It’s fitting that my moment of calm in the Indie Ocean occurs this weekend in Florida, the state where I began my reporting career in 1976, two years after Nixon became the only president to quit the job while still in office.
That timeline puts me in college – at American University in Washington, D.C., no less – at the height of Watergate. I caught the fever and was going to be the next Woodward or Bernstein – Woodstein.
Instead of covering the White House, I wound up covering the Naples High School Golden Eagles. Hey, jobs were scarce! Though dismayed at first, the lessons I learned those two years served me well through more than 25 years of writing for daily papers, including plenty of time back in Washington.
But something happened along the way. We were writing to fit the news hole in those days, meaning that interesting pieces of my stories were getting cut for lack of space. I went back to school in the late 1990s and got my Masters in fiction, realizing in the process that what I really wanted was the space to write novels.
Anyone who’s ventured down this trail knows that writing, editing and publishing are like angry relatives at the family picnic. They have different agendas. Each thinks he’s more important than the others. And that’s without even mentioning the crass couple that arrives late, Aunt Promotion and Uncle Marketing.
When I began, there was but one path to the barbecue: query until you found an agent, then pray the agent found a publisher. If you stumbled anywhere along the way, the picnic was over.
I began with traditional agents. It didn’t work for several reasons, so I chose the new way, to self-publish, build a website, and use new media and old-school marketing to find an audience. I was immediately drawn to the democratic notion that real readers would decide if my books were worth reading.
But this is tedious work that never ends. First, you must make the tricky switch from creative writing to creative marketing. Then you write, post, tweet, and talk until your fingers ache and your voice quavers. Or, if you’re wealthy, you can sit back and hire a big PR firm to do the work.
When word came earlier this year that my first novel Bella won an Indie Excellence Award, I was thrilled. When another email arrived announcing it won the Readers Favorite 2012 Gold Medal for Dramatic Fiction, I took a breath. Things were moving in the right direction. Bella is about a widow’s quest to uncover the truth behind her husband’s mysterious death on an Afghan battlefield. She enlists the help of an unhappily married Washington journalist, and together they learn powerful lessons about the power of temptation, the futility of revenge and the consequences of yielding to either.
So that’s where I am this weekend, in Miami – a couple of hours east of Naples, the place where I began writing for a living – to pick up my prize and enjoy a moment of calm in the Indie Ocean. Then it’s back to work.
How about you? Rough seas, clear sailing, or a combination of the two?
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