In 1989 I took a major step toward fulfilling a life-long dream. I sold my home, bought an RV, and quit a very good job in order to begin a career as a writer. I’ll admit at that time my motivation was not strictly about writing, although I did enjoy it and wanted to provide that joy to other readers.
In retrospect I realize I was really tired of the crazy bureaucracy of the Washington, D.C., area where I worked and lived. In other words, I experienced a “burnout.” And so, when my mother—and biggest fan—suggested we sell everything and go on the road so I could write, I scoffed, but soon began wondering, “Why not?” It took a year to accomplish the deed.
We traveled for about a year, during which I completed a book about the evils of working for a federal contractor. I call it my first cathartic novel. It lived in a big box on a garage shelf for a while, but it’s in my office closet now with other first attempts at becoming a published author.
Through some miracle, call it Divine Order, my mother and I took root in Branson, Missouri. The city was still small and sweet and unassuming. It wouldn’t become That Branson for a few more years.
I joined the Ozarks Writers League (OWL), a group of one hundred or so regional writers and writer-hopefuls. I was also lucky to find a small feedback group. The OWL quarterly meetings provided much information about the writing craft and business. But the five other people in my feedback group provided me incredible personal support and guidance regarding my work.
I wrote my next novel, taking a chapter a month to the feedback group. Some chapters returned for additional scrutiny. I didn’t keep a writing log between 1990 and 1994, but during that period I finished the second novel and sent the manuscript (paper copies!!!) to various agents and publishers.
I struggled through a nameless novel and a couple more false starts before beginning “Byline” in June 1995. Because of a full-time job and other responsibilities, it took me—still with the feedback group—over two years to finish and polish Byline, which was renamed “Mistaken Identity” along the way.
The queries and submissions for Mistaken Identity proceeded slowly. Keep in mind, the internet as we know it now did not exist. Submissions were sent by the good old US mail in brown envelopes, first sample chapters then—if you were lucky—the entire manuscript. Agents took months to respond and most responses were form letters of rejection. Occasionally one would throw you a crumb—I love your characters, but . . .
I worked on other books with the feedback group through June 1998, when I became discouraged and quit the group. I spent some time revising Mistaken Identity for additional submissions and started sending it out again. A sequel—after several tries—did not progress beyond a thirteenth chapter.
In March of 1999, an agent called me at my day job requesting the entire manuscript. I sent it. He called again and wanted to represent me. After almost two years of trying queries by mail and personal pitches at writers’ conferences, I was elated. His explanation that a small “copy fee” would be required sounded reasonable to my desperate and naïve ears. Each month he sent a report about submissions and rejections and each month I sent the “copy fee.” In January 2002, I severed the relationship.
By then, I had given up on Mistaken Identity, the sequel, and writing itself. My mother passed away in 2000, so I lost my most ardent encourager. In 2001 and again in 2003 I was promoted at work and I rationalized that I didn’t have the time to write. My writing career would have to wait.