Monday, March 17, 2008

Guest Blogger Mary Connealy

I have some really cool friends, don't I? Well, here's another one. I've known her for several years, but have only gotten to know her better more recently. Those of you who are Petticoats and Pistols fans have met her there. And if you haven't read Mary's blogs yet, or even her comments, then you're missing out because she keeps me in stitches. So now let's hear from Mary:

Cheryl was there at the beginning...

In college…a long, long time ago, I was a broadcast journalism major, so I studied writing and did a fair amount of it back then. I’ve always loved to write and remember writing a romance novel when I was about twelve. I started writing again, after Katy went to school.

At first it was just me, home, alone. It took me two years to find RWA (yes, I live in a cave) Then I found a ‘local’ chapter. I stress local because it was in Omaha. So ‘local’ meant an hour drive. I found this local chapter because of Cheryl St.John. There was some article in the World Herald about her and it mentioned the local RWA chapter, then called RAH.

I attended their meetings when I could. I hadn’t told anyone about this yet, except my husband Ivan and my daughters knew. Somewhere in about the third year, I send a manuscript into Harlequin Romance and they requested a full manuscript. This is a big deal because mostly when you submit your book…three chapters and a synopsis is all they want…and based on that, you get a form rejection. “Your book does not meet our needs at this time.” Which is nicer that what they really mean, which is “Your book stinks.”

From the time I sent the three chapters in, then their request for a whole manuscript, then finally their rejection, it took a full year. One of the reasons it’s really hard to talk about writing a book is that the publishing industry is painfully slow. How can you tell someone a bit of news, then six months later say, “Oh, remember when I said I sent that book in?”
Blank look. “No.”
“Well, they requested the rest of it.”
Then six months later you say, “Remember when that publisher requested my full manuscript?”
“Well, I got rejected today.”
No one can even remember what you sent in.

I couldn’t even remember I’d sent it. While I waited for that book to work its way through to Rejection City, I kept writing. By now I had maybe five books done.

I started entering contests. I kept doing better as the years went by. There came a time when I expected to final in any contest I entered. If you Google Mary Connealy Contest Diva there’s a website with a list of people who’ve won a lot of contests and I’m on it. I kept track for the last two or three years before I got a contract and I’d finalled in eleven contests with five different books. And all the while I’m entering these contests, I kept writing. I had maybe seven books done by now.

Through RWA I discovered ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). Through ACFW I joined an online critique group, and entered my manuscript Petticoat Ranch in ACFW’s Noble Theme contest. I was a double finalist in 2004, another book of mine, Montana Rose, was in the running, too. When I heard I was a finalist, along with the support and encouragement of the ACFW writer’s loop, I decided to attend the 2004 conference. I had never been on a plane before and I had never gone on vacation without my husband, Ivan, before. I don’t know if you can imagine the guts it took for me to go. Ivan was great about it. When I told him I wanted to go, spend all that money on my writing, he said, “You know, there’s a cattle show I want to go to. You go to your thing and I’ll go to mine.”

When you think about it. Me, saying to Ivan, “Honey, I want to fly to Denver and spend three days in a hotel with someone I met on the internet…well, he was a pretty good sport about letting me go. I also kept on writing and I was up around ten books.
Well, I won The Noble Theme contest and also placed third. I got a lot of requests at the conference to send in my book. I also got a really simple request from Cathy Marie Hake an author I didn’t know. She asked me to send her my first three chapters. She just wanted to see how I wrote.

I also had an agent looking at my work before this conference. He hadn’t offered to represent me, but he had expressed interest. When I emailed him to tell him I’d won the contest and tell him I received about fifteen requests from agents and editors for maybe five different books, he offered me a contract, so I got an agent, which is almost as hard as getting a book sold.

Cathy Marie Hake also kept in touch. She said she thought I was ‘ready’. No editor had yet seen that light, but Cathy’s encouragement kept me hoping. Plus, by this time, I had about twelve books and I’d had so many rejections I had a hide like a rhino, so submitting work didn’t even phase me.

Okay, well maybe I crawled under my computer desk and sucked my thumb for a day or two every time I got one but other than that I was fine.

