As this is the beginning of my blogging life, I’d thought I’d start at the beginning of my forty-four year writing career….
Why I Wrote The Heart of the Rose…and also Evil Stalks the Night
I started writing The Heart of the Rose after my only child, James, was born in late 1971. I was staying home with him, not working, and was bored out of my skin. I read a horrible historical romance one day and thought I can do better than that!
So I got out my old typewriter with the keys that stuck, my bottles of White-Out, carbon paper for copies, and started clicking away. I tentatively called the book King’s Witch because it was about a 15th century healer loved by Edward the Fourth who was falsely believed to be a witch. At the library -no computers or Internet back then- I did tedious research into that time in English history: the War of the Roses, the poverty and civil strife between the Red (Lancasters) and White Rose (Yorks); the Earl of Warwick and Edward the King. His brother Richard the Third. A real saga. Well, all that was big back then. I was way out of my league. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I just wrote. Reading that original version, a paperback released from Leisure books in 1985, now I have to laugh because it was pretty bad. All that archaic language I used (all the rage back in the 80’s). Yikes! But people, mainly women, loved it.
And so my writing career began. That was 44 years ago. It took me 12 years to get that first book published as I got sidetracked with a divorce, raising a son, and having to get a real job. Life, as it always seems to do, got in the way. The manuscript was tossed into a drawer and forgotten for a while.
Then one day years later I found it in my bottom drawer and decided to rewrite it; try to sell it. I bundled up the revised pile of printed copy pages, tucked it into an empty copy paper box and took it to the post office. I plastered it with stamps and sent it everywhere The Writer’s Market of that year said I could. And I waited for months and months and months. In those days it could take up to a year or more to sell a novel, in between revising and rewriting to please any editor that would make a suggestion or comment. Snail mail took forever, too, and was expensive.
In the meantime, I wrote another book. Kind of a fictionalized look back at my childhood in a large, 6 brothers and sisters, poor but loving family in the 1950’s and 60’s. I started sending that one out, as well. Then one day an editor suggested that since my writing had such a spooky feel to it anyway, why didn’t I just turn the book into a horror novel? Like Steven King was doing? Ordinary people under supernatural circumstances. A book like that would really sell, she said. Hmmm. Well, it was worth a try, so I added something scary in the woods in the main character’s childhood past that she had to return to and face in her adult life; using some of my childhood as hers. I re-titled it Evil Stalks the Night and began sending it out. That editor was right, it sold quickly.
But right before it was to go to editing, the publisher, Towers Publishing, went bankrupt and was bought out by another publisher! The book was lost somewhere in the stacks of unedited slush in a company undergoing massive changes as the new publisher took over. I had a contract and didn’t know how to break it. Heaven knows, I couldn’t afford a lawyer. My life with a husband and son was one step above poverty at times, and back then I was so naive and thought I couldn’t do anything. That was 1983 and that take-over publisher was…Leisure Books.
As often as has happened to me over my writing career, though, fate seemed to step in and the Tower’s editor, before she left,who had bought my book told one of Leisure’s editors about it and asked her to try to save it. She believed in it that much.
Out of the blue, in 1984, when I had completely given up on the book, Leisure Books sent me a letter offering to buy Evil Stalks the Night. Then, miracle of miracles, my new editor asked if I had any other ideas or books she could look at. I sent her The Heart of the Rose and Leisure Books promptly bought that one in 1985, as well; labeling it, and asking me to sex it up some, as an historical bodice-ripper (remember those, the sexy knockoffs of Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss’s provocative novels?). It wasn’t a lot of money for either. A thousand dollar advance and only 4% royalties on the paperbacks. I took it, of course. Because back in those days the publishers had a bigger distribution and thousands and thousands of the paperbacks were printed, warehoused and sent to bookstores. So 4% of all those books did add up.
So my career began. I sold ten more novels and various short stories over the next 25 years –as I was working full time and living my life. Some did well, my Zebra and Leisure paperbacks, and some didn’t. Most of them, over the years, as with a lot of mid-list authors eventually went out of print. That was the way it happened in those days unless you hit the jackpot and became a best-selling author. My first few books didn’t do that for me. Yet I kept writing….
And twenty-seven years later, when Damnation Books contracted my 13th and 14th novels, BEFORE THE END: A Time of Demons and The Woman in Crimson, they asked if I’d like to re-release, with new covers and rewritten of course, my 7 out-of-print Leisure and Zebra paperbacks, including The Heart of the Rose – and I said yes.
Of course, I had to totally rewrite The Heart of the Rose for the resurrected edition because, to be truthful, my writing when I was twenty-one was immature and unpolished. Then also in those days, editors told an author what to change and the writer only saw the manuscript once to final proof it. If I would have seen it more often i would have caught more of the mistakes. I also rewrote the book because, as was the style in the 1980’s, the text was written in that old-fashioned prose using thees and ayes. The dialect of 15th century England. And there were racy sex scenes I had to tone down. The 1985 version was really erotic. So I modernized the language, cut all the redundant adjectives and adverbs and helped the characters to grow up a little (they were way too dramatic). The Heart of the Rose–Revised Author’s Edition published in 2010, hopefully, then is a better book than it ever was in 1985. It should be…I had thirty-nine more years of life and experiences to help make it one. Update: I am self-publishing The Heart of the Rose in November 2015, with a stunning new cover, and it will be even better!
* And newest update… in 2012 I began self-publishing my books and leaving the traditional publishers behind. I’d read J.A. Konrath’s blog for Indie Writers and realized I had to go out on my own and try this new world. I wrote and self-published my first Dinosaur Lake book and then Dinosaur Lake II and III. I self-published my three book Spookie Town Murder mystery series (Scraps of Paper, All Things Slip Away and Ghosts Beneath Us), three other novels, and all of them have sold so well I know I will never go back to legacy publishers, ever. I have learned to do it all and I love having complete control. Now I have nine self-published novels and starting with A Time of Demons and Angels began getting all my fourteen books back from my last publisher in June. In the next seventeen months (between now and June 2017) I will get all of them back and self-publish one every two to three months until I completely own all my twenty-two novels. Next blog: Why I Became a Writer. Thank you, author Kathryn Meyer Griffith