

I still remember when I received the proof of French Twist from CreateSpace.  I had just come back from a beach vacation with my family - exactly one year after I had dreamt that I wrote a book.  As I held the book in my hand, I took a moment to just stand and feel the weight of my accomplishment.  Then a huge grin took over my face and I jumped around, squealing like a little girl.  Not my most dignified moment, admittedly, but I deserved it!

Even though my days are fairly chaotic as a mom of two boys, I somehow managed to write the second book in the French Twist series, French Toast.  In the second book, I delved much more into the world of fiction, taking the characters based on me and my family and putting them into completely imaginary situations.  I have to say that it was much more challenging, but also a lot more fun to write the second book.  Though I found it more difficult to create content from scratch, there is a great deal more freedom in writing fiction as opposed to non-fiction.  Especially when you can make your family members do all kinds of crazy things!

Overall, writing has been a wonderful experience for me for so many reasons.  First and foremost, it provides the flexibility that I need in order to take care of my children.  Perhaps flexibility is a strong word.  Pliability? Contortionability?  Is that even a word?  Let’s just say that there have been many occasions when I have time to write, but inspiration just will not strike.  Or I have fabulous ideas that are dying to get out and this is the absolute moment that my son HAS to have me help complete his tenth Angry Birds puzzle of the day.  It can be very frustrating.  Ideas will come to me when I least expect it, so I am constantly writing things down and then leaving pieces of paper all over the house.  I just have to hope that my mischievous three-year old will not find them and destroy them.  (He is very big on destruction; it’s his thing.)  It is high time that I switched over to a new method.  I’m fairly certain that there is a Dictaphone buried in my attic…

I am still not entirely sure how I got here, but I am glad that I did.  I plan to write the third and final book in the French Twist series, French Fry, and then the sky is the limit!  I can only hope to continue to peak your interest with my colorful stories.

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