One of my favorite authors is Kate DiCamillo. She writes beautiful, lyrical stories that you generally find in the young adult section of book stores. Her stories are somewhat mystical, and despite that her stories are geared to children through young teens, I believe they are wonderful stories for all ages. I recently watched a video of her where she was talking about becoming a writer. She mentions that she walked around for 10 years wearing the uniform of a writer—a black turtleneck and jeans—saying she was going to be a writer, but she never did anything about it. Then, she said, she got off her duff and wrote her award-winning novel, “Because of Winn Dixie.” I laughed to myself as I listened to her talk, and then I realized it was time for me to do the same. Rule of writing: Let other writers and authors serve as inspiration for you. (As an aside, thank you, Kate.)
When I completed my MFA in 2011, I had a completed novel that was my thesis, now newly titled BENEATH THE MIMOSA TREE, but loosely based on that short story I wrote 19 years before. I spent the next year tweaking it, revising my main character Michael’s voice (I so wanted him to be a believable and likable character— a sort of Mr. Darcy with Italian genes), and editing it over and over again. Here’s a glimpse into what I penned as Michael:
“Annabelle was sobbing so violently, it was difficult to console her. She kept saying she was sorry, and I saw the letter in her hand. It was the one I had never mailed, the one I should have sent. I’d sealed it and never reopened it. The last time I was home visiting two years ago, I’d traveled with it in my briefcase and put it in my box in the desk. Call me sentimental—I couldn’t throw it away, but I didn’t want to read it again either.” —Michael, from Beneath the Mimosa Tree
When I was pleased with my characters and through with the editing process, I had two choices: publish or perish.
I chose to publish, and I chose to self-publish.
Many people ask my why I didn’t shop my book out to an agent or try to get a publisher. There are three main reasons for this: (1) I am a control freak, (2) I had the background in publications to be able to confidently do it myself, and (3) I knew how to create public relations, marketing, and advertising pieces and strategies from my previous professional careers. Additionally, I teach the topics at Stevenson University, so it was time to see if I could put into practice what I preach to students.
Besides, the book was done, and I wanted to see what would happen to it.
After choosing Amazon and Barnes & Noble as my self-publishing hubs, I set out upon the journey of self-publishing. I had colleagues and close friends proof my novel one last time; I had my friend Jenny take the cover photo (which I love); I typeset the cover and the pages inside the paperback; and then I learned to publish it for the Kindle and Nook. This took time, and was not my favorite part. I prefer the creative side so much more than all those tedious details. Nevertheless, when I called upon my father as a trusted assistant to help me “beam it up” to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, we did it, my hands shaking with utter nervousness. Off it went.
I could now say that after many years, I had published a novel.
Interestingly enough, I don’t have one regret about the path I chose for BENEATH THE MIMOSA TREE. It’s had a lovely little existence. I’ve sold a good number of copies, people are still booking me for book club talks and functions, and it even won a Readers’ Favorite book award last year. It’s all been quite thrilling.
I guess in the end, we all write because we want to share a story; we are all storytellers. Look at history—we know what we know from documentation and historical facts, from stories that have been passed down from generations, and from photographs and books that have stood the test of time.
There are so many reasons why I write. It’s a form of therapy. It’s an escape. It’s a calling. It’s something I do as relaxation. I love to “create.” The list goes on and on. Even as I’m sitting here writing this right now, I am happy and content.
Currently, I’m in the middle of writing my next novel, and I’m probably more excited about this project than I was about BENEATH THE MIMOSA TREE. This one is fiction, but is loosely based on my experiences working in the front office for a professional baseball team. There’s a love story (or more), and it’s about friendship, parenting, love, and keeping your heart open, even though sometimes it wants to shut down. There are lessons to be learned from this book.
And so, dear friends and fellow writers, this is why I write.