I came to the professional writing game rather late. I didn't even begin my first novel until I was-- ahem-- let's just say no longer a youngster. I've always been a keen storyteller and over the years, I'd scribbled notes on various ideas and even wrote several short stories. But, I'd never considered actually trying to write anything with the specific goal of getting it published.
Until that fateful day in the spring of 2001 when I met one of my favorite authors...
The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is one of the biggest gatherings of bibliophiles and authors in the nation. I always look forward to it and have been a regular attendee since the late 90's. It gives me a chance to see authors that I admire, hear them speak, and get their autographs. When I learned that Terry Brooks was going to speak at the 2001 Festival, I was so excited. Terry is the author of many books, including the best selling Shannara series which has been adapted into a popular TV show. As a longtime fan of his, I had many of his books in my personal library. I selected one at random to have signed and secured a ticket to his panel discussion at the festival.
The topic of the panel was about transitioning from a non-literary career into being a full-time writer. It wasn't the topic that interested me so much as it was seeing Terry and hearing him speak. But, after listening to his story, a light bulb flickered to life in my mind. You see, Terry had been a successful lawyer before becoming a full-time writer. He started his first novel while still in law school. That book, The Sword of Shannara, became a best-seller, the first of many for him. Terry was quick to point out that, even with one successful novel, he still wasn't earning enough money as a writer to quit being a lawyer. He had to carve out time in his busy life specifically for writing, because storytelling was his passion, whereas lawyering was how he made his living. He made the time for writing, no matter if it meant putting other things aside, because he had a goal, and that was to be able to earn his living as a writer. Even so, it took him many years and several more best-sellers before he could finally hang up his lawyering hat and write full-time.
His words were a revelation to me. Sitting in that auditorium, I realized that I was no different than he, in the sense that I had a very busy professional career in which I made a good living and which I enjoyed, but my true passion lay elsewhere. But, unlike him, I hadn't yet made the commitment to work towards the goal of earning a living by doing what I was passionate about. Which was writing.
After the panel, I got in line to have my book signed. When I finally arrived before Terry, I admit I was a bit starstruck. I may have gone a wee bit fan-girl on him! He smiled, asked me my name and then inquired about what I did. Now, I know what he meant. And I know he was only being polite and most likely asked this question as part of his routine with his fans. Before I even quite understood what was coming out of my mouth, I answered, "I'm an aspiring writer." He smiled again and admonished me to never give up on my dream. Now, I'm paraphrasing here, but he then said to me something along the lines of "The only writers who never get published are those that give up."
I got my book signed and went to enjoy the rest of the Festival, but something had irrevocably changed in me. I'd said the words out loud-- I am an aspiring writer--so, now it was time for me to make those words into truth. That night, I went home and dug through my file cabinet of old short stories, plucked one out that spoke to me, one that I felt I could expand, and began work on what would become my own award-winning, best-selling first novel Griffin's Daughter.
So, you see, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Terry Brooks for starting me on this amazing journey. I've met so many wonderful, talented people on the way, writers both famous, not-so-famous, and should-be famous, but aren't yet. I met the love of my life, my husband, because I joined a local writer's society to improve my craft. I'm now the VP of that group. Nearly all my closest friends are writers, and we lend each other the support we need to keep going in this very tough business.
I haven't seen or spoken to Terry Brooks since that day in 2001. I dedicated my first novel to him, and I made a solemn vow that one day, if our paths should ever cross again, I will thank him. I just hope I can do so in public, where other aspiring writers might hear me.