The Road to Becoming an Author: It’s Been Quite a Ride!

Becoming a Writer

In my first year of college (1976-1977), I went back to visit my high school and met one of my English teachers, Mr. T, in his classroom.  I told him, “I’m going to write a novel.”  He smiled at me, and I could tell that his smile meant that he had heard that before from others and didn’t believe it for a minute that I would actually do it.  I wasn’t the best of students before college.  I was more interested in “socializing” than learning.  So maybe I shouldn’t have been hurt by his response.  But I had changed in the months since I had left high school and my education had become important to me.  I was taking a Creative Writing class and really enjoying it!  My college professor told us, “Write for yourself, not for publishing.”  I didn’t understand it then, but he was right.

As a high school student, I had gone on a field trip to McGraw-Hill Publishing Company on 6th Avenue in New York City, with my Stenography class.  I was a Secretarial Science major in college because I thought I could get my foot in the door that way.  So when it came time to get a real job, I asked my professor to try to set up an interview for me with McGraw-Hill.  I wanted to learn the publishing business and I wanted to make contacts in the field.  I had some high hopes for myself at nineteen.  She was able to get me an interview.  McGraw-Hill had a special program for their Executive Secretaries.  I was hired by McGraw-Hill for the program which lasted a week or two, and taught all about the company’s forms and policies.  At the end of the program, I was sent on interviews for various openings within the 50-floor building.  I ended up getting a job with the Benefits Administrator who worked on the same floor as the Executive Secretary program.  I had already done some work for him while in the program and he offered me a position.  So that was where I started.  But I was determined to get into the publishing end of the business.

Over the next few years, I became a Legal Secretary for McGraw-Hill’s Tax Attorney, the toughest boss I ever worked for.  He went through secretaries every few months.  But I outlasted them all and eventually left with a letter of recommendation from him, an extraordinary feat.  But while I worked for him, I was on one of two executive floors.  There was a spiral staircase that went between floor 48 and floor 49.  (The 50th floor was a restaurant and meeting rooms.)  The son of the owner of McGraw-Hill, Terry McGraw, had his office near the huge and luxurious mahogany desk/cubby area where I worked.  People would call out, “Terry!” and we would both answer.  It was funny, because he wound up knowing my name because of that.  I have to admit, I had a  private crush on him too. From my memory, he looked a lot like Robert Redford.  After working there for a year or so, I finally got my break into the publishing end as an Editorial Assistant in the College Book Division.  During my time there, I worked with mostly Science, Math, and Engineering textbooks.  I reported to a Sponsoring Editor, but much of the time that I was there was spent in-between editors.  Editors would leave and there was never a hurry to replace them.  After a while, I was able to handle anything that a Sponsoring Editor could do, but since I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree and hadn’t spent time as a Book Representative (selling books to the colleges), I couldn’t actually be a Sponsoring Editor.  A Sponsoring Editor was responsible for taking a manuscript through all phases of publishing until it became a textbook.  So I learned the entire process of publishing in my position as Editorial Assistant.  After working all day in the city, I continued going to college at night, plugging away at that four-year degree.  I had my dreams.  In the absence of an editor, one set of authors actually thanked me in the front-matter section of their book.  That was really nice of them.  I knew I wasn’t going to get paid what a Sponsoring Editor was paid, but it was really rewarding to have the authors acknowledge that I had been the one who had done the work and that without me, their book wouldn’t have been published on time.

The world was changing in 1984-1985 and computers were taking over for the first time ever. Suddenly, authors were sending in “disks” instead of manuscripts.  The publishing world was learning how to deal with this earth-shaking change.  We needed to get professors to evaluate chapters of manuscripts, but now they, and we, needed a computer to be able to view the manuscripts. However, neither they, nor we, had computers.  Then McGraw-Hill had to make the decision of which brand of computer to buy, because not all “disks” ran on all computers, they used different formats.  Somehow, the company figured it out and, not without mistakes, learned how to live in this new world.  First there were a few computers on each floor, but eventually computers replaced the typewriters at our desks.

I left McGraw-Hill in 1985, when I got married.  I worked at home for a year after that as a Freelance Permissions Editor for McGraw-Hill.   I wrote letters to get permission to use photos and “copy” from authors or corporations, to be used in new books.  Then I started working for Worldwide Computer Services as a Sales Support Administrator.  It was a good job for Long Island, but I missed the city. In 1988, I finally got my four-year degree after two years of college during the day and ten years at night.  And by 1990 I got a job at Arrow Electronics where I became a Marketing Communications Administrator.  As such, I did Desk-Top Publishing, a new field at that time.  I produced their catalogs, newsletters, yearbooks, and some of their direct-mail.  I was given the chance to be creative again and I loved it!  But then I had my first child in 1991 and decided I didn’t want to miss a moment of being a mom.  So I left my wonderful job behind, and threw myself into the world of parenting. There was no time for writing anymore and I thought about my old high school teacher who had smiled at my ambitions.  Perhaps, I thought, he was right.

