Tuesday, May 27, 2008

the tipping point

I first met Toni just a few weeks ago. In fact, we survived the Romantic Times convention together. Which means she's tough. But she's so much more. She's fun, smart, cute as a button, and Cajun, so let's give her a warm Riding welcome.

the tipping point...

by Toni

Eleventy quibillion years ago, when I was in fourth grade, I wanted to be a writer. I wrote terrible poems, which I think only got worse as I got older and the teenage years descended like locusts, leaving only WOE and ANGST. By college, I had brief bouts of sanity, whereupon I attempted architecture (ohmyGod, they do not tell you about the math), business (my first accounting teacher gave me the final exam in advance, with the answers, if I would swear to her I would never, ever, take another accounting class again), and then journalism (where I learned they had the picky little annoying habit of wanting reporters to not make crap up)(this was before Fox News).

And in spite of a fine history of liking to eat and wanting a roof over my head, I still wanted to be a writer. If you asked a question, you would get a story instead of an answer. If I could sidetrack into a couple of tangents? You might as well park a while, because the stories? They would not stop.

All the while, I wrote. Much of it was bad.

I ran into a former high-school teacher, who'd also been a librarian, who asked me the tough question: why wasn't I submitting for publication? Have you ever run into one of your former teachers? THEY ARE SCARY. It's like they can retroactively fail you or their eyes shoot truth serum rays or something, and I did not want to stand there in front of my two-year-old and explain I hadn't submitted anything because I was a big honking chicken. So I took her advice and started writing and submitting to the local paper. (They were insane enough to buy the very first one. That's like feeding a stray puppy. They did not realize this, I think, until I was around so much, they added me to the regular staff AND the food staff, and this was a fairly prominent paper. One of my relatives realized that I was being assigned to write about how people COOK things. He asked, "Isn't that... fraud? You use the fire alarm as an oven timer." I look back on this as the beginning of my fiction career.)

Over the years, and we are not discussing how many, maybe more than two but less than a hundred, I wrote more articles than I can remember or count for newspapers and magazines. I started querying and submitting (and getting sales) at national magazines, but my real love was fiction. I tried my hand at a novel, but it was a spiraling mess, and my husband could see how frustrated I was. (And EVERY husband out there just substituted the words "complete raving loon" for "frustrated.") So, being a very wise man who liked to wake up breathing in the mornings, he encouraged me to go back to school for some writing classes.

For a while, I was lured to the dark side (screenwriting), and landed an agent, and did a lot of stuff that was almost-but-not-quite what I wanted to do, which was to sell something I made up. Hollywood, by the way, will kill you with encouragement, because when you meet the executives, you will be told you are the most brilliant writer they have read in forever and where the hell have you been all this time and they want to be in the "Toni Causey" business. Swear to God, they will say it and you will believe it because they are that good at sincere. Until you're sitting in the Warner Brothers commissary waiting for the next meeting, furtively looking around to see the FRIENDS stars on their lunch break (yes, I am dating myself, hush), and the same executive walks by with his arm around someone else who is not you, telling them how utterly brilliant they were, the most brilliant person they'd ever read. That's when you look down at the script in your hand that is an action thriller that everyone absolutely loves but could you make the man a woman and the woman a duck and wouldn't it be great if the horse saved the day? and you think, "I'm crazy, but I'm not this crazy." Some writers (our very own Alex and Rob) have the tenacity for that. Me? I kinda wanted to just kick people. (I never claimed to be mature.)

See, I had this idea. An idea for this funny, take-no-prisoners kind of southern woman, who loves deeply and means well, in spite of the chaos she causes, and I wanted to write that story and be true to that story. So I quit screenwriting. (I had had some offers if I'd move out there. I was not going to move the family.) I had a hard time convincing my former agent that yes, I was serious. I was quitting to write a novel. (I think she still thinks I am going to change my mind.) But I quit, and I started writing Bobbie Faye. I wrote a quick draft in script form, because I was used to that format, then a friend showed a friend, the lovely Rosemary Edghill, who said, "Send me some chapters." And I did. She gave me some notes (smart, smart woman), and taught me how to write the kind of synopsis an agent needs ("I did not think you could make this worse," she said of one draft of that synopsis, "but you did." That's because I am an overachiever. It took a lot of tries before I figured out that writing a marketing synopsis is a lot like writing a non-fiction article, and that I could do.) Next thing I know, I'd signed with an agent and Rosemary had pitched it to an editor, who made an offer, and St. Martin's Press bought that book and the next two based on three sample chapters and a synopsis. Almost twenty years from the point where I saw my old high-school English teacher and she'd said, "Why aren't you submitting for publication?"

