Thursday, August 30, 2007

Finding My Path



In a previous post, I mentioned I would not write an autobiography...EVER! If anyone dared read my life story, it would surely have the Sleeping Beauty effect.... Little fairies would fly out of the pages and sprinkle sleeping dust over readers' heads... You know how it goes. The yawning. The stretching. The drooping eyelids. Finally, the snoring. With my luck, someone would crumble to the floor and break their neck and a vengeful descendent would sue me for everything I'm worth.

That isn't much at the moment so I guess I can afford to give you brave blog readeres a brief glimpse into my so-called life. I'll attempt to stay on one short track and try not to traispe off into the thicket. As always, I'll write about writing.

First I guess I should start off by admitting that I was always the shy one: the shy sibling, the shy friend, the shy classmate... The mouse in the back corner of the classroom? That was me. I never raised my hand in class. If I were ever called upon by a teacher, I was convinced he/she hated me with a flaming passion--only that could lead them to torture me in this heinous way. When I learned to read...I was terrible. When we moved to another town just before I went into the 3rd grade and changed schools, I was forced to take a reading test. I was far behind most everyone else. I was enrolled in a slow readers' class. I'm sure they had some other clever, encouraging name for it, but that's what it was in a nutshell. I can't possibly complain about this because if I hadn't taken this course, I probably never would have written anything outside of English class. We read a story about a girl who plays a piano. I can't remember a word of it, but I remember the pictures. I went home from school and wrote my own version from the pictures. It wasn't too far from the original, but by jotting down this two-page story I unwrapped something within myself...some insatiable craving to tell a story...to tell a GREAT story.

I'm sure my parents were glad I took a sudden avid interest in my reading class. They fanned the flames by buying a set of picture cards and told me to write a story about each. These cards are one of few things from my childhood I wish I'd never lost. It could only be fate that shuffled me into Ms. Chandra Ford's 4th grade class the next year. I know we must have studied something other than writing in her class...but I can't remember doing anything else. She bound and laminated each of our stories (complete with illustrations, of course) and gave them to our parents at the end of the year. One of my stories was my own version of Cinderella, my first love story. I think this is when it got serious for me. Before this, it was an ordinary interest...between teaching my stuffed animals to read and ordering my sister around. Now...it became an obsession. When I left Ms. Ford's class for 5th grade, I was doubly encouraged and inspired. I didn't find out until years later she gave my parents the names of several publishers. Somehow she knew I would do it someday. It wasn't a question of IF. It was a question of WHEN. Before that year, I liked to write. After, I LOVED to write. And I would. I was determined.

The first book I wrote outside of class was a twin teenage detective series. I wrote several of these throughout my middle school years. The summer before sixth grade I was in a bad car accident, and a severe back injury forced me to quit the only other hobby that could've diverted me from my writing: gymnastics. Fate again? I've often wondered. When I could walk again, I learned how to use my father's computer and Microsoft Word. I would write about Hunter and Spade--yes, like the tool--for hours on end. If their stories ever become available for public view, I'll shoot myself, but at the time I was so proud of them! A few of these books are oddly original, others are mirrors of a few of my favorite Nancy Drew books. I began to branch off the mystery route, though. I became much more interested in another aspect of the series: my characters began to find love. Hunter found Leah. Spade found Ward. And that was all she wrote for them...and me.

I read my first "grown-up" romance novel in my freshman year of high school. It was Carnal Innocence by Nora Roberts. You may notice I write a lot about Nora. There's a reason, and this is it. The voracious need I had inside me to write a GREAT story bloomed into something more centered and vital: I had to write a great LOVE story. I guess you could say I found my purpose. And in those early high school days...Lord, did I need one!

Being the shy one, I was a chronic observer. When we moved away from the town I'd found my niche in to another in Florida eight hours away, I no longer liked what I saw. So I holed up away from it all. My room became known as "The Cave." My parents and sister were convinced I was deeply depressed. I had a minor panic attack freshman year. We also discovered I had a medical condition which made my metabolism work faster than it should. As a result, everything I ate burned up before my body could absorb it and my energy level drooped. I was stick-skinny and hopelessly lazy. My only solace? Nora Roberts novels my mother and grandmother gave me. Happy endings got me through those gray days. My uncle gave me a used laptop computer. I could write to my heart's content. And I did. I was interested in the Holocaust after I read The Diary of Anne Frank. I wrote a Holocaust love story centered in Denmark about three Jewish teens running from Nazi oppression. It was three-hundred pages long when my hard-drive crashed and I lost all but the first three pages. No one--not even computer-savvy Uncle Stuart--could rescue the others. It was lost forever. I didn't have the heart to rewrite it.

Not long before we moved back to our hometown in Alabama, I watched a movie on the Hallmark channel called In Love and War. It's a true love story set in Italy during World War II. I was already interested in the era, but this story helped me turn my scope in Italy's direction. It took me four years to write the story that began to take shape in my mind. A lot of it was spent on research. I'd never been to Italy. I was scared to death of planes and didn't want to see it for myself...not yet anyway. The story came to a stand-still for almost a year. Then I met Jacob.

It was a month after high school graduation. I was gearing up to take off for Auburn in August. I went to Camp War Eagle for three day's worth of orientation. Camp War Eagle is a peek into college life. It's meant to make the transition from home life to independence both smooth and exciting. It was successful for everyone...except me, of course. By the time I returned home sore from walking, my brain befuddled with a thousand different things I was supposed to understand and remember--of course, I didn't--I was shaken deep down in my bones. That same day I returned from Camp War Eagle, Jacob and I went on our first date.

