Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tell Me the Story Again by Virginia McCullough

I distinctly remember the first article I wrote, but I don’t recall it as clearly the first one I sold. These firsts took place decades ago now, but with the publication of Girl in the Spotlight, my debut Harlequin Heartwarming title, memories of writing that very first piece have came to mind in bright, bold colors. Fortunately, despite dozens of moves over the years, a faded photocopy of the article survives.

"Parenthood in Two Ways” was published in Babytalk Magazine, which was founded in the 1930s and the oldest baby magazine on the market. The publication was an open, if crowded, place for new writers to submit work. No query letter required; just send the essays and take your chances.

We’ve all heard the advice, “Write what you know,” and that’s what I did. The 600 or so word piece recounted the stories I told my two children about the way they came into our lives. Here are a few snippets from the article:

"…I tell them about the cold winter day we brought her [my daughter] home and how we could barely see her face inside the blanket. We laugh about how scared I was to take care of anyone so small...

Then we talk about the day the adoption agency called to tell us they had a son for us…We go over and over the wonderful moment we first saw him [at six weeks]…and how this time I wasn’t nearly as afraid. 

I then tell them that both times their grandparents were on hand to welcome them.”

I finish up with: “And I’m glad the children are getting old enough to share our happiness…to appreciate the differences…to be part of the making of a real family.”


My kids were preschoolers at the time, and now I have a couple of grandsons, so this obviously was the work of a young writer full of hope and dreams. I’ve mentioned this piece frequently in workshops I’ve taught and with coaching clients, too, because the article sold on its thirteenth trip out the door (and, of course, with the required SASE tucked inside the envelope).

Ironically, Babytalk was also the first place I’d sent the article. It was rejected the first time, but the editor had scribbled a note on the side of the form letter. Her exact words are imprinted in my mind as if carved in marble: Very nice. Sorry, we simply don’t have the room.

To say the editor’s note was “encouraging” is like saying that pink and purple sunsets are okay. Ecstatic, I danced around the living room waving the rejection letter at my then husband and told him this “fabulous news.” He had watched me struggle over every word for long enough to get it, but virtually everyone else had a little difficulty understanding why a rejection was so great.

But I know many of you know exactly why I was thrilled.

Anyway, I sent my article out another eleven times and revised it here and there. (My brand of “hope, healing, and second chances,” really means plenty of second chances.) Then I decided to send it back to Babytalk for its thirteenth trip. Why? For one thing, it was significantly revised and for another, maybe they had room. (That hope part kicked in right on schedule.) In the interim, I’d tried my hand at writing query letters and proposed a couple of articles to other magazines and they sold, but I don’t remember them in full color, the way I see the acceptance letter—and an enclosed check—for “Parenthood in Two Ways.” 

Over the next decades, I learned a lot about the ups and downs of developing a long writing career—and family life. I also crossed paths with several women who had given up a baby for adoption. A few became close friends, and I absorbed their often heartbreaking stories. I thought a great deal about my son’s birth mother and fully supported his search to find her and his equally significant decision to stop looking when he hit too many walls. Getting on with his adult life became more important to him.

So, Girl in the Spotlight grows out of many experiences, including my own, but a funny thing happened on the way to the last line. In the process of writing, the story became all about Lark and Miles and their struggles to heal the past and claim another chance. And the book soon became about a character, their baby, now a young woman with a passion all her own, seen only from a distance. The same way Lark and Miles see her, until…

When I started the first draft, it was an adoption story. But now, it’s a story of Miles’s and Lark’s hope, healing, and second chances. 

_______________________________________


Born and raised in Chicago, Virginia has been lucky enough to develop her lifelong writing career in many locations, including the coast of Maine, the mountains of North Carolina, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and currently, Northeast Wisconsin. As a ghostwriter/editor/coauthor, Virginia has written well over 100 books physicians, lawyers, business owners, professional speakers and many other individuals with information to share or a story to tell.

Virginia’s romance and women’s fiction titles feature characters who could be your neighbors and friends. They come in all ages and struggle with everyday life issues in small-town environments that almost always include water—oceans, lakes, or rivers. The mother of two grown children, you’ll find Virginia with her nose a book, walking on trails or her neighborhood street, or she may be packing her bag to take off for her next adventure. And she’s always working on another story about hope, healing, and second chances.

Something to Treasure, Book 2 of the Two Moon Bay series, is scheduled for a January 2018 release.

For more information, visit www.VirginiaMcCullough.com.

27 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing a little about your path to publication, Virginia, and the snippets from that early story.

    Congratulations for the release of your debut Heartwarming book, and I wish you much success with it and the books that will follow it!