(Thank you, Mrs. Ross.)

There is a great big huge world of "no" out there. Sometimes, following the dream does not mean hoppity-skipping down the easy path. In fact, a lot of times, it means zig zagging past mortars and incoming and a lot of almosts-not-quites and despair and frustration what-the-hell-were-you-thinking? and ugh-this-sucks and occasionally wow-show-me-more. And in spite of how long it took, and how much hard work, I have been exceptionally lucky--there have been friends and mentors who've said, "keep going," and who've said, "send that in." They changed my life. They were the tipping point for me.

So how about you? Who encouraged you? Or what's something you tried that someone encouraged you to do and now you're glad you did?


Blog in, folks, Toni is generously giving away a free copy of her first book and a $15 gift certificate to some lucky commenter.


Katherine C. said...

I fell in love with Toni a couple months ago when I finally got my hot little hands on a copy of her first book (now a member of the collection) which not only made me laugh, but made me snort. I don't think I really need to elaborate beyond that on how funny it was. Anywho, I was away from the internet over the weekend, so didn't get a chance to respond to Toni's murderati blog, but here goes:
My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Hicks, was the first person who ever told me I could write. I already loved to read -- I was one of those nerds that actually spent precious recess time with a good book (I know, weird) instead of playing. It had never ocurred to me that I could tell stories of my own until Mrs. Hicks told me I was a "gifted" writer. Then I started writing copiously. I'm sure if I went back to read it now it would be horrible, but at the time I had big plans to be the next Laura Ingalls Wilder. Which lasted until high school when I discovered journalism. I don't think I'ev written anything fictional since junior high. I just don't have the ideas, or often the urge anymore to tell my own stories. Recently, however, Grandma has been asking when I'm going to finish my book (my question is, when did I start it) because she wants to read it before she dies. I've brushed it off, but she brings it up every time I talk to her, so who knows. Maybe Grandma can be my next Mrs. Hicks ...

Cindy Gerard said...

Holy cow do you ever take a breath? Ever? :o) You are too, too funny. Welcome to the ragtop. Any friend of Lois's is a friend of mine but I've gotta say, I'm one of those who feels it's NBC, not Fox News who makes up 'crap' (Hey - just ask Hillary)
In the meantime, how do you like St Martins? Who's your editor there? It's a wonderful house - they were great to me when I squatted there for a while. And I'm intrigued by the script writing. Do you ever miss it?
Much luck on the new release and thanks again for joining us

Kimberly Van Meter said...


Wow! What a cool story. And so familiar. My English teacher was also my Drama teacher and he used to ever so politely suggest that I write, which translated into I was a terrible actress. Too bad I was focused on being an actress my ENTIRE teenage life. Hearing that just about killed me and only made me that much more determined to prove him and everyone else wrong. Then I took journalism in college (because it's always good to have a back up just in case I didn't become the next Julia Roberts) and HATED it. Swore I'd never write news (boring!) until the day I realized that news paid money while my manuscripts, which were languishing under my bed, did not.
Fourteen years later I'm still a journalist but also a published author. Unfortunately, I never got very far with the acting, which by the way, really does a number on my goal to win an Oscar. :-D

Welcome to the convertible!
Drive on!

Toni said...

Katherine C... wow, THANK YOU. That's just so amazing to read, and snorting is the *best damned compliment*... ever.

Mrs. Hicks sounds wonderful. And my grandmother kept doing the same thing, and so when the first book came out, I gave her a copy, knowing that her eyesight wasn't so great anymore and that the most she'd be able to read was my name on the cover. My mom made me explain to her that there were curse words inside there and she was not allowed to hand this book to her preacher or the deacons when they came to visit. (She wanted to get them to read it to her.) (I'm pretty sure they would have had a collective heart attack.)

