As I hit the 100 days until release mark today for my debut novel, I’ve paused to reflect on how my journey started. Or, maybe more appropriately, the path I unlocked for myself. Although formal writing of The Unlocked Path began with my enrollment in a Creative Writing class five years ago, followed by intensive primary and secondary research, I’ve identified a few steppingstones further back which paved my way.
The first stones lain point to an affinity for historical fiction and family saga genres. In high school, I fell in love with these genres by devouring Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (960 pgs), The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough (692 pgs), and Roots by Alex Haley (688 pgs). Each novel drew me into involved plots, historical events, and compelling characters. Those page-turners kept me awake, making baby-sitting nights fly by while I awaited parents who liked to party until after midnight.
Fast forward to the early years of motherhood, when childcare and part-time work consumed my days and limited my reading. Learning about a new book club created by a local women’s community service organization, I immediately signed up. A planned title and one date a month offered a chance to carve out some “me-time”, even if it was only a couple of hours on a Monday night. From that group, which I still belong to some 20+ years later, I met new friends, other moms with similar interests beyond their kids’ activities. My reading list and types of genres expanded. I embraced the group, its mission, and each member. Is it little wonder why I remain involved in several book clubs?
Reading books, discussing books, but what about writing books? Where were the steppingstones which led to a confidence to try my hand at writing? Perhaps it’s a hidden gene that laid in wait for discovery given my grandfather Robinson was a romance novelist in the 1920s. With my career spent in marketing and sales, writing tasks focused on business plans, strategy documents, and sales presentations. Yet, two projects while I worked for Radio Disney lit tiny sparks which kindled an interest and possibly unearthed that hidden gene for creative writing.
The first was landing a sale to the Boston area Girl Scouts organization. With their outreach team, we put together a monthly public service talk show for 12-year-old-girls to host. The demands of the show outgrew the scope of our staff writer, so I volunteered to run the host auditions, research topics, write script outlines, choose accompanying music selections, and ultimately, produced the show with our engineer. I loved it! As the mother to two boys, developing relevant content for tween girls provided an outlet to explore female-centric issues, a theme I’ve carried into The Unlocked Path.
I like to think the sales presentation I developed to secure the largest, multi-million-dollar deal for Radio Disney which crossed over multiple properties (radio, digital, events, Parks, video) succeeded because of my final slide of the PowerPoint. After laying out the objectives, strategy, and tactics for the integrated program, we closed with a story. I wrote the script and my boss, a trained actress, delivered it to the client’s Board of Directors. In the story, we profiled “A Day in the Life” of an 11-year-old girl and how, through our program, she would interact and learn about the client’s service and mission. We left the Board in awe and ready to sign on the dotted line.
From GWTW’s Scarlet O’Hara, the debutante turned shrewd businesswoman (read the book, this theme is much more prevalent than in the movie), to the marginalized population of slaves and their determination to overcome discrimination and challenges in Roots, to the premise of loving the wrong man in The Thorn Birds, each one directed my thoughts for Eliza and her story. Savoring every book club meeting over twenty years, complete with themed food and beverage selections, and even costumes, compelled me to develop a complete kit with recipes, questions and “meet the characters inspiration” for many other book clubs to consider choosing The Unlocked Path. Finally, “Meet Emily” in the Radio Disney sales pitch helped me identify how the smallest details (Emily was the most popular girl’s name for the year the character was born) shape a story which will engage, entertain, and delight.
We’re 100 days from The Unlocked Path making its way into the hands of readers. My most heartfelt desire is that I’ve written another story which will engage, entertain, and delight. And, in true historical fiction fashion, also teach my readers and leave them awed by moments in history as they learn about women who have remained in the shadows: the lesser-known graduates of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and their hopes and challenges to become doctors at a time when only five percent of medical professionals were women.
So, how’s it going? GREAT! My novel is in my hands and ready to find its way into many more.