On the Trail of John Pickett in London

I recently had the pleasure of going on a cruise on the English Channel—stops in Rotterdam and on the island of Guernsey, culminating in a couple of days in London before heading back home. This was actually my second visit to London. During the first, thirteen years ago, I’d concentrated on places that would have been fashionable during the Regency period, including day trips to Brighton and Bath.


But that was before my reinvention as a mystery writer. This time around, I decided to focus on places that would have been familiar to John Pickett. The logical place to start, then, was Bow Street, where he and his fellow Runners were based, and Drury Lane, where he hired rooms. (Warning: You may notice that I refer to my characters as if they are/were real people. I’m sorry if this strikes you as pretentious or silly, but I don’t know how else to do it—they ARE real to me!)


Anyway, my husband and I set out early Tuesday morning, navigating the Tube until we reached Bow Street. We hadn’t walked far until we came to the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court, where I was determined to have my picture taken! Pity my poor husband, who admits he is no photographer: I made him take this picture
four times before he got one that suited me!


Next, we walked northeast to the upper end of Drury Lane and began following it southeast. I already knew that I wouldn’t find John Pickett’s hired lodgings; besides the fact that I made them up out of whole cloth, the entire lower end of Drury Lane was razed around the turn of the 20th century to make room for the area now known as Aldwych. For the sake of my trip, this might have been a good thing: better, surely, not to find it at all than to discover I’d gotten it wrong! In fact, there was a theatre situated just about where I’d pictured Pickett’s flat as being located—and that theatre was staging a production of Top Hat, based on the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical of the same name! Later that day, we rushed off to Leicester Square and bought tickets, and returned to Drury Lane that night to see the show.


But that’s a subject for another blog. I took a picture of the Drury Lane street sign, just to prove I had really been there, and we continued
southwest along Russell Street past the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. Just to show what a good sport my husband is, when I told him that this theatre was the one built in 1812, he said, “Oh, is that the one that replaced the one you burned
down?” Naturally, I replied with an enthusiastic “Yes!” (In fact, the theatre did burn in 1809, which is a major plot point in the as yet untitled John Pickett mystery #5. But we sure gave all the other tourists something to think about!)

We had a few extra hours that afternoon, so we spent them walking up and down many of the streets my Regency characters would have known. This may not have meant much to my husband, but it was a real kick in the pants for me to see the street names and say, “Oh, look, Mike! Audley Street! Lady Dunnington lives there!” (Have I mentioned what a good sport Mike is?)


One of the places we walked through was Berkeley Square. Those who have been following the John Pickett mysteries from their beginning (In Milady’s Chamber) may remember that it is in the Fieldhurst town house in Berkeley Square that Lord Fieldhurst is murdered, leaving Lady Fieldhurst (a) a
widow; and (b) a suspect in her husband’s death. It is here that John Pickett first sees her and is instantly smitten. Now, as I looked around Berkeley Square, I found this house and
decided it looked like it might have been the one.


Finally, we returned to our hotel, which happened to be located just around the corner from New Scotland Yard—appropriate enough, since it was the Metropolitan Police Service, formed in 1829 and headquartered at Scotland Yard, that eventually replaced the Bow Street force.

The Rape of the Lock, Part Deux


When I was finishing up my English degree at the University of South Alabama, I took a class in 17th and 18th century English literature. One of the things we had to read for that class was Alexander Pope’s mock-epic poem, THE RAPE OF THE LOCK. I found it absolutely charming! For those unfamiliar with the poem, the “rape” in question is the unauthorized cutting of a lock of the fair Belinda’s hair by the Baron, without the lady’s knowledge or permission, while her attention is engaged in playing cards. Believe it or not, it was based on an actual event, which apparently caused quite a rift between the families of the lady and gentleman involved! Pope was requested to write the poem as a way of telling the parties to “get over it, already.” Anyway, the class was instructed to write a paper on the poem. We could choose our own topic, as long as we cleared it with the professor beforehand. So after class, I approached Dr. Patricia Stevens and said, “I want to write a sequel!” She asked for clarification, and I promised her a sequel written in iambic pentameter with rhymed couplets, just like the original. She gave me her permission, and soon returned the paper to me with the following comments: “This is excellent, Sheri. You’ve captured both the style and the spirit of the poem. A+.” More than that, she made a copy of my poem and kept it on her bulletin board for years afterwards.