Toni said...

Cindy, LOL! And thanks for the welcome. (Oh, and I agree about NBC.) (And isn't Lois wonderful? She's one of those people who is fun and gorgeous and smart and talented and we'd have to have her killed, except she is so NICE.)

St. Martin's has been extremely nice to me. My wonderful editor is Nichole Argyres--very intuitive, very smart and I thoroughly enjoy her.

There are some things about the screenwriting that I miss--some of the techniques are handy shortcuts that I just can't use in prose. I miss the people, too--for all that I tease above, there are some very smart people working in film, trying to make great movies, and they have a vision. It's just that they've got to get everybody else on board that vision, all seeing it the exact same way, and that's hard to do, no matter how smart and passionate any single group of people are.

Screenwriting did teach me, though, and I'm not sure I would have learned it studying prose (because I'm not sure I would have read one genre enough to really decipher some of these things). I'm glad I took the detour.

(okay, and I have to fangirl squee here, because I am a huge fan of the Bodyguard series. Cannot wait for your next book!)

Toni said...

Kimberly, thanks for the welcome! And I so completely agree with that motivation... writing features and all of those articles paid. It kept me writing all of those years.

But as for the acting, at least you had the guts to try, which I admire greatly! I wanted to try out in high school for the various plays, and you'd never know it now (I have gotten over it) (it is hard not to get over it, I married such an extrovert), I was horrifically self-conscious. I think it's cool that you've not only gone after a dream, but are published in fiction and non-fiction. Extremely cool!

Betina Krahn said...

Welcome, Toni! I am so eager to read your new book-- love humor and wild Southern women!

Isn't it interesting the varied and circuitous routes we travel in the journey of arriving at our destiny? I love hearing people's stories about where and how their life paths have taken them.

So glad your path ended up in writing. . . and that we all get to enjoy your inspiration and talents!

Playground Monitor said...

My husband is an accountant/auditor and my #1 son is an architect, so I've lived those vicariously. LOL! Me? I majored in psychology, which allowed me to ask "Would you like fries with that?" Instead of pursuing an MS degree as I'd planned, I went for the Mrs. degree, followed by two Mama degrees. But a good friend who is multi-published encouraged me to try writing after I accidentally posted something I'd written on an email loop. I was waiting for rotten tomatoes to be hurled at me; instead I got praise and encouragement. I'm still working to finish a novel, but have sold two dozen short stories to magazines in the meantime. That first pubbed friend and now another stay on my case (lovingly, of course) and keep encouraging me.

I'll have to check out Bobbie Faye. Being a southern woman myself the books sound like something right up my alley.


Debra Dixon said...

Toni-- Funny, funny story. Writers need to hear these things. "I didn't think you could make it worse."

I have to honestly said that I grew up with the greatest parents ever who always believed I could do anything. Never doubted for a second.

And THEN I had to go and marry a man who assumes I'm brilliant and whose answer to everything is, "Well, I think you ought to do it." And said in a tone that conveys the following sentiment: This seems to be a rationale smart move don't second guess yourself.

Okay, he does mention that taking a sledge hammer to the car that won't start is wrong.

One of the first professionals who saw my work was Linda Kichline who was a working romance writer at the time (she now owns Imajinn Books) and she called me on the the phone and said, "Are you serious about this? And do you cry easily?"

She offered to work with me if I wasn't a whiner. She didn't have time for someone who wasn't serious enough to suck it up and get it right.

She's still a good friend to this day.

Liza said...

Welcome Toni. I'll have to check out Bobbie Faye. I love reading books that make me laugh.

lois greiman said...

Hi Toni, I love this blog. And...we seem to have books released at the same time, so I'll be running into every store in America and will pick yours up soon. Can't wait.

Michele Hauf said...

I'll be following Lois to pick up a copy of your book, Toni! It's gotta be a hoot!

Virginia said...

Hi Toni, nice to see you here. I loved your story, sounds like you went down a long road before you became an author. Your Bobbie Faye's book sound like a fantastic read. I will have to start looking for it.

Toni said...