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    1. Thanks, Kate--I've often laughed about the idea of a "good rejection." But I've had them--more than once! I know I'm not the only one.

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  2. Thank you for this uplifting post about so many important things in all our lives, Virginia, especially never giving up! It will give me plenty to think about this day. Looking forward to your January release!

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    1. Thanks for your comments. Magazine writing has changed so much, I'm not sure there would even be a dozen open markets for that piece. But in all areas of writing, we just can't give up!

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  3. What a wonderful post. I can't wait to read about the GIRL IN THE SPOTLIGHT. It's on my Kindle waiting. Your first sale sounds so familiar, especially the exhilaration at receiving that lovely positive feedback!

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    1. There's nothing like encouraging feedback on the road to publication and after. Funny, though, I've never forgotten those exact words!

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  5. I always love to read about an author's journey to publication. Congratulation on your debut! I can't wait to read it, Virginia.

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    1. I also love to hear about writers' journeys--I always learn something from them, but I also marvel at all the different ways people become part of this community of writers. Every day we keep at it, I think we inspire each other.

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  6. Thanks for sharing a bit of your life with us, Virginia. The most beautiful story I heard about adoption (in addition to yours, of course) was of a woman who gave up her baby for adoption. Later she married and when they discovered that he was sterile, they adopted two children themselves.

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    1. That's quite a story, and one I'd not heard before. I can only imagine the thought process that went into that decision to adopt. She could identify with everyone involved. Thanks for your comment. Something to think about!

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  7. What a lovely story. I love your line "a funny thing happened on the way to the last line." Isn't that the truth...

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    1. I love it when the characters take charge of the idea and run with it. Or, when characters tell me their story for years before I start writing the book!

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  8. Virginia, What a lovely post! I love the inspiration and what an interesting career you've had. Adoption is such a brave endeavor on both ends. Girl in the Spotlight sounds wonderful and I look forward to reading it. I completely understand that rejection letter euphoria. I saved my rejection letter (two wonderful, encouraging pages!) from my first submission to Harlequin. That story later became my debut Heartwarming book. (After roughly 7,492 revisions :)

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    1. Thanks, Carol...true, acceptance euphoria beats rejection encouragement every time, but your story confirms that good things can happen when we pay attention to people trying to give us a boost. I'm not sure what I'd do without my writer friends, who have lifted my spirits. They've grumbled and celebrated with me every step of the way. And they understand the real meaning of multiple revisions and edits. Thanks for your words!

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  9. Great post Virginia, and inspiring. The writer's journey always interests me. It amazes me how different are each of our paths to get published. Congrats and looking forward to reading your debut Heartwarming.

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    1. I hope you enjoy Girl in the Spotlight. I think the variety of paths to a writing career is ultimately why I consider all who write for publication my sisters and brothers, so to speak. That goes for journalists to those who write brochure copy and create PR campaigns and labor over plays and scripts and short stories and novels. It's all creative and is hard work!

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  10. I was born in Kenosha and raised in the Chicago suburbs, Virginia! Can't wait to get my hands on your Two Moon Bay series. Wishing you a terrific Tuesday!

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    1. I've enjoyed sharing a publication month with you. We'll have to chat about city neighborhoods and surrounding suburbs.

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  11. Virginia,

    I understand your story. I have two adopted children and one natural birth. All are loved. Your story is inspiring and many of us have also had the same or similar experiences.

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    1. I meet people with similar stories all the time, and I'm sure you do, too. I've enjoyed talking to my kids about Girl in the Spotlight, knowing it's told from a different angle. Thanks for your comment!

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  12. Virginia, I enjoyed reading about your path to publication and how you used your experiences as inspiration for your Heartwarming story. My path began with the confession magazines and when I was ready to write longer stories, moved on to novels. Looking forward to reading your book.

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    1. Seems like all my writing life I've met confession writers--those publications were an open market, just like those baby and family magazines. One of the women I knew sold about 8 a year and wrote them on the train going to work!

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  13. I loved The Girl in the Spotlight. The way they work through their regrets and move forward is inspiring. I know exactly what you mean about encouraging rejection letters. That validation can make the difference between giving up and keeping on. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words about "Girl." I so appreciate you thoughts. And yes, I still see myself dancing around waving that rejection letter like I'd won the lottery. Actually, I still do that!

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  14. I will definitely have to read this one. I'm adopted, so adoption stories are near and dear to my heart. I actually found my birth parents and got to know them. But, my mom and dad who raised me are the heart of my existence.

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  15. Thanks for you comments. That's the reaction most adoptees seem to have should they meet birth parents. I've heard a few variations, andI hope you enjoy Girl in the Spotlight--I sure enjoyed writing it!

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