Since many of my readers are history/literature buffs, I thought you might like to read it as well. You may share it if you wish, as long as you give me (and Pope!) author credit, as below.

by Sheri Cobb South
(with apologies to Alexander Pope)

Since Pope did on the fair Belinda dwell,
And offered not the Baron’s side to tell,
I here allow the Rapist equal chance
To speak his case and plead his own defense.
“My lady, he begins, “I must object,
My character and honor here protect.
It seems to me appropriate to claim
That I a victim more than villain am.”
“A victim? You?” outraged Belinda cries,
“You ought to blush with shame to tell such lies!
Behold, where once two sable locks were worn,
My neck, now bare: both of its ringlets shorn.
The first was cut by your deceitful hand;
Its twin, alas, cut at my own command.
Now, having seen my poor, ravaged locks,
Can you deny your guilt, oh cunning fox?”
“I don’t deny,” said he. “I must confess
‘Twas my own hand that stole the shining tress.
But, fair nymph, if malice here there be,
‘Twas but to avenge that which you stole from me.”
“What stole I e’er from you?” the nymph shot back,
“Save but a game of cards of red and black?”
With forcefulness that made Belinda start,
The Baron cried, “Fair maid, you stole my heart!
Come, my lady, come, let us be fair:
You have my heart, so why not I your hair?
Yet now I find (though much to my disgrace)
A thousand locks cannot one heart replace.
Though I the lock have claimed, my heart’s yours still,
And though hairs grow again, hearts never will.”
The Baron wooed Belinda with such charms,
At last she smiled, and laid aside her arms.
“Dear sir,” she said, “if you had asked of me,
I might have given the lock most willingly.”
“Alas, ’tis now too late,” the Baron said,
“But might I hope to have your hand instead?”
Belinda offers him her fingertips;
The grateful Baron lifts them to his lips.
For thus it is with lovers the world around:
For each thing lost, a better thing is found.
If one should lose, they never lose alone;
But when one wins, then both the vict’ry own.”

Drivin’ and Cryin’


I have a confession to make. I don’t really like to drive. Oh, I can drive, mind you; in fact, I got my driver’s license in a VW beetle with a stick shift. And apparently I’m pretty good at it: in thirty-eight years behind the wheel, I’ve never had a wreck. But I don’t take any particular pleasure in the act of driving. It gets me where I want to go, and that’s it. I’ll never be like my dad, who loves to get out and drive in ice and snow just to show the neighbors he can, or my son, who when moving his car across the country took turns driving with my husband, but insisted on doing the driving through Nashville, Memphis, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Denver himself.
But I’ll go a step further than that, and admit that while I never got any particular joy out of driving in my hometown of Cullman,  Alabama, the prospect of driving in large cities scares me spitless. I still remember my first time driving in Mobile, which is a big city compared
to the town I grew up in. I was on Interstate 65 just getting into the city traffic when the heavens opened and the floods descended. A few months of living in Mobile would teach me that this is typical summer weather for the Gulf Coast, but at that time I didn’t know that all I had to do was pull over and wait, and it would all be gone in ten minutes. All I knew was that it was raining so hard my windshield wipers couldn’t keep up, and I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me. Which is why I was driving down I-65 singing “Jesus, Hold My Hand.” But I got more accustomed with time, and by the time we moved away from Mobile almost thirty years later, I was unfazed even by Airport Boulevard at rush hour.
Fast forward to May 2012, and my first solo trip to Denver. Mind you, it took nothing less than a writer’s conference–and with it the opportunity to meet other local writers–to make me set out from Loveland on the hour-long trek down I-25. I had just sighted the conference hotel and was congratulating myself on having successfully navigated the trip when my GPS guide, Carmen the Garmin, let me down. It seems the street she was telling me to turn on had a sign calling it by a completely different name, and so I didn’t recognize my turn until I was already past it. Carmen rolled her eyes, huffed “Recalculating,” and proceeded to take me on a very roundabout journey back.
After I arrived at the hotel, I was fine (a little shaky, but fine) until time to go home that evening, when I found myself in the second-to-the-right lane of a highway with five lanes going in each direction. In order to make a left-hand turn onto northbound I-25, I had to position myself in the far left lane, so that I could scoot into one of the two lanes (for anyone who’s counting, that would be lane number 6 or 7) that formed the ramps onto I-25. With very little room in which to get over, I put on my blinker, gritted my teeth, and  swerved across three lanes of traffic. Success! One very nice man in a pickup truck even held back to let me cut in front of him. Or maybe he was just scared of me. Either way, within an hour I was home, having driven to Denver and back and lived to tell the tale.

