Tell your Story (continued from yesterday’s post)
Nursing made me a better writer because it gave me a subject other than myself to write about. A different perspective. It gave me both expertise and empathy. As did motherhood, for that matter. It wasn’t just about ME.
But nursing and parenting – especially single parenting – is highly stressful. I needed a relaxing pastime to maintain my sanity. I took up skydiving.
One snowy Sunday in May, 1981 I made my first jump at Sky’s West, a drop zone at the Loveland -Ft. Collins Airport on Colorado’s Front Range. The challenge changed my life. Now you might wonder how jumping out of a perfectly good airplane could possibly be considered stress relief? Crouched in the open door of a Cessna, 10,500 feet above the ground, all your problems below shrivel to insignificance. Nothing else matters. I survived the first jump, was filled with euphoria, and had to do it again. And again. And over 1100 more times. Learning to fly, that’s another story of my life.
The sport of skydiving became my passion for well over a decade. I became a USPA certified jump master and instructor, I wrote articles for Skydiving and Parachutist magazines, and I met my future husband, Bob Russell, an experienced jumper. Together we managed a drop zone in Missouri one summer where we taught the Circus Flora to skydive, we competed on a 4-way team in Nationals one year, and we made jumps in Brazil and Namibia, Africa. Oh, the Bob-and-Linda adventures! One of these days I must write Travels with Bob….
Actually Bob and I did write a book together: Rocky Mountain Wineries; a travel guide to the wayside vineyards, published in1994 by Pruett, a regional press in Boulder. The research involved was exhausting. Imagine driving hundreds of miles on scenic roads in Bob’s Corvette, finding wineries, talking with the vintners, hearing their stories, tasting their wine. Tasting more wine, right out of the barrel. Then having lunch and doing it all over again. I didn’t know it then, but this was classic business development.
Pruett had a good publicist. Cassandra had Rocky Mountain Wineries in every bookstore in the Rocky Mountains States. She set up events: book signings and wine tastings. She sent the book out for advance reviews. She even sent Bob and I the ALA convention that year with the publisher Jim Pruettt. Our wine travel guide was a success, though we only made a small amount of money, once we factored in all the travel involved in the research. We followed it up with Colorado Kids; a statewide family outdoor adventure guide, which Pruett asked us to write (after turning down my proposal for a guidebook to the historic hotels of the Rockies.) Bob and I were qualified. We had both raised our children in Colorado – though we were married to different people at the time, and hadn’t yet met. I might mention that in both cases we received a small advance against royalties from our publisher. Pruett was a dream publisher to work with. In 2012 Graphic Arts of Portland acquired Pruett, which had been publishing books in Boulder since 1954.
With two published guidebooks behind me – and dozens of short stories, articles and essays, I decided to try my luck with a novel. Now this wasn’t my first novel. I had written practice novels. In my twenties, back at the kitchen table in Wyoming with a baby on the way and supper on the stove, I wrote a Western and entered it in a contest. It didn’t win; it didn’t even place. But I learned something about writing a novel, which is, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Fast forward to the 1990’s. Kids, grown. Writing a novel provisionally titled, With a Little Luck, about two teenaged boys in a garage band in West Virginia. This was a story of friendship and loss, of coming-of-age, of poverty and dysfunction, of talent and persistence. In 1997 I entered With a Little Luck in the Maui Writers Conference Writing Contest. In the nineties the Maui Writers Conference was a BIG DEAL. I’m talking New York editors and agents, Hollywood script writers and producers strolling around in Tommy Bahama Aloha shirts and designer sunglasses. Ron Howard was the keynote speaker. Anyway, to make a long story short, my story won the grand prize that year. Yes! Agents would be pounding at my door, my email inbox would be jammed full by morning. I just knew Ron Howard was going to call me up for a lunch date to discuss movie rights. But the phone was strangely silent. And although Wendy Lipkind did buy me a drink, she was more interested in representing my nursing stories, not my prize winning manuscript.
Twelve months – and dozens of rejections later – I had to face the hard truth: With a Little Luck had no luck at all. Why? Editors loved my writing, they loved the quirky characters but they didn’t know how to sell the story — a criticism I heard over and over again. The story didn’t fit into a marketable niche. (And who was Linda Collison, anyway? No one knew her.)
Sadder and wiser, I shelved the orphaned story, vowing to write another novel — one that would be marketable. But how? I was discouraged. And I knew few people in the industry, except for the folks at Pruett Publishing and they didn’t publish novels — only regional nonfiction. While I waited for inspiration I continued to work on my craft, writing short stories and submitting them to magazines and literary publications. With some success. By now I knew how to write a crack query letter that would often result in a published essay or article. But writing a novel, that was my dream.
(To be continued…)