One of the reasons I started my website, Marlothomas.com, is that I wanted a place for women (including me!) to come together and dream. Women should know that they don't have to hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing them - that there is always time to start a new dream. In that spirit, I'm so excited to introduce a new series called It Ain't Over, profiling women who have pursued -- and fulfilled -- their dreams and passions, no matter what their age or circumstances. I find these stories endlessly inspiring. I hope you do too. This week's story is about how one woman turned the page on a career in the military and became a mystery writer.
By Lori Weiss
At just 20 years of age Laura DiSilverio received the kind of rejection letter many established writers only dream about. A romance novel she'd written as part of a college course had made its way to a senior staffer at a major publishing house, and the editor had taken the time to offer some proposed changes. To a seasoned writer, a letter like that would have been reason to celebrate. But as a college coed, Laura could only see rejection.
"I was young and dumb and I just cried," she recalls. "And not long after that I made my way down to the local Air Force recruiting office."
Laura's career choice couldn't have been more different from her original plan, but feeling dejected, she clung to the familiar. Her father had spent twenty-six years in the military and she knew he'd consider her recruitment a less frivolous career choice than tapping away at her typewriter.
"The people at the recruiting office gave me two choices," she laughs. "Public affairs and intelligence. I had no idea what intelligence was, but it sounded pretty sexy. So I chose that."
Thus began a 20-year career that moved Laura around the world and up the ranks of the United States Air Force. Her job was compelling: putting together pieces of various puzzles she'd receive from covert sources and spy satellite data, and unraveling potential terrorist threats. Little did she know, those skills she'd carefully honed in the military would set the scene for her next career move -- as a mystery writer.
"My husband Thomas had just come back from Iraq and we were on a little weekend getaway in Seattle. We were browsing through a bookshop when I had the most overwhelming feeling I'd ever had -- right there in the personal essay section. I just knew it was time to write again. And the next day, despite the fact that I'd been offered a promotion to colonel, I began to untangle myself from the military."
It wasn't long before Laura began to craft her own personal essay of sorts. Without an agent or a contract, she began her journey back to where she started.
"I sat down at my computer and just started typing," she says. "I'd just read Stephen King's book, On Writing. He said he writes 2,000 words a day. So I said, 'If it's good enough for Stephen King, it's good enough for me.' Sometimes it took three hours and sometimes it took six. But I wrote until I had every word."
As dedicated as Laura was to her writing, she was equally diligent about shopping for an agent. Unfortunately, the publishing world doesn't move quite as quickly as Laura does. She wrote an entire mystery novel -- and a sequel -- before she found someone to represent her.
"In the military, in the space of a week, we think we know where the enemy is," she says with a hint of sarcasm. "We put the troops in place, and we root them out. That's not quite the way it works in publishing. I have a hierarchy of rejection letters. It begins at the bottom with 'Dear Author, This sucks.' Then it moves up to 'Dear Laura' -- or Lori or sometimes Lauren -- 'This sucks.' The ones I'm really fond of arrive on one-sixteenth of a piece of paper: 'Dear Author, Best of luck placing your sucky writing somewhere else.' But sometimes you get invitations to re-submit and you start to interact with people and things begin to progress."
Two-and-a-half years into the process, Laura finally struck writer's gold. An agent she had contacted thought she might be the perfect fit for one of her colleagues. But even then, her first book deal wasn't for either of the two she'd already written. The agent liked her style and thought she could craft a series for the Berkley Prime Crime imprint.
"They were looking for a series based in a Georgia salon about amateur sleuths. I figured, I was born in Georgia and I've certainly spent many hours in beauty shops. So I said, "Sure, I can do this!"
And as fate would have it -- after years of trying to break in -- everyone began to say yes at the same time. Laura's agent had sent out a number of different manuscripts and series ideas simultaneously, and suddenly Laura had twelve book deals on the table. Some of them (Polished Off and Tressed To Kill) would be published under the pen name Lyla Dare; and others, like Swift Justice and Die Buying, under her own name.
"At that point it was almost panic time," Laura recalls. "That's a lot of work to take on at once. But I'm not one of those writers who waits for the muse to hit. For me it's a job. I don't believe in writer's block any more than I do lawyer's block or accountant's block. An attorney can't say, 'I'm not feeling the lawyerness right now, so I won't represent my client today.' Same thing with writing. You can't wait for the creativity. You have to force it."
But Laura warns would-be authors that not everyone takes a new writer's passion seriously -- and that those who are committed to the craft will have to stand their ground and keep moving, despite what others think.
"Telling people I was a writer before I had any books published elicited a lot of skeptical looks and invitations to bake cookies for the third-grade Halloween party, or to chair a church committee, or to babysit working mothers' children. That's when I learned you have to dig deep and find your own motivation.
"There's a saying: You cannot discover new oceans, unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. Part of me wishes that I had been brave enough at age 20 to try this, and live on ramen noodles and canned beans if I had to. But I would have been such a different writer. I've met so many amazing folks since then and had so many amazing experiences. So, yes, I regret not having been courageous enough back then. But I don't regret the end result."
Laura DiSilverio's new book, "Swift Edge: A Mystery," was published last month by Minotaur Books, a division of St. Martin's Press.
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