Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Do You Dream of Fame and Fortune

Today, my guest is author Judy Alter. Judy is the author of fiction and nonfiction for adults and young-adults. Having spent much of her career writing about women in the American West, she has turned her attention to mystery. Today, she considers what constitutes success for a writer.

When do you consider yourself an author? And how do you define success as an author? The late Dorothy Johnson (A Man Called Horse, The Hanging Tree, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance—you have to be old to remember those) used to say you were a writer until you published a book and then you became an author. I know for years, even after I’d published books, I’d look over my shoulder when someone asked “You’re an author?” I was sure they were talking to someone behind me.

And how do you define success as an author? For most of us that first book means success—you’re a published author. But as we grow and continue to write, our goals move ahead just enough to keep us always striving. There’s that first major award, the breakthrough book, always a new step to be taken. I read that Blackbird Fly, which I really enjoyed, was Lise McClendon’s first venture into suspense (she did very well!), and Rosemary Harris recently posted that she’s writing her first novel with an omniscient point of view, after having written several from first person view. Both were challenges.

When I fretted, early in the first decade of this century, that my writing was stalled, a straightspoken friend asked, “Did you ever consider you’ve had as much success as you were meant to have?” No, I’d never considered that and didn’t intend to. I thought my success pretty moderate in spite of a lot of titles in print and several awards hanging on my wall. I wasn’t rich, and I wasn’t famous—as I tell school kids all the time. But is that really the goal?

My next goal became to write a publishable mystery. This was a big challenge for me because I’d been writing mostly biographical fiction—the story is laid out for you. One of my sons once said, “Mom writes historical fiction because she’s so poor at plotting”—thank you, Jamie! In a mystery, you control the plot—or you listen to your characters when they tell you what’s going to happen (some authors debate that but most believe in listening to your character). One of the best pieces of advice I ever got came from the prolific mystery author Susan Wittig Albert—she advised me to join Sisters in Crime and then the Agent Quest and Guppies lists. Over four years or so, I’ve gotten a great education from these groups and come to realize that the world of mysteries is far different from the world of westerns which I’d earlier inhabited.

Now my mystery has launched but I have new goals: I want Skeleton in a Dead Space to be the first in a series and, having visited Scotland recently, I’d like to do a contemporary mystery with historical roots back to the battle of Culloden—and involving my ancestors from Clan MacBean. That, though, would be an enormous challenge—sweeping history, maybe time travel. I don’t know what direction it would take.

Now retired and taking life much easier, I find another change in my goals. I’m not quite as ambitious, determined, driven, whatever you want to say. I want to be at my computer, but I am training a three-month-old puppy, taking care of a five-year-old after school, feeding my family and friends, and maintaining a lunch and dinner social life. I write two blogs and spend some time twice a day on Facebook, less on Twitter. I don’t feel the compulsion to make every minute count toward my goal. But, yes, I still consider myself an author—maybe a mom and grandmom first.

We all dream of fame and fortune, but it will elude most of us. What are your realistic goals?

Find Judy at www.judyalter.com, or read her blogs at http://www.judy’s-stew.blogspot.com and http://potluckwithjudy.blogspot.com . Skeleton in a Dead Space is available from Amazon, Smashwords or Turquoise Morning Press .

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Jan Morrison said...

Yes, for awhile I do, then I get to work! Mysteries are fun to write and I plan on getting back to mine just as soon as I have this pesky mainstream novel wrapped up! Yay for the writing life!

Karen C said...

I'm retired and the goals I have now are to stay healthy and to enjoy myself as much as possible.