I don’t doubt that there will be other times I’ll have to drive to Denver, and I don’t doubt that I’ll be just as terrified as I was that first time. But with each experience, I’ll get a little more confident, just as I did with driving in Cullman as a teenager and in Mobile as a young adult.
That’s the way it is with things that push you out of your comfort zone: eventually you get a bigger comfort zone.

What do you sometimes have to do that makes you uncomfortable? How do you handle it? Inquiring minds want to know!

My Life as a Femme Fatale

I love writers’ conferences. Anything can happen at them, and it usually turns out that the most memorable events are not those listed in the program: the editor who called me out in the middle of her keynote address and asked me to submit my Royal Ascot Award-winning manuscript; the Golden Heart finalist on the airport shuttle who, upon discovering that I was the author of the 1991 Bantam Sweet Dreams title Wrong-Way Romance, squealed,
“I remember that book! That book is the one that made me want to write romance!”

 But one conference that will live forever in my memory is a mystery writers’ conference I attended in 2006, when I quite unexpectedly found myself the belle of Malice Domestic. Mind you, I was never a great beauty; people who knew me in high school will remember me as a
brainiac and a band geek (although neither of those terms were in use in the mid-‘70s) who usually had her nose stuck in a book.

But back to writers’ conferences. Up to that point, the conference I’d had the most experience with was the Romance Writers of America conference, which averages about 2,000 attendees, the overwhelming majority of whom are female. (In fact, the female-to-male ratio is so lop-sided that at once such conference one of the men’s restrooms was confiscated in an effort to shorten the lines at the ladies’ room. I can still recall the white sheets draped discreetly over the urinals.) Malice Domestic, however, is a conference for writers of “cozy” mysteries, and its attendance breaks down along much more balanced gender lines.

 I was attending the conference as a new mystery writer, my first work in that genre, In
Milady’s Chamber
, having just been published in January of that year. I was one of four published mystery authors taking part in a panel discussion on the use of humor in mystery. At the beginning of the panel, each of us introduced ourselves and made a few opening remarks. When my turn came and I began to speak, the man on my left interrupted me to say, “Don’t let her accent fool you! Sheri Cobb South is really British!” (Since my mysteries are set in early 19th century England, being taken for British by readers is, in my opinion, a Good Thing, although I don’t flatter myself that readers in the UK would be so easily deceived.)

 But the surprises at the panel discussion were far from over. Later in the discussion, the man on my left (yes, that one) was making a point about how much of humor derives from the  unexpected—whereupon the mega-published man on my right grabbed me, “dipped” me, and pretended to kiss me. He certainly made the speaker’s point; everyone in the audience howled! (I wonder if it’s any coincidence that, when I visited the conference bookstore later that afternoon, every single copy of In Milady’s Chamber was sold out.)

