I’m often asked to tell the story of how I got to be a published novelist. Like lots of writer-types I’m fuzzy with dates and some of the details. I’ll try my best to recount it as accurately as I can though.
I was sixteen when I won my first Pulitzer. Seventeen when I hit the NYT best-seller list for the third time … oh wait, that wasn’t me.
The truth isn’t quite so grand. In 1997, I was a nurse and a mom, but I desperately wanted to stay home and raise my children. I was trying to figure out what I could do to work from home. I had always known I could write. While other kids were freaking out in high-school because of the dreaded essay at the bottom of the test, I was thinking “What’s wrong with these people? That’s the easy part!”
So, I started writing really stupid greeting cards and rhyming fruit books with obnoxiously blatant morals and a few nonfiction articles—one of which actually got published. Fast forward a few years to 2003 and I decided since I had very little success in getting anything small published, that it just made good sense to try to get a full-length novel published.
Six weeks later, I had a book that killed off the antagonist about 2/3rds of the way in. Genius, really. I took what was sure to be a bestseller to my first writers conference. The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers conference. There I met some folks that are still very much apart of my writing journey. I’ll never forget pitching an agent my book in one of those one on one meetings you get to schedule as part of the price of admission. He squinted at me and said something like, “No offense, but I’m with [insert big name agency] We represent the biggest names in the industry and you’re just starting out….”
I don’t remember the rest of that conversation except that I liked this guy’s directness and the fact we prayed together at the end of the meeting.
If you would have told me then that that first novel would never be published, I’d have given up in despair. However, by the time my first four novels had been rejected and I was pitching number five, I had lost my desperateness to get published. It was replaced with a new mantra “let it all tumble” and a desire to write the best novel I was capable of, even if no one ever read it but me and my two critique partners.
When my second agent and I decided to work together, I was pitching novel three I think, and pretty much everyone had turned it down.
My first novels were suspense and since I’d grown up reading Stephen King, I naturally figured that’s what I should be writing. So I was working on another suspense when I began to change what I read. I went back and caught up on some classics and discovered really excellent books like Peace Like a River and Memoirs of a Geisha, etc, and I decided to try something a little different. I presented my agent with two different novel proposals a couple years back, one was a medical thriller, and the other was the novel that would become Crossing Oceans. My agent didn’t hesitate when he told me Crossing Oceans was more my true voice.
When I went to ACFW(American Christian Fiction Writers) conference in 2007, it was the first time I had a publisher request a meeting with me instead of me trying to chase them down. I felt like I’d fallen down the rabbit hole.
Karen Watson with Tyndale House made it clear she was very interested in my novel and before I knew it I was getting a phone call from my agent while I was at work (I’m a registered nurse by day), telling me “It’s okay to scream, Gina. They want to publish Crossing Oceans.”
In a hospital nursery full of newborns, doctors and nurses, I had to sit down. Tears streamed down my face—and then my coworkers as they realized what was happening. After years and years and years of rejection, just like that, everything changed.
Crossing Oceans released with Tyndale in 2010 and was a Christy, Gold Medallion, Christian Book of the Year finalist and won an INSPY and Reader’s Choice Award. It hit bestsellers lists on and off for years.
That novel is still a favorite of mine and readers. There’s just something about your first.