Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Life Changing Moments

Please welcome Suspense author LJ Sellers.

I've always enjoy hot summer read. LJ Sellers has a tasty recipe for a one: toss in some criminal intrigue, add in murder, human drama, shavings of socio-political themes, and then add a cool Detective to solve it all and you have The Sex Club. Nail biting is optional. Or not.

Lj shares with us some thoughts on life changing moments. She touches on writing, day jobs, the need to feel good about yourself while waiting for that 'break' from aspiring author to being published.

Milestones tend to make me reflective. Often they make me want to reassess and regroup. Not this one. Nearly 20 years ago, I sat down and started my first novel. I remember the scene clearly: a Commodore computer set up in the bedroom, a cup of coffee in hand, and a yellow reporter’s tablet with some sketched-out ideas.

Much has happened in my writing career since then, and we’d need a whole pot of coffee to cover it. Two events, though, stand out as game-changers in how I lived my life. The first was an epiphany I had about nine years after starting that first novel. I read an interview with a scriptwriter who’d recently sold his first screenplay for big money. When the interviewer asked if he would do anything differently (given the chance), the writer said, “If I had known it would take ten years to sell a script, I would have found a better day job.”

That hit home with me. At the time I was waiting tables and doing a little freelance writing. There’s not much editorial work in Eugene, Oregon, but still, working as a food server was making me feel bad about myself. Also, I had recently failed to sell a novel, even though my top-notch agent told me we had an offer. (Crushing!)

I realized I had to find a better day job—immediately! I had to resume my career and put my journalism degree and inquisitive mind to work in a productive and satisfying capacity. Hating your job is no way to live. How you spend every day is critical.

So I stopped living for the future—that day when my novels would sell and my life would change. I found a job as a pharmaceutical magazine editor, and I accepted, on some level, that nonfiction writing and editing would be my career and that it would be enough.

It was great move. I instantly felt better about myself. Over time, I developed extensive editing and layout skills that would serve me well for a lifetime in publishing. (I also learned a lot about drugs!) I kept writing fiction in my spare time though. It’s an addictive little hobby.

Seven years later, the magazine moved to New York and I was laid off. While I looked for work, I used the opportunity to finish writing The Sex Club, the novel that would finally launch my career as mystery/suspense author. Still needing the security of a paycheck, I soon found a position with an editorial publisher. It was a wonderful job, but it took every bit of brain power I had. In the two and half years with that company, I didn’t write a single word of new fiction.

In the long run, it was not a happy time in my life.

Then last March, as the economy started to tank, they laid me off. It was nerve racking but also incredibly liberating. I decided to do things a little differently this time. I decided to write first thing every morning, no matter what. (Thus the name of my blog: Write First, Clean Later

I developed a freelance editing business that allowed me to work on my schedule—with the paid work done during afternoons, evenings, and weekends. Mornings were for writing novels.

I love my new life! My bathroom is perpetually messy, dinner is often an unimaginative freezer-to-oven meal, and there’s laundry backed up everywhere. I’m also never sure if the next freelance gig will pay the bills. But since that lifestyle change fifteen months ago, I’ve written two more Detective Jackson novels and I’m working on a third. One of those stories will be published in September, and another book will be released in August next year.

My husband says he’s never seen me so happy. It’s the first time in my life I’ve put my novel writing first. Making a living, raising kids, taking care of an extended family, and keeping the house together were always a priority. Those things are all still important; I just don’t let them get in the way anymore. I also realize how lucky I am to be in this position.

One of the best things about this new life is the social networking. I love blogging and sharing writing and marketing advice with other novelists. I love meeting writers and readers online and getting to know them. I love attending conferences and being a part of the crime novelist community.

The takeaway message is this: Enjoy every day (and every task). And make time to do what you love, whether it’s writing, or skydiving, or quilting. It’s the only way to be truly happy.

Have you had a life changing moment? If so, please share.

L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist, editor, novelist, and occasional standup comic based in Eugene, Oregon. She is the author of the highly praised mystery/suspense novel, The Sex Club, and has a second Detective Jackson story, Secrets to Die For, coming out in September (Echelon Press). A standalone thriller, The Baby Thief, will be released in August next year (Echelon Press). When not plotting murders, L.J. enjoys cycling, gardening, editing fiction manuscripts, and hanging out with her extended family.
You can find LJ on Facebook, Crimespace, and Twitter.

Lj's Website

You can read an excerpt of:

The Sex Club

Secrets To Die For

To be released September 2009


~Sia McKye~ said...

LJ, welcome to Over Coffee. I'm glad you're here. I've enjoyed reading your blog many times. :-)

I have plenty of coffee for our disussion.

Terrie said...

Great interview.. I have read her book couple months ago. It was very good and enjoy reading this book ..

VA said...

Tweaking excerpt LJ, drew me in easily. "The Sex Club" has a somewhat deceptive title, but I already like your protagonist Kera.

Life changing moments, they are where trajectories suddenly change, careening off in a different direction. I've probably experienced more than I should have, one reason I enjoy lingering in the relative calm of the plains of tranquility. They do provide fodder for writing, and even more fundamentally they adjust our perspective. You never really truly view things the same way again. Almost like stepping into another dimension where things are the nearly the same, but shifted.

LJ do you consider life changing moments a crucial component of your plot development, writing style.

L.J. Sellers said...

Interesting question. Almost all crime stories hinge on a critical decision by perpetrator or victim. My protagonists are usually facing critical moments in their lives as well. That's how you make emotional connections.

alexisgrant said...

