Tuesday, March 21, 2017

My Publication Story

In 1986 my husband and I became foster parents while living in Waco, Texas. We not only had our three year old son, but a five year old foster daughter. Later a four month old baby boy with a heart monitor temporarily joined our family, and I was pulling out my hair. My husband suggested I find something "adult" to do one evening a week while he kept the children. Since I'd always liked writing stories, I took a creative writing course at Baylor University.

I enjoyed that class so much I started pumping out short stories, dozens and dozens of them. I had always loved science and thought it would be easy for me to write science fiction. My excitement outpaced my ability, and I started submitting my stories to magazines in 1987. My first rejection was handwritten on a sticky note. It basically said, "Not for us; try again" so I did. Over the next five years I collected over 600 rejections before I sold my first story, a clean fantasy to an anthology compiled by Marion Zimmer Bradley.
My first rejection in 1987
We gave up being foster parents after two years, but I continued to write, even while homeschooling our son and later his younger brother. I found success with magazines, writing nonfiction articles on spec and short stories for children. As Catherine Jones, I published in Highlights for Children, Cricket, Cobblestone, Jack and Jill, Hopscotch, Boy's Quest, and dozens of other less-well-known magazines. I sold two easy readers and had a nonfiction book for older children published about the Navajo Code Talkers, which brought me "fifteen minutes of fame," since I did go on television and radio. I also learned public speaking the hard way, and developed a multi-media presentation which I gave to thousands of people over several years. Even after almost 20 years I still get requests for that presentation.

Then cancer struck in 2005, and it took nuclear-bomb strength chemo to put it in remission. My brain was so scrambled I couldn't get back in the groove of writing for magazines. I did publish my first novel in 2012, a MG fantasy allegory of the cancer journey called Leandra's Enchanted Flute, and the editor wanted to know if there was a sequel, so I wrote Return to Finian Jahndra, which Cool Well Press published in February 2013, one month before they went out of business. I got my rights back for both books, but I was crushed.
Return to Finian Jahndra 1st and only printing from Cool Well Press
I didn't want those stories to die, so after discovering the online group Clean Indie Reads, I was motivated to self-publish the two books. Since our homeschool was Quinlan Creek Academy, I used the name Quinlan Creek Press. I had no idea how to market the books, but at least they were available.

After almost 25 years and 22 rejections, I finally sold a YA historical fiction near and dear to my heart to Pauline Books & Media in 2014: the story of "Good King Wenceslas" from the point of view of his servant, which was released in January 2016. I also sold another easy reader the same year. Persistence is so important in this crazy publishing business!

Meanwhile, my father had been diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2011, and to distract myself while I helped my mother care for him during his last eleven months, I gave myself a writing exercise. In 1988 I'd tried to write a fantasy novel, which didn't "work" even after three complete rewrites. So I threw away everything but the opening scene and asked the characters to tell me their story, not for publication but as an outlet for my grief. Chapter after chapter literally poured out. It was like watching a movie and trying to write it down as fast as I could.

By the time I reached chapter 80, I realized this was more than one book, and ended book one at chapter 43. I paid a content editor and a proofreader and was sending out queries to agents and publishers when suddenly and unexpectedly my cancer came back in early June 2015, with such excruciating pain my husband and I thought the doctor would tell us it was stage 4 and nothing to be done but pain control. So I found a pre-made cover, asked the designer to change a few things, and self-published Mercy's Prince (book one, which could stand alone) as my "good-bye" to family and friends.
Thankfully a different chemo put the Beast back in remission, but again chemo brain made it difficult to concentrate. Eighteen months later it's still a problem, but I've managed to publish books 2 and 3, have finished book 4, and am working on book 5 (the last in this YA Christian fantasy series).

Even though I never intended to self-publish, I can now say I am a hybrid author. I still struggle with marketing, but I give thanks to God daily for His mercy. My goal is simply to write stories my grandchildren can read after I'm gone. I used to think I wanted to be a best-selling children's author and win a Newbery Medal, but now I just write for the love of writing, and if someone reads and likes my books, that's just icing on this God-blessed cancer survivor cake.
My three greatest blessings--my grandchildren

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