Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Help Us Welcome author Terry Odell...

Terry Odell is the author of four published romantic suspense novels, and an assortment of contemporary romance short stories. She's a woman with a big heart and a marvelous talent for drawing readers into a story. . . even her own story.

So here's Terry to tell us :

"How I Traded Needlepoint for Writing."

The second-most often question I get asked when I tell people I'm a writer is, "How long have you been writing?" (The first is, "Have I heard of you?") If I'm on a panel, I listen as everyone else spouts off their histories of wanting to write since before they could talk, or how they wrote their first manuscript in crayon. Then my turn rolls around, and I say, "About six years." This answer does change as time passes, but it's still never anything close to what my colleagues report. I was a card-carrying AARP member before I considered writing anything.

From there, it's, "How did you get started writing?" The short answer? I ran out of room on my walls for needlepoint and had to find another creative outlet. But the real answer is, "By mistake."

I never had any dreams of being a writer. Creative writing classes weren't my forte. I knew all the rules of grammar, got A's in English, but I was a reader. I devoured books. I read anything, from comic books to cereal boxes. My parents tell everyone that we moved when I was 12 because I finished the library. I made up stories, but they were in my head. I never thought about writing one down. They were usually daydreams, or continuations of books I'd read, or stories about characters on television. The closest I came to writing was two pages of a story I'd had running around in my head—something featuring MacGyver. But the actual typing was a total drag. Punctuation mattered. You had to start sentences with capital letters. There were quotation marks to deal with. All that use of the 'shift' key was a total drag.

Years later, my son was visiting. He, as all men are wont to do, was "watching" television by flipping the remote. He stopped on a show. "This one's cool," he said. "It's all about these guys who can't die unless you cut off their heads."

My son went back home. Being a good mother, I decided to watch the show so we'd have something "cool" to talk about. I found "Highlander" in the listings, set the recorder, and watched an episode. Okay, I'm not proud. Watching Adrian Paul was no hardship. But the show also raised questions about what these Immortals could and couldn't do, and I got curious. There were no Yahoo groups then, or even Google (I think, anyway). There were CompuServe forums. I found one about Highlander and discovered the world of fan fiction. It seemed right up my alley. I discovered one author whose voice resonated with me. (Of course, back then I had no clue it was her "voice.")

We hooked up via email, she connected me with some of her friends, and I did some beta reading for them. Just because I wasn't a writer didn't mean I wasn't a good reader, and I definitely used all my English skills to hone their stories.

Then, one day, hubby was out of town, and I decided to see what would happen if I tried to write a story. The beauty of fan fiction is that your world and your characters are all there. You can work on the skills of the craft in small increments. I cranked out my little story—actually, sweated it out, because it still didn't come easy, what with getting all those quotation marks in the right place—and bravely sent it to the writer I'd befriended.

I'm sure she got a good laugh, but she came back with advice and comments. What the heck was POV?

I accepted the challenge. After all, I did get all those A's in English, and surely I could learn how to put a story on paper instead of sucking up what others wrote. She had immeasurable patience, and when I finally had her approval that it was done, she insisted I post it to one of the Highland fan fiction forums. I got positive feedback, and like any good puppy, kept trying to please. (Had I known then how low the bar was for positive feedback, I might not have kept going, but since I didn't, I did.)


Eventually, I found another writing group at a site called iVillage, and thought I'd try writing some original fiction, just to see if I could. I recall an exercise, where we were supposed to write a "hook" in under 200 words. I sent mine in, and got lots of "Wow, what happens next?" comments. How the heck did I know? So, I kept writing. 143,000 words later, the first draft of Finding Sarah was finished, and I'd hooked up with a local, in person, critique group who drove me to consider the "get it published" side of the writing craft. And one of my Highlander fan fiction short stories eventually provided a starting point for the next book I wrote, What's in a Name? There's a lot of Duncan MacLeod in Blake Windsor.

And somewhere along the line, I was talking with my son. I asked him what he thought of the writers killing off Tessa. He said, "What?" I said, "You know. Highlander. Tessa. Duncan's girlfriend. They killed her character."

His reply. "Oh, I never actually watched the show. I just thought it was a cool concept."

And that's how I became a writer by mistake. I don't think I'll go back to needlepoint.

You can learn more about Terry and her writing at her website http://www.terryodell.com and her blog, Terry's Place, http://terryodell.blogspot.com/

44 comments:

RKCharron said...

Hi Betina :)
Thank you for having Terry Odell here today & thanks to Terry for sharing.
Is Terry on Twitter?
All the best,
RKCharron
xoxo

Betina Krahn said...