Betina, thank you! And Bobbie Faye definitely fills out that "wild" and "southern humor" thing... although sometimes, she takes over a bit and scares the crap outta me. ;)

Playground Monitor (what a great screen name)... I hear you. It's kinda frustrating when a degree doesn't actually get us anyplace. Sometimes people ask what I took in college and I joke that they were the two most useless degrees on the planet, because neither one of them actually qualified me to "do" anything... except take more classes. I suppose I could have taught for a while with the MFA, but there is the publish or perish aspect of that anyway, so full circle.

I'm really glad someone is encouraging you though, because TWO DOZEN short stories is HUGE. It's really hard to sell short stories these days and to get them placed anywhere is a coup, so clearly, you're talented. (Short stories kick my butt. I have written and sold one for the Killer Year Anthology, edited by Lee Child, and it was a Bobbie Faye short story, which was the only reason I was able to write one.) I look forward to seeing you holding a photo of your book one day.

Toni said...

Debra, you cracked me up. First off, any woman who believes a sledge hammer is a perfectly appropriate tool to handle an uncooperative car is MY KIND OF WOMAN. That is hysterical. And totally something I'd do.

Absolutely funniest line: "And do you cry easily?" And so true--it's just one of those truths about business, and how very much publishing is a business, that's hard to grasp I think when we're first starting out wanting to be a writer. There are extreme highs, though, that make up for the lows.

It sounds like you've had some brilliant mentors and success yourself, which is WONDERFUL.

Toni said...

Liza, Michele & Virginia, thank you! I hope you enjoy. Bobbie Faye is very much a take-no-prisoners, kick ass heroine. She's been a lot of fun to have around. (As long as my insurance is paid up, because the girl does tend to blow things up.)

And Virginia, yep, a long road. I'm glad I was able to sell non-fiction and get that sort of positive reinforcement, because that kept me working and writing and hoping. I think that may be the hardest part -- having faith when it's not quite working out, but people are giving positive feedback. I honestly think the only real "secret" to publishing is tenacity. Okay, two secrets -- tenacity and a willingness to learn from others.

Lois, we do -- I didn't realize you had a new one out at the same time, but now I will be picking it up as I'm running around here! It was so great to finally meet you at RT.

MsHellion said...

I am so buying this book. You're hysterical...and I don't mean that in a Hollywood "Everyone's hysterical" way...you're really hysterical...and you're a total shot in the arm because lately, I'm in the "WHY am I doing this again" because...well...I'm not very good with long distance, windy, family vacation road-trips, which is what trying to get published is feeling like.

Best mentors: My writer friends; even my non-writing friends encourage me and say they think I'm inspiring (which makes me laugh)...and my critique partner.

I'm not sure my teacher is the best mentor. When I last saw her she was "God, you're not still writing those trash novels, are you?" So I'm guessing she's not going to be in the buying queue if I do publish.

Karin Tabke said...

To anyone out there who hasn't had a Bobbie Faye encounter you are missing all the fun!!!
Toni, girl you get around!
My best mentor was my dad. He just had a way of making me feel like I was Super Girl.

Toni said...

MsHellion -- I had to write that before I realized what your screen name is... I think we are related...

Thanks you! I really hope you enjoy, and yep, you nailed it - the publishing biz is very much like that long distance family road trip, and the scenery's pretty and there are some really great things to do along the way, but there is also the little brother in the back seat touching your shoulder every three seconds just because you can't kill him with your parents as witnesses, although you do find yourself seriously plotting where you'd hide the body at the next rest stop.

Oh. Dear. God. The Trashy novel comment. I want some sort of universal zapper for times like that. It is probably ENTIRELY WRONG AND BAD for me to want to watch them slither to the floor in their own drool for a few minutes. Not that I would ever do such a thing. ::::whistling::::

Toni said...

Hey, Karin, thank you! (And I have been very very lucky this year to have been invited to blog.)

And have I mentioned how great your family is? I swear, the more I hear, the more I want to adopt the entire group of 'em.

diane said...

Congrats on your wonderful success, Toni. Such a great time for you and all the best.
Your book sounds deightful and unique.

Susan Kay Law said...

Well, shoot. I have to go find one of your books now. I DO NOT have time for this.

not fair.

Susie, off to the bookstore

Kathleen Eagle said...

Hi, Toni!

