Every month, I asks successful authors to share their life experiences and how those experiences have influenced and/or led to their becoming writers. This month’s Tell Me Your Story features Dianne Freeman, author of five witty and delightful historical mysteries set in England at the turn of the 20th century, featuring Frances Wynn, the American-born Countess of Harleigh, who enjoys more freedom as a widow than she did as a wife. She is an Agatha Award and Lefty Award winner, as well as a finalist for the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award and the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award. After thirty years of working in corporate accounting and finance, she now writes full-time. Born and raised in Michigan, she and her husband split their time between Michigan and Arizona. Visit her at www.DiFreeman.com.
The Thirty-year Overnight Success
When I was asked to write this piece, I considered several titles. Late Bloomer was one. So was; It’s Never Too Late, Everything in its Time, or maybe 30 Years to a Published Book. They all accurately describe my path to publishing.
My success might have taken nearly fifty years if I start with the sixth grade. That’s when my favorite English teacher assigned a project to the class—create a futuristic world along with the story of how we moved from now to then. I don’t remember what grade I received, but the teacher left me an enthusiastic note: you should write science fiction!
I’d like to say her words moved me to take up my pen and start working toward my career as a writer, but I simply continued being an adolescent. Even so, her words stuck with me.
Ten years later, I had taken a U-turn from science fiction to history, at least in my reading. History also pulled me into different worlds, but what made it more exciting to me was that those worlds were real. They were the worlds of our parents and grandparents and beyond. History was as close as a conversation with my grandmother, who was born in 1889. I loved hearing about the past from someone who lived it, which also explains my love of authors of the past; Austen, Bronte, Dickens, Wharton, and others.
I’m not sure why I didn’t choose English as a college major. Part of the decision was practicality. I was working my way through school in an accounting office, so business seemed to make sense. There was also the fact that reading was very precious to me. I loved to get lost in a story and I didn’t want to turn my relationship with books into work. So, I opted for a few English classes and a lot of history for my electives.
Paying for classes as you go can take a long time. In my case, it took nine years to earn a bachelor’s degree. (Is that a record?) My attitude changed over those years and pursuing a degree in creative writing sounded like a good idea to me by then, particularly since I was no longer writing papers for my classes. I was in my early thirties, still working in accounting, and my degree had garnered me a promotion, but it didn’t fill the creative well. The MFA programs I looked into would require that I quit my job because the core courses took place during my working hours. Two of the programs I considered were out of state. Then life happened—my mom got cancer. There was no way I’d move out of town while she was so sick.
Two more years went by. My mom passed away, and I was glad I had been there for her too-short life. During that time, I wrote just to amuse myself, took a few creative writing classes, attended writers’ conferences, and met other writers. Writing became as important to me as reading. It was something I had to do.
While working my day job, I wrote, and sold a few articles and wrote and published a non-fiction book with a writer friend I met at a conference. It was fun, but she was looking for a career in writing and again it wasn’t the right time for me, so we went our separate ways. I was working long hours, I got married, and my dad was in ill health and needed a lot of attention. I got in the habit of writing what I would now call first drafts—just telling myself the story and putting it aside. It was my hobby, something I loved to do, and I did it for many years.
Then one day, I realized I had time. I had retired, spent a year doing whatever I wanted to do, and I’d just finished another first draft. Could I edit it into something anyone else would want to read? Well, I had no excuse for putting it off yet again. I spent the next year revising and editing. When the manuscript was as good as I could make it, I discovered a program called PitchWars, where you pitch your manuscript to a group of published authors, with the hope that one of them would mentor you. I got a mentor. E.B. Wheeler helped me weed out plot holes and polish my manuscript so it would catch an agent’s eye. It did. I signed with my agent. We went through one more revision. And she sold my manuscript.
After 30 years of practicing my craft on my own schedule, the time between finished manuscript and book contract was head-spinningly fast. While I was still wondering if I could write two more books, my future publisher was tapping his toe, waiting for an answer. Was I ready for a second career?
That’s when my husband pointed out that I’d spent more than half my life practicing for this. I was ready. And it’s been amazing. My first book, A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder, published the year I turned sixty and I’m now on my third three-book contract. I love this career and I have no regrets about not starting it sooner. Now I have the freedom to write the books I want to read. I can immerse myself in the story and enjoy it without the worry that I have to make a living. My path to publishing is not for anyone in a hurry, but I hope it’s reassuring to hear that it really is never too late.
You can find links to all Dianne’s books here: Dianne Freeman | Historical Mystery Writer (difreeman.com)
Goodreads: Dianne Freeman (Author of A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder) | Goodreads
Social media links:
Facebook: (13) Dianne Freeman Author | Facebook
Twitter: Dianne Freeman (@Difreeman001) / Twitter
Instagram: Dianne Freeman (@diannefreemanwrites) • Instagram photos and videos