72 and Counting

by Nikki Everts

A few random thoughts about how I came to be publishing my first novel at age 72.

I have always written – mostly for myself in journals where I bemoan my fate, rant against those closest to me and try to sort out the confusion of my life. These journals are confined to a dusty box and while I dread the thought of my children reading them when I’m dead, I cannot yet bring myself to throw them away. They are embarrassingly dull and depict a person going round and round the same mulberry bush of problems year after year. However, writing down my thoughts and feelings when I knew no one would be watching gave me a fluidity and freedom in writing that has been very helpful. So when the real authors advise us newbies to just keep writing, they are on to something.

I’d still be writing only for myself if it weren’t for writers’ groups, gatherings and workshops. The first one I dared to participate in was led by an off the wall, erudite bibliophile named Gord Jones who made me believe that my writing was worthy of being read by others. That gift of confidence gave me the impetus to actually write one of the two stories I’d been playing around with. A novel writing course offered at a local college was my next step. The teacher insisted at our first meeting that we break into groups based on genre. Naturally, I panicked – I had to choose between my two darlings: mystery or sci-fi? I simply could not decide. Then a woman burst into the classroom late. I immediately liked her and she sat down beside me. She had no qualms about choosing a genre – mystery it was. And there you are; my decision was made. There were three mystery writers and we persisted meeting together long after the course was over. Those monthly meetings motivated me to keep writing chapter after chapter, if only to have something to read to the group. Although I enjoy the process of writing I am not disciplined and need extrinsic motivation. So, know yourself and put in place whatever you need to keep walking, running, crawling or limping towards your writing goal.

I’d imagined the life of a writer in an ivory tower sort of way. Perhaps this works for some, but the encouragement, feedback and contributions of others have made my writing much better than it ever could’ve been had I gone it alone. The novel I just published with Arboretum Press, Evidence of Uncertain Origin, began thirty years ago when, for reasons I do not remember, I daydreamed a vivid scene that became the climax of the story. I spent a very long time figuring out who the people were in the scene and how they got there and what happened to them afterwards. The story shifted and morphed as I shared it with others and became a better story than the one I started with. I know it is terrifying to share your writing with others – it is a tender shoot of your very own tender soul – but taking the risk really is worth it.

Stay true to your story. Don’t take short cuts or try to be clever. Don’t fall in love with your own words. Integrity makes or breaks a story. If a sub plot or character or those well-crafted words do not harmonize with the whole, be ruthless and kill them off. You know the ones I mean.

I’m not sure I could’ve completed a novel any earlier in my life than I have now. I truly do believe that it is never too late to find out what you love to do and do it. So go for it!

Graduating in in 1969 from the University of California, Berkeley, Nikki travelled for several months, arriving in Montréal in April, 1970 where she lived until 1992. Nikki came of age in California during the sixties and held a sympathetic view of the Front de libération du Québec until the October Crisis. The events leading up to the FLQ’s kidnapping and murder of Pierre Laporte, the beauty of Montréal and the complexity of Québec politics inspired the setting and backdrop of Evidence of Uncertain Origin, Nikki’s first mystery novel.

Nikki lives and writes in Guelph, Ontario. She has self-published a book of poetry, connect dis connect with the help of Vocamus Press and developed writing workshops under the auspices of her small business, Scripted Images. She is working on a second mystery novel.

Purchase links for Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other sources here.

Critical Learnings: Eileen Curley Hammond on becoming an author after 60.

Other writers: “I penned my first story at 13.” “I started writing at an early age.” “I always knew I wanted to write.”

Not me. I was perfectly comfortable in the corporate world. Sure I dipped my toe in on occasion, when necessary, but I always kept my eye on the next most profitable move. Enter age 50: I lost my job.

Then a wonderful thing happened. They sent me to an outplacement service. The service made me focus on what was most important in my life. Through that I realized I wanted to write. And if I didn’t have some semblance of writing in my life I’d be unhappy. It was a revelation.

I’d like to tell you that I immediately whipped out pen and paper. No, I still had to pay the bills. But I found a great company for which to work. And in every venue, I strove to tell a succinct story well.

When I was 57 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That was another turning point. Although I’ve now been cancer free for nearly six years (Yay!), it was time for some changes. I set a goal to retire from corporate life at 60 and to write a book after retirement. And I did.

While writing the first book in the Merry March cozy mystery series, I researched various publishing options. I bought books, attended writer conferences, and badgered everyone I knew. After examining all the options, (and reading Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry’s great book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published) I decided that the independent route was best for me. Being older, I didn’t want to spend my time knocking on agents and then publishers’ doors.

Some critical learnings on my path to becoming an author:

Hire an editor. It was an investment, but it was a critical step. The old adage, you don’t know what you don’t know, was absolutely true in my case. Miranda from Editing Realm edited my first two books and she was wonderful.

Read Stephen King’s book On Writing. He writes 2,000 words a day, no matter what. And if he has a good day, he gets done early. He suggested that newbie writers hit a lower target, 1,000 words. Why was this so helpful? Because I always felt guilty. If I wasn’t writing, I felt bad. If I was writing, I felt I should be getting things done around the house. And worst of all, I retired, gosh darn it, and that meant I should be able to have some fun in my life. This one piece of advice made my life manageable again.

Understand that self publishing is hard. You are in charge of everything. Cover design selection, interior book formatting, copyright and Library of Congress applications, etc. Helen Sedwick’s book Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook helped me think about the steps I might need to take.

Where am I now? I’ve published three books in the Merry March series and am finalizing the first draft of the fourth. It’s been a struggle on occasion, but it’s also been incredibly fulfilling.

Follow Eileen Curley Hammond:

Twitter: @curleyhammcozy

Website: eileencurleyhammond.com

Amazon author page: https://amzn.to/2YdzKbw