Are you there voice, it’s me Mary.

At the age of ten, my Grandma Margie planted the idea of becoming an author when she snuck me a copy of Hollywood Wives. Jackie became my image of what an author should be: controversial, gutsy, rich, powerful, famous, loaded with fabulous jewelry and of course, those luscious pool boys who’d serve me cocktails.

Even when I made a serious commitment to writing ten years later, I kinda sorta still had that image in mind. I’ll never forget that moment, I was in a gift store in Sedona, Arizona during spring break of 1994. I found a tiny statuette of a Native American storyteller for $10.95 and as I held her, I decided that I would become an author and as God as my witness, I would have my pool boy!

Six years dragged on as I wrote one crap manuscript after another. When I finished a book that I intended to sell as a category romance, I realized that I had to stop writing for publication. I know that sounds very odd, but it’s true. Writers don’t get published because they created a story that fits the new trend everyone is buying. They are chosen because of their voice, their unique way of looking at and making sense of the world.

When I saw where I was going (e.g. nowhere), I turned my soul inside out and wrote the story that became my first book. Do you know how I know I’m writing in my own voice? Well, there are two things.

First, when I wrote Hot Tamara I kept thinking: dear God, my mom is going to disown me. While the character of Susan Contreras is not my mother, there are parts of my mom in her. And while I’m no Tamara – although I always wanted a Karmen Ghia – there are parts of me in her, as well as in Isa (In Between Men), Isela (My Favorite Mistake from Friday Night Chicas) and Nellie & Lulu (Switchcraft – working title). In other words, I know the story is true when it is so honest that someone could get hurt.

Second, the writing is like I’m typing an email to my friend … but with more drama and a liberal use of SpellChecker. I know the characters are real when it feels like they’re talking through me. By the way, that doesn’t happen all the time and it often happens when I’m doing other things like showering or feeding my son. However, in revisions it is much easier to tap into what I imagine is an underground river of words. Which is why I race as quickly as possible through the first draft so I can get to the good stuff.

Out of the two screenplays and two manuscripts I had written, Hot Tamara was the first story I wrote for the sake of uncovering my voice. Publication came after the story was told and because it had authenticity, my editor took a chance on it. So when I hear writers at conferences and meetings exclaim that this will be the year she’ll get published, I hope she’ll come to understand that publishing won’t validate her as a writer. If anything, becoming an author makes writing that much harder.

Every now and then I toy with the image of showing up at some massive booksigning in a Bentley escorted by the pool boy who looks like this guy … a little fantasy never killed anyone, okay?

In all seriousness, what consumes and tortures me almost every day is the writing: am I mining those characters deep enough, am I telling the story the way it needs to be told, and why does this character who I never planned on, suddenly want to be in the story? Writing stories that are true to me and to my readers is what has made me successful.

Thanks for reading.

Mary

The Seven Unhealthy Habits of Unsuccessful Writers

I shouldn’t be posting this because you’re probably going to think, “Who does she think she is?” Well, it all started when I was taking a break from revisions and came up with the following list based on some of the bad habits I’ve had to undo (yes, me), and the habits I’ve observed in others.

So before you hate me, hear me out okay?

The Seven Unhealthy Habits of Unsuccessful Writers
1. Wrote to get published when I should’ve written to uncover my voice
2. Spent more time talking about writing than actually writing
3. Believed my own excuses as to why I never had time to write
4. Needed the approval of others whether it was a contest judge, a “get-published-quick” seminar or a critique partner
5. Said “if I finish a book” instead of “when I finish the book”
6. Couldn’t keep my behind in the chair, or worse, played online Mah-jong for “inspiration”
7. Gave up too early

What bad habits have you had to undo, or are in the process of un-doing?

Do They Have Good Books In Heaven?


For Christmas, my friend Dana gave me a coffee mug that reads, “Choose an author as you would a friend. – Wentworth Dillon.” I don’t always like every book I meet. Some are pretenious, others are real downers and unfortunately, some are just boring. Now that I’m an author, my pickiness is a real problem. You see, I now receive advance copies of books for my endorsement – why anyone would think my endorsement would make a difference, I’ll never know! Anyway, when I don’t click with a book, I don’t know what to do. I want to like every book I read, truly I do. But I can’t paste a fake smile on my face and mislead people into thinking I liked a book I didn’t like. Nor can I say to the author who sent me his/her book, “I’ll pass.”

So when I meet a book that makes me laugh or cry (or both), I want to tell everyone about it. (And not just because it’s good for my karma.) When I first met Erica Orloff through Diary of a Blues Goddess, I knew I made a new friend. But then she one-upped herself with Do They Wear High Heels in Heaven, which I started yesterday and then had to give to my husband so I would do my writing when we switched baby duty. When I got it back last night after the baby went to sleep, I not only had tears in my eyes for the two and a half hours it took me to read it, chills sped up the back of my neck and I never once tried to read through the book like I normally do. The love story between Lily and Michael swept me up so quickly. Erica’s no-bull-shit prose made me believe I was sitting right there with them, feeling warmth of the love they had for each other, laughing at their wisecracks and crying with them in despair. And Erica’s wisdom shone so brightly that I couldn’t see the wizard working behind the curtain.

When you’re a writer, you look for the technique and especially, the crutches some of us use to make it snappy, sexy chick lit. Sometimes I even ask myself as I read books (even those by people I know and like), “How the hell did this get published?” Hey, I never said I was a liar…a bitch, sometimes, but a liar? Nuh uh. But I do keep it to myself!

You’d think that a great author would make a fellow writer feel jealous…Inadequate. Not me. I love books too much. I want aspire to my favorite authors, without trying to be like them. They energize me to write the best to my ability, to write down to the bones of my characters. (I’m not sure who coined that phrase but it wasn’t me.)

So while I try to think of a diplomatic way to decline my endorsement of books I don’t like without hurting the author’s feelings, I want to share my favorite passage from Do They Wear High Heels in Heaven? by Erica Orloff (Red Dress Ink, Oct. 2005).

We shifted gears instantly. Real friendship is like the tide. It ebbs and flows, it fills the little trenches we build in our hearts. It finds our holes and fills them, then it seeps down deep. It washes up starfish and shells and magical things that we get excited about, like pieces of sea glass. And it washes up seaweed and man-o’-war and ugly things we’d rather have stay in the sea. It cleanses, and it goes on forever.

Mary Castillo is the author of paranormal mysteries and romances. Find ebooks, audiobooks, complete book list, free reads and the occasional writing tip.