One of the reasons I started my website is that I wanted a place for women to come together and dream. We women need to know that we don't have to hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing us -- that there is always time to start a new dream. This week's story is about a history professor who experienced a traumatic brain injury that unleashed a hidden talent -- writing fiction. Laura pursued her new passion fervently and has become a wildly successful romance author. What a fascinating way to heal! -– Marlo, MarloThomas.com
By Lori Weiss
When Laura Kaye and her family set out for a July 4th holiday, she expected to see fireworks. But she had no idea that their summer vacation would begin with a bang that would change the course of her life.
“We were at our beach house,” Laura recalled, “and the girls were eating lunch. I was unloading the dishwasher and as I stood up, I caught the corner of my head on an open cabinet door. It hurt, but I didn’t think much about it. I just had a headache. So we went off to the amusement park and watched the fireworks that night.”
But over the next couple days, that headache would become crippling. So much so, that the Annapolis, Maryland mother of two ended up in the emergency room. What appeared to be a simple hit on the head was actually a traumatic brain injury.
“There was no physical damage that could be picked up on a scan. But I couldn’t sleep. I lost my appetite. I even began playing guitar for the first time! They could tell from the behavioral changes I began to experience that something serious had happened.”
Laura’s doctor explained that when tissue is injured, the brain re-routes the neural connections around the injury, often activating parts of the brain that weren’t being used.
“He said that he’d seen people who began to like foods they’d never liked before,” Laura explained, “or who went from quiet and shy to outgoing. It’s called Post Concussion Syndrome. So I asked him whether he thought it was strange that I’d written a 450-page book in 11 weeks.”
That’s right. Eleven weeks. All those nights that Laura couldn’t sleep, she’d slip out of bed and into her home office and begin to do something she’d never done before. She wrote a paranormal romance novel.
“While I was recuperating, my husband, Brian, had brought me the Twilight series. I’d never heard of it before, but I loved it. I grew up in a family that believed in the supernatural. It completely rocked my world. And suddenly I felt like I needed to write. I thought, ‘Stephenie Meyer is a mom, just like I am -- and she hadn’t thought about writing a book before she did. If she can do it, maybe I can do it too.’”
So, in a twist of fate that proves sometimes truth really can be stranger than fiction, Laura, who was a history professor at the Naval Academy, embarked on an entirely new career. She was so confident of her new skill, that she decided it was time to find an agent. So she sent queries to 60 of them.
“I actually got a lot of requests for it,” she said. “Some people wanted to see a partial manuscript; others wanted to see the entire thing. In the end, they all said no. But that didn’t deter me. The doctor said there are two ways to look at a brain injury -- a catastrophe that ruins your life or an opportunity. I had become a writer and at that point, I couldn’t imagine my life without it. It filled me up in a way nothing had before. My whole feeling about who I was had changed.”
So Laura did what a writer does. She continued to write. She’d spend her days teaching and taking care of her family and every free moment at her keyboard. She surrounded herself with other writers, by joining the Romance Writers of America. And when she wasn’t revising that original manuscript, she’d write something called fan fiction -- on a site where fans craft stories about characters they’ve read about.
When Laura couldn’t concentrate on her own protagonists, she’d write about Bella and Edward, the lead characters in the Twilight series. She wrote 28 chapters that got 3.8 million hits. Laura had built a fan base before she was ever published.
What she couldn’t have known was that the audience she'd acquired would play an important part in what would become a bidding war over her work.
“I was just having fun,” the writer explained, “with a group of like-minded people. I wasn’t trying to build a following. There was really no ulterior motive.”
In the meantime, she kept sending out revisions of her first novel “Forever Freed” and began working on new ones -- some based on the paranormal and others that were contemporary romances, with military heroes similar to those who had walked the hallowed halls of her workplace.
And she began to explore other options. Digital publishing was heating up and e-publishers provided her with a whole new audience -- one that didn’t require an agent. Within weeks of her first query, Laura landed a deal. And it wouldn’t be long before she received a call that might leave even an established romance writer breathless.
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“A year earlier” she said, “I had submitted a book called “In The Service of the King” specifically with Harlequin in mind. They have 20 different lines with very particular parameters, and some of them don’t require an agent. As a new writer, you don’t want to be a pain in the butt, so I checked in at six months and they told me it was in the queue.”
“But then one day, I saw a 212 number pop up on my phone. I almost ignored the call because I thought it was a solicitor. But the 212 got my attention. Harlequin was on the phone! I was trying to talk like a normal person, but I was dancing around the house. I think the dog thought I was crazy.”
It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Laura sold the romance publisher a series called “Vampire Warrior Kings” and she continued to work on other ideas. In total, she sold 16 books completely on her own.
“And out of the blue” Laura said with a smile, “I got an email from an editor at a New York publishing house, saying she’d read my work and wondered if I had anything to submit her. And then I got another one the next week from another publishing house!”
“50 Shades of Grey had just come out and contemporary romance was exploding in popularity. Publishers were looking for people who could write in that genre and had a following.”
Suddenly, Laura was back where she began -- looking for an agent -- only this time with lots of interest in her work. She signed with someone who had shown faith in her early on and then the storyline got even better. A bidding war began. And publishers had one week to make their best offers.
“I asked my agent,” Laura recalled, “what happens when we get the first offer? And she said, ‘We already got one! When she told me the number, I started hyperventilating. It was in the high five figures.”
By Wednesday of that week, Harper Collins made a pre-emptive offer -- an offer that was on the table for 24 hours, in an attempt to cut off further negotiations with others publishers. It was a four-book deal, only this time, in the high six figures.
“In three weeks time, I went from having no agent and an e-publisher, to an agent and a major six-figure deal. I was totally flabbergasted. It was surreal that it was happening, and it was happening so fast.”
Just two weeks ago, Laura turned in the first book of that series. “Hard As It Gets” -- a romance novel revolving around a former military hero -- will be released on Nov. 26th, 2013. And now she’s taking a leave of absence from her job at the Naval Academy to write full-time.
“My husband,” Laura laughed,” jokes about how taxing it is for him to pose for all my book covers. I just want to warn everyone reading this, don’t try hitting your head on the cabinet at home. Results may vary!”
“But if you want to write -- write. You can’t revise what you haven’t written and you can’t sell what you haven’t written. You have to get past the rejection letters. Some of the best-selling books out there were rejected time and time again. And just because your first one doesn’t sell, doesn’t mean the next one won’t.”
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