I was either six or seven when I asked my totally deaf father, by painfully scrawling a note that said: “Please teach me to use your typewriter.” Yes, I had some help from my mother with spelling and she also told me to add the “please.”
“Hmm,” he said. “Since you can read and write, I guess you’re ready.”
I was thrilled to pieces, even though he added, “In return you will have to write me a story every time you use the typewriter.”
I figured that couldn’t be too hard. After all, I read stories, so I could write them, couldn’t I? So for my first story I wrote abut him bringing me my first cat, Merriweather, which he found in the woods as a half-starved kitten.
He told me the story was very good, then pointed out a few places where a word or two would improve it. He also corrected my spelling.
I didn’t mind having to change it a little or correct the spelling--after all, he’d said it was very good! And so I survived my first editing session from my tactful father.
In this way, he taught me to accept critiques by first praising what I’d written, then suggesting ways to improve it. He gave me a great gift, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. Unfortunately, he also taught me his method of typing--hunt and peck. Which I still use.
I can’t remember how many, many stories I wrote for my father, then for myself (which I always gave to him to critique) but they were just that, stories. By the time I was in high school, I knew he was a non-fiction writer who wrote articles and two books. But the idea of writing a book never occurred to me.
My father, James K. Jamison, died in 1963, having gotten the rights-back to both of his books. One of them was titled: By Cross And Anchor, which was the story of Bishop Baraga who came from an aristocratic European family, but entered the priesthood, sailed to America and ministered to the Chippewa or Ojibway Indians in the then wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He spent all the rest of his life among them.
This year, Bishop Baraga is up for consideration for sainthood because of a “miracle” that occurred while he was ministering to the Indians. I am not a Catholic so do not know the exact process for this, but recognizing the opportunity, I gave an old copy of his book to our Historical Society to be torn apart and reprinted, with all sales to go to them. The paperback copy is extremely well done, with a striking cover of “The Snowshoe Priest,” Baraga’s name among the Indians. It’s already a best-seller.
So, of course, I was primed to be a writer. Tule Witch, a gothic, my first published book and, actually the first book I ever wrote from start to finish, got published by what I always thought of as a lucky fluke. I wrote it in a writing class given by a published mystery writer when I lived in San Diego. He critiqued it in class and told me privately that if I finished it, using his edits, he’d send it to his agent. Well, I did and he did. The agent sold it to Avon. So I was a real newbie with an actual agent.
I learned a lot, including the fact I turned out to be a plotter, not a pantser, despite the fact I wrote my first two published books as I went along. My agent couldn’t sell my third book, though. Then a packager (sort of a middleman between agent and publisher) asked him if he had an author who could do Sagittarius for a Zodiac Series. All I had to write for now, my agent told me, was a synopsis and the first three chapters.
I asked what a synopsis was. After a moment’s silence, my agent told me it was a short account of the book’s plot. I’d never thought out a plot ahead of time, but I said yes. When the packager went to contract on my synopsis and first three chapters, I was amazed. I’d always figured I had to write an entire book first.
The book proved very easy to write and I had an AHA! moment. From then on I was a plotter. I rewrote the third book after doing a synopsis for it and saw how I’d wandered away from the main story time after time. The agent promptly sold it.
So I always use a synopsis as a guideline to keep me traveling on the right road. Byways may be fun, but they don’t belong in plots.
Some day I’ll scan Tule Witch for an ebook and see how it reads today. In the seventies there were no personal computers so it was typing and carbons, which I didn’t save after publication. Who could foresee e-books?
I sometimes wonder what the next advance in publishing will be.
Lately I’ve been getting rights-back books ready for epublishing, so my latest actually new ebook is Taken In, the first book in the DAGON HOUSE TRILOGY from Champagne Books.
Blurb: Gail flees New York City after witnessing a murder. Afraid the hit man has seen her, she heads for the Adirondacks. Jason, a secret agent reaches her first. With the hit man on their tail, Jason swerves onto a narrow mountain road, losing him, but crashing. Both are forced to take shelter in a old Victorian called Dagon House where a terrible danger awaits…
Buy links for all my recent books, plus a bio can be found at my website: www.JaneToombs.com