The First Ten Years

Ten years ago at this time I was eagerly awaiting shelf sightings of my very first published novel, At Long Last Love. It was an Arabesque romance, published in December 1998.

I was thrilled to be a published author at last. Unlike many writers (or even most), I had no dreams of riches or great success . . . even then I knew that there were certain rules for romance writing success that I was either unwilling or unable to follow. I didn't want to write a family series, and I wrote too slow to be able to produce a book every six to eight months. My first agent lost interest in me when I objected to the every-six-month deal she arranged for me . . . without consulting me first, an action that proved she wasn't the right agent for me.

What counted to me was that I was, at long last, in print. I hoped to have an audience who enjoyed my stories, and a nice additional income wouldn't hurt, either. And I hoped to break into mainstream women's fiction, my genre of preference. Finally, I hoped to grow as a writer. I'm happy to say that all four of my goals have been attained (the fourth one is based solely on my own opinion, of course).

I recently turned in the manuscript for my 15th novel, which will be published next May. I've never gone back and read At Long Last Love or any of my older titles . . . at least until now. In about two weeks I'll be dusting off my first mainstream, The People Next Door, as I resume work on a sequel, tentatively titled Trouble Down the Road, for publication in 2010. I must say I'm not looking forward to this. I tend to be extremely critical, and I can see myself wishing I could change this or change that (which will be particularly irksome because The People Next Door is being reissued in mass market in March 2009). Unfortunately, there's no way around it. I wrote this book around 2003 (it was originally published in trade format in 2005) and need to reacquaint myself with the characters. When I started in with the sequel, I peppered my manuscript with notations like [Daughter's Name] because I'd forgotten it. At least I remembered there was a daughter . . . but when I found myself wondering things like, Didn't these people have a dog? I knew I'd have to read the whole book so I wouldn't overlook something important. Readers tend to remember every little detail.

Here's the deal. I've found that I just don't feel like doing a lot of writing these days. I may have spent two hours writing over the past weekend, and maybe five hours total in the Monday to Friday just prior. This might not seem unreasonable, except when you consider that I've been home all week and am still home (I go back to work on Wednesday). And no, I'm not home due to illness.

This is the same thing that happened to me when I first moved to the Midwest 2-1/2 years ago. My husband suggested that I take half a year off because I'd been working so hard (I was the one who closed up the house, painted, packed, supervised movers, etc., with emergency eye surgery toward the end, because he was needed at his new job right away). I said to myself, Wow, look at all the writing I'll get done, but I ended up doing, well, some writing, but not a whole lot.

Considering that I spent many years working from home doing medical transcription, it's not like I lacked the discipline to work from my home office. Part of it may have had something to do with my being in what was then a new and strange place. I do remember feeling terribly isolated all day and being thrilled when I heard my husband's key in the lock when he came home from work. Since we moved again, only 20 miles away but across a state border I'm in another strange place, albeit a much nicer place. So instead of writing, I've done the housewife thing: Laundry, ironing, old movies on Turner Classics, dusting, ironing, vacuuming, and, most of all, unpacking the non-essential boxes still stacked in the garage, which I've been wanting to do from the time we moved (I took no time off from work back then).

There's still a chance that I'll finish the two projects I hoped to complete before turning my attentions to contracted work; it is, after all, still the middle of the month. But there is undeniably a lowered level of enthusiasm for writing in my heart. I don't know why, I just know it's there, and it won't return until my mind is ready for it to do so.


shelia said...

Happy Anniversary!!! My aunt introduced me to your first book and I've been reading your books every since.

I think sometimes we do need to take a break. As much as you love writing, there are times where you just need a break. Just like a job...sometimes you need a vacation.

Offtopic - Imitation of Life was on this past sunday. No matter how many times I watch that movie I cry at the end. The joy of watching the movie sunday though is the fact that my little cousin who is 10 also appreciated the classic. There's hope for the younguns after all :)

Patricia W. said...

Congratulations on a very solid writing career! 10 years and 15 books sounds good to me. I like that you carved your own path, especially given the pressure in publishing to conform.

Anonymous said...

Happy Anniversary, Bettye! Didn't you just finish a big writing project? Weren't there edits to complete? Proposals along the way? And you've had a book, two or three out every year for ten years in a row, right? And then there's stuff outside the writing. (You just hosted family for a big celebration.) I think you just need a little break to refill the enthusiasm well. That's totally normal. You're not a robot. Enjoy all the TCM you want. --Reon :-)

bettye griffin said...

Shelia, thank you, and I'm grateful to your aunt!

Yeah, I think I need a break. Now I need to start exercising (did I mention I've also been cooking: Fish chowder, jambalaya, muffins).

Re Imitation of Life, I used to love that movie, but as I get older and crankier, Juanita Moore's character is too pious for me, and when she says to Lana Turner, "Just let me do for you," I want to puke (much as I love old movies, I've witnessed many a scene of black people on the screen that elicited this reaction). But I do agree that these movies are important for our young people. They have to understand our history. And I understand that this movie is a classic and that it struck a chord in many people. It was the biggest moneymaker of 1959 and scored high TV ratings for years. And wow, could Mahalia Jackson sing!

For a movie that depicts black people in a positive light, check out In This Our Life with Bette Davis.

Thank you, too, Patricia! I haven't been a conformist since I was maybe 13, although I always try my best to cooperate. I think it's important to know the difference between the two.

Reon, you're such a sweetie! I'm glad my next book is straight women's fiction. A New Kind of Bliss was exhausting. I think you might have hit on something. I've been too doggone busy. I've been home from work for the last seven business days because of something I forgot to do (I'm not trying to be mysterious here, but I'd like to put this in a book eventually, so I'm keeping mum). I've spent most of that time unpacking, working on a thousand-piece puzzle, getting acquainted with all those old movies I had on tape that I unpacked, and cooking.

Back to work tomorrow.