Let me say first: it’s hard to follow Sheila’s great blog post! Love the postcard from Pat Conroy...But here is something about my writer’s journey…
Oh how I envy those folks who say they have always known they wanted to be writers! Imagine how I could have shaped my college and graduate training, the teachers I might have studied under, the classes I might have taken. I only knew I was crazy about books and reading-and that has never changed, starting with my early run through every Nancy Drew ever written.
After wandering through several career false starts, I ended up training and working as a clinical psychologist-wonderfully interesting and productive work. Then I fell in love with a guy who was a golfer. As I got more interested in the sport, I began a furious campaign to learn to play and spent lots of time (and money) trying to master it. I couldn't get over how nervous I felt on the first tee, especially in a competition. How did professional golfers survive and even thrive with this kind of stress?
I’ve never been able to explain it exactly, but writing became a way to make something useful out of my golf obsession. Over time, the idea of a character called Cassie Burdette, neurotic professional golfer wannabe, began to take shape (write what you know and all that!) In 1998, I hatched the idea of writing a mystery about a woman caddie on the men's golf tour and her pal, a sports psychologist. With Tiger Woods mania incinerating the PGA Tour, I was sure the story idea would be a natural. Besides, this was fun! Any time I spent on the golf course or attending tournaments or even reading golf magazines was, you guessed it, research. Over the course of a five-book series I was able to talk Cassie into starting psychotherapy so that both her golf game and her taste in men improved.
And along the way, Cassie and I had some amazing adventures. I spent most of my first (admittedly modest) advance paying to compete in a real professional-amateur LPGA tournament so I could absorb the correct ambience for book two. And I played golf at Pinehurst, Palm Springs, and in the Dominican Republic—all tax-deductible without stretching the IRS code. I met and corresponded with professional golfers, and many fans—mystery fans, golf fans, and best of all, fans of both. These people worried about Cassie: how can she drink that much before a tournament? How can she eat like that and stay in shape? Lose the boyfriend—he’s a bum! Over coffee, my friends were more likely to ask what was new with Cassie, than with me.
Once the golf gig was over, I wrote a second mystery series starring clinical psychologist Dr. Rebecca Butterman, that tailgated on my own career. I loved showing the world of psychotherapy from an insider's perspective and using Rebecca's special training and talent to solve mysteries. And now I'm busy writing the first book in a third series featuring a food critic in Key West, which will debut in January 2012. How can I go wrong with the research for that??
I still shake my head in wonder when I think about how my life has changed over the past ten years. Maybe I would have learned more about the theory and practice of writing if I'd known I was headed this way back in college. But on the other hand, maybe the timing of my life experience was exactly right.
How about you? Are you surprised about the turns your life has taken? (I'm delighted to offer two copies of PREACHING TO THE CORPSE, which takes place at Christmas, in exchange for your comments.)