Never Give Up, Never Surrender by Grace Topping
I often hear people say they would like to write a book, or that they started a book but never finished it. It made me wonder what it was about me that enabled me to write a book that was published—and have that book nominated for a major book award, the Agatha for Best First Novel.
I don’t view myself as having outstanding writing talent, nor do I possess compelling stories that nearly write themselves. I spent a career writing technical manuals, procedural guides, and policy. All pretty boring stuff. And although that experience helped me develop a good sense of grammar and organization, it didn’t help move me into writing anything that required some imagination—especially writing murder mysteries. Although some of the people I came across in my career proved to be excellent examples I could draw on for villains or victims. What if I had thought I didn’t have what it takes to write fiction?
So what did I possess that got me to where I am today—a published author? I can only chalk it up to sheer stubbornness. I was like the character in the film, Galaxy Quest, who continually states, Never give up, never surrender. Once I decided to write a cozy mystery, I was just too stubborn to give up. What if I hadn’t been so stubborn?
I began my mystery-writing journey over ten years ago when I signed up for an online course through my local community college on mystery writing. The course required work, and I noticed as the course progressed how many people began dropping out. I kept at it and came out of the course with a thorough outline for my manuscript. What if I had found the course work too hard and had quit?
With the outline, I had a road map for my story. It didn’t take me long to flesh it out, but when I finished the complete first draft and wrote The End, I only had 45,000 words. A far cry from the 70,000 words required by most publishers for a cozy mystery. What if I had decided I didn’t have anything more to add to the story and given up?
So I brainstormed and thought of things I could add. Some of my ideas were pretty lame, but somehow I got them to work. I polished my manuscript and gave it to five friends to read and give me feedback. They were supportive and gave me suggestions on which to base changes. What if I had been reluctant to show my work to anyone or been discouraged by their comments and stopped there?
I kept learning all I could about writing novels, specifically mysteries, and attended several mystery conferences. I met other aspiring writers there and formed friendships. They encouraged me and offered to read my manuscript and provide feedback—this time from experienced mystery writers. I took their suggestions and started rewriting. What if I had been reluctant to attend a conference or had been too shy to approach other writers?
Having made strides in my writing, I joined professional organizations that support mystery writers, specifically Sisters in Crime (SINC) and Mystery Writers of America. Through SINC, I discovered an online chapter that consisted of unpublished mystery writers helping each other to move ahead. They kept me going when I got discouraged. What if I had viewed myself as unworthy of being a member of a professional organization?
Throughout the intervening years, ten in fact, I learned much about writing mysteries. I revised my manuscript thirty-eight times. What if I had stopped at version ten, twenty, or even thirty-seven?
Then I took the next hard step—querying agents requesting representation. I sent out queries, week after week, sometimes hearing no thanks, and other times hearing nothing at all. What if I had given up and decided I couldn’t deal with rejection?
No matter what, I didn’t give up, and when that call came from an agent saying that she liked my manuscript and wanted to represent me, I was sure glad I hadn’t. Within two months, she sold my manuscript to a small publisher and on April 28, 2019, Staging is Murder came out—almost ten years from the month I completed that online course. My second book, Staging Wars, comes out April 28, 2020. Also in April, the winner of the Agatha for Best First Novel will be announced.
So if you want to write a mystery or accomplish anything else, remember, never give up, never surrender—to doubt or discouragement.
Have you ever thought about writing a book?
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Grace Topping is a recovering technical writer and IT project manager, accustomed to writing lean, boring documents. Let loose to write fiction, she is now creating murder mysteries and killing off characters who remind her of some of the people she dealt with during her career. Fictional revenge is sweet. She’s using her experience helping friends stage their homes for sale as inspiration for her Laura Bishop mystery series. The series is about a woman starting a new career midlife as a home stager. Grace is the former vice president of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and a member of the SINC Guppies and Mystery Writers of America. She lives with her husband in Northern Virginia.