This blog was scheduled to appear on another mystery author’s site this week, but life interferes, so I am substituting as my own guest. Let me hear from you.
by Sharon Ervin
Harold Keith was once the unofficial dean of college sports information directors. While S.I.D. at the University of Oklahoma, he wrote middle-reader books, even won a Newbery Prize for RIFLES FOR WATIE in 1958.
In 1961, I became the first woman sports editor of The Oklahoma Daily, the OU student newspaper. Mr. Keith was my mentor and friend.
Many years after I graduated and he retired, I ran into Mr. Keith at a novel writing short course at OU’s continuing education center, in the parking lot, actually. He asked if I had written a book.
No. I wanted to write a book, but had decided after that first day at the short course, that I didn’t belong among all those published folk when I didn’t have a clue how to go about it. Discouraged, I planned to skip the two remaining days and drive the 120 miles home. My husband Bill was working and juggling our four children and their many activities. It wasn’t fair to him for me to be off wasting time.
Mr. Keith, who was to be a celebrity guest at the staff reception that afternoon, said he hated to go inside alone. Would I keep him company.
Inside, we didn’t have much opportunity to talk as he was swallowed up immediately by staff people, agents, editors, writers, and other guests. Soon, however, he came weaving through the mob, bringing me a cup of punch as if I were someone worthy of celebrity attention. My morale leaped.
Between interruptions, we caught up. He asked and I told him a little about the book I imagined but felt incompetent to create. He said he knew my work, had watched my writing develop during my years at the university and on newspapers later.
“You write better than 90 percent of the people here, even some of those speaking at this conference,” he said. Because he was not prone to gush or prevaricate, I took heart. “I want you to stay and finish the conference,” he said quietly. “Then I want you to go home and write that book any way you think it should be written.”
His confidence inspired. I trusted his opinion of my writing skill more than my own.
I began that Monday, the first week in June. Not wanting to neglect my family, I wrote from 5 :30 to 7:30 every morning. No one needed me much that early on summer days. I told a story about a 17-year-old boy making choices he didn’t realize could set paths for his entire life.
By the time my children returned to school in August, the first book of my heart was completed. It was 378 pages of brilliant prose. I did not realize then that a first draft is a long way from being a finished product. That manuscript never sold. It hasn’t yet, anyway. But it was proof that I could not only begin, but could complete a full-length novel.
The next summer, having survived seven rejections on CHOICES, I began a second novel. My days from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. again were open. UNTIL THE MEEK INHERIT exemplified my firm belief that children need supervised adversity. MEEK garnered its own pile of rejections. I survived.
Though unpublished, I continued writing and marketing one manuscript after another, for 17 years, as time allowed. Bill encouraged me. He insisted I continue writing because it kept me happy. Bill subscribes to the “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” school of spousal thought. I was working on Manuscript No. 12 when No. 8 got a contract. I thought the offer was a scam. Not so.
Nine print/royalty-published novels later, I’m toiling away on Manuscript No. 21.
Each time I begin a new project, I know what I want to write, although, even now, I am never quite sure how to go about it. I jot down what I call “a premise,” the inspiration. The idea. The premise is usually one or two words, never more than five. I mount that premise in plain sight and begin. If I lose focus, a glance at those words puts me right back on track.
Of course, publishing is changing, many of those changes beneficial to writers. For example, in years past, when a book was remaindered, that meant it was out of print and no longer available. These days when one of my books goes out of print, I post it on Amazon’s Kindle, and it lives again.
Mr Keith is gone now. I saw him two more times after our meeting in Norman that June afternoon. He died before my first book was published, but his encouragement and his confidence still sustain me.
Writers need mentors and champions, not so much for advice as for reassurance that we can be who we think we can be. In that, writers are not alone. Everyone needs advocates. I try to be one. I learned how to go about it from the best.
About SHARON ERVIN
Sooner born, Ervin has a degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. Once a newspaper reporter, she now works in her husband and son’s law office half-days, gleaning material for her nine published novels. She is married to McAlester, Oklahoma attorney Bill Ervin and has four grown children.
Website address: sharonervin.com Blog address: sharonervin.wordpress.com
Sharon’s Kindle books: