Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Tenacity Interviews - Mary Jean Kelso

Welcome Mary Jean Kelso to The Tenacity Interviews. Mary has been writing since the 1960s and she is here to share not only her tenacity secrets, but the wisdom she has gathered over the years.

1) How long have you been writing? By this, I mean seriously writing with intention for publication – include the years of struggle before publication.
In 1960 I decided to take writing seriously. At the time, there were no local writing classes and very little information about writing for publication. If you were a writer you were considered “weird.” I kept writing and submitting and collecting rejection slips. I wrote primarily short stories and, then, in 1964 I completed what would become my first Young Adult novel after a trip to Virginia City Nevada. Originally, I wrote it as a historical. Eventually, I changed it to a contemporary mystery, titled it Goodbye is Forever and began shopping it around. Unfortunately, it was considered “regional” so there was trouble finding a home for it. I gave up and decided to self-publish it. I went to the Nevada State Historical Society in Reno to verify facts and talked to a curator there I knew. He suggested I show it to a publishing friend of his. Eric Moody, now the director of the museum some 25 years later, liked it and sent me a contract. However, my title had to go. He retitled it Mystery in Virginia City. When the book sold out and they opted not to reprint I received the rights back and brought it out as A Virginia City Mystery. Currently it is in its third printing through Wings Press. At last the original title, GOODBYE IS FOREVER, is on the cover. Is that persistence or what?

2) What were the top three obstacles you encountered on the road to being published?
The obstacles were a shortage of writing education. Having to self-teach and learn by trial and error made it difficult and time consuming. But like a lot of things, the more I studied writing, the more I found to study. Having a young family and working was the second obstacle. Like so many other writers, I learned to write at night after work and after the children were asleep. Of course, also like many other people, one of the biggest obstacles was a lack of money available to pursue my desired career.

3) Did you have a motto/saying/scripture/mantra that helped you through the tough times? What was it, and how did you use it?
Hope has always been my mantra. Perhaps I’m of stubborn pioneer stock but, for some reason, I never give up. Well, almost never. In all the years I have been writing I have never once thought that I would quit. Whether or not I “made it” as a writer I found I gained so much in the way of peace of mind, understanding life, myself and other people, and personal satisfaction that I just kept trudging ahead through all sorts of obstacles.

4) What helped you to stay tenacious even when faced with rejection?
Just too stubborn to give up, I suppose. I remember reading Ken Kesey’s book, Sometimes a Great Notion in two days. The opening scene confirmed in my mind that I, too, was someone who would, “Never give an inch,” when it came to my writing.

5) What have you learned since being published?
I’ve learned that it is enjoyable to help others that are still trying to get published. While I didn’t have the help I could have used, I believe there is a need to encourage and assist other writers along the way.

6) Can you be tenacious and content at the same time?
Perhaps contentment comes from tenaciousness. I often say there are many others that could be published—if they only hadn’t given up along the way. In this day anyone can be published one way or another if they want to be. Whether it is a spiral bound script at Kinkos or traditionally. You just have to keep knocking on doors or decide to do it yourself.

7) What encouragement do you have for a writer who just received a “no” from a publisher?
I always looked for that special notation scrawled across the rejection slip. “This one almost made it!” or “Try us again sometime.” Look for the encouragement where ever you can find it. Then, get the manuscript right back out to the next publisher. After all, the last one might have just spilled hot coffee on his lap (and your manuscript) and that could have caused him to reject your project. Each editor has a different take on the manuscript. You keep looking for one that loves yours. Good luck!
Thanks so much Mary Jean!

I bid you good writing.

1 comment:

Billy Coffey said...

I'm tend to stick with non-fiction, but this interview is just as applicable to me than a fiction writer. Very inspiring and hopeful. Just what I needed.