My Road to Publication

My journey to publication, I believe, is an odd one, having some twists and turns that most writer’s paths don’t.

I’ve always been a writer in my soul, but it wasn’t until I turned forty that I decided it was time to get down to business.  I think part of the reason for my late start is that writing wasn’t really seen as a job when I was growing up.  You weren’t encouraged to be a writer.  It’s not a job you can apply for; it doesn’t offer a steady income.  Because of that, most writers have other jobs to pay the bills, one more complication that makes writing challenging.

But at forty I came to realize, most of the editors in those intimidating publishing houses were either my contemporaries, or younger than me, and somehow that made the proposition of approaching them less scary.  So, I sat down and wrote twelve novels.  Not all in one sitting, of course, but twelve full-length romance or romantic suspense novels.  After finishing the last, my hubby gently suggested I “do” something with them.

At this point, I decided it was time to learn how to write.  Yep, you heard me.  I wrote twelve books and then I decided to learn how to write.  Admittedly, kind of backwards, but, what’s a gal to do?  I took several steps to improve my writing, and they were invaluable.  I’d like to share those with you.

One of the first steps I took was becoming a member of my local RWA chapter (Romance Writers of America).  One of the great services they provide is group critiquing.  When I brought pages the first time, I was terrified.  In fact, I’m pretty much terrified to bring in pages every time we meet.  But the advice and encouragement I get helps me to become a better writer.  So, I suck it up, and pass out my pages. It is critical to find a group like this, or a really good critique partner.  Because, while you know what you intend to say, and you believe, wholeheartedly, that you’ve said it, until a reader, or readers, have read it, you don’t know for certain that you’ve made your message clear.

I also learned a lot from my chapter about the business of publication, about query letters and synopsizes, writing websites and blogs, agents and editors.  When I first came to the meetings, I felt like they were speaking a foreign language.  But now, I too, am fairly fluent in the language of publication.  One of the distinct advantages of being a writer is the way other writers are so open to helping you.  People who are further down the road than I am have constantly made efforts to pull me along with them.  The generosity of writers is amazing!

The next important step I took was attending a writers’ workshop.  The Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio is a weeklong workshop offering classes in the mornings, and seminar groups in the afternoon.  In the seminars you share your writing with a small group.  Taking an entire week devoted to my writing was wonderful for two reasons.  One, we seldom have a chunk of time like that to spend on our passion.  And two, equally important, it makes you feel committed to your work; it makes you feel like a writer.

While I learned a lot about writing in general at the Antioch Workshop, I learned a lot about romance writing at the RWA conference in Chicago earlier this spring. I learned from keynotes speakers who were successful romance writers.  I learned by pitching to editors and agents.  And I learned from the other attendees of the conference, who were on the journey with me.

Then, one fine day, one of the writer friends that I had developed sent out a submissions call to Crimson Romance.  I emailed a query letter and received a response quickly. Yesterday I published my first novel, “Taken by Storm.”

There are many different roads that lead to publication.   Tell us about your road. Was it bumpy, or unusually smooth?  What were the highlights?  What were the low points?  Who helped you along the way?

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Buy Taken by Storm at:  Crimson Romance & Amazon



     Hi, everyone!  This is M.J. Schiller, author of Taken by Storm, coming October fifteenth from Crimson Romance!  M.J. is the name I write under and my given name; but most call me Mary.  My mom, and a few others, call me Mary Jean.  But I’ve always seen myself as more of an M.J.  Sexy, don’t ya think?  I guess I imagine Peter Parker (otherwise known as Spiderman) and his girlfriend, M.J.  Besides, I always thought it was kind of cool when people went by their initials.  It’s like a nickname, and only popular people have nicknames, right?  Okay, a little pathetic, but I’m seeing this post as type of confessional, so hold on to your seat!

I am happily married to my college sweetheart, going on twenty-four years now.  We have a seventeen-year-old, Maggie, and three fifteen-year-olds, Mitch, Ryan, and Hannah, and yes, they are triplets!  And they all have their learning permits!  I’ve been their sole driving instructor thus far, but luckily they seem to be naturals.  Not that we haven’t had our share of hairy moments, but that’s to be expected. (My particular favorite is the wrong way down a one-way street.  Always gets the ol’ heart pumping!)