I'm sure a lot of people think Jacob was the driving force behind my decision to leave Auburn. I'm not going to pretend he wasn't a reason. I know, though, I wouldn't have come home if I hadn't got lost. It was late in the afternoon on my second day. My roommate was at band practice and would be for several hours. It was hard being alone with my woesome thoughts. If I hadn't been alone, I wouldn't have noticed how very lost I was inside. When I ventured out into the fading daylight and walked three blocks in the direction of the freshman parking lot, I lost all sense of direction. I think I might have had another panic attack in the hour it took me to find my way back to the dorm. The next day I packed a bag and drove four hours home. A week later, we returned to retrieve the rest of my belongings.

I was too late for registration for the fall semester at the local community college so I went to work. From September 2004 to January 2005, I was a flower shop bookkeeper. I wish I could say this experience inspired me in some way. Unfortunately, the only thing I walked away from this job with was the fear that I just wasn't good enough at anything but writing. I worked at a computer three days a week, but it was different. I decided I'd find something to do with my life that wouldn't create that kind of robotical monotony. In January, I started at the community college. That month I also moved in with Jacob. We wanted to get married, but everyone else was convinced we were rushing it and needed a grace period. I got to play house. Jacob made me an office space. I finished the Italy story, my first romance. By the end of February I'd finished a contemporary sequel. On Valentine's Day, Jacob proposed. I was engaged! By summertime, I finished my third book. By Christmas, I'd finished another single-title romance and had finished four books in a five-part series about my hometown, Fairhope.

By December 2005, I realized college just wasn't working out. The classes were painfully easy, and I couldn't shake the certainty that I was meant to be doing other things. My grades were good despite my preoccupation with my books. My English professors complimented my essays. I was so bored, though. I felt like I was wasting my time with the endless list of pre-requisites. I'd taken Advanced Placement English courses in 11th and 12th grade, and the ones at the community college were elementary in comparison. I was even acing my Pre-Calculus course, and I'm mathetically deficient--no joke. Telling my parents I didn't want to go to college anymore was the hardest thing I ever had to do. They were financing it completely. They even paid for the gas to get me to campus. Turning down this offer was like standing at the gates of Heaven and telling St. Peter I'd rather not go in. People thought I was crazy--family, friends, strangers, you name it. Several made it clear they were convinced I was throwing my life away with both hands. I think that's what drove me to finish the fifth book in my series and start on another story set in Alabama about four sisters who come home and find the place where they belong. It's called Heart Roots and it's one of my best because it was especially profound for me to tell a story about finding the right path no matter what others think.

On May 27, 2006, Jacob and I got married. It was the happiest day of my life. Whenever life gets patchy, I look back on that day. I remind myself that there are so many people out there who only ever feel a glimmer of that happiness. Jacob is the only one with a "day job." He supports him, me, our three dogs, an evil cat, and my business. Needless to say, we're far from financially sound. This is known to drive many couples apart. With us, it's the complete opposite. It draws us closer. It bonds us even tighter. We're a stronger force together than we are as individuals. When I'm away from him, I feel like I'm missing a leg. I once scoffed at the idea of "soulmates." Now I have no doubt that there are perfect matches out there, and I can tell anyone with absolute certainty that Jacob is mine. This only deepened my entrenched need to write about people who find this for themselves. My heroines find their Mr. Darcys, but I skip over the part about the cushion of wealth to go along with their perfect match. I don't need it and neither do the women I write about.

Since my marriage, I've written two books for a trilogy I plan to complete soon. I also revised my first book for Silhouette. (I'm still waiting for their feedback.) Silhouette also has Heart Roots. An agent is looking at it as well. I entered a contest this summer and did well though I didn't final. I entered the Golden Rose contest early this month and Harlequin's Superromance Conflict of Interest contest last week. I plan to enter the RWA's Golden Heart contest next month. I finished my latest contemporary romance just last week, and I'm researching my next which will be my biggest challenge yet. Every morning when I wake up, I have a few moments of bone-numbing fear that while I slept my drive to write was lost completely. Then I sit down at my computer and MAKE it happen because I've gone too far to give up this dream. I remember the people behind me: my 4th grade teacher who is still waiting for an autographed copy, my parents who were first to encourage me, distant relatives and friends who believe so soundly in me, my husband who recognized and understands this vital part of me and is the one who picks me up when I've faltered and pushes me to keep at it. I remember those who have discouraged me; I write to prove them wrong. Above all, I write for myself because I know it's what I'm meant to do. It's what I was made for. I refuse to do anything else. I refuse to back away from this gift. The rejections aren't easy. Each cuts as much as the last. I no longer cry over them, though. I learn from them. That's what deadends are for, right? They teach us a lesson and make us stronger. One day, my work will be strong enough for publication. I feel like I'm close to that. I feel like it's just over the ledge. I just have to keep climbing to get there.

5 comments:

Jennifer Linforth said...

We fall so we may pick ourselves up and move on! Writing is a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, sometimes we barf on our shoes... but we keep on riding.

Jennifer

Lexi said...

Don't give up!

Anne Carroll said...

I love a good "finding myself" tale! So many writers I've met over the years talk about having that "something" inside that keeps them going. They can't not write. I'm looking forward to seeing your name in the RWR First Sales column.

Dottie said...

Amber,
I am so pleased to be counted among your "loyal fans." I am proud of you. Please keep me posted on your progress.

Onward and upward!!

Dottie McClurg

Anonymous said...

You pass up a free ride to Auburn. For what?? To work in a "mundane" bookstore job? GEEZ. Sounds like a copout to me.