Thanks for sharing this with us. I love your first example, when you realized that you need to LIVE your life even while looking forward to the future. What a great reminder.

Kat Sheridan said...

This couldn't be more timely for me. After 20 years on the same job (sometimes I loved it, but at the end I hated it), I was laid off. I'm still figuring out what this life changing moment means, but I'm thinking I should be writing more. I adore the idea of write first, clean later! Thank you, LJ, for some great thoughts to mull over, and thank you Sia, again, for having a wonderful and interesting guest!

Now, I'll think I'll write a bit, and clean later!

Adina said...

Oh, boy,Great subject !
My whole life is a life changing event !
I married three time, hopped from one continent to another , raised a child and through all this I faced the silliness and irony life folds in for everybody.
I began writing because all these 'unique' moments screamed to be written down and explored...I guess it's cheaper than therapy ...

Sheila Deeth said...

Life changing moments... I'll need lots of coffee for that. My husband keeps saying I should write about things like emigrating, studying math at Cambridge, etc... But other people have much more exciting uniqeuness. And now I need another cup of coffee. This was a fun conversation to drop in on. THanks.

~Sia McKye~ said...

LOL, "cheaper than therapy." It is, Adina, and you're right, it's those things that influence what we write about.

I always wrote stories and told them, but my focus was on a career with a paycheck. Then raising kids and still raising :-)

Writing was always something I would 'get to' When we moved to the ranch up here a few years ago, I started sorting through story outlines, things I'd written and decided to do something about it. So moving up here was a pivot point for me.

L.J. Sellers said...

Sia, I'm so glad to hear you're getting focused on your writing. Sometimes all we need is a change of scenery to shake things up for us. Any sort of major change -- a move, a new job, a divorce -- despite the stress, is a chance to re-evaluate our lives and come out better for it.

Terry said...

I loved reading your life-changing moments and I think it's great when your hubby says he's never seen you so happy, and doesn't care about the laundry, cleaning and meals. He's obviously your biggest fan and stauncest suppourter. :)

Dellani Oakes said...

I had a life changing moment with my writing when I moved down here in 1989. Because of various issues at my former place of employment, I never got a teaching job here. We went to St. Augustine for a family trip that Easter and I fell in love with it. I started "Indian Summer" that spring. It wasn't until nearly 10 years later when my children were all in school, that I was able to sit down and take a serious look at what I'd written. (I tossed most of it) Did my research, wrote and rewrote furiously and finally finished my novel. It wasn't what I'd planned at all, it was so much better. Although it's been tight sometimes, the best thing that could have happened was losing that teaching job. I now work part time as a sub & sell Mary Kay to support my writing habit.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Terry, thanks for stopping by and leaving a link to your wonderful site. I think what you're doing is fabulous.

And you're right, having your hubs in your corner is so important. :-)

Netti said...

Ah those life changing moments... Had quite a few of them in my time, and I completely agree with your message; live life to the fullest and enjoy every precious minute of it. Thanks for sharing LJ, very nice blog.

*sneaky like steals a cookie on the way out*

Diana_Duncan said...

Hi, LJ, from a fellow Oregonian! I'm in the middle of one of those life-changing moments right now. And boy is it NOT fun!

After 6 successful books, 2 RITA nominations and an RT Best Book of the Year nomination, a switch in senior editors has made it impossible for me to sell in my current line.

Amid severe panicking over the loss of income (I have 2 in college...oy!), I'm trying to regroup, reassess and get back into a book I started years ago, but didn't feel I had the chops to do the story justice.

I have to start all over again, new sub-genre, new research, new agent search, new publishing house search... It feels overwhelming.

I like your advice about being happy in the moment and not trying to live for the future. That really hit home. Now, if only I can keep paying my bills...

L.J. Sellers said...

That is heartbreaking, Diana. I've heard similar stories from other authors recently. It's so hard to keep to starting over! The agent/publisher search takes so much time.
There are publishers you can go to with a successful discontinued series. Perseverance Press is one, and Back in Print from iUniverse is another. (I believe.) Good luck with your efforts. With your talent, you'll land on your feet.

jrafferty said...

Hi L.J., I like this post. It is empowering to realize we can focus on the things we really want to do instead of putting them off. I particularly liked this commeht: "So I stopped living for the future—that day when my novels would sell and my life would change." I've have several times in my own life when I needed to turn the page and find a new balance. Arguably, I'm there once again as I'd like to find a better balance between my novel writing and income generating activities.

James Rafferty

Anonymous said...

Inspiring interview, Sia. Your blog has the immediacy of a radio show. I like how you and your guest discussed how personal priorities make such a difference in how work gets done and life gets lived.

For me, it's all about keeping regular "office hours", every day, six days a week, all the while living life to the fullest. Loving life to the max feeds my writing, and writing about it puts the exclamation points to it!

Natalie Neal Whitefield

~Sia McKye~ said...

Balance isn't always easily acheived James but life is smoother for the balance. At least mine is. :-)

Thank you Nat. I have some wonderful guests and I do love it. Oh, I have to have 'office' hours too. Nothing would get done otherwise.

Pat Bertram said...

I haven't had a life-changing moment as such, but I am going through a time when I feel the need to rethink where I am going, so this has been an interesting discussion for me. It's good to have the reminder that any change should be about enjoyment.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Lj, Thank you for visiting Over Coffee and for the good discussion.

I wish you the best on The Sex Club (that sounds so bad, lol) and I'm glad you provided the excerpts, they sure whet my appetite.

I'm really want to read Secrets to Die For!