 But wait! There’s more! On the plane back home, the man seated beside me tried to hit on me. We had been chatting back and forth during boarding and, once airborne, the flight attendant came through and asked, “Can I get anything for you?”  My seatmate promptly pointed at me and said, “How about her phone number?” We both laughed, but I had the distinct impression (after all, women have an instinct about these things) that if I had volunteered it, he would not have turned it down!

 Yes, it was a memorable conference; sadly, I haven’t been back to Malice Domestic since then.

My husband won’t let me.

Writing a Novel as an Act of Faith


I started writing a book this week. When it’s complete (notice I didn’t say “if”!), this will be the fourth book in the John Pickett series of Regency mysteries. And as eager as I am to be writing it (I’m impatient to get to Book 5!), I find the process more than a little bit daunting.

It’s always this way. I look at my book-to-be—at this point, nothing more than a handful of color-coded sticky notes on a tri-fold foam board—and think, “I’ve got to get an entire book out of this?” It doesn’t look like I have
nearly enough plot to fill up 15,000 words, much less 65,000. Maybe I should take more notes, do more research, try a new plotting method I saw on the internet. And sometimes I do those things. But at some point, I have stop
jotting in notebooks and on sticky notes, get off the internet, open a document file, and write.

I never feel ready. I’m always terrified that I’ll get all the way to “The End,” then run a word count and discover that the whole thing is only 40 pages long. It always happens this way, and yet the feeling that the task is too big, too overwhelming, always feels new.

To me, writing a book is an act of faith. Just as God told Abraham to leave his home and travel to a strange land, basically saying, “You’ll know it when you get there,” I set out with a keyboard and a blank Word document, certain in my mind of what will happen in the first couple of chapters, a major scene or two in the middle, and, of course, the ending. But then there’s that vast unknown Middle. That’s the part that always scares me.

After sixteen published novels, though, I’ve learned one thing: if I wait until I have the whole thing plotted out in my head, I’ll never write at all. I must plow ahead with the little bit I have, following the light I’ve got, trusting that when I need it, that scene will be in my imagination, waiting for me to catch up. This, to me, is the miracle of creating. It’s happened too many
times for me to doubt it: in the violin that magically appeared among James Weatherly’s belongings in Of Paupers and Peers; in the gypsy lad who turned up at the vicar’s funeral in A Dead Bore; in the fishing boat on which poor John Pickett gets seasick in my upcoming mystery, Family Plot. None of these things were in my original vision of the book; all were things that came to me along the way, and each one took the book in new and unexpected
directions. That, for me, is the joy of the journey that is writing fiction.
And so I’ll celebrate the Easter season this weekend, and then on Monday morning I’ll take my laptop to Starbuck’s, order a nonfat mocha frappuccino, and plug in my flash drive. And I’ll write.


“Guest Blogger” Mary Stewart


My guest blogger today is the great romantic suspense novelist Mary Stewart! Okay, I’ll admit, I didn’t get to interview her, much less meet her in person, but something I came across recently in one of her novels really spoke to me, and I thought other writers would enjoy it, too.
First, a little backstory: for reasons I’ll probably never understand, my current work in progress insisted on being set on the west coast of Scotland. As you might imagine, this would have been a lot easier if I could afford to go to Scotland myself, but the money just isn’t there right now. So I researched as best I could, and finished my rough draft yesterday. In the meantime, I discovered that a novel by Mary Stewart which I had somehow missed, The Stormy Petrel, was set in the Hebrides, the islands off the western coast of Scotland. I decided to treat myself to a “new” book by an old favorite, and at the same time compare her vision of Scotland(which she has no doubt seen!) with mine.
It was on page 110 that I made a discovery far more universal than any fictional portrayal of
Scotland. For it was on this page that Ms. Stewart’s first-person heroine, a novelist, struggled
with writer’s block. Here is how she describes it:
“From experience, I knew what to do. Write. Write anything. Bad sentences, meaningless sentences, anything to get the mind fixed again to that sheet of paper and oblivious of the “real” world. Write until the words begin to make sense, the cogs mesh, the wheels start to turn, the creaking movement quickens and becomes a smooth, oiled run, and then, with luck,
  exhaustion will be forgotten, and the real writing will begin…
“[So] I wrote. A year or so later, or it may have been an hour, I crumpled up four sheets of paper and threw them to the floor, and started another, and I was there. And in another light-year or two I was through the word-barrier, and the book had suddenly reached the stage—the
wonderful moment to get to—where I could walk right into my imaginary country and see things that I had not consciously created, and listen to people talking and watch them moving, all apparently independent of me.”

