3 S.R. Johannes: Connecting the Dots

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Connecting the Dots

In my "day job" of marketing, many people ask me - how did you decide to get into writing?

I've been asked this question, so much. I thought I would share it.

I always say, "I did not really decide to be in writing, writing decided on me."

Here are the major milestones that led me to my writing epiphany...

1) When I was in Elementary school, I entered an essay contest. I was asked to write an essay on nutrition. My paper, "Be a Smart Cookie" won first place. For that - I got to meet the mayor, be in the local paper, and got tickets as a VIP to see the minor league. Keep in mind this was a small town in Florida so that was like visiting the president, getting into Oprah magazine, and seats to see Michael Phelps and the US Swim team.

2) I wrote a book of poems. I still have this notebook today. When I was about 12, I started writing poems about the environment, boys, my parents, and my brother, This continued until I was about 16 (then I was just too cool for words). Some of them are good but most of them are bad. But for a teen, to me, they were fabulous.

3) This is where I got sidetracked yet I now realize, the seeds were still being planted. I went to college, studied Risk Management (don't ask) and took my first job in writing Marketing proposals at an insurance company. My boss was a old lady who hated me and my salary was minuscule. I was not focused and had started dating my middle school sweetheart) who was studying Mass Journalism.

4) After a year, many "love-sick" days and a whim, I quit and just up and decided to go to back to school to get my MBA in Marketing& Communications. I am sure you can only imagine why? I am embarrassed to say that this was just an excuse to be with my BO at school. My parents bought it and they were all for higher education as long as I PAID for it. So I took out student loans and headed to Alabama for more biz training. What I am trying to tell you is it this milestone that seems to impress people was really not even education-motivated. Yet some how, it was still on my path.

5) I graduated in 1 1/2 years with alot of "out-of-state tuition" debt and a degree. At the time, I did not really understand that I would still be making payments today (only 2 more years.) I was still happily dating my BO! Meanwhile, my BO walked away from a promising career in pro-football to be a writer. (Anyone see a pattern starting here?)

6) While he was out looking for a job, I got a consulting job. They gave me a late start date so I had a lot time off before i started my big corp job in Training & communications (there is that word again) consultant.

7) My BO and I moved back to our parents homes . My dad was not too happy about the "time off part" and my "free ride" at home. So until my job started, I got a part time job at the new Barnes & Noble that opened close to his house! I was assigned to the Children's Department where I helped moms find books, cataloged and filed new inventory, scheduled authors for kids, and did a weekly story time for kids. Just another seed being planted.

8) When I started my job, I was assigned to another city. My BO moved there with me and got a job at B&N (with my reference of course :). As I worked on the communications of companies, he started freelancing for the city paper as a reporter. I became a high-falutin' consultant, he became a great reporter. I began to travel overseas and found the Harry Potter series - which was not out in US yet. IN fact my first book is the UK cover.
9) My BO decided he wanted to be a published author. He had written a book that was never published, but he decided to get serious. He spent long hours writing a great mystery book. I spent long hours doing his submission packets, editing his drafts, and as he would call it - his research asst. I put as much into the book as he did and was so excited when he sold it to a top publishing house. (For you writers, this was a slush pile contract) . I went through the whole book process with him - writing, editing, PR, marketing, contracts. The house did not give him much money for PR (imagine that) so I did all his marketing and publicity tours myself. Soon, we got engaged.

10) Unfortunately, our engagement was called off a couple weeks before we our wedding (after dating 10 years - this is a private and sad story that I will leave out for now. Just know, it was a must have for me to be on my writing path. And we are still -quasi-friends today with occasional emails speckled with his great writing advice) I moved to the beach to recenter myself and work for a few months until I decided what I was going to do with my life. There, I read and read and read any book I could get my hands on. I had immersed myself into other people's lives so the heartbreak of mine would hurt less. I had always read books, I was always an avid reader, especially of adult mystery. But now, adult books felt too deep and heavy so I turned to reading YA and middle grade books. That's when I got into the Harry Potter series.

11) I eventually moved back to Atlanta. I had been traveling for 6 years and just wanted to be home. My friends were here and my family was here which was what I needed at the time. I begged my company to staff me in town but they couldn't and wanted to quickly send me back out on the road. I needed to heal and needed some stability. I quit and 2 weeks later started freelancing with a friend. Meanwhile, I kept on reading YA/MG.

12) I eventually got a contract/job at a bank - doing communications. I quickly climbed the corporate ladder, make money, traveled overseas, and married an fabulous Englishman who believed in Celtic Fairy mythology :). I visited England with him and found my way into a shop called "the Broken-Winged Fairy". I got my first idea for a book. This was in 2000.

13) I had my first baby and started reading picture books to her. I took 5 months off for maternity leave and while my little fairy was sleeping, I wrote my first book, On Tattered Wings - a MG book that is shelved for the time being. But is about a "broken-winged fairy". I had never written a day in my life. No creative writing classes, really bad at grammar.For some reason, it felt right. I now credit alot of that to my writer BO and my hubby. My BO always encouraged me to write children's books - he thought I had a great imagination. I always said - you're the writer, I am the marketing guru. I was right and he was wrong - just don't tell him that. :) My hubby was the one who pushed me to do it and knew alot about fairies. I always say "my daughter sat on something inside of me and made me believe I could "create" anything if I could create her.

14) When I finished my book - after 6 long months - I immediately sent it out thinking it was just a matter of time until I was the next JK Rowling. I had no idea about the publishing world, about scbwi (http://www.scbwi.com/) yet nor had I bought the Writers Market yet. Just sent it out blind to about 40 people. Kinda dumb but I got 5 requests for manuscripts and many personal rejection letters.

15) After months of work and revisions - still no sale :( I will say it made it to 3 Acquisition meetings but no luck :( and I was already back at work. I climbed the corporate ladder during the day and wrote at night. I became an executive making awesome money, but it took up more of my time. I slowly got back off track. Writing fell to the way side and my anxiety doubled. I wanted to quit but I felt obligated to stay. My hubby told me to leave and be a writer if I wanted to but I felt trapped by the power and money. I started having panic attacks and was hospitalized for chest pains. There I prayed for a sign. Then I got it!

16) Sometimes your prayers are answered in the oddest ways. Two weeks later, I left BofA (I wont go into the whole story but there is a very long tragic story here. I'll just say that I crossed the wrong person at work who was very politically connected and it cost me my job. I was not very - nor had I really ever been - corporate savvy. I always prided myself as the renegade in corporate america. Now I see it was all for the best!) This was a bad time for me, I lost a job which was half of my family's income, had a miscarriage a month after, and lost my confidence all in one shot.

16) For the next year, I struggled to start my life over from scratch. I was depressed and lost. If it was not for my hubby and friends, who knows where I would be. Eventually, I went back to freelancing as a copywriter. My biz took off. I got pregnant again and had another baby. I semi-refocused on my writing.

That leads us to today. I am happy again.

Over the past few years, I have struggled to start back at the bottom of the pile.

But I love it immensely.

And - looking back at my bizarre journey - I now know it was meant to be.

The seeds to my path were being planted along the way.

Then, I didn't see it.

Now, I write about it.


Laini Taylor said...

That's an interesting story, Shelli! I hope you will keep working on your broken winged fairy book -- I have kind of a thing for faeries with wing issues :-)

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

I have read your book! Love it!

Carrie Harris said...

How fun is this? I wrote a book in kindergarten called "The Beautiful Butterfly," and I won a prize for it. I was totally hooked.

Because you know, it's all about the prizes. :)