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Getting "The Call"

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 The Call.

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 1997.

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