The Book Diva’s Reads is pleased to host a visit by Judi Culbertson, author of the Delhi Laine novels, including the latest release, A Photographic Death. Ms. Culbertson discusses being successful at writing.
On Being Precocious (Not)
There’s always a lot of media attention when someone in their early twenties lands a book contract for, say, $500,000 for a first novel. Extensive publicity is planned along with the promise that it is “soon to be a major motion picture.”
I too had hopes that fate would pick me out of the line-up the same way.
My first writing success came when I was in sixth grade and we were assigned to write a story celebrating Easter. Mine involved a boy named Tony who lived in a garbage can and was rescued Easter morning by the ASPCA. The class voted for their favorites and it came down to my story and one written by a girl named Stella.
Mrs. Callaghan, our teacher, was alarmed. “But Stella’s story is so sweet,” she protested when she saw where the election was heading. “All about bunnies gamboling in the woods hiding Easter eggs!”
It was no use. The class wanted mine.
I’d like to say that I went on wowing my audience. But by high school my stories were worse than smirking rabbits in the forest. Cardboard characters, silly plots, descriptions loaded with cliches. I read the stories in Seventeen religiously, but something crucial did not rub off.
In college I majored in Creative Writing and wrote silly college-level stories instead. For a while I joined a poetry group. Of the eight of us, Wes Craven, the future creator of Nightmare on Elm Street, wrote dark, vividly crafted poems. Carolyn read aloud stark and beautiful laments for a boyfriend who had been killed. The poem of mine that I remember best began, “It is raining on the ruins of Pompeii.” It ended with an allusion to “The rains that soak the ruins of my heart.”
Poetry was not my forte.
I passed the age when I could be considered precocious without stunning the world. Ironically my first book, published in my mid-twenties, was not fiction at all, but a satire meant to be funny, Games Christians Play. It did well, with an advance sale of over 50,000 copies and stayed in print for ten years.
That should have told me something, but it didn’t. I kept trying to write fiction. Like a possum spying dinner on the other side of the road and setting out to reach it, I painstakingly crawled toward what I had always wanted. By the time I published my first novel in 1996, I had already had authored a handful of non-fiction books and had had a career in social work.
It wasn’t until I published my first mystery in the Delhi Laine series, A Novel Death, in 2011 that I finally got it right. Since then I’ve written two more novels in the Secondhand Prose series and am at work on the next. Along the way, I discovered something important:
At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you’re 20 or 50 or even 70 when you publish your first novel. Once it’s out there and has found people who love it, nobody cares how old you are.
About the author:
Judi Culbertson draws on her experience as a used-and-rare book dealer, social worker, and world traveler to create her bibliophile mysteries. She has co-authored five illustrated guides with her husband, Tom Randall, of such cities as Paris, London, and New York. She is also the author of the acclaimed nonfiction titles Scaling Down and The Clutter Cure. She lives in Port Jefferson, New York, with her family.
Connect with the author: Website
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