Friday, January 09, 2009

Writing Journey: Part I

I often get asked how I began writing and how I got published, so this post is the beginning of a series I'll do (probably about once a week) chronicling the journey thus far.

As my readers surely know, I've always loved books and language. Being the child of a bibliophile and a linguist, I suppose that was inevitable.

When my older sister began tinkering with stories, I became fascinated and tried my hand at it. I don't remember exactly how old I was when I began writing, but one novel (Raymond's Runaways, never completed) was in third grade, and I had begun at least Mean Marvin the Mouse before that. I figure second grade was when the bug bit me.

I've never been the same.

I regularly piled pillows and blankets on a chair to reach my mother's typewriter, and was thrilled when she got a self-correcting brand that even beeped when you misspelled a word. I got pretty fast at typing, albeit hunt-and-pecking. (Learning how to type properly helped in that area, as did being a secretary in college, which is why I cannot write longhand; it's just too slow!)

As I'ved mentioned many times, when I was ten, my family moved to Finland for a few years. My older sister once again provided inspiration when she began filling a prebound journal with beauty advice. I decided to create my own book, so I holed up in my bedroom and created an advice book about things I knew about.

I called it Helpful Hints for Kids. It was filled with chapters about making and saving money, babysitting, getting along with siblings, and more—everything I considered myself knowledgeable enough to write about. I cut out pictures from magazines for illustrations, made colorful borders with markers, and even included a page "About the Author."

About a year later, Ardeth G. Kapp came to visit the Young Women in Finland. Several days after that, as I drove to the mall with my mother, she broke the news that, oh, by the way my book was in America.

I pretty much freaked out. Turns out that Sister Kapp read it, liked it, and brought it back to Utah so she could take it to Deseret Book. Weeks passed, and I learned that over lunch with an editor, she had pitched the book. They thought that while it was a great idea, they didn't have a big enough market to make it profitable. Considering LDS literature was in its infancy at the time, that was an understatement.

But they didn't leave me empty-handed. They offered to feature me and it in the children’s magazine The Friend as part of the "Making Friends" department. The article appeared about a year later. The article was titled, "Annette Luthy of Helsinki, Finland." By the time it came out, I was both no longer in Finland and no longer in Primary and hence no longer the target age for the magazine. But they paid me fifty dollars and sent me ten complimentary copies, so I certainly didn't mind. (And okay, yes, I was hooked. I got paid for something I wrote. Sort of.)

Over the next several years, I continued to dabble with stories. I kept working on a fantasy novel I started in Finland and transferred it to the very first computer that entered our home back in the States. My dad promised to get some floppy disks to make a back-up copy, and the very day he came home with the disks, a bug had gotten into the file. I lost all but the first 32 lines out of eight chapters.

I was devastated. As a result, I am to this day back-up copy crazy. I will never again lose that kind of work.

Years later, my high school creative writing teacher assigned a 22-page screenplay, the equivalent length of a sitcom. A friend paired up with me, and we got permission to write double the amount for the assignment on a single screenplay. We decided to adapt one of our favorite novels to the screen. When the 44-page assignment was completed, the screenplay wasn't, and we determined we had to finish it. We did just that over the summer after high school graduation, when we parted ways, going to different colleges.

During vacations and summers, we went to work on our next project, a novelization of Rumpelstiltskin. Since we had much less time available to us, this project took significantly longer. We didn't finish drafting the book until after I got married, and we continued revising for a few years beyond that when we were both in the same state at the same time.

Shortly after our wedding, my husband regularly heard about my aspirations for publication.

"One of these days I'm going to be a published writer," he heard again and again.

"Have you ever submitted anything?" he finally asked.

"Uh, no."

"Then how do you ever expect to be published?"

Point taken.

Fact was, I didn't have the slightest clue how to submit something for publication. So I began to learn. I went to some free publication workshops at the university (hadn't graduated yet). Even though our budget was the size of a Q-tip, I splurged and bought a copy of Writer's Market. For Christmas, hubby bought a subscription to Writer's Digest. What a guy. (The gift that keeps on giving . . . I’ve never let my subscription expire.)

When I first got serious, he challenged me to submit something for publication by the following Monday. I agreed on the threat of a tickle-torture if I didn't meet the deadline. I grew up with a brother who put the “torture” into “tickle torture,” so such a threat was plenty motivation. On Friday, I realized that Monday was Labor Day—and the post office would be closed. Which meant I had to get the thing mailed off Saturday or risk torture.

I begged for an extra day, but my husband just smiled.

"By Monday. That was our agreement. Unless you want a tickle torture . . ."

I scrambled and got the thing mailed off Saturday.

I knew even as I mailed the short story that it didn't really fit the magazine I was sending it to. I got ready for my first rejection slip, figuring that it would mean I was at least on the road toward success. It would also mean I had one less rejection to earn before I got an acceptance.

The rejection came. I kept writing and submitting.