Wow! While I may never enjoy Mary Stewart’s success as a writer, I know exactly what she is talking about. For although these words may have belonged to the fictional Rose Fenemore, is there any doubt that they were based on Ms. Stewart’s own experiences as a writer? I, too, have had those moments when I was not writing so much as I was simply narrating what these
  people—my own characters—were doing, as I watched the story unfold in my mind like a movie on a screen. And in spite of all the frustrations of writing, which are many—the isolation, the rejections, the endless editing, the shrinking advances, the self-doubts—this, this, is why I write.

I’ll Have an Air Force Blue Christmas Without You

As I write these words, there are exactly five days before my son Trevor will be heading off to Lackland Air Force Base in San  Antonio, Texas for basic training. This will mark the first time in his twenty years of life that he won’t be home for Christmas. Of course, I’ve been seeing the signs coming for years: when my daughter Jessamy went off to college, Thanksgiving weekend suddenly became the preferred weekend for decorating the Christmas tree, since that was the only way she could be in on it. And with our move to Colorado last year, it meant we met her at my parents’ house for Christmas rather than her coming to ours. 
“Through the years we all will be together,” promises the old song, then qualifies it with “if the Fates allow.” But the Fates don’t allow, do they? Children grow up, parents grow old, marriages don’t always last forever. Change is inevitable, and not all changes are bad. We’re
proud of Trevor, and support his decision to join the Air Force. We’re pleased with how well Jessamy is doing in her chosen career in the museum field. And it isn’t just my husband and I who are going through these changes. My sisters adore having grandchildren to share Christmas with, even though it means they must share their own children and grandchildren with other sets of doting grandparents—the in-laws, after all, deserve equal time.

And that, to me, is what gives family Christmas celebrations their poignance. For all their illusion of permanence and tradition, we don’t really know what the coming year will bring, or how many more family Christmases we’ll have. All we can do is celebrate the times we’ve had, and pass those memories down to the next generation. “Do you remember the Christmas we all had the stomach flu?” someone in my family will say at some point within the next week, to be greeted by a chorus of groans. “What about the time when the bird flew into the house and Daddy had to throw a blanket over it to get it back outside?” Jessamy is usually the one who brings this one up. “Trevor and I stood at the front door to watch, and it flew out of the blanket and right back into the house! Daddy had to capture it all over again! I’ve never seen him so mad at us!” They howl over this story as if it happened yesterday, instead of ten years ago. We rehash these stories as if by keeping them alive in our memories, we can somehow preserve them against the day the major players are no longer on the stage. My sisters and I grew up hearing the story of how Santa once took back our dad’s Christmas toys when he didn’t take care of them. We passed the story along to our own kids, who are now passing it along to theirs. I even adapted it as a children’s book, for which I am currently seeking a publisher. My only regret is that I didn’t write this book years ago, so that my paternal grandmother could have lived to see it in print. 
Who knows? Someday Trevor may regale his own children with the story of his Christmas at basic training. But in the meantime, I’ll spend the next few days making his favorite Christmas goodies (chocolate-covered orange slices, anyone? Turtle cookies? Pecan pie?) and cooking his favorite meals, doing everything I can to give him as normal a celebration as possible  in a year when there is nothing at all normal about this Christmas.

So hold your loved ones close this year, while you still
  can. And don’t sweat the small stuff. After all, this year’s dinner disaster or
  gift-giving goof-up may someday be the stuff of family legend. And have
  yourself a merry little Christmas, now.