We live deep in the heartland, in Bloomington, IL and I am a lunch lady.  Great job!  You get your summers off and time to take a nap every day before the kids get home from school.  If I were to give you one physical characteristic to describe myself the one that springs to mind immediately is my abnormally short arms (don’t send me any T-Rex jokes, I’ve heard them all!)  My friends take great delight in this deformity and have been known to do imitations of me, waxing a car, playing volleyball, etc.  They think it’s hilarious.  I don’t let it bother me too much and have been known to shout out, when I’m in need of a little extra reach, “A little sympathy for the arm-length challenged?”

What’s my secret passion?  I used to think of writing as that, but now that’s pretty much out in the open.  Karaoke?  I love to karaoke and tend to stick to the rock music genre.  In fact, at least half of my books have rock star characters.  Karaoke is somewhat of a public passion, but I sing under assumed names, Gigi, Bambi, Fifi (I guess I like names that end in “I”), I even signed up under Snowflake around Christmas time.

I guess the one thing about myself that I’d never change is my off-beat sense of humor and positive attitude towards life.  Positive attitude can see you through a lot.

If I didn’t live in the flatlands of Central Illinois, where would I live?  Anywhere else!  No, just kidding.  Illinois is not that bad.  I’d choose the stereotypical gorgeous places, Hawaii, Ireland.  I think Ireland would be especially conducive to writing.

Do I write about where I live or where I’d like to live?  Well, I’ve written twelve different books and some take place in St. Louis, where I grew up, some take place in Ireland, New York, outer space, even.  I guess I go where the story takes me.

What’s the first creative writing I remember doing outside a class?  In second grade Mary Ellen Murphy and I wrote a spectacular book called, wait for it… “The Black Cat.”  It was an edge-of-your-seat thriller about a black cat that would appear at the same time the main character disappeared.  Oooh, mysterious!  It was written on blue hotel stationary, hole-punched, and bound with white yarn, as all of the best books are.

Why do I write romance novels?  I think it has to do with that whole positive attitude thing.  They all have happy endings.  I feel ripped off if I don’t get my happy ending!  I remember seeing a particular movie, some of you may have seen it, where the guy and the gal finally get all of their problems worked out and he walks into the Twin Towers and the desk calendar reads 9/11.  After two hours of trials and tribulations and our couple gets together only to have him blown up in the last seconds of the film.  I’m sorry people, but that’s bologna!  I walked out of that theater telling people, “Don’t see it!  It’s awful!”  And don’t get me started on Nicholas Sparks.  I love him, but I hate him!

What else do I write? Mostly romance, but a few romantic suspense novels, a sci-fi romance, and a couple of children’s books.  Someday I hope to write my memoir, too.  I’m going to title it: The Relgious Experience of a Mother of Four, subtitled:  How Triplets and a Two-Year-Old Brought Me to my Knees!

What one thing from Taken by Storm did I take from personal experience? Well, I’ve never been to the desert, so I guess it’s not that.  I think it would be the way Bashea and her brothers and sisters tease each other and repeat family stories.  That reminds me of my family whenever we get together.

What did I cut from my book that felt like severing a body part? I really didn’t cut anything, but there was this one scene.  I thought my hero, Tahj, was being playful, the editor thought he was being a jerk.  I had my writing group read it and while some agreed with me, there were enough that agreed with the editor that I ended up tweaking that scene.

Do I identify closely with one particular character? How? I have one book, I can’t share the title because I’m seeking permission to use a famous purse manufacturer’s name in the title.  I’ll just tell you that it’s called, “To Hell in a Blank Bag.”  It’s about four Midwest lunch ladies and their road trip to Colorado and what they learned along the way about life and love.  It’s semi-autobiographical (very semi) and I guess I sort of identify with Dani, one of the heroines.

The best part about my writing life is: CONTROL! I can make my characters do whatever I want.  (Keep in mind, I have four teenagers.  No one does what I want around here).

The worst part about my writing life is: having to “sell” myself, and by this I mean marketing.  I’ve never been a pushy person, or one to toot my own horn, so this simply isn’t my favorite part.

Give a hint about what the next book’s like:  Oooh!  My next book, coming sometime in January 2013, is titled, Trapped Under Ice.  It’s about a rock star that grew up in an abusive home and a, you got it, Midwest lunch lady.  Isn’t that a great pair?  Can you say “fantasy fulfillment?”

     Well, it’s been fun sharing today.  Thank you, Ladies in Red, for having me here.  It’s been a pleasure getting to know you all through this forum and I can’t wait to hear more from my soul mates in writing.

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