That was Labor Day weekend of 1994. As you can imagine, a ton has happened since then.

Which I’ll start going into next time . . .

35 comments:

Shelle-BlokThoughts said...

Some day I will follow through with actually sending something in! Congrats on finding something you LOVED so much at an early age!

Can't wait to read more on this ongoing series!

Larsens said...

My writing ended in elementary school when I turned in a paper called:"Country I would like to visit". My country of choice was Africa. When I got the paper back, the teacher had responded to my title saying:"Africa is not a country". I felt defeated. End of writing for me. I still have that paper.

Rebecca said...

I'm excited about reading posts on your writing journey!

This is really interesting. I'm sure my kids would love the one you wrote as a child.

I can't wait for the next installment!

Lara said...

So interesting! I am excited to read more and more about your journey.

I love that Sister Kapp loved your book so much. Too bad, because nowadays it probably would have been picked up, and how many kids are published before the age of 12?

Sue said...

This is fascinating Annette. I can't wait to read the rest of it.

Sher said...

Yeah, I'm so excited that you're sharing your writing history with us. I've always wondered how people get started.

Kristina P. said...

Very interesting! I have been reading some author's blogs lately and the process they go through to get published. Can't wait to read the rest!

Erin said...

This is really exciting to read about! I'm so sorry you lost your eight chapters before you could back up. I look forward to the next segment in this series, and I'm on my way to check out the Friend article right now.

Heather B. Moore said...

Very interesting! Keep it coming :)

Becky said...

I miss Ardeth Kapp as YW president. What a sweet lady. Love this post!

Heffalump said...

I have wanted to be a published author since I was in first grade. My problem is actually finishing something, let alone turning it in for publication!
Thanks for sharing your story. I look forward to reading the rest of it!

Stephanie Black said...

It's so fun to see how you got your start! I'm looking forward to the next installment.

the letter Bee said...

I love it! I can't wait for the next installment.

Josi said...

I love people's writing stories! Can't wait for the rest.

Jami said...

I love reading writers writing about their writing. It just seems so right.

Jenn said...

I can't wait to hear more!
What a story.

Summer said...

Tickle torture is the best kind of motivation on me too. :)

Marivic_Little GrumpyAngel said...

This is really fascinating. I'm dying to know more. You are just one of those people who was born to be a writer. So talented from a really young age.

That Girl in Brazil said...

Thanks to you I'm still in my pajamas and late for a meeting ... not that I care!

I LOVED this post.

I have several short stories and novel outlines - but every time I get serious about sending something, Low Self-Esteem Becky takes over, and I hit myself over the head for being so ambitious.

Did I mention I loved this post?!

Luisa Perkins said...

I love your tenacity; it inspires me. Thanks!

samiam said...

I've never heard this in its entire version (although part of it is my writing history too--Miss Wynn would be so proud!). I'm excited for the rest!

Heather of the EO said...

I love it that you've always loved to write and that your husband had to push a little to remind you to submit something. And even if you were rejected at first, you continued to try. Such a bumpy road, but I'm assuming it's worth the wait. (: I'll look forward to more.

Julie Wright said...

good spouses are a must for any writer! Loved reading about this and can't wait for more!

Melanie J said...

That story about Sister Kapp is cool!

I think the first thing I remember writing was an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz that I forced my classmates to perform at recess. I was an odd child...

Amanda D said...

I love hearing your writing journey! It's so interesting. Thanks for sharing!

Heidi Ashworth said...

Hmmm, when you were just a kid with your family's first self-correcting typewriter, I was out of high schoo and a secretary! Augh! That makes me feel so old. Boy, but I loved that daisy wheel!

Tristi Pinkston said...

This is so fun to read! I'm glad you're doing this.

And I loved the article about you!

Alison Wonderland said...

What they all said.

(You know, I have to comment but have nothing significant to add.)

Scribbit said...

What a great story--I'm looking forward to the rest.

I had no idea you were so young when you started!

Kimberly said...

This is fascinating, Annette. Can't wait to read the rest!

Pink Ink said...

This is great, Annette. What a wonderful start at ten. I can relate to the conversations with your husband. :-)

Mina said...

How wonderful to read the story of your beginnings with writing. Even more wonderful knowing that you have and continue to fulfill that dream.

Anna Maria Junus said...

What a great post. And to have a success so early! Now how did Sister Kapp get your book?

Annette Lyon said...

Anna Maria, In a moment of mommy bragginess, my mom told her about it and then showed it to her--and then when Sister Kapp expressed interest in pitching it, handed it over. Kinda fun! Mom's still my biggest cheerleader.

An Ordinary Mom said...

I am hooked ... when can I expect part 2?!

(And why has it taken me so long to add you to my Blog Roll ... silly me, I thought you were there long ago!)

Coming Soon: Firsts and Lasts

UPDATE: Firsts and Lasts is now live as an ebook, and it'll soon be available in paperback as wel! Get the ebook HERE . I've got s...