Monday, June 17, 2019

Becoming Dee - A Writer's Journey ~ by Dee Stewart

I started writing at age thirteen. It’s a tough age for a girl. In Florida at the time, it was the first year you had to dress out during PE, and it was traumatic. At least it was for me. You begin to notice that you’re not as thin or pretty as other girls. No way was I going to undress and take a shower in front of my classmates! I stuck my arm in the water, and that was it. It was also the age I realized that not everyone liked me. Was it because I was fifteen pounds heavier than I should have been? Was it because I wore glasses? Or was it because I was smart? I never knew; no one ever told me why.

The truth is, the boys made better friends back then. Far less judgmental. Reading was my escape from the horrors of being a teenage girl, but I needed something else. So, I started to create my own stories. As a huge fan of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden (does anyone remember her and the Bobwhites?), I wrote what I knew – how to be a teenage detective with a wonderful family and a group of loyal friends. But then when I was fifteen, I was introduced to my first historical romance – Kathleen Woodiwiss’ incomparable The Flame and the Flower – by one of my best friends, Hollie. After that, I was hooked on the genre.

I read all the popular authors back in the day – Woodwiss, McBain, Busbee, Rogers, Small, Sherwood, Vandergriff, and McNaught, among others. I used to save my lunch money in order to buy a novel at the end of the week. The cost of a four-hundred-page novel? $1.95 at B. Dalton bookstore! I absorbed the formula for a great romance and finished my first romantic suspense novel my junior year of high school called A Ray of Golden Sunshine which I wrote in the first person point of view and abandoned after that. I discovered I preferred the third person point of view instead. Beloved Forever, set at a ski resort, followed the romance between Nicole and Chris, and I completed it my senior year. Writing was my secret; no one knew what I was doing in my room for hours at a time. My parents thought I was studying. The best present they gave me for my sixteenth birthday was an electric typewriter.

Finding time to write became more difficult as I attended the University of South Florida and majored in English Education. I taught five-year-olds in Sunday School, too, which also demanded my time. But I managed to write A Masquerade of Love during those four years. And then came my own romance and marriage as I started my teaching career. Other writers claim that music is their inspiration, and it is also true for me. Back in 1983, Barry Manilow released a song called “Read ‘Em and Weep,” and one line in it struck my imagination: Oh it's there in my eyes/And coming straight from my heart/It's running silent and angry and deep. I thought about what would cause those feelings – betrayal. Thus, the most complex heroine I created at that time was born – Sabrina Williams. An heiress to a fortune caught between two men – Jeff, the wholesome boy-next-door whose close-knit relationship with his family she envies, and Nicholas, the rich, arrogant, coldhearted man who scorns everything and everyone (sound familiar? Yeah, he’s based on those heroes in historical romances!). She loves both men for different reasons. Jeff makes her feel safe and secure while Nicholas taps into her wild, passionate nature. In the end, her love changes Nicholas into a better, though not flawless, man. It took seven years to write that novel I titled Emerald Fury while I focused on my career and gave birth to my son.

Time passed, and I continued to write. Some manuscripts took several years to write while others took a matter of a few months. And then I met someone whose friendship changed my life – fellow indie author and teacher MJ Nightingale. We met at the high school where we both taught in the English department. She was the first person with whom I felt comfortable sharing my writing. After she published several novels independently, she encouraged me to give it a try. So I did. She taught me how to use Facebook (ugh), introduced me to my formatter, and showed me how to upload my manuscript to KDP. MJ also took time out of her busy schedule and family life to design teasers for all of my books. I learned how to use Depositphotos and Picmonkey, but she’s far better at graphics than I am! It’s been nearly a year since I published my first contemporary romance – Logan’s Choice. Six books later, I have learned a great deal about writing - (I have to stop thinking like an English teacher for one); I actually pitched a book to an agent and it was accepted, though I realized later it would have been rejected because it’s a spinoff of my Choice series, so I didn’t follow through; I have done several author takeovers in groups (MJ was with me during the first one which was more nerve-wracking than facing my first class as a new teacher); I’ve joined promotional groups, navigating the murky waters of marketing which is far more frustrating than writer’s block; I joined a local writers’ circle through the wife of someone my husband works with (it’s amazing how that worked out); I’ve done two author events at local libraries; and along the way I have met amazing, supportive friends through Facebook.

The first time I held the print version of Logan’s Choice in my hands, I cried. I couldn’t help it. Seeing my work in a published form overwhelmed me with emotion. Even if I never become a household name, I have that moment. It’s mine. Forever. And if my books brighten someone’s day, that’s good enough for me. I love what Henry David Thoreau said in Walden. “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours…”

That is my message and my hope for others. Follow your dreams. You never know where they may take you.

Listen to Dee Stewart's episode here.

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