Opportunity in Disguise


Two years ago at this time, things were not going well at the South domicile. Mike (having been let go by Ciba after 28 years) had just taken a job paying 1/3 of his previous salary. While it helped his severance package stretch further, we knew it was only a temporary fix. Trevor had just started his freshman year at the University of Alabama. How were we to pay for it all? Friends and family, no doubt trying to lighten a bleak situation, laughingly urged me to “write fast!” Instead, I couldn’t write at all. I was stuck halfway through the manuscript that would become Babes in Tinseltown, too worried and anxious to write. And even if I finished the book, how could I submit it? I didn’t know what my home address might be by the time an editor made a decision on it.

Fast forward to October 2012. Now I sit at my computer,  looking out my office window at the vibrant fall colors across the street. The  ash and aspen trees are such a bright yellow they almost hurt my eyes, and  beyond them the eastern face of Long’s Peak is dotted with pockets of snow. Mike has a new job that he enjoys, one that pays a little more than he’d been making at Ciba. Trevor is no longer at the University of Alabama; he’s joined the U. S. Air Force and will be leaving for basic training in December. Babes in Tinseltown is not only finished, but selling well and garnering positive reviews, and I’m halfway finished with a new book, the third in the John Pickett mystery series. 

We’ve been very fortunate, but I won’t pretend it was easy. Unlike books, life won’t let you peek at the ending to make sure everything works out happily. Even after Mike had the job offer in hand, it was scary selling a house that was paid for, moving across the country, and buying a new house in a more expensive area. But sometimes risk is necessary for reward,
and sometimes a crisis can thrust you out of your comfort zone and into new opportunities that wouldn’t have arisen otherwise. 

The same thing has happened to me (albeit much less dramatically!) several times in my writing career. In 1995, I was quite happily writing teen romance for Bantam’s Sweet Dreams line when the series was cancelled. After five published novels, I’d joined the ranks of authors
“orphaned” by their publishers. What to do? Fortunately, there had been rumblings for the last couple of years that the series might be on its last legs, and I had already been toying with the idea of trying my hand at a Regency romance for grown-ups. But by the time I had finished it, the Regency market had collapsed, with first Fawcett, then Signet, and finally Zebra dropping their Regency lines. Having by now finished my second Regency romance, I believed in The Weaver Takes a Wife so strongly that I took a chance and published it myself.

The large-print sale of TWTAW and its sequels opened a door for me to sell my Regency-set mysteries to Five Star, who published them in hardcover editions for the library market. When Babes in Tinseltown turned out to be too short for Five Star’s required word count, I was forced to return to self-publishing, and found it a very different world from the one I’d known at the turn of the 21stcentury. Print on demand and electronic rights have put much more power in the author’s hands, with a much smaller financial investment than it had been  before. When I finish the third John Pickett mystery, I’m going to face some tough decisions: do I offer it to Five Star, or do I publish it myself? Five Star now retains electronic rights to the books they acquire; am I willing to surrender those rights in order to get a larger advance up front, or do I delay payment in order to put a more affordable product into the hands of readers sooner rather than later?

These are strange and unsettling times in the publishing world, but as I look back over the events of my own life over the past two years, I’m reminded that a crisis is sometimes an opportunity in disguise.

“Someday” I’m going to write a book…

“I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I just never have enough time!” 

“I’m going to write a book someday, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.”
“Someday I’m going to write a book, maybe after the kids are grown.”

 “Maybe after I retire, I’ll finally be able to write that book I’ve been thinking about.”

As a writer, I tend to hear this sort of thing a lot. Everybody’s going to write a book “someday”; far fewer ever actually get around to writing it. (I confess, the opening sentence above is the one that annoys me the most, as if writers write because we have so much time on our hands!)

