Fear vs. Passion - Will You Ever Write? by Debra H. Goldstein
My mother kept a copy of my first novel on her fireplace mantle with its back cover showing. Her explanation to her friends was that its headshot was the best picture she had of me. If she’d still been alive, she would have “accidentally” left a copy of the May/June 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine on the table, as if she had been reading it, when she hosted her weekly Mah jongg game. Whether she or her friends pointed to it, she would have waved a hand and rested it on my name on the cover while saying, “I don’t usually read mystery magazines, but it has a story of Debra’s. You know, it’s difficult to get published in Alfred Hitchcock, but they took her on her first try.”
What she wouldn’t tell them is the book, Maze in Blue, and the AHMM story, The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place, almost didn’t happen because of my own fear.
Although I often talked about my desire to be an author, I wrote nothing except boring briefs, opinions, and legal articles until a friend challenged me to use her condo for a weekend to find my writing voice. The unsaid part of the offer was if you don’t do it, don’t talk about writing anymore.
During our beach weekend, I wrote eighty-five pages and realized I had the beginning, middle and end of a book in my head. Fear gave way to confidence and eventually, the 2012 IPPY award winning Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s. The final book contains five of the eighty-five pages written at the beach. Since that weekend, I have written another book, Should Have Played Poker (Five Star 2016), signed a three-book contract with Kensington Press for the Sarah Blair series, and had twenty-six short stories published in periodicals and anthologies, but the one in Alfred Hitchcock almost never happened.
It took a long time to trust readers to go on an imaginary journey with me instead of feeding them every detail. Once I stopped spoon-feeding, my characters and settings became realistic and my stories more enjoyable. I submitted to markets ranging from online periodicals to literary magazines to open anthology cattle calls. Acceptances became more frequent. If something was rejected, I edited and submitted it elsewhere. For some stories the process was repeated several times before the piece found a home (and being honest, a few will forever reside in my computer).
Even though writers I respected encouraged me to send a story to Alfred Hitchcock or Ellery Queen, I didn’t. I couldn’t. I read both magazines and tried to analyze the different styles and voices each published, but fear paralyzed me from taking a chance. My rationalization was my stories were too simple, too comical, too one-dimensional, too crappy, but then I wrote a story with different layers and concepts entwined within it. It was special. I knew someone would publish it, but who? There was only one way to know if AHMM or EQMM would take it. Submit it. The voice seemed more suited to AHMM, so I sent the story off aware turnaround time for acceptance or rejection might be nine months. I steeled myself to receive bad news, so you can imagine my surprise when I received an acceptance e-mail.In retrospect, what was the worst thing that could have happened? A rejection. That wouldn’t have stopped me from improving the story and submitting it elsewhere. My writing has a long way to go, but I’ve learned overcoming the fear of writing is perhaps the greatest gift I can give myself --- and it gave my mother something to brag about.