By Cheryl Bolen
When Pat asked me to write about getting The Call, I wished I could lie
and say I was just like Barbara Dawson Smith, who wrote a book, sent it
off, and the first publisher who saw it bought it.
But I'm not Barbara. I've got her pegged as a valedictorian or Phi
Beta Kappa. Sadly, I'm neither. Despite having a pretty good memory and
IQ, I never quite made the Dean's List. I didn't have to study, you see,
because I pretty well knew it all.
Sometime after earning a dual degree in English and journalism, I
completed my first novel. That was around 1973. I boxed it up and sent
it to the editor-in-chief of a publishing house, having gotten that
person's name from Writers Market. Never did it occur to me that it
wouldn' t be snatched up, but it came back with a form letter. I
continued perpetuating my same old mistakes through that first book and
the one that followed.
As my sons entered school and I got involved with their
activities, I wrote less. While still in my twenties, I was a PTA
officer, room mother and team mother, substitute teacher and freelance
journalist. Things only got more hectic as my boys neared high school
and were playing some kind of sport every night of the week. By then, I
was working full time, either as a public school English teacher or the
editor of a weekly newspaper.
When my children became college age and I hit the big 4 – O, my
road to publication took a positive turn. That positive turn was
networking. Even though I thought I knew everything, I broke down and
attended a writer's club meeting. That really fired me up. It led to
conferences, workshops, classes, contests, and -- most important --
critique groups. Without all of these, I know I would never have gotten
As Rita Gallagher says, becoming a writer is like becoming a brain
surgeon. You don't just sit down and write a book (unless you're Barbara
Dawson Smith), just as a brain surgeon doesn't perform surgery the
minute he decides to be a surgeon. You must learn craft. And despite all
those English courses I took at UT, I had never learned craft.
Still, it took another few years to develop craft. I've met with
critique partners at least once a week since 1991. I've entered about
twenty novel-writing contests, and have been a finalist in about half of
them. My first first-place win came in 1994.
But The Call did not come for another two and one-half years.
Now that the big 4 - O is a distant memory, I realize I've still
got a lot to learn.
This article was first published in Happily Ever After in