I can’t be too hard on them, though, because I was once one of those people who was going to write a book “someday.” I’d written my share of angst-ridden teen poetry at age thirteen, and began several short stories that were never finished. But by the time I’d entered my twenties, I’d all but abandoned my writing—all but that vague idea of writing “someday.” After all, writing was a waste of time: everybody knew it was practically impossible to get a book published.
For me, “someday” came as I saw my thirtieth birthday looming on the horizon. I became aware of the passage of time, and decided I could spend the rest of my life saying “someday”—or I could sit down and write, and let the chips fall where they may. I started writing at age 28, and saw my first book published 3½ years later, five months before my 32ndbirthday. 
It can be a scary thing, putting your dreams down on paper. In some ways, it’s much safer to write a book “someday.” You don’t have to worry about losing momentum and struggling to finish your masterpiece; making revisions you don’t necessarily agree with; ugly cover designs that hurt sales; scathing reviews in Publishers Weekly or on Goodreads. No, your  imaginary book is always a bestseller, adored by everyone who reads it.

So why spoil a good fantasy? Because writing is one of the most satisfying things you’ll ever do, regardless of the end result. Because when you’re finished, you’ve created something new, something that didn’t exist  before. And that feeling is the greatest thing in the world!

What are you waiting for? Don’t wait for “someday”—write
  that book now!

The Olympics and the Writing Life

The Olympics are over, and I’m suffering from withdrawal.  What to do? Hmm, I guess I could always fire up my laptop and write, huh?  First, though, a few thoughts on the Olympics and the writer’s  life… 

Whenever I watch the Olympics, I’m struck by the  contrasting reactions of the athletes. While everyone is thrilled to win the gold, the responses to the lesser medals are often strikingly different. One athlete appears disappointed to win “only” a silver medal, while another is ecstatic at the prospect of claiming a bronze. Still others seem delighted simply to have competed in the Olympics, whether they win a medal or not.  Clearly, success means something different to each of these  athletes.
I sometimes wonder what it would take for me to feel truly successful as a writer. At first, my whole ambition was to see my book in  print, and I’ll never forget the thrill of seeing my first book, of holding it in my hands and flipping the pages to see my own words printed inside. But almost immediately, that wasn’t enough. Would I ever have a second book in print? A third? Would I ever attract the attention of the major reviewers? What about foreign language editions? Fan mail? 

I’ve accomplished all those things, and yet still something seems to be missing. So, what would it take for me to feel successful? The New York Times Bestseller List? If so, I’m afraid I’m doomed to failure. I don’t write the type of book that makes the list, and don’t really
want to. What about money? If I got a six-figure contract, would I be satisfied? Again, I’d better not hold my breath. I don’t write the type of books for which there is that sort of market. But that’s okay; I made a conscious decision to write the kind of books I like to read, and I don’t regret that decision. While income from writing is nice (okay, it’s very nice!), it’s not like I have to make a living that way. I’m fortunate enough to have a loving and supportive  husband with a good income. And a good thing, too: I can’t think of anything more muse-killing than the pressure that would come with knowing I must make a big sale!
Where, then, can I turn to feel good about what I’ve accomplished? I remember my own words while watching the Olympics. “Hmmph!” I  remarked to my husband and son, “if she doesn’t want that bronze medal, I’m sure there are plenty of gymnasts (or swimmers, or volleyball players, or pole vaulters) who would be happy to change places with her!” Likewise, there are  plenty of writers who are where I once was, wanting desperately to see their  names in print. They would be happy to be where I am now. There are other things, too, little things that make me realize it’s possible to have an impact without ever hitting the New York Times Bestseller List: the chance encounter with a young adult writer (two, in fact) who says she was inspired to write after reading my Bantam Sweet Dreams title Wrong-Way Romance as a  teenager; the terminal cancer patient who was given a copy of The Cobra and the Lily, and told all her hospital visitors how much she enjoyed the story.
I may never be famous, but my stories are being read and, in at least a few cases, have made a difference in readers’ lives.
Maybe that’s success enough for any writer.