Hello from the Missouri Ozarks, and thanks for having me here today.
Like those of you who hang out here, I grew up with a book in my hand most of the time. My writing odyssey began in the early 1980’s when I started to write stories rather than just read them.
No computer No internet.
Just a three-ring binder of notebook paper, a typewriter and carbon paper. I wore out two typewriters.
The life of a minister’s wife is not always the most private. You get “critiqued” a lot. Writing began as my private haven, my craft. My ministry was working alongside my pastor husband, with my personal roles being primarily in the area of music—choir directing, accompanying, singing, playing the trumpet, ventriloquism, whatever was needed.
I joined RWA and attended a national conference in Minneapolis. I began to experience near misses and collect rejections. I completed ten manuscripts.
At one time I had four manuscripts with a publisher. Then they cancelled that line.
Life got busier, the kids got older and more involved, and the churches got bigger and more time consuming. Uncertainty and futility won. I boxed up the manuscripts and put them in storage.
Years later I retired. Then I started over. But this time, since I like to read mysteries and had trouble finding them without smut and vulgarity, I began writing them. I wrote three 90K books. And then shelved them because I couldn’t find a home for them.
A few months later I dug out the old romance manuscripts and went through them. Ugh! HUMBLING! I don’t know how I got as many nibbles as I did. I completely rewrote some of them—new settings and storylines, but utilizing the characters and backstories I had previously created. A couple of the oldies got trashed. A couple more are still sitting on the shelf.
As time passed, the writing became an adjunct to my ministry. The manuscripts and rejections accumulated. Then Judy, a friend at church, took a special interest in my writing. She asked to read one of my manuscripts. Then another. And another. Everything I had. She became my first reader, proofreader, and encourager. She read everything I wrote. And believed in me!
Questioning whether I would ever be published, a scripture verse came to my mind—and lodged. “Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 18:19
Could I do that? I lacked courage, but I couldn’t chase that scripture out of my brain. So one day I asked Judy if she would claim that promise with me. She not only gave me an emphatic YES, but assured me that her mother, a prayer warrior, would join us. From that point on the three of us were united in petitioning God for my books to find a publisher. And more ladies of the church asked to read what I was writing.
For the first two years all I did was enter contests, garnering feedback and using it to improve the manuscripts. I placed second in a couple of contests. My critiques got better—much better. Then I began to submit. Things seemed brighter, more promising. I had a request for a complete from Heartsong Presents. It was under consideration when the line was cancelled. Major blow!
At that point, in spite of my prayer pact, I questioned whether it really was time to quit. How many times could I get this far, be knocked down, and get back up? But, gripped in the passion of writing, and with another project already underway, I couldn’t abandon it. So I kept writing. And waited for another opportunity.
Then Harlequin bought the Heartsong Presents line, and I queried Kathy Davis.
Now let me back up here. In my early years of scribbling, my mother read all my books. Then, after a time when I had been grilling her about her experiences growing up in the Great Depression, she typed up some notes for me. Back then most historical books were set before the turn of the century, so those notes went in a file. Five years ago I lost my mother. Several months later I pulled out those notes. I decided the time had come to use them.
I wrote a historical set it in the Great Depression, fictionalizing the small town of my girlhood and characterizing a heroine with the help of my mother’s notes. After a long wait, during which I wrote the two books that follow it, the sale of the series seemed almost prophetic in timing. The message saying the series had been given a YES arrived on Hubby’s birthday. The contract arrived on the anniversary of Mom’s death. Tentatively titled Ozark Courtship, the first book is supposed to release in March of 2014. The sequels are to follow in June and September.
Funny fact. (At least I think it’s funny.) The third book is about the coming of electricity to the rural areas. That’s what I was writing when the ice storm put us without power for eight days. Chapter 8 and about half of 9 were hand written by the light of an oil lamp. Now that was an IN-DEPTH research experience.
At this point my prayer is simply that God will help me write stories that honor Him. And if they should touch hearts, I say, “Thank you, God, for using me in this small way.”
I don’t know how long you’ve been writing, but if it’s been any length of time, I’m sure you’ve experienced your share of rejections and disappointments. But no matter how weary and discouraged you may become, it won’t EVER happen if you quit. And it CAN be done. I’m living proof that it can.
Just wishing won’t get you to publication. It takes HARD WORK and PERSEVERANCE. And be CONSISTENT. Work on your project regularly, even if it’s only a little. It adds up!
God’s timing may not be what you want. But stick with it.
Have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish. Set reachable goals and be consistent about working toward them.
Be alert for opportunities. Read and keep up with the publishing world. Attend conferences and establish relationships with other writers. Never stop learning. Soak up all the tips you can find. Read craft books. Enter contests. Get critiques.
Write, write, write. Submit, submit, submit. Then write and submit some more. Keep reaching for the dream.
Find yourself a Judy, someone who will not only believe in you, but will covenant with you in prayer. Remember Matthew 18:19.
The coffee pot’s ready. So have a cup and talk to us.
Do you have critique partners? Support groups? A prayer partner?
More about Helen:
Helen Gray lives in a small in the Missouri Ozarks. She began writing years ago when her children were small and she worked full-time. Some writing skills were taught in her high school business education classes. She is a member of ACFW and has spent over twenty years developing her fiction writing through entering, judging, and finaling in contests, attending writers’ conferences, and networking with other writers through online groups and blogs. You can connect with her on Facebook.
The working title of Helen Gray's debut release from Heartsong Presents is Ozark Courtship. It's scheduled to release in March, 2014.
Today Seekerville is giving away a package of Heartsong Presents releases to one commenter, in honor of Helen's first sale and her commitment to making our coffee each day even though she doesn't even drink it. Now that's perseverance.
Harlequin Heartsong Presents is…
The Waltons or Christy or Love Comes Softly series, for their solid stories and characters, with sweet romance and a level of Christian faith at the core.
Did You Know?
There are 4 new Heartsong Presents books available each month.Two historical and two contemporary romances.
If you are interested in writing for the Harlequin Presents line you can find more information here,