On Life, Love and Accidental Adventures, I have written about my belief in serendipity and all-consuming romance.
I have waxed poetic about my passion for travel and tasty tubers.
I have confessed to idolizing Marie Antoinette and A Girl With Balls.
I have shared much of myself with you on this blog but we have only scratched the surface of Leah Marie Brown. Today, I would like to scratch a little deeper. I would like to give you a peek into one of the darkest times of my life and illuminate you on how it altered my character.
Several years ago, I put the finishing touches on my fifth novel, Scarlet Ribbons, and sent it to an editor. Not just any editor. I sent it to Audrey LeFehr at New American Library.
I believe I am understating an important point so allow me a moment to digress.
I didn't just slide my manuscript into a brown folder and send it to average, generic editor. I sent it to Audrey LeFehr (Cue heavenly chorus). After attending a writer's conference and hearing several positive comments about Ms. LeFehr and then discovering that she worked for the publisher I had long admired, I began to look at her as the Holy Grail of editing.
It was with exquisitely painful anticipation I waited to hear back from Ms. LeFehr.
Long, painful story short, Ms. LeFehr said she loved my work and asked to see two of my other manuscripts. In my heart, I thought I had finally made it. The Holy Grail was on a ledge just slightly above my grasp and I was straining every muscle standing on my tip-toes to seize it. Unfortunately, as often happens in the agonizing world of big-time publishing, Ms. LeFehr left NAL for another house and the editor who replaced her hated French stuff. I am simplifying, of course. The new editor did not say she hated French stuff. As I recall, she said something positive about my plot and characters and then ended with: Historical romance is getting increasingly difficult to sell, and France has proven especially difficult as a setting.
After years of writing and collecting an Everest-sized mountain of rejection letters, I thought I had finally found an editor who got me as a writer. Her assistant had even declared herself "a huge fan of my work."
The rejection, coming at a time of great personal stress, proved to be my coup de grâce.
It literally knocked me out of the writing game.
I'd taken a Holyfield right hook to the jaw and I went down for the count. I wasn't writhing, on my knees holding on to the ropes and struggling to get upright, I was flat on my back with no signs of reviving.
But unlike those tension-filled seconds when spectators hold their breath and wait for their prize fighter to regain consciousness, there was nobody waving smelling salts beneath my nose. I was on the mat and I wasn't moving.
I stopped writing.
During this time, a friend experienced great success with her career. She sold not one, but five books (Ironically, to NAL, the publisher that had delivered the crippling right hook that sent me to the mat).
Her sales were strong, her fan base grew, she was asked to contribute to two anthologies, to speak at conferences, to give radio interviews. She was in the throes of the ecstasy of big time publishing. She was dancing around the ring, arms victoriously held over her head, when she got her right hook.
Her editor told her that the market trend indicated a pull away from her subgenre. They were killing her series and putting her psudoneym on life support with no forseeable plans to resuscitate. They told her she not only needed to think of a new series but a new nom de plume as well!
Some authors would wallow in self-pity. Some would roll over on that mat, curl up in a comfortable position, and listen to the bell ring. She chose a different strategy.
She reeled from the punch and dropped to her knees. She gave into the blinding pain for a few seconds, but then she grabbed those ropes, pulled herself up, and reentered the match, fists flying. She came up with a new series and a new pseudonym.
For awhile, I beat myself up because I had not displayed the same ready resiliance that she had displayed. I didn't hop up and rush back into the fray, even though that had always been my method.
I've taken many powerful jabs in this life. Some of them have knocked me down, but I'd always managed to get back up. I felt ashamed that I had allowed myself to get so knocked down, that I threw in the towel. My confidence and perseverance had been so badly battered that I didn't have the energy to write. And the worst thing? I'd delivered some of the blows myself. I had been a self-defeating pugilistic writer.
Then I realized it's not how long you're on the mat that matters, it's that you do eventually crack an eye open, struggle to your feet, and start swinging again!
I'm off the mat and that breeze you feel? It's me jabbing and hooking. I'm back in the fight. I'm stronger, fiercer, with a battle-honed instinct to block those sneaky sucker punches.