There have been almost 300 Moments authors, and while I have a vision someday of us all gathering over drinks, coffee, or ice cream sundaes, and talking about this writing life, for understandable reasons that party hasn’t happened yet. I have, however, had the joy of meeting some of the Momenters in person, and Terry Shames is one. Terry and I were both debut novelists at the same time–that’s a little like being new moms together–and we got to talk at Janet Rudolph’s fabulous Mystery Salon.
Then Terry’s novel came out.
You know that feeling when someone you like also turns out to be a wonderful writer? It’s like meeting on two plains. You’re kindred spirits in a whole new way. Terry’s mystery is garnering praise from too many outlets to mention here–author and reviewer Andrew McRae just suggested it as a contender for an Agatha award–and that’s reason enough to share her Moment. But if you read on, you’ll see there’s another reason, too, and that’s the change that occurs inside a writer, no matter how she makes it.
Thank you to my host, author Jenny Milchman, for asking me to write about what moment made me feel like I had finally arrived.
This morning I awoke to a fabulous review. It could easily be a “made it” moment, and I’ve had more of those moments in the past eight months than I could ever have imagined. But my real “made it” moment is a lot more mundane—even silly.
“I admire you so much,” people say to me. “You really persevered.” I smile and thank them. But you know what? Perseverance doesn’t begin to cover it. Add perseverance to commitment, drive, the ability to overcome disappointment again and again, stubbornness, the determination to continue to sharpen one’s craft, and the capacity to pretend that reality doesn’t exist, and you’ve got a good picture of what it takes for most people to find a publisher eager to turn their manuscript into a real, live book.
In the years that I’d been trying to get published, a new opportunity had flourished—self-publishing. Self-published authors had gained a lot of respect and many of them seemed happy with the control they had over their books–the cover, price, the “look,” and whether the book was physical or electronic. They were happy with the fact that they made more money per book than they would if they were traditionally published. But learning the ins and outs of self-publishing seemed like a steep learning curve. Learning to promote my book was a learning curve I couldn’t avoid—but I really wanted to avoid the daunting production part if I could. Still, I accumulated a file of information about self-publishing. I gave myself a deadline to find a publisher, and was determined after that time to publish my first book myself.
One month before my “drop dead” date, I got “the call” from my agent. I had imagined this call countless times, imagining myself squealing, dancing around, chattering. None of that happened. In fact, I felt numb as I listened and tried to comprehend what my agent was telling me—that a real, live publisher loved my book and wanted to publish it. I must have sounded rational on the phone, because my agent talked to me as if I were. I remember saying I was excited. But I don’t remember feeling excited. I remember feeling disbelief.
Here’s why I know that was my “made it moment”. As soon as I hung up the phone, I did something completely out of character for me: I walked upstairs to my bedroom, changed into dress-up clothes and put on makeup. It still makes me laugh to think that that was my reaction. After writing several books that came close but fell short; after considering giving up and needing pep talks from my friends to keep going; after enduring looks of pity from people who knew I was banging my hard, hard head against a hard, hard wall, I had gotten the call that said the wall had yielded before I did.
I looked in the mirror and faced my dress like someone who had changed—someone who had made it.
Terry Shames is the best-selling author of A Killing at Cotton Hill and The Last Death of Jack Harbin, Seventh Street Books. Her books are set in small-town Texas and feature ex-chief of police Samuel Craddock. Terry lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two rowdy terriers. She is Vice President of Norcal Sisters in Crime and on the board of MWA Norcal.