Just before the next year’s conference, Cathy Marie Hake told me she wanted to pitch my name to write a book as part of a three book series set in historical Alaska. I worked on a proposal and talked on the phone with Cathy a lot before the 2005 conference.

Every year at the conference the acquiring editor for Heartsong Presents gives a contract to an unpublished author. I was so hopeful! I knew there was a chance it could be me. The Heartsong editor said someone else’s name and there’s only one, so okay, I’ve been rejected before. I kind of expect it. And then she said, “And this year we’re giving two contracts to first time authors. We’re offering a contract to Mary Connealy.” I get chills saying that! It was a wonderful, thrilling shocking moment. I had to go up and get the contract, in front of 350 other writers, all clapping. A great, great moment in my life.

I have since gotten eighteen more contracts from Barbour, nine of which are already written or I’d have never been able to make a commitment like that. And you might say I owe it all to that one little article featuring Cheryl St.John—well, that and writing non-stop for ten years. That helped, too.


Note from Cheryl:
I'd love to take credit, but I think the ten years of hard work is what took you to where you dreamed of being. I was just one of the catalysts to show you it could be done. But you, like, REALLY got it done. Your story is amazing. Thanks for sharing with the readers.


  1. I do know that things didn't happen for me until I started to get connected. When I first started writing I didn't have the internet at home, I didn't know RWA existed. I didn't know there were writer's conferences and contests.
    To someone just starting out, to know these things exist could really speed up the process.
    OF course anyone reading your blog is already computer savvy so this is the wrong group to talk to.
    Thanks for having me be your guest, Cheryl.

  2. Mary, I always hesitate to say this, but when I first started out, there was no Internet or email.

    Okay. Call me granny.

    We did have cars!

  3. My first computer had NO MEMORY. Do you rememeber those computers? You had to save everything to one of those 5 inch floppy disks and when you shut the computer of it was all GONE.
    The lights blinked, it was all GONE.

  4. Yep, I had an Apple, and it had no hard drive, but it was a COMPLETE step up from my Selectric typewriter. I had those floppies, too. And my printer was dot matrix. My editor even thanked me on behalf of her eyes when I got a new computer and printer! LOL

  5. You're an inspiration Mary! Thanks for sharing your story.

    I started writing in September and Cheryl's been a great help. She's wonderful isn't she?

    P.S. You have the BEST covers. I could read your books in the Dr's office and not be embarrassed :)

  6. Mary,
    thanks for the inspiring blog. It's a true and wonderful example of sticking to your dream for as long as it takes--and thankfully even longer!

  7. Yeah, dot matrix.
    but even the selectric is better than by hand. My handwriting is so bad instead of rejection letters, editors would hunt me down and beat me to death with my unreadable, foot thick manuscript just for making them attempt to read it.

  8. You know, having you guys say my story is inspirational is nice.
    I've always felt like I was fumbling around in the dark while the rest of the world was connected and savvy, classes, contests, conferences...all the things that connect an author to the publishing world. But maybe we were all in the same boat back then.
    Probably not, but I'm feeling better believing it so don't clear it up for me.

  9. It's so funny how every author's story is so different, but in some way, I'm sure they're all God-orchestrated.

    Love you, Mary! You're such a blessing to me. I'm so thankful God gave me you as my mentor at that first ACFW conference I attended. I was so green I didn't even know I was green!

  10. Mary, I think at one time or another we've all felt like a fraud (except maybe Cheryl).

    Frauds don't get book deals on 18 separate manuscripts though :)

  11. Mary, I love you lots but I can talk to you in Seekerville any time. I came by to say hi to Cheryl. Great site and you are so brave to have Mary over here. Maybe I better hang around to make sure she behaves :)

    I used to know Ms.Cheryl when I was Ms. Novinski :) Congrats on your Love Inspired!!

    And of course congrats to Mary for her success. Her books are not only good but boy she sure gets good covers!!!

  12. I feel like a fraud at every RWA conference I attend. I've been told for a long time that I've intimidated people before they knew me, though. Then once they know me, forget it. They know I'm a dork.

  13. TINA! Oh my goodness! I have thought about you so often, you can't even imagine. I just got teary hearing from you! Thanks so much for stopping by. How did you know I sold to LIH? The LI loop? Mary?

