Another year over, and a new one’s just begun…
As 2022 comes to a close, I want to thank you, dear readers, for supporting my books. It’s been a busy year with the publication of two psychological thrillers from Bookouture—The House Sitter and The Good Wife, and my free short story, The Delivery. And 2023 promises to be just as exciting with two more books on the way. The new year is a time of reflection, and as I look back on my author journey so far, I can’t help but marvel at the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
It’s a marathon not a sprint. When I finished my first novel in 2014, I naively assumed that loads of readers would discover and love my book. As many first-time authors do, I had visions of bestseller lists and movie deals and standing-room-only book-signings. After quickly discovering that selling even one book was a victory, I had to adjust my expectations. Though overnight success stories do happen on occasion, it’s more likely that the first book is simply one step in the start of a long journey.
You need a little luck. But you won’t get lucky, if you don’t work hard. As the philosopher Seneca once said, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. For me, my sprinkle of pixie dust came in 2019, shortly after I had released my seventh full-length novel. An editor at Bookouture happened upon it and contacted me about writing a crime series. It was the opportunity I had been waiting for, and I seized the chance. Imagine if I had stopped writing after book one or two or five. Someone wise once advised me to just keep writing. I’m glad I listened.
The critics don’t count. My adolescent fantasies of authorship certainly didn’t include one-star reviews, and I wasn’t prepared for how much the criticism of others would hurt. Creating art in any form requires a piece of oneself, and even the most constructive critique can feel extremely personal. And rest assured, the critics will come. A quick scan of the reviews of any book on Amazon will attest to that. Over time, I realized that Teddy Roosevelt got it right—the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, sweat-stained and bloodied. Though it’s not always easy, I try not to let my critics keep me from daring greatly.
Writing isn’t always fun. There’s truth to what Hemingway said about writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. Writing feels like a blood-letting at times. One day the words come easy. The next, I stare at the screen for an hour typing, deleting, and retyping a single sentence. The process can be more of a slog than I ever expected, and some days, I want to sling my computer across the room. But the joy in the finished project; the excitement when new readers discover my work; the feeling of creating a story from scratch and moving people with my words—those are the things that make the struggle worth it.
Routine builds muscle. Writing truly is a muscle, and the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. When I first started writing, I often waited for inspiration to strike. It was usually a long wait—a no-win strategy, especially while balancing writing with a full-time job. Disciplining myself to write at least 500 words per day has made all the difference. Though 500 words may not seem like much, it adds up to a 60,000 word novel in just four months. And those words I wrote while inspired? In the end, they don’t sound any different from the ones I barely eked out.
Inspiration is everywhere. Psychologists are professional voyeurs. Especially forensic psychologists like myself. Within minutes of meeting a client, I am expecting them to let the light touch the darkest corners of themselves. Sometimes, that means uttering stories they haven’t spoken aloud to anyone. Ever. Lucky for me, writing fiction also demands voyeuristic skill. My curiosity about the lives of others began early. People watcher. Eavesdropper. Reality TV show junkie. I do it all. Those stolen glances and snippets of conversation help me to create rich characters and believable dialogue.
There’s got to be a reason. All my life I’ve been driven by a quest for success—that seemingly elusive feeling I have accomplished something. That quest motivated me to leave a small town in Texas to attend Duke University; to obtain a doctoral degree; and to become a board certified forensic psychologist. For a long time, it seemed I had discovered a trusty roadmap for my quest. The more effort I put forth, the harder I worked at something, the quicker the path to success seemed to unfold. Then, I started writing books. And, suddenly, it seemed there was a giant boulder, an insurmountable brick wall, a total roadblock in my quest for success. Though I had long dreamed of being an author, I never imagined what would come afterward: the search for a publisher, the marketing, the selling, the reviews, the self-inflicted pressure to write more books, the complete and utter anonymity of my book in a vast sea of millions more just like it. I felt completely ineffectual. My best efforts, my hardest work, seemingly went unrewarded.
It’s a lesson I continue to learn every day, even as I’ve achieved more objective successes and published a total of fourteen books. Success is relative. It’s an ever-moving and slippery target. But success is not the point of the journey. The journey is the point. Take it from one who knows.