I started researching my family tree in 1993 and found a reason to write again.  I wrote down the stories that my aunts and uncles told me about our family.  I found a distant cousin of my husband’s mother who was also doing her family tree.  We started to share information and stories through a new form of communication, e-mails.  In one e-mail, she asked me if I was a writer.  I said, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer.”  She said, “You are a writer.  Your stories bring me to tears.”  She suggested that I start writing for a local newspaper and I followed her suggestion.  I wrote Human Interest stories and they were published in the Suffolk County News.  I wasn’t paid any money for them, but I received calls from people who enjoyed them and that was worth more to me than any dollar amount.  Suffolk County News finally hired me as a freelance reporter and the first article that I was actually paid for, was about the community wanting to build a new library.  It was published in January of 2002, while I laid in a coma in an intensive care unit on life-support.  But I didn’t end up dying, I surprised everyone and I lived.

While still in the hospital, I asked my sister to bring me a notebook and a pencil.  I started writing down my near-death experience.  I still have that notebook, but I’ve never read it.  I haven’t been ready to read it and fully go back to that experience.  Maybe someday?  But that near-death experience got me onto the path of writing my novel again.  I knew I had to try to do it.  It was on my very short bucket list.  In 2007, I finally knew what I wanted to write my novel about.  I told my daughter, “I know what I want to write now, but it’s going to take time away from you and your brother.  I’m a stay-at-home mom, because I want to be there for you.  But when I start writing, the day goes by and I get nothing else done.”  I thought again about my old English teacher and said, “I don’t know if I can write a novel.  I don’t know if I’m any good.  I don’t know if I can finish.  So I don’t know if I should even try.”  My fifteen-year-old daughter said to me, “Then write it for me, mom.” And so, The Tin Box Secret began.

I couldn’t write as often as I would have liked.  I had too much to do with my family and I didn’t want to miss a moment of being a mom.  I had been given this wonderful chance to live longer, to be able to watch my children grow, to be able to be there for them.  I didn’t take that lightly, in fact, it was everything to me, except, I still wanted to write my novel.  So I promised myself, I would take the years during the time that they were growing-up, to write, but not to put a schedule on it.  They were my first priority.  The “novel,” turned into a trilogy.  I loved my characters as if they were my own children.  They gave me the chance to go back in time and make everything right with whatever went wrong in my own childhood and in the childhoods of friends that I had seen suffer.  I wrote it for me. I wrote it for them.  I wrote it for my own children and their friends who still suffered.  Parents sometimes get caught up in what I call generational dysfunction.  They raise their children just like they were raised or they raise them in the opposite extreme, which is just as damaging.  Many of these kids sat and cried at my kitchen table and told me about their lives.  I needed to write for them and for all the kids like them, whom I had never even met, so I did.  My writing has certainly improved.  There were times when I would go over what I had written and think, “How could I have thought that was good enough?”  So I’ve re-written and re-written and re-written, because I had the time.  I wasn’t ready to publish yet, anyway.

In September of 2014, my son started college and moved away to live in a dorm.  Now it was time.  I hired a wonderful editor who was kind, but confident, in her suggestions.  Finally, I felt that someone was reading my novel who would tell me the truth.  I didn’t want to make a fool of myself, trying to publish something that wasn’t worthy.  Now that self-publishing exists, anyone can publish.  You don’t have to wait for approval from a Literary Agent or a Publisher.  You don’t have to have your hopes dashed over and over again by rejection.  And the whole process of self-publishing has changed drastically over the past five years.  But because of that, books get published that aren’t ready for publishing.  Authors who have no clue how to promote their novels, watch their books flounder in a saturated market.  So I have decided, that although I will hold the security that I can always self-publish, I am going to try to find a Literary Agent who believes in my novels.  In my preparation for that, I have been blogging and hoping to develop an audience for my writing.  I have been carefully cultivating a foundation for the success of “The Tin Box Trilogy,” and now the right time has come.

I am still fearful of the rejection which is sure to come.  But I am confident in my story and confident in my writing.  I won’t let the rejections stop me from publishing, but I will listen to them so that when it is published, it is in the best condition it can be.  Just like when I was acknowledged in that textbook so long ago, the reward I most look forward to is the appreciation for my efforts.  I hope that you will read my book someday and that it will help young people and their parents make better choices.  I hope it will heal those who are still in pain over their own childhoods.  If it can do that, what more could I possibly hope for?  Well, Mr. T, my old high school English Teacher and current Facebook Friend, I did it!  I wrote it!  I hope to see you smile again and know that I have made you proud.

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