Barbara Graham lives somewhere in that northwestern quarter of Wyoming so I don’t get to see her too often. That’s why I’m jumping at the chance to have dinner with her on Sunday after attending her book signing at Barnes & Noble Centerra, Loveland, Colorado. The event is scheduled for 2 to 4 PM. The first novel in Barbara’s mystery quilt series set in the Smoky Mountains was Murder by Serpents, published in 2007 by Five Star. Her new release, Murder by Artifact, is available in both hardcover and large print editions.
My Writing Life by Barbara Graham
When I was about eight years old, I had huge front teeth. In all the photographs taken at the time, I resembled a beaver–one wearing braids and glasses. Very attractive indeed. Years of braces and normal growth seemed to shrink the teeth but, in truth, they merely remained the same size while the rest of me grew. My progression from “I’d like to be a writer” to “yes, I’m currently revising book three of the series and working on the first draft of book four” was gradual as well.
While a few authors sell their first book, it is rare, and most of us sell later work. The number of my personal trial and error books, unpublished and deservedly so, is about eight. Eight books filled with wretched prose, inadequate characterizations and flimsy plots require many words and years to complete. In the sports world they’d be called “training wheels”.
The first book I wrote in the “Quilted Mystery” series came close to being publishable but not quite ready. Rejection was the norm. Stubborn and hard headed, self-publishing was never an option. So, I kept studying and working on my craft. One day, I returned from a fun weekend at a quilt retreat to find an email from the most recent publishing house I’d contacted. Resigned to read yet another rejection, I opened it and saw the words, “Congratulations, we would like to buy Murder by Serpents.”
After checking to see if the odd noises coming from me indicated a heart attack, my husband confirmed the document was neither a joke nor a rejection. Soon the contract arrived. Later the advance. I took the check to our local tee shirt printer and had a shirt made with a copy of the check printed upside down just below the collar so if I glanced down I could read it. Inspiration. Confirmation. If I could do it once, I could do it again.
As a former dance student and later a teacher, I believe the mindset of practice, try, fail, ask advice, practice, improve, fall down, get up, listen to the advice, practice, succeed is one vital for everyone in the arts and life in general. It works if you want to do turns in toe shoes or grow vegetables. Don’t quit learning. Don’t quit trying. Few babies learn to walk without crawling and I’d guess none without falling. No one is born being able to write, or cook, or play checkers without some instruction and lots of practice. The words written today will seem less perfect with tomorrow’s even better work. Never give up. Rewrite.
For a little more information on Barbara, check out the Q&A on her website. There you’ll find entertaining tidbits such as:
“How did you get hooked on mysteries?
My life in literary crime began with the Hardy Boys. I would purloin (a word learned from reading Poe) my older brother’s latest Hardy Boy adventure and read it by flashlight under the covers. Many of my friends were readers of Nancy Drew but I found her less exciting. I did have a terrible childhood crush on Frank Hardy. I’m not sure I realized I was reading fiction. Never the sharpest tack in the box, I still remember the devastation I felt when learning my other hero, Roy Rogers, was an actor, and I was not watching a documentary.”
Thanks a bunch for contributing to my guest blogger series, Barbara.