23 years ago, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I sold my first book.
This is what I remember: it was overcast and gloomy, my favorite kind of weather, so my children were playing with Play-doh at the table and I was writing in the mini office I had set up in the dining room.
I had scraped and saved for a $400 Amstrad computer that was my pride and joy and required disks to run (if you wanted to spell check, you had to change the disk). Primitive as it was, it saved so much time over my previous technology, an IBM selectric computer.
We had the Amstrad, but we did not, at that moment, have a phone. Times were hard in Pueblo; my husband had been laid off his construction job and was shagging pizzas, supplementing with the odd side job. We let go of certain luxuries to give me the space to stay home with the boys until they started school. By which time, I desperately hoped I would have a book contract.
It was looking a bit grim that day. I’d been at it four solid years, trying all kinds of things—short stories and articles and novels. I’d collected more than 70 rejection letters, from badly mimeographed slips of paper saying no thanks to long, handwritten explanations. I’d been invited to resubmit a couple of short stories to an editor at a prestigious literary magazine, and praised by a commercial magazine, but the money would never save us.
So I was despairing. I would soon have to get a job.
And then, that day, my father showed up at my door. An editor had called from New York, he said, and he’d come to get me so that I could call her back. We gathered up the boys and hurried back to their house and I called Silhouette. Where an editor said, “We love this book and want to buy it.”
For $4000, which was a tremendous fortune to me at the time.
Last Friday, I accepted an offer from Bantam for a new contract, and since the timing was so close to the anniversary of the sale that opened the door to this career, I found myself recognizing what a gift the writing life has been.
It was such a surprise to everyone around me that I actually did it—published a book, and then another and another. That somehow, I managed to make a living at writing novels. It meant I could be home with my sons, the whole time they were growing up, which might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but was very important to me.
It meant that I formed friendships with women across the country, my “graduating class” made up of the people who started selling around the same time I did, in the same arena. We were category and historical romance writers, and most of us had children around the same age. The children grew up as our careers grew—each one taking a slightly different path. Some stuck with romance, some moved into straight fiction or mysteries or historical sagas. I started writing women’s fiction, of course. 40 books thus far, which astonishes me.
On this day before Thanksgiving, I am filled with enormous gratitude that writing is my life, that somehow that big dream came true. It hasn’t always been what I imagined it might be. It’s been both more challenging and more rewarding—and more ordinary—than I expected.
It is also, aside from my children, the biggest blessing I’ve had in my life. I am lucky enough to spend my days writing. Every day, year in, year out. I love books insanely, love reading, love writing, and there is no sweeter thing than having work you love.
Thinking of the changes in our business, I am also grateful for the invention of the personal computer, which makes it so easy to do the physical work of writing. I am grateful for the Internet, which makes available so much information that I used to have to schlep around to find out. I’m grateful for the loops of communities that have emerged to support writers, including this one. I’m grateful for silly things, too, like programs that let me put post-it notes on my screen, and office supply stores full of pretty papers and good pens.
I’m grateful, too, that I can come in here today and whisper encouragement to you on your path. Don’t give up. Keep trying. Keep writing. Be thankful for the gift of your longing, even when you are bitterly disappointed, because not everyone is given that gift of wanting something so much as you do. I am grateful for you, too. Without your hard work, I won’t have my new favorites in the coming years.
What are some things about the writing life that you’re thankful for this year? What can you praise about the place on the path you occupy right now, this day?