Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Long and Winding Road . . . and Book Giveaway

by Judy Merrill Larsen

I received my first rejection letter circa 1971 from Tiger Beat magazine. I'd entered some contest to write "My Dream Wedding to _____" I picked Bobby Sherman. (I still know all the words to his big hit "Seattle" and will sing it if asked. Seriously. Just ask.) I don't recall being particularly upset about not winning which perhaps suggests I was just preparing for the 321 (or so. Not that I'm counting or anything.) rejection letters I would get when first querying agents. I recall being more disappointed about not winning one of his puppies in another contest they had.

But, I digress.

As I was saying, that first rejection did not deter me in any way. I filled notebooks with diary entries, wrote stories, plays, and poetry. Lots and lots and lots of poetry. Really bad teenage girl angst-filled poetry. My top topics were boys and war. And, no, you can NOT see them. Ever. I will say, though, in their defense, that very few of them rhymed. I am proud of that.

I got more serious about writing in college where I was an English major and took lots of creative writing classes along with all the lit courses. I learned how stories were told and fell in love with words.

Flash forward. I got married, had two babies, got divorced. I suddenly found myself not only surprised to be an ex-wife but needing to tuck away the writing dreams and focus on providing for my sons as a high school English teacher.

Little did I know that my education as a writer was on the right path. Long and winding, but right.

My days filled with my sons, growing up before my eyes, and the words of the masters, and exposing my students to those words. Discovering with them how stories get told, how characters get into our hearts and stay with us (Atticus Finch, anyone? Elizabeth Bennett? Tom Joad?).

And then, in the spring of 1999, a friend and I were drinking wine and talking late into the evening, and I said into the dark, warm air that someday I was going to write a novel. She looked me hard in the eyes and said, "So go do it."

I did.

I wrote the first draft that summer and began collecting rejections. Lots of rejections. (I still say I didn't know how to write a query letter.) But I truly believe that things happen when they are supposed to. And in the summer of 2004 (yes, 5 years later), an agent said yes. The right agent. The perfect agent. And then a couple months later we sold ALL THE NUMBERS to Random House.


It was released in July 2006. And since then, the road continues to twist and turn. There have been more rejections . . . and more yesses. The book has traveled the world and become a best seller in Taiwan. And even though I still get all stressed when a manuscript is on submission, and rejections still sting, I can look back at the road I've traveled and know that things happen how and when they are supposed to. And I still look forward to seeing what's around the next curve.

What do you hope is ahead for you? Leave a comment (with your contact scoop) by midnight CST on Dec. 22 and I'll randomly select one winner to receive a signed copy of my novel.

I live in St. Louis, MO with my husband, am the mom/stepmom to five kids (ages 17-25), and taught high school English for 15 years. I'm over on Facebook and Twitter .


  1. I'm pleased to meet you Judy, I'm Anita, and I grew up in a suburb in North St.Louis County. I too was reading and submitting things to Tiger Beat in the early to mid 70's, and while I still have all those journals and diaries and such, I'm not sure even I want to read the angst ridden school girl that I was. I do try to be empathetic when my now 17 year old twin daughters act the same.
    I'd love to read your book.........happy holidays!

  2. Love the Tiger Beat! I had such a crush on Shawn Cassidy, who always seemed to be on the cover... sigh...
    I wish for the things I've enjoyed most this year - being with my family and friends, writing books, and making new friends....

  3. I read 'All the Numbers'a couple of years ago and loved it.

  4. Thanks for sharing your journey, Judy. You're persistence paid off and that's what I hope is ahead for myself. OMG! I loved Tiger Beat! I used to cut out the pictures of Leif Garret, Scott Baio, David and Sean Cassidy and plaster them all over my bulletin board! I would love to be entered in your giveaway!
    Merry Christmas!

  5. Hi :)
    Thank you for sharing your inspirational post Judy. It reinforces my own determination and dream.
    Merry Christmas!
    RK Charron

  6. I wrote a fan letter to David Cassidy years ago.Got a form letter in return and an offer to buy the David Cassidy Love kit whatever that is.

    I also had a Bobby Sherman poster in my room and I know all the words to Julie Do You Love Me?

  7. Tiger Beat does span the ages, doesn't it? It was a toss up for me between Bobby, David Cassidy and Michale Cole (from Mod Squad . . . remember?). I'd moved past TB by the time Shawn Cassidy and Scott Baio graced its cover.

    Karin, I changed the words to that song to "Judy, Judy, Judy Do you love me?" Thought I was sooo cool.

  8. I was a Shaun Cassidy fan...'fan' definitely living up to its Christian form, 'fanatic' :) I had all his posters, action figure, satin jacket, t-shirts and yes, even the jeans. I was certain at the tender age of eleven he was singing DA DOO RUN RUN for only me. Hey, the lyrics did say, 'Jill'...I'm still holding on to that, in case you couldn't tell! :)

    Thank you for sharing your story of perseverance, Judy. I need to hear more of these stories as I prepare for the querying process. Knowing great writers have had their share of rejections braces me for what inevitably awaits. But, I hope I can say I was as strong as you five years later!

    Oh, by the way, I think this picture of you should be your default/cover/Christmas card photo. It's great!

