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Friday, October 06, 2006

Fiction Fridays: My First Contract

At the ACFW Conference in Dallas last month God gave me a deep desire of my heart. And He did it in a way I can only call a kiss from heaven.

Since I was a young girl, I have wanted to write. I have a shelf of journals at home that prove this. Periodically, I’d check out books from the library on how to write books. At the opening session of the conference I entered the ranks of soon-to-be-published historical romance writers.

In September 2005, I attended my first American Christian Fiction Writers conference. Earlier that spring I’d met Colleen Coble, and God took that nascent dream in my heart and breathed life into it. I could feel His smile that whispered to my soul now was the time to put time and energy into writing.

I moved my laptop downstairs and started working on ideas. I read materials on websites. Practical how-tos on how to build a story. I attended the first meeting of Indiana ACFW, where I realized just how little I knew. The wonderful women gathered there were talking about things like POV (huh?), character arcs and brainstorming. I felt like I had crossed through the looking glass and was on the other side in a new world where people used words I was familiar with but now held new and mysterious meanings.

I joined an ACFW mentor group and learned so much as my mentor, Pam Meyer, taught me basic writing rules. And Colleen Coble read portions of chapters and encouraged me as I emailed her updates. Then I joined crit group 25, a suspense writers group through ACFW, and we worked so hard on each other’s suspense novels.

At the 2005 ACFW conference two editors expressed an interest in my partial suspense manuscript. But as I volunteered, I had the opportunity to talk to an editor who shared a love of history with me, particularly World War II. I asked if he’d heard of a small story from western Nebraska that occurred during WWII. He hadn’t, and in that the seed for a book planted in my mind.

During World War II, a young woman in North Platte, Nebraska, gathered the people to serve the servicemen who came through on the Union Pacific troop trains to form a Canteen. From December 17, 1941 through April 1946 more than six million servicemen and women were served. Every train was met by volunteers. At first they were met with fruit, candy, and coffee. Within a month or two it had grown to sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, desserts, fried chicken. As many as 25 birthday cakes a day were given to servicemen. And this was during the tight rationing. People saved their best and gave it to others. 125 communities in Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas actively supported the Canteen. And all the money given to support the Canteen was private donations. The closest to federal support was a $5 donation from FDR.

The next evening I ended up at this editor’s table quite by mistake. I wanted to sit with my mentor Pam and get to know her better and she wanted to sit with him. I mentioned this specific idea to him, and he said he wanted to see it when it was developed.

About four weeks later I sent in the sample chapters and chapter-by-chapter synopsis so that I could get back to my suspense. Then I waited.

In December after the editor expressed interest in seeing a complete, I flew into overdrive and finished the book in three weeks. At Christmas, I spent a couple days double-checking my research and wandering around downtown North Platte imagining the streets as they had looked in 1941.

I tweaked the manuscript and sent the complete in sometime in early January and then tried to forget about it as I finished the suspense. At the end of February I got an email that said they liked it and wondered if I could add a couple small things to it. Perfect! I’d misremembered the word count and had plenty of room to add without taking anything out. Within a couple weeks I returned the manuscript.

So Thursday night I sat at a table with friends waiting for Barbour to announce who would receive contracts that night. The editors announced they would hand out two that night. My heart sank. There was no way I would be the one full-length manuscript they would pick up. As they got ready to announce it I looked down, my heart sitting in my toes, praying I could rejoice with whoever the newly contracted author was.

“The title of the newly contracted book is Canteen Dreams.”

I’m sure they said something else, but I shot out of my chair as I heard the words. Screams echoed from my left. I looked up to see Colleen jumping up and down. My fingers shook and my heart raced. It was as if every sense was heightened but I couldn’t take everything in at the same time. I walked up, shaking and reached for the envelope. I think I whispered “thank you.” And then turned to see Colleen running to me. Without a thought I was running to her and she spun my around as we hugged and shrieked.

You see the kiss from heaven was that God allowed me to get the contract where my mentor and so many of my friends could experience it and celebrate with me. Tears fill my eyes as I think of His goodness. I could have received a call, email or envelope at home. I still would have been thrilled, and my friends still would have rejoiced with me.

But this way I got to experience it in a way I will never forget.

5 comments:

L.L. Barkat said...

Cara... how delightful! Many congratulations....

Mary said...

I felt your excitement just reading about it! Like I said before, I can't wait to read your book...I loved bob Greene's book on the NP Canteen...

Michelle Pendergrass said...

(((((((HUGS)))))))))

Anonymous said...

........I'm so jealous, in a good way!
So, when will it be in paperback?

DK said...

Congratulations! First contracts are huge. I found you through the Faith Lifts blogroll; I'm a member too. It's good to meet another writer! I've only been blogging 8 weeks now, but I've already met some terrific Inspirational writers. Drop by my blog whenever you're in the neighborhood.

DK
http://aflyoverblog.typepad.com