Years ago before I’d written a word of my first novel, I couldn’t have dreamed of becoming a novelist. But when I moved from L.A. to New Jersey to open my practice as a Board Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician, I found myself doing just that.
I had left the music world to pursue medicine after the shock of losing my mother to a drunk driver. Growing up in a highly creative home, my first life path had been as a professional guitarist; the second path was medicine. Who could’ve guessed that after a lifetime spent diligently practicing guitar, followed by years of school and professional practice, that when it came to life, I’d turn out to be a “pantser”—someone who flies by the seat of their pants?
In writing, the opposite of a pantser is a plotter, someone who follows an outline. My life already had two solid outlines! What the hell happened?
At one point I thought, If these people are taking my writing seriously, why aren’t I?
I had always written—mostly on bar napkins, because bars and napkins inspired me to write. While in practice, I’d often spend evenings in bars writing on napkins. It became such a regular occurrence that in every bar I’d frequented, I became known as the writer, not the doctor. At one point I thought, If these people are taking my writing seriously, why aren’t I?
One bitter, snowy night alone in my office, after I’d finished seeing patients and developing X-Rays, I glanced at my office manager’s desk while closing up. I dropped my gear on a chair, grabbed a stack of blank paper and sat down at her, ahem, typewriter. By the time I looked up, I had a sixteen-page short story titled, Rain Beach, and at the bottom I typed, “The End.”
But when my car reached the edge of the parking lot, I heard a voice in my head say, “That’s not the end. What happened next was…”
Startled by the amount of snow that had fallen while I was lost in my story world, I wondered if my rear-wheel drive car from sunny California would even get me home. I bundled up, dug out my car, and gripped the wheel, ready for a ride better suited to a snowmobile. But when my car reached the edge of the parking lot, I heard a voice in my head say, “That’s not the end. What happened next was…”
In that instant, the excitement of knowing a whole world opened for my two characters to explore became the moment I understood that they were screaming bloody murder for me to write them. Yep. Back into the office I went to write, and I wound up sleeping there.
Other than stacks of bar napkins, journals, and lyrics, I’d never thought about writing a novel! But that short story became a 110,000-word amateur novel. I was so proud! I laugh when I think about that and what followed. Okay, maybe it’s more like an embarrassing groan.
That week, I trekked to Giovanni’s Room, the iconic gay bookstore in Philadelphia, to research lesbian publishing. After all, I had graduated to writing on a typewriter—on actual paper. I came home with a stack of lesbian novels, mostly published by Naiad Press—an ancestor of Bella Books. Suddenly, I had favorite lesbian novelists like Karin Kallmaker.
I placed a call to Barbara Grier, the owner of Naiad Press. To my surprise, she called me back. Barbara had a clear no nonsense approach, and she asked me what my story was about. So I told her.
Her response was, “I can tell your book is overwritten. If you’re serious about becoming a writer, study the craft. You didn’t become a doctor overnight, and you won’t become a novelist overnight either.” I took her seasoned advice to heart, and to this day, I’m so grateful for that conversation.
Starting that day, every time I could sneak off to a writer’s conference, I went. I met famous authors from around the world, attended their workshops, and dove into craft with abandon. Writing became my passion! I was married to my profession, but writing was now my loyal mistress.
Twenty-plus years after that conversation with Barbara Grier, I sold my practice, my home, and moved cross-country to a place I’d never lived, where I knew two people. It was finally time to let the writer within have her way with me.
I joined a weekly writing group and attended with a vengeance, learning discipline, taking critiques from my fellow writers—continually honing the craft I’d devoured at those conferences. I’d even attempted another novel.
Within a few years, the original main characters from that first overwritten novel had knocked on my creative door, only this time they sat me down and told me their story. It was nothing like the original story, except that the characters and underlying love between them had endured.
The new novel was titled Steel Eyes and it became my debut novel. At that time, the exceptional Karin Kallmaker was Editorial Director at Bella, and for me it was sublimely poetic that she had been the one to call me—and that it was Bella Books who wanted to publish me.
Wherever you are, Barbara Grier, thank you. My fourth novel, titled, The Right Closet is ready for submission.