I always knew I would be a writer, even as a child. I didn’t know if I could make a living at it, but I knew it’s what I wanted to do. I felt so strongly about it that, at about age 10, I launched my own newspaper based on interviews of pilots and observations of the day-to-day workings at Reid’s Hillview Airport, which was next door to our ranch in San Jose. It was hand printed on NCR paper and I sold it at the airport for 25 cents per copy.
We moved to Sonoma County in 1959, and I started attending Santa Rosa High School. I took journalism in my junior and senior years, serving two semesters as the editor of the school newspaper. Seven months after graduation, I was a “copy boy” at The Press Democrat and 14 months later was promoted to the position of reporter. After more than 42 years at the newspaper, I retired in 2004.
Just as I always knew I would be a writer, I always knew I’d write a novel someday. But, after so many years of writing and editing nonfiction at a newspaper, making the transition to fiction proved difficult. My first try at novel writ ing was a disaster. When it was finished, I read it through from beginning to end. I could think of only three words to describe my work: stink, stank, stunk.
That first effort had started out with good ideas literally ripped from newspaper headlines and massaged into “what-if” scenarios. I had developed good characters and good plots, but I knew the novel didn’t work. I shoved the project aside.
I wasn’t ready to give up, though I waited a while to try again. In the interim, I must have read 50 novels in the genre I wanted to write. I didn’t want to do anything derivative and vowed to come up with new ideas, new plots, new characters. I ripped more articles from newspapers, did research, and interviewed experts. I was more pragmatic the second time around. I did an outline and kept expanding it until it became an intricate web of different plots.
I like complicated novels, those with a number of interweaving plotlines crisscrossing each other until they come together in a satisfying conclusion that ties up all loose ends. I like novels with colorful characters, crisp dialogue, twists and turns, unexpected events, suspense, and tension. And, my favorite novels have humor and satire— something to make me laugh out loud. Finally, my idea of a great novel is to leave the reader wanting more.
That’s what I wanted to write. I knew the first draft of my second attempt at novel writing wasn’t good enough, but it had possibilities. For the second draft, I killed two storylines. Then, I reached into stink-stank-stunk and pulled three characters from it. I dropped them into my new novel and threaded them through the existing plots, fleshing them out and giving them purpose. More rewrites followed. I let my novel rest for a while, read it through from beginning to end, and realized it still wasn’t good enough. I killed another storyline that wasn’t working. More rewrites ensued.
Friends and family, highly respected for their literacy and writing skills, gave me critical evaluations. Partial and full rewrites continued to within a week of submitting the manuscript for publication.
I finally self-published through Amazon’s CreateSpace. The paperback version of my novel, Deep Doo-Doo, came out in October 2014. The ebook for Kindle became available in December 2014. A few months later, Deep Doo-Doo won the 2015 National Indie Excellence® Award for Crime Fiction.
The point of my story is this: If you want to write a novel and you have confidence in your writing skill and talent, you should at least give it a shot. And don’t jump off a cliff just because it doesn’t work out right away. Keep at it. There is a learning curve to everything, and your novel-writing learning curves may be much shorter than mine.
I’m now working on the second novel of the trilogy introduced by Deep Doo-Doo. For more information, see my website: www.sherigraves.com.
Writer, Editor, Writing Coach
Sheri Graves has been writing for publication for more than five decades.
Her 40+ years with The (Santa Rosa, California) Press Democrat
included 29+ as a reporter and 14 as a copy editor. She retired in
December 2004, one month shy of her 43rd anniversary with the paper.
Graves won numerous awards for journalism and writing
excellence, including first place prizes from the Press Club of San
Francisco, the California and National Newspaper Publishers
Associations, and California Medical Association.
In “retirement,” Graves is a freelance writer and editor who has done contract work for Internet companies and nonprofit organizations. Graves also edited two anthologies for Senior Authors of Santa Rosa, an independent memoir writing group that hired her in 2013 to be the class instructor and writing coach.
Her debut novel, Deep Doo-Doo, won the 2015 Crime Fiction prize in
the National Indie Excellence Awards competition. The book is available
at www.Amazon.com. Graves has three other books in the works:
* You Are the Write Stuff, a how-to on memoir writing.
* Turkey in the Straw, a follow-up to Deep Doo-Doo.
* Pig in a Poke, a follow-up to Turkey in the Straw.
The Grammar Diva says: Sheri and I met when we both did a mini book festival at the Sonoma County Library’s main branch in Santa Rosa several months ago. We exchanged books and she asked me to come speak to her senior memoir-writing group. It was a fun experience with a group of people who knew more about grammar than any audience I have spoken to! I then read her book, Deep Doo-Doo and loved it! Great characters, interwoven plots, humor, and crime all rolled into one. I recommend it!
Next week’s post: Let’s talk about those annoying irregular verbs!