  9. I didn't like Bobby Sherman so much, but I did love your book. It is beautifully crafted, written from the heart.

  10. Judy, you are a continuing inspiration (not to mention a fine writer and wonderful friend)!

    Put me in the Shaun Cassidy camp...and Leif Garrett, of course. The hair! The smile!

  11. I'm sorry to say that I missed the Shaun Cassidy era...yes, I'm a bit older than you. My husband & I are both newly retired & our bucket list awaits us before we are in depends & wheelchairs. Looking forward to checking some off with plenty of time in between to read!

  12. I only had eyes for Peter Frampton in those days. Now that was HAIR. (I know he doesn't have any now.) :)

    Wonderful, inspiring post, Judy. I love how, no matter what this crazy pub biz brings, it's all about beautiful determination.

  13. Well, Judy, first I must inform you that it was I who was to marry Bobby Sherman! And if Donny Osmond was your backup, I had dibs on him too! But I digress... What a lovely post! I enjoyed reading your about your journey! From it, I learned that you are a gifted and seamless storyteller!

  14. Judy, had to tell you I just returned from the library with All The Numbers in my stack of books I intend to read over Christmas break! So funny to find you here after checking out your book. Loved hearing from you and it makes me want to read the book all the more.

    I too had a friend who said "What are you waiting for? Just do it!" I dedicated my first novel to her because without her pushing me, I probably would still be just wishing I could write a novel instead of actually doing it. Encouraging friends are priceless!

  15. Great journey story, Judy. Do you think the David Cassidy Love Kit comes with batteries?

  16. I love stories about motherhood and would love to read your book!


  17. Wow Judy, talk about taking me back! Bobby Sherman, David Cassidy and Elvis posters all on my wall! I tell myself that things happen in their time too. Thanks for sharing memory lane with us. Your book sounds great!

  18. Your story was inspirational and very timely for me--I'm a mom of four kids and trying to work on a novel whenever I can steal the time. Thank you for sharing it! Encgolsen@gmail.com

  19. I love reading about people's journeys to success - such inspiration! My hope for myself in the future is that I have success in my own writing career and good health.


  20. Total Tiger Beat fan here, too! I loved Parker Stevenson (the other brother in the Hardy Boys) and Scott Baio. Sigh. A friend and I tried to call LA and get SB's phone number during a sleepover one Saturday night. I don't think we ever reached him!

    Judy, your story continues to be inspirational as I know really amazing things are just around the corner! And, seriously, lunch soon? At least in January sometime? I need to email you and lock down a date because life just gets so busy! Merry Christmas to you!

  21. All of us readers are so glad that your long and winding road led you to the right person....Would love to read your book! Merry Christmas and a wonderful and prosperous New Year ♥

  22. Whoa! That sure is one heck of a journey! I'm so glad to see that you never game up and that gives me inspiration. I'm glad you finally succeeded. :)
    Marry Christmas!~


  23. I am hoping that chickens, sheep, and a weedless garden are on my road ahead... and a homemade loaf of bread that actually rises.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I enjoyed reading it.

    Kelly J. R.
    kjramstack at yahoo dot com

  24. Judy, I *loved* your story and LOL about the bad teenage girl angst-filled poetry...I have some of that and, no, I won't let anyone read it either (sadly, some of mine *did* rhyme ;).

    I'm always thankful for good friends and good health, so I'm hoping for more time with those I love in the New Year, fewer colds/flus and great writing news for all of us. Hope to get a chance to see you in person again in 2011!! Merry Christmas :-).

  25. Thanks for sharing your journey. I have gotten so many incredible free books for leaving a comment that I can't resist. Forgive this "guy" for digging the girlfriends blog, but I know it's mostly women who buy books. So, I'm enjoying reading about other writers and books while learning a little about the female mind. Rest assured though, as a long married man I know that women will always be a mystery.

  26. Thank you for sharing your journey! It's a very inspirational story and I enjoyed reading it.

    For myself, I hope for time to spend with my family, for some spare time that I can spend with my camera, for my garden to produce lots of veggies this year and maybe bigger tomatoes, for plenty of long lazy days on the beach, and of course, for books.

    Merry Christmas!

  27. Tiger Beat!!! Ah, the memories!!

    I love the idea that someone said, "So, go do it" and then you did!! So, so happy for you.

    I've got some big hopes for my third novel, which I'm finishing up now. Fingers crossed!!

    Happy holidays, Judy!

  28. Oh, Judy. I remember Bobby Sherman. That hair! I confess, I probably know all the words to Seattle too;)

  29. Another St. Louisan here who peaked early. I sold a brief piece to Datebook magazine when I was 12. As a consequence I was written up in the local paper. It was pretty much downhill from there.

  30. Hey, so nice to discover you're a fellow former Bobby Sherman fan! My first concert was Bobby Sherman at the Westbury Music Fair for my 12th birthday ...

  31. And the winners are . . .

    Kelly JR and Green-Eyed Mom

    (Yes, in the spirit of the holidays I picked 2 winners!). Look for an e-mail from me to get your address and see how you want the book inscribed.

    Thanks to all of you for your kind words, for sharing your memories, and for loving reading!

  32. You guys are cracking me up with these teen crushes!