Hi, RK! And welcome, Terry! I LOVE your story about the "mistake." I recall a couple of incidents with my sons that were similar. Something I thought was important to them turned out to be just a passing-- fleeting!-- thought. Kids.

But it pointed you in a whole new direction, right? And gave you hours of pleasure as well as frustration and growth. . . and introduced you to a whole new world of creative people. Give that boy a hug for us!

Terry Odell said...

Good morning, RK - I'm thrilled to be riding with everyone today.

To answer your question, no, I haven't taken the plunge into Twitter yet, but I am on Facebook. Hope you'll find me there.

Betina - right. I have no regrets about my "mistake". (And if you want to 'meet' my son, he was my guest on my blog yesterday. He's become quite the photographer.)

Jacqueline Seewald said...

When my sons were small, I bought them typewriter toys so they could sit and "write" while I did. Years later, they returned the favor by teaching me to use Appleworks on their computer so I could be a better writer. When the boys were in their teens, the three of us worked on a YA novel together entitled Where Is Robert? The novel was published and became a kind of cult novels for boys who wrestled. You never know!

All the best,

Jacqueline Seewald

Terry Odell said...

Jacqueline, that is such a wonderful story. We put a camera in our son's hands at an early age, and he turned into quite the photographer. He's published several manuals for using Nikon software.

Liane Gentry Skye said...

Hmmm, maybe you can do needlepoints of all your book covers! Seriously, I'm glad you traded your needle for a pen. Great post today, Terry!

Terry Odell said...

Liane, that's a great idea! I've framed them, and made virtual jigsaw puzzles out of my covers at Jigsaw Planet, but it never occurred to me to do them as needlepoints.

lois greiman said...

Hey Terry, thanks for blogging with us. It's always fun to hear how we all stumbled into writing. Your stories sound wonderfulllll. Best of luck.

Terry Odell said...

Lois, thanks so much for having me. I'm flattered to be included. I think my 'stumble' into writing was more of a pratfall, but I'm glad it happened.

Debra Glass said...

Thanks, Terry! Very nice post.

Sir John said...

This is a very good article. It is always good to know that writing is a journey and can be fun along the way.
Johnny Ray

Carol Garvin said...

Hi Terry,
Great story. The accidental writer. How a simple sentence from your son sent you down a path that was always there. You just hadn't taken it. Funny how life happens.

CatherineKean said...

Terry, you are a lady of many talents! I've seen your needlepoint and it's exquisite. I'm glad you decided by accident to start writing, because you pen great books! Thanks for sharing your story with us.

Terry Odell said...

Debra - Glad you enjoyed it.

Sir John - thanks for stopping by. When it stops being fun, I'll have to reconsider my journey. I don't see that happening, though. Even the challenges are rewarding.

Carol - Life does that to you from time to time, doesn't it?

Catherine - thanks so much for your kind words. I'm blushing. You pen some nifty tales yourself!

Helen Brenna said...

Hi Terry and Welcome! Love the cover concepts for your books and your story. Very cute. What's POV? LOL Sounds like me, um ... a long time ago!

Terry Odell said...

Hi, Helen - glad to be here. POV: Point Of View. Not that it made much difference to me then; I had no clue there were "rules" about stuff like that.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Terry,

I've never been to this blog site before. I'll have to add it to my list. Cute story of how you started writing. Most of us say something like I've been making up stories since I was a kid. Nice to see adults who try new things. BTW, I tried needlepoint, my threads always ended up like Charlie Brown's kite string. Good luck with your sales.

Terry Odell said...

Kathy, glad you made it over here. I'll confess to it being a relatively recent discovery for me, but it's now a daily stop.

When I try counted cross stich, I feel the same way you do about needlepoint. All my attempts are 'off'.

Michele Hauf said...

Welcome to the convertible, Terry! Your story is awesome. Heck, don't give up needlepoint, though. Now you can make fancy little book covers for your books and give them as gifts!

Kylie said...

Hi Terry! Glad to have you in the convertible today. Loved your story about how you started writing. Like you, I was a reader all my life and although I did well in English, never considered writing. Until my favorite authors couldn't write fast enough to keep me in reading material, LOL!

Terry Odell said...

Everyone's making me feel so welcome today. Thanks! Good ideas for needlepoint projects, too. I gave it up long before the days of being able to take a picture and make transfers - I'm sure there's a way to do one that would translate to needlepoint canvas. They have "inkjet" printer that use food colorings for cakes, so there must be a way.

Kylie - I know what you mean about wanting to 'fill in the blanks' when a story ends and there isn't another one in the wings.

Maryann Miller said...

Great story, Terry. I laughed out loud at the end when you found out your son did not even watch Highlander. That was a cool show.