I love writers' stories because they almost always involve an English teacher. Everybody's (almost) least favorite subject and most favorite teacher.

My dear husband gets the credit for convincing me to try to publish the story I was writing in the closet, lo these many years ago. He's an avid reader, and he swore my story was the best thing he'd ever read.

Toni said...

Thanks, Diane! And Susie... er... I'm sorry? (I cannot say that with a straight face.) Thank you! I hope you enjoy.

Kathleen, thanks... and wow, what a great husband! I know he's so proud of you, and rightfully so!

(Don't men rock?)

ruth said...

Wonderful to have you here and to get acquainted with your new release. Congrats and enjoy the fun and much deserved enjoyment.

anne said...

Amazing book which I will be looking for. Thanks for the glimpse into your new release and congrats on this great achievement and your hard work.

jenna said...

Congratulations Toni! Loved reading about your great book which sounds impressive. My mother is responsible for my success and determination to do well. She sets a fine example.

flchen1 said...

Hi, Toni! Thanks for sharing your story--I love how your perseverance has paid off! And hooray for Mrs. Ross ;)

My husband's been a terrific encourager through the years--he encouraged me to apply for an editorial job that sounded more up my alley than all the engineering positions I'd been trying for, and lo and behold, it worked :) I stayed at that company, working my way up until we had our first child.

I haven't gone back to working outside the house yet, but I'm sure that when the time comes, he'll be supporting me all the way :)

And I'll definitely be looking for your books in the meantime!

Lily said...

I had never heard of your book... but I will sure try it!

Blogs are great as I always discover new books I want to read :)

My mom encouraged me into doing summer research projects and it has helped me a lot in all my university work... even if it was quite a tiring thing! Thanks Mom :)

Nathalie said...

I think many of us had a mom as a cheerleader!

Mine always has my back, she supports me in my successes and my failures!

Toni, thanks for blogging about your book. I will sure try it!

Toni said...

Ruth, thank you! I am having a blast--it really is a dream come true.

Anne, much appreciated -- I hope you enjoy! And thanks to the Rag Top group here who've been so gracious to invite me in!

Jenna, ;). Thanks - and yay for great moms. (I dedicated this book to my mom and dad. I learned hard work and tenacity from their terrific examples.)

Toni said...

flehen1 -- your husband sounds like a very smart, and wonderful guy. I love hearing those stories. Going from an engineer to an editor sounds incredibly neat. (I am impressed and intimidated as all heck by engineers--there is a meticulous attention to detail they have that I long for!) And thank you for the warm welcome !

Lily, thank you! I hope you enjoy it--very much appreciated. I'm cracking up over the "tiring" comment... isn't that always the way, though? The thing that's such hard work is also so rewarding. Congratulations to you on pursuing it!

Nathalie -- you know, that is a brilliant way to put it -- that moms back us in success *and* failure, because it's so true, and it's so needed. Many fields do have a long training period or internship or just plain old career ups and downs. Thank God for the moms and the cheerleaders in our lives! (And that we get to cheer on someone else, too.)

Thanks, too, for giving Bobbie Faye a try. She's a crazy nut, but she loves deeply and holds on hard. Hope you enjoy!

cas2ajs said...

Your books sound hilarious - just the kind I like to read! I enjoyed your post so much and look forward to reading your work.

Cheryl S.

Toni said...

Hey, Cheryl, thank you! I hope you have fun reading. ;)

Christie Ridgway said...

Toni: I thank my former English teachers every day. I also am an overachiever and they fed my dreams!

I had a great friend from high school who came to visit when my Son 1 was 2 years old. She asked me why I wasn't doing what I always wanted...writing romance novels. I couldn't come up with a good answer...

That's why I'm at near 30 published novels today. Thanks, Jen!

And thank you, Toni, for reminding me of that priceless moment!

Toni said...

Christie, WOW. 30? ::::plunking over dead:::: That's so freaking impressive. Congratulations!

And that's the thing I love about blogs like this--I discover so many wonderful new writers who have so much to teach me, and inspire me to keep going.

Thank you all, so very much, for having me guest blog today. I had a blast!

petite said...

Your book is definitely an original and wonderful. Thanks for this great intro. Love to read it.