    PLEASE don't be a stranger! I will come see you at Seekerville. Are you a blogger there? How are your kids?

  14. Mary, I love reading about your writing journey! It kind of inspires me to keep on chugging, even through discouraging times. Good luck with all your deadlines.

  15. Mary,

    What an interesting interview! I learned things about you I didn't know.

    Thanks for sharing.


  16. Mary, So glad I popped over to read this. What a great story of determination and stick-to-it-ivism.

    Cheryl, I am a granny--6 times over--and I started out on a Royal electic typewriter that I bought with green stamps. I'm using Mary as inspiration to continue my quest for a fiction contract. Thanks for the inspiration!

  17. Melanie was my ... is mentee a word?
    I was her mentor in her very first conference.
    Did I ever tell you, Melanie that was only my SECOND conference. I can only imagine how badly I led you astray with my 'knowledge'.
    You barely got out alive.

  18. Tina and Cheryl know each others? Wow, that is so cool.
    Tina and I take turns, well a couple of others too, being the meanest contest judge in North America.

    It's for your own good.

  19. Cara is my critique partner and it's only a matter of time before you're published because you've got all the gifts and skills in place, now we just need the right editor.

    And Nancy is an author with me at Heartsong Mysteries. We're both writing cozy mysteries for a book club line that JUST STARTED. I've never really known how a line of books kicks off, so it's really interesting. And Nancy is a comedian. I can't keep up with her sass on our Heartsong Mysteries email loop.

  20. When I was in high school, we each got a TURN with an electric typewriter...if we were good.
    Such new fangled technology.
    And when I was in college, in Wayne, Ne. There was one small computer on the whole campus. They had those huge wall sized computers that kicked out cards with holes punched in there, remember those?
    I was director of the Evening News on the campus television station...I liked directing (just like Steven Spielberg), I was revealed to like power just a little too much!
    As the director, I got to use that snazzy computer. I had to walk across campus every day to use the computer, and then the thing would barely do more than type.

  21. Mary--you are an inspiration. I loved reading your story.

  22. Mary, I stumbled along in the dark too, so it may be more common than you think. I'm not sure the feeling ever goes away.

    Proud of all you've accomplished, Mary, but prouder still that you had the guts to get on that plane by yourself.

    Hugs, Janet

  23. I suppose the real problem with thinking you're alone is that, as long as you're alone, you don't know there's anyone ELSE who's alone right beside you.

  24. Mary,
    You constantly crack me up - your husband must be an amazing man! I can't wait to meet you - at ACFW in Sept if not sooner!

    Fellow Nebraskan,

  25. Great interview! I'm still sitting here laughing, though, over Mary under her desk sucking her thumb over a rejection. LOL

    I think 18 contracts make up for a few rejections!!!! :)


  26. I few rejections? PLEASE! I could have wallpapered my HOUSE with rejections.

    And JANNA, you're going to ACFW in Minneapolis? Have you talked with anyone about car pooling? I've found a couple of people in Omaha and we're going to try and figure out a way.

    I've never gone to a conference before close enough to drive too.

  27. I'm late posting but I wanted to say WOW! I love your story of how you received your contract at the conference. What an amazing moment that must have been!

    Thanks for your inspiring post!

  28. I need Janna to tell me how she got all 5 kids to smile at the same time!

    Hmmm, rejection wallpaper. Sounds like a nice decorating plan for an office.

  29. Mary,

    Thanks for relating more of the steps of your writing journey. Wow, I mean, you were writing books already when you were a teenager.....its just really in you.

    Your comment about taking turns on the electric typewriters in high school......we did a similar thing. In typing class, we had a manual for one semester and an electric for the other semester. Fortunately, I got a manual first......I pitied the students who had to go from electric back to manual.

    Bless your husband's heart, too, for being open and supportive of your writing endeavors!!

  30. Hi, Jeanelle. Cheryl, rememeber telling me to check out Jeanelle's blog, Midlife by Farmlight?
    Well, this is that jeanelle. I've been reading her blog daily now.
    As always, we find farm wives are brilliant and talented.