The launch of my first book at the weekend was a tremendous success. The good vibes and happy feelings continue to ripple outward. This post is for all those who were unable to attend the event in person. Even my close-knit family and best friends were unaware of the ‘whole story’ of my journey so far as a writer. This address was my chance to step out of the shadows of my writer’s cave, and share what it’s taken for me to get this book ready for the world….
A long time ago, I had a dream of being a writer and publishing a book.
When you are living the creative life, you carry this little torch inside, of hope that your work will reach the public one day and make a difference. You’ll get to stand up and be counted.
I set a glass ceiling for myself, when I wrote my first novel at the age of 17 that I would get a book deal.
At the age of twenty, I took a writing course. I remember the tutor, Maria, said to me, “Put down your pen, and stop writing. You’re too young. Go out and live your life, then you can write about it.”
I did my best. I raised my son. I studied fashion design and photography, I managed a bar in town and a drycleaners, among other things. Yet, in my spare time, I was always writing. Sorry, Maria, but I never gave up.
From the time I moved home in my late twenties to live with my parents and work on my fiction, to the time I spent writing on the side-line while raising my children, to writing as an escape from the gruelling anxiety over my boys’ health troubles – steadily working on the craft has ever formed the backdrop of my life. Writing and submitting stories and being rejected a hundred times. Year-after-year, I persevered.
Initially, I wrote chapter books for early readers. Then I moved on to writing and illustrating my own picture books. I have a number of beautifully-painted manuscripts stacked in boxes underneath my desk from those days.
That book deal, you see, was proving elusive.
In 2005, I attended a children’s writing workshop with Kate de Goldi. Kate challenged me to decide what I was, an illustrator or a writer. She wanted me to choose a path.
I chose writing. I stopped illustrating then, not out of slavish abeyance but because I really felt in my bones she was right. And looking back, I realise I needed to do just that. It’s a powerful thing to pinpoint ones focus.
In that workshop of 2005, Kate asked us to write non-stop for a regular period each day. To my surprise, I found I was writing a novel for 9-13 year olds. I didn’t have to worry about continuity. Every time I picked up my pen, the story would carry on from where it left off. The story flowed, and the characters that came out in this fully-formed world were the same insects who had peopled my picture books, but they were slightly older.
I wrote every night after the kids were in bed, from then on, and for the next few years. I ended up with a vast epic, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, which I chopped into three. ‘The Or’in of Tane Mahuta’ is the first book in that trilogy.
Then, I ventured into the world of social media. I started my online group, “Writing for Children,” and my American friends encouraged to set up a website, to start my own blog and to join with writing partners and online critique groups.
Because the development of this book was done through critique and endless rounds of edits with my American friends, the terms, the spelling, everything gradually evolved, and what started out as a fantasy adventure firmly rooted in an alternate NZ became a story more and more suited for the American market, making this story a rare hybrid.
When I finished work the first time on this book, I sent it to acclaimed kiwi author, Fleur Beale, for her assessment. She said, ‘Excellent story, but lose the insects!’
I couldn’t lose the insects because it was the fact that The Chronicles of Aden Weaver was set in this microscopic world that made it so unique and interesting. However I came up with a new concept – of making the characters shape-shifters – able to move between human and insect form.
Eighteen months later, after a major overhaul of the script, I met Frances Plumpton, NZ representative of The Society of Children’s Writers and Book Illustrators. I gave the Tane Mahuta novel to her to assess. I’ll never forget what she said. “Every writer has that book in their bottom drawer that should never see the light of day. This is that book.”
My next writing partner was an author and musician. He said, my story “went clunk” and “sounded like the equivalent of riding over cobblestones on a horse.” His advice was scrap the whole thing and start again. And so it went on. The knocks in this business are legendary.
In fact, there’s a wonderful site, called literary rejections dot com where I discovered I was not alone. To name a few, Louisa May Alcott, who wrote Little Women, was told “Stick to teaching.” Richard Bach, author of Jonathon Livingston Seagull was told, “Nobody will want to read a book about a seagull.” L. Frank Baum was told, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, was “Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.”
Thankfully those authors didn’t listen to the naysayers! And neither did I….
Though a couple of years ago, I went through yet another crushing defeat that did stop me in my tracks for a minute. I had submitted this book to an international contest for the prize of publication. I didn’t hear back from them. Then, on their website, the organizers said, those who don’t hear back are the finalists. Whoopee! This was cause for great jubilation! Until upon further enquiry, I discovered that not only had I not made it to the finals, but the organisers had not received the manuscript at all, due to my fatal error in calculating the time difference between countries.
In my mind, I had thought I was this close to breaking through that glass ceiling. Instead I was back at square one. AGAIN. Devastated, I fell into a black hole that lasted for seven days.
At the end of that week, I got a phone-call. I heard my mother’s voice. She said, “The darkest hour always comes before the dawn. You may think all is lost right now, but it isn’t. This is just the start of great things opening up for you. You’ll see!”
Ma, I always hoped you’d be here for this, and yet I know you’re here in spirit.
Even though my mother was failing in her later years, she always knew when to ride in on the silver horse!
I have to thank my parents for so much. I know that my journey to publication has been a long and winding road. And yet mum and dad still believed.
When, as a writer you feel everything is taking too long, and the frustration mounts, there’s this expectation of you and yet you’re not delivering, you could literally wallpaper your house with the rejection letters – you actually do need more than financial assistance to keep going sometimes, you need love. My parents gave me both.
Thank you to my father for driving up from Rotorua just to be here today. Thank you to those who have postponed personal milestones to help me celebrate mine. To you I say I am humbly grateful. Thank you to my friends for your patience, for putting up with me when I miss all the get-togethers, or on the rare occasion I do show up, that I’m always the first to leave. Thank you, Simon, for bringing Aden Weaver to life. I really appreciate you all being here to help me mark this moment, this crossing of the threshold. I am sure a great many of you – don’t worry I don’t need a show of hands – had begun to wonder if I’d ever publish anything. You might have been forgiven for wondering if this day would ever come.
The only reason this day is here now is because I stopped waiting to be picked up by a traditional publisher. Along the way, I had realized my glass ceiling was holding me down. So I let it go. I let the dream of a book deal go, but I didn’t let go of the book, nor the insects, nor the vision of how I wanted it to be. The dream is still alive in a new form, and it’s even better, I have total creative control.
One of my writing tutors, Bob Mayer, once said, “Failure is the start point for future success.”
Hugh Howey had ten novels in print before he published “Wool” which became a big hit. The estate of Jack London, the House Of Happy Walls displays some of the 600 rejections he received before selling a single story.
In other words, the only thing that separates the published from the unpublished author is deep determination and a touch of insanity. Lucky for me, I’m endowed with both.
It was Sir Winston Churchill who once said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
By those standards, I’ve been WINNING for the last 33 years!
A long time ago, I had a dream…of being a writer and publishing a book. Today that dream has become a reality! Thank you for being here with me to witness this moment.
Yvette K. Carol
Awaken to the brilliance in ordinary moments. Tell the truth about yourself no matter what the cost. Own your reality without apology. Be bold , be fierce, be grateful. Be gloriously free. Be You. Go now,and live” Jeanette LeBlanc.