“You want to be a writer, don’t know how or when?
Find a quiet place, use a humble pen.” Paul Simon
Have you noticed how many terrific local authors live in our midst?
Published just recently are novels by Craig Smith (“Lies that Bind”) and David Kerns (“Fortnight on Maxwell Street”) plus “how to” books by Andy Demsky (“Unleash Your Inner Tudor”) and Rabbi Niles Goldstein (“God at the Edge & Gonzo Judaism”). That’s just the tip of the literary renaissance burgeoning in the Napa Valley.
Quiet places and humble pens aside, I can’t ever imagine harnessing the energy, patience, focus, determination and confidence needed to scribe, publish, market and flaunt one’s creation — for a lifetime.
My Napa friend, Teri Stevens, began her creative writing journey seven years ago. It was a way to step outside of raising three kids (at the time, all under the age of three), and change pace from the business-related marketing she had done professionally for many years.
“Initially, I took an online course in children’s writing and then joined a women’s writing group in Marin,” Stevens said. “Six years later, Write on Mamas is now a nonprofit, with an anthology published in 2014 and a second one appearing this year.”
I asked Stevens about the genesis of her desire to tackle a book:“Secretly, I’ve always wanted to,” she said. “I think it started in high school when I became an avid Stephen King fan. My tastes have definitely changed, but I’ve grown to appreciate good writing, a great plot and books that leave you thinking about the characters well after you’ve finished. You know — when you read a book and don’t want it to end.”
While Stevens has landed on a target demographic (upper middle grades, girls, ages 10 to 14), story line (summer camp mystery with a ghost plot twist) and title (“Mackenzie’s Ring”), getting there has not been without its challenges.
“I’ve been working on the book for at least three years, if not more,” Stevens said. “I’ve attended several author talks where they addressed ways in which they’ve found time to write. But while I’ve tried, I’ve never been successful about a routine. Something always got in the way. Last year, I thought either I’m going to finish the book or stop.”
“A writer friend shared that she gets up early to work on her manuscript. As the mom of three elementary school-aged children, I’m exhausted by the end of the day so I can’t write then. Most of my after-school hours are filled with homework and shuttling the kids to and from practices, playdates and after-school activities. Now, I’m finding that getting up at six in the morning gives me the gift of an hour, and that has definitely shaped my process.”
Stevens recently attended a three-day writing conference in Las Vegas under the auspices of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. While there, she read the first 500 words of her book to fellow attendees (plus an agent) and received valuable critiques and suggestions.
“My mentor handed me my manuscript, marked up with comments,” Stevens said. “I reviewed them, and then we met to go over her questions about my direction. This proved really insightful and invaluable. We also worked on our ‘elevator pitch,’ and delivered it to a panel of three agents for critiquing in front of the entire conference. It was nerve-wracking but totally worth the feedback. One of the best parts of the weekend was being surrounded by fellow writers whose goal is to craft their own unique story.”
Stevens is now inspired “to cross the finish line,” find an agent (who can secure a publisher) and through many layers of marketing, help grow an audience for the title.
While cheering for Stevens, I’m much more inclined to emulate the technique of comedian Steven Wright: “I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done!”