Ann Garvin – Author
Where it may have begun:
Writers are observers and I’m the noisiest observer there ever was. It started when my parents packed-up my bossy, noisy, laugh-out-loud self and moved the family from Wyckoff, NJ to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Once there, I shut up, quit laughing and sat wide-eyed trying to figure out how to adapt. I watched every peculiar look I got, noticed every speech pattern, new colloquialism, and got a first-hand look at what it was like to be on the outside looking in. That’s the day I began thinking like a writer.
What I did before I started writing the fun stuff:
I exploded from the U.P. like a soft nerf gob from a straw and travelled all the way to exotic Duluth, MN. Once there I yakked (talked not vomited) my way through Nursing school at The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, MN. In fact, I talked so much and slept so little that my lung collapsed, I got mononucleosis and tonsilities followed by a tonsillectomy. Each in a different year I attended. In the summers I worked in the Youth Conservation Corps, was a Nanny in Vail, Colorado, waitressed, waitressed some more, taught aerobics in tight pink and black spandex and, became head tour guide at the college. After graduating I learned ASL and became the camp nurse for the blind, deaf, and handicapped, transitioned to paraplegics at Mayo then Post Traumatic Stress patients at the Veteran’s hospital in Madison, WI. Between calling in sick and being convinced, as the nuns at college predicted, that I would kill someone, I enrolled in graduate school. Never once writing a slice of anything beyond a letter home or to friends. EXCEPT I did write a letter to Irma Bombeck who wanted to meet for lunch and, that got me thinking. I must have written something she liked. So, I finished my masters in exercise physiology (Go Badgers) and flinchingly signed up for another tour of torture – PhD in exercise psychology. In between I did theater, backpacked through Europe (twice), swam in Jamaica, Greece, Hawaii, Kuai, and ate my way through Egypt. In between I learned that my mentor found my writing to be among the worst he’d ever tried to edit. In response, I performed in the Vagina Monologues several times and took too long finishing my dissertation. Instead, I got headshots taken and made commercials, learned hypnosis for research purposes, got married, gave birth to my soul mate, gave birth to my other soul mate, graduated and finally, got a job I could get my head around. Teaching. Let the angels sing. Still, forcing the writing that I had to do for science not for love. By then I had become an adequate writer but each sentence was a struggle, each line a night mare. But I did it. I published, got tenure, became a professor, started wearing a mouth guard during the day lest I grind my teeth to nubs writing science.
When the defining moment happened
I was in a hotel, showering in San Francisco when the phone rang. It was the Wisconsin Book Festival (WBF) calling to say that I won second place in their 24-hour writing contest. With absolutely no experience in creative writing, I’d entered a contest where the WBF provided a photograph and the task was to write, in one day, a story of no more than 2000 words and send it off. First short story (Daydream Believer) I’d ever written, first contest I’d ever entered. No one on earth was more surprised than I was.
How I wrote a book and found an agent
(while living in Wisconsin and having virtually no idea how the system worked)
I just hate it when authors make it sound like it was a snap; wrote the book in a weekend, sent out five letters and got four positive responses. That’s not what happened here. I blindly wrote a first draft making all the mistakes new writers make. Inactive language, too much exposition, flash backs, weak plotting and self-indulgent prose. Then I began learning the business of writing and publishing. I went to conferences, writing workshops, and mini-courses. I revised. I listened to how to write a smashing query letter, log line, and synopsis. I sent inquiries to agents and surprisingly got some positive responses followed quickly by rejection. I revised. I questioned who ever paused in their step or made eye contact with me. God love my friends who were among the first to say, “Hey, that’s a funny sentence!” and who never once said to me, “How can you have a PhD and not know how to use a comma?” or “Shut up about your book.” If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have done this. I got early readers who weren’t afraid to tell me what did and didn’t work. Mona Beckham came to NYC with me and Kelly Janda was my biggest cheerleader. I met Jacqueline Mitchard who put me up and held my hand at the Maui Writer’s conference patting my head and telling me to get back to it. I sent out more inquiries and got more rejections. How many? I don’t know….75- more I bet. Then I went to the Algonkain Pitch Conference and met Michael Neff, founder and editor of Web del Sol. He graciously read some pages and referred me to Eve Bridburg at Zachary Harmsworth and Schuster. Here’s the best part. She didn’t take me, but she said if I rewrite it, she’ll look again. So guess what I did. I rewrote it and rewrote it again. Start to finish. My ace in the hole? Catherine Adams at Inkslingerediting.com. She read my manuscript and told me exactly what I needed to do to make it human. She’s my writing soul mate. She gets me. The funny thing is, through all these rewrites, the actual story never really changed, my voice never changed –it all just kept getting better. Like I had the black and white outlines in a kids coloring book and I was adding hues and shading. Probably 8 months later Eve read my work and said, “Try again”. I did and she signed me. And I can’t wait to tell you the story of Jackie Canter at Berkley Penguin my editor. It was the universe at work for certain. That’ll be in my blog soon.