Watery Tart said...

Terry-I had no idea you got your feet wet with fan fiction. We have that in common (Harry Potter in my case) and I completely agree with the amazing schooling it can be because you can work on one thing at a time.

Great story!

Pamela Keener said...

Terry I love reading these types of posts. I love your Homicide Hussey blogs being a retired statie from PA a lot of what I read has me shaking my head yep I know exactly what he means.
Love & Hugs,
Pam Keener

Terry Odell said...

Maryann, if you laughed, you can imagine my reaction when he told me he'd never watched the show!

WT - I'd say I got a lot more than my feet wet -- more like a complete dunking -- with my fan fiction. Every once in a while, I get a message from a 'fan' who discovers the stories. And no, I'm not telling anyone where they are. I only keep them out there to remind me how far I've come.

Pam - so glad you're a Homicide Hussey fan. This Friday is the final chapter. I'm considering starting over at the beginning since so many readers are new to my blog and have missed the early posts.

GunDiva said...

I love your story! And, I love Highlander, too. What a great combination. I'll be following your blog.

Terry Odell said...

GunDiva - I'm thrilled that you'll add my blog to your list. I noticed that the URLs in the post didn't come out clickable.

My website is here

And my blog is here

Tanya Hanson said...

Hi Terry, what a great blog. I totally loved Highlander. Thanks for the memories. And good luck with the books.

~Tanya

Cate Masters said...

Great post, Terry! Lucky for readers fate led you down this path. Love those covers - very evocative!

Celia Yeary said...

Terry--like Kathy Otten, I haven't been to this site before. I love your "Author by Mistake" tale, especially about your boys. I call myself "The Accidental Author" and wrote a blog about it early on. I started to use is as my tag line--I may someday when I make changes--maybe I should copyright it??? P.S. I'm a little star-struck--I saw Betina Krahn and Kathleen Eagle, two of my long list of favorites, as owners of this site.I read both of them years back and searched for every book I could find.

Terry Odell said...

Tanya - thanks. I admit Highlander was a very easy show to watch!

Cate - I do love the art department at Cerridwen. They actually allow for author input (and even listen a lot of the time!) :-)

Celia - Betina was a recent speaker at our RWA chapter meeting, and I'm so glad she was willing to let me chat here.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Terry, I love your son for thinking to put his mom onto something he knew would interest her--what a cool guy! And I love the way you told the story. I'm off to check out your web site...

Debra Dixon said...

Hey, Terry!

Congrats on finding the writer-within. (g)

A pub author friend confessed to writing fan fic many years ago. One of her pieces was a "transcript" from a talk show. The featured guests were Buffy and Nikita and the topic was something like "Breaking the Cycle - the Wrong Men At the Wrong Time."

Cracked me up.

Oh, and my son also watches television via the remote channel flipping technique.

catslady said...

Wonderful story of how you became a writer by accident lol. Did you ever see the original Highlander with Christopher Lambert? one of my favorites.

Terry Odell said...

Kathleen, thanks for checking out my site. My son designed it for me back when I had a contract for one short story.

Deb - fanfic is lots of fun. I believe it started with Star Trek and snowballed. And I forgot to mention your two workshops at my RWA chapter as well as Betina's. Also great stuff!

Catlady - yes I saw the movie, but not until after I'd been hooked on the TV adaptation.

Debra St. John said...

HI Terry, What a fun journey you took to be a writer. Often, the best of things come to us as "mistakes". We're so glad you stumbled upon this one!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Debra - comments like the ones here today make it easier to work through one of those chapters from hell that I'm facing now.

Cindy Gerard said...

Hey Terry. sorry to be so late welcoming you - I've been on the run all day! Great story and congrats on all of your novels!!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Cindy -

When I was pitching When Danger Calls, an editor suggested that it might fall somewhere into your realm. I admit at that time I hadn't read your books, but I started and haven't stopped.

Betina Krahn said...

Hey, Terry-- how did you imbed those links in your commments? I've never been able to do that!

Inquiring minds want to know!!


;) Betina

Terry Odell said...

Betina -

My one and only html skill! Mostly the skill involves going to the marked page in my quick reference book (most of which I still can't grasp).

It's an "a" tag, which blogger accepts. If you want the specifics, email me.

Sheila Deeth said...

Oh, that was neat. And I love your son's comment at the end.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Sheila - Kids. Always full of surprises, even after they're grown and gone.

M.Flagg said...

Hi Terry. There's lots here that I can relate to. The title of your post is great. Sometimes our kids take us to the darnest places. The circumstances that put a pen in our hand are often very intriguing stories. Thanks for sharing yours.