First Things First

I was thinking about firsts today. Being the first born child, I had a lot of firsts in my life, but those aren’t the firsts I was thinking of. I thought about the first time I could vote. It was 1980 and Ronald Reagan was challenging Jimmy Carter. (I voted for Reagan, in case anyone is wondering.)
I thought about the first time I drove. My first car was a 1977 Chevy Suburban (fire engine red, no less) and that thing was crap for gas mileage, but she was built like the proverbial tank. I was tail-ended about a year after getting my license and the car that hit me was totaled. My tank had a scrape on the rear bumper. I don’t miss the lack of gas mileage but I miss the security of that vehicle.

I recalled the first time I had a crush. His name was Mark Engeberg and he was my eighth grade history teacher. Talk about a long, tall, drink of water…he was 6’6” if he was an inch tall. I aced history because I wanted to impress Mr. Engeberg. Thanks to him, I also became a major history geek. I still love history to this day because of him.
I thought about the first show dog I ever bought, and the first dog show I ever went to where I showed my own dog. I thought about the first dog I ever put points on. He was a sweet, charming gentleman named “Spock” and when he died of acute leukemia, I was crushed.
Lancelot’s Dr. Spock–Spock

My first homebred champion was a dog named “Floyd”. Floyd was a sable and white smooth coated collie. He never really got the respect he deserved, but as I asked my mother many times, “How much respect can a dog get when you’ve named him ‘Floyd’?”
I remembered the first time I said I wanted to be an author when I grew up. I was about sixteen. I never really got serious about writing until I was married to my first husband and writing became an escape for me. Combining my love of history and my love of English and writing has paid massive dividends for me. When I finally got serious about writing, the only place for me was in the past as a historical romance writer.
I will never forget the first time I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and realized that the character of Snape was the perfect Gothic hero. Nor will I forget the satisfaction when Snape was vindicated in the last book of the series. And, by the end of the third book, my suspicions about Dumbledore were confirmed and I knew he was a genuinely evil, manipulative man—cloaking his manipulations and a callous disregard for everyone around him with what appeared to be concern and the wisdom of an elder. (That may evoke some flames.) I admit, without any reservation, that I am a Harry Potter geek and ALWAYS trusted Snape. To a certain extent, the Harry Potter series is Snape’s saga, told through the biased lens of a less than reliable narrator.
The first time I completely geeked out over anything was the movie Star Wars. My grandfather had given me Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces the summer before for my birthday and I devoured that book. When the movie ended, I wanted to jump up from my seat and shout “Hallelujah!” The arc of the Hero’s Journey was so clearly defined in that movie. And, no matter what anyone thinks of the first three with Anakin Skywalker, kudos have to be given to George Lucas because he carried Anakin’s story arc and the Hero’s Journey over all six movies. As I said of the last of the first three movies, “Damn it, I waited over thirty years to see Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader. I’m not missing this movie.”

I also thought about the first time I queried an agent and got that first rejection letter. I thought about quitting—except for one line in that letter that said, “You’re a good writer, but this just isn’t for me.” Okay. That agent took time out from a busy schedule to add that personal note at the bottom of the form letter. Keep on plugging away.
And the first time I got a request for the full manuscript from a query letter put me over the moon. It soon was followed by a rejection letter, but, I was making progress.
And, then the first time I was signed to a contract with a publishing house, it took me a full week to stop grinning. And, with that first came another first—I doubted my ability to be a writer. Doubted that I could really be all that good when I opened the first edits and saw all the red bleeding all over the pages and into the margins; doubted that I’d be able to recapture lightning in a bottle and sign a second contract; doubted that I’d even sell enough books to merit my publisher signing me to a second book; doubted every word I wrote…
That doubt was an odd first, because I’ve always been a good writer. I never stop trying to improve and become a better writer. My goal is to be a great writer. I’m usually plagued with doubt with the exception of two things: I know I’m a good writer and sometimes I veer into the “damn good writer” lane. I’m also a damn good dog handler.
With the first book came some other awesome firsts: first sales, first request for an autograph, first time to speak to a group about my writing life. That was an incredible first. One of the professors I had as an undergrad English major asked me to come and talk to his Pop Lit and the Mass Media class (a required class for English majors/cross-listed as general education) about my book. MY BOOK! He used my book as the romance for his class. MY BOOK!
I’ve found while thinking about firsts that I don’t want to stop having firsts. It’s rather like learning. I don’t want the learning to end.

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