A few weeks ago, I thanked all of you who’ve read my book, A Good Home, so far. (Many of you also take the time to send me letters and cards, which I love.)
But did I ever tell you about the authors who have also graced my journey? What a gift that’s been!
First, Louise Penny. This Canadian author is known for her Inspector Gamache/Three Pines mysteries. Her lyrical, emotional, insightful writing has won several big awards and put her books on the New York Times bestseller list.
The day I discovered my first Louise Penny book was shortly after I’d turned in my latest feature story to Arabella Magazine. That feature story – written several years before – was titled Possession. It was about the deeply rooted hunger to possess precious things. Louise’s book, The Brutal Telling, was about a deeply-rooted hunger to possess precious things. I was amazed by the serendipity.
Louise bravely explores that borderland place where the unexplained and the divine intersect with the here and now, the temporal. It’s something I try to do in some of my own writing.
But it was Louise’s own back story – and the similarities between her life and mine — that most surprised me.
We are, I discovered, both Ryerson graduates, both former CBC journalists. But that’s just the stuff that goes into resumes. As I read about her, I realized that we’d both also known what it was like to hit rock-bottom. I was still going through a harrowing fight against painful injuries from a car accident and the very painkillers that were meant to help me cope. Louise had fought a lengthy battle against alcoholism.
I took all these similarities as a sign from above – one of those borderland moments where the divine intersects with the temporal. It was time, I decided, to get serious about the book I’d started writing a long time ago. But first, I wrote to Louise herself.
“The publisher sent me the story layout for my final sign-off just one day before I started your book”, I wrote, referring to the Arabella story, “and as I read your novel, I thought – with a shiver – ‘this is another of my life’s unexplained coincidences’.”
She wrote me back right away: “We seem like sisters,” she said. “I’m glad you’ve discovered my books – and suspect you are a gifted, fabulous writer.”
Such kind encouragement. Louise’s next email contained advice for me as a would-be author. Before you send your manuscript to a publisher or agent, she urged, polish, polish, polish. It’s your one chance, so make it the best it can be.
As I neared the completion of the manuscript, other authors helped.
Yvonne Blackwood, author of Into Africa: The Return, repeatedly helped me polish. She suggested small improvements throughout the text.
Lee Gowan, creative writing professor at the University of Toronto and author of Confession, paid me a precious compliment: he read the manuscript to his mother.
“It was a very moving experience, I can tell you,” Lee wrote. “Often had a tear or two in my eyes and a hitch in my voice as I was trying to read through.” Lee also stopped me from editing out a whole section of the book that, it turns out, readers love.
When the book was completed, and in the hands of the publisher, I wanted to find out from an author what this next period would be like. Given my need to pace myself, and still attend therapy for long-term injuries, I wanted to make the best of limited resources. Enter Ann Preston, author of The No-Grainer Baker cookbook.
She was introduced to me by a friend. Ann became a guardian angel, telling me what to expect, and, with her own book on its way to becoming a bestseller, sharing tips by the week.
Jan Wong (who self-published her most recent book, Out of the Blue) had experienced both traditional and self publishing. She openly shared her experience with promoting and distributing her books, while I made notes of everything from postage rates for books to dealing with invitations for book readings.
With wise words of support, small notes of caution, and precious bits of common-sense, these authors helped me to make A Good Home a success. Bravo and Thanks to them all.