So, When Did You Start Writing?

Darcy Scott here. I get this question at least once at every signing/show I attend, along with its inevitable follow-up: “And how long did it take you to get published?” In my case, the answer to the first question is about 40 years ago, if you count a brief, spectacularly unsuccessful Middle School foray into short stories and a disastrous experience with the dreaded personal essay at around the same time. Publication? That one’s a bit more complicated.

About that essay. It was, I admit, a paltry effort completed in record time merely to satisfy what, to my way of thinking, was an arbitrary requirement imposed on us by Mr. Miles, my seventh grade English teacher. I honestly can’t remember the subject I chose; what I do remember is that my best friend’s essay about her Down syndrome brother won her an A—which, I admit, was well deserved. Said teacher would tell you I was a lazy writer, and he’d be right. The fact he thoroughly humiliated me by informing the entire class of this fact—a cruel but common critiquing practice back in the day—turned out to be good preparation for the reams of rejection slips that loomed large in my future.

My love affair with fiction took off later that same year, after the first of many readings of Shirley Jackson’s stunning The Haunting of Hill House—my enthusiasm for putting pen to paper galvanized by all that dark energy, Jackson’s spare and brilliant prose. I started with short stories, as many novelists do—my first attempt a romance of sorts begun on a train trip to Fort Lauderdale to visit my grandparents, and finished as I lounged on their living room floor. I was fourteen and wildly in love with Paul McCartney at the time (cue eye rolls and snorts of derision), and the resulting story—self-indulgent, poorly written and full of embarrassing teenage angst—meandered for a mind-numbing 30 pages or so. Ugh. 

The Author at Work on the Living Room Floor, Circa 1966

I took another brief stab at short stories in college after consuming Jhumpa Lahiri’s brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, Interpreter of Maladies, and encouraged by a course I was taking at the time. No one was more surprised than I was when it won the school’s literary prize. It later became the first chapter of many, many, MANY drafts of my first psychological thriller, Margel’s Madness—a semi-autobiographical take on escaping a toxic family situation. This early and very minor success nonetheless left me in no doubt of my inadequacy in this particular narrative form. Short stories require a skill set I simply don’t have—namely the ability to distill my inevitable sprawl of ideas into a succinct 20 or 30 pages. I stand in in awe of writers who excel at it, writers like Ms. Lahiri.

It was then I turned to the novel. Novels, I reasoned, were roomy, expansive. Plenty of space here; a woman could roll up her sleeves and dive right in, travel down any number of narrative byways and not run out of room. Two years later I completed my first novel, Hunter Huntress, though it would be years and years, and years again before it was eventually picked up by a small, quirky publishing house in Britain—a bumpy road that began with a very traditional hunt for an agent. As almost all authors have experienced and many non-authors have perhaps intuited by the deer-in-the-headlights look some of us assume when asked, this can be a grueling and humiliating process. Many agents I’ve encountered don’t bother responding to unsolicited queries; those that do are known to generate reams of form letters that may or may not be personalized. Usually not. One agent did send me a personalized response of a sort, addressing me by my protagonist’s name rather than my own, the letