Eleventy quibillion years ago, when I was in fourth grade, I wanted to
be a writer. I wrote terrible poems, which I think only got worse as I
got older and the teenage years descended like locusts, leaving only
WOE and ANGST. By college, I had brief bouts of sanity, whereupon I
attempted architecture (ohmyGod, they do not tell you about the math),
business (my first accounting teacher gave me the final exam in
advance, with the answers, if I would swear to her I would never, ever,
take another accounting class again), and then journalism (where I
learned they had the picky little annoying habit of wanting reporters
to not make crap up)(this was before Fox News).
And in spite of a fine history of liking to eat and wanting a roof
over my head, I still wanted to be a writer. If you asked a question,
you would get a story instead of an answer. If I could sidetrack into a
couple of tangents? You might as well park a while, because the
stories? They would not stop.
All the while, I wrote. Much of it was bad.
I ran into a
former high-school teacher, who’d also been a librarian, who asked me
the tough question: why wasn’t I submitting for publication? Have you
ever run into one of your former teachers? THEY ARE SCARY. It’s like
they can retroactively fail you or their eyes shoot truth serum rays or
something, and I did not want to stand there in front of my
two-year-old and explain I hadn’t submitted anything because I was a
big honking chicken. So I took her advice and started writing and
submitting to the local paper. (They were insane enough to buy the very
first one. That’s like feeding a stray puppy. They did not realize
this, I think, until I was around so much, they added me to the regular
staff AND the food staff, and this was a fairly prominent paper. One of
my relatives realized that I was being assigned to write about how
people COOK things. He asked, "Isn’t that… fraud? You use the fire
alarm as an oven timer." I look back on this as the beginning of my
Over the years, and we are not discussing how many, maybe more than
two but less than a hundred, I wrote more articles than I can remember
or count for newspapers and magazines. I started querying and
submitting (and getting sales) at national magazines, but my real love
was fiction. I tried my hand at a novel, but it was a spiraling mess,
and my husband could see how frustrated I was. (And EVERY husband out
there just substituted the words "complete raving loon" for
"frustrated.") So, being a very wise man who liked to wake up breathing
in the mornings, he encouraged me to go back to school for some writing
For a while, I was lured to the dark side (screenwriting), and
landed an agent, and did a lot of stuff that was almost-but-not-quite
what I wanted to do, which was to sell something I made up. Hollywood,
by the way, will kill you with encouragement, because when you meet the
executives, you will be told you are the most brilliant writer they
have read in forever and where the hell have you been all this time and
they want to be in the "Toni Causey" business. Swear to God, they will
say it and you will believe it because they are that good at
sincere. Until you’re sitting in the Warner Brothers commissary waiting
for the next meeting, furtively looking around to see the FRIENDS stars
on their lunch break (yes, I am dating myself, hush), and the same
executive walks by with his arm around someone else who is not you,
telling them how utterly brilliant they were, the most brilliant person
they’d ever read. That’s when you look down at the script in your hand
that is an action thriller that everyone absolutely loves but could you
make the man a woman and the woman a duck and wouldn’t it be great if
the horse saved the day? and you think, "I’m crazy, but I’m not this crazy." Some writers (our very own Alex and Rob) have the tenacity for that. Me? I kinda wanted to just kick people. (I never claimed to be mature.)
See, I had this idea. An idea for this funny, take-no-prisoners
kind of southern woman, who loves deeply and means well, in spite of
the chaos she causes, and I wanted to write that story and be true to
that story. So I quit screenwriting. (I had had some offers if I’d move
out there. I was not going to move the family.) I had a hard time
convincing my former agent that yes, I was serious. I was quitting to write a
novel. (I think she still thinks I am going to change my mind.) But I
quit, and I started writing Bobbie Faye. I wrote a quick draft
in script form, because I was used to that format, then a friend showed a
friend, the lovely Rosemary Edghill, who said, "Send me some chapters."
And I did. She gave me some notes (smart, smart woman), and taught me
how to write the kind of synopsis an agent needs ("I did not think you
could make this worse," she said of one draft of that synopsis, "but
you did." That’s because I am an overachiever. It took a lot of tries
before I figured out that writing a marketing synopsis is a lot like
writing a non-fiction article, and that I could do.) Next thing
I know, I’d signed with an agent and Rosemary had pitched it to an
editor, who made an offer, and St. Martin’s Press bought that book and
the next two based on three sample chapters and a synopsis. Almost
twenty years from the point where I saw my old high-school English
teacher and she’d said, "Why aren’t you submitting for publication?"
(Thank you, Mrs. Ross.)**
There is a great big huge world of "no" out there. Sometimes, following the dream does not mean hoppity-skipping down the easy path. In fact, a lot of times, it means zig zagging past mortars and incoming and a lot of almosts-not-quites and despair and frustration what-the-hell-were-you-thinking? and ugh-this-sucks and occasionally wow-show-me-more. And in spite of how long it took, and how much hard work, I have been exceptionally lucky–there have been friends and mentors who’ve said, "keep going," and who’ve said, "send that in." They changed my life. They were the tipping point for me.
So how about you? Who encouraged you? Or what’s something you tried that someone encouraged you to do and now you’re glad you did?
CONTEST: just stop in and say HI or name someone who encouraged you OR something you’ve tried as a result of encouragement. ANYTHING’s fair game here.
Remember, it’s CONTEST MONTH — every commenter on today’s post will be eligible for a signed copy of BOBBIE FAYE’S VERY (very, very, very) BAD DAY as well as a hot-off-the-press, not available in the stores ’til the end of the month BOBBIE FAYE’S (kinda, sorta, not exactly) FAMILY JEWELS. Excerpts from book 2 are now up HERE. Winner from this week to be announced on next Sunday’s blog.
WINNER FROM LAST WEEK — Billie! billie! Sister of the soul. 😉
Like last week, I put the names in a hat and
my neighbor chose. So Billie, please email me at toni [dot] causey [at]
gmail [dot] com with your
address and I’ll get your signed copies mailed out to you this week!
**This is part of the interview I did with Bethany Hensel over at Lux Magazine… I’ll post a link here to the rest as soon as I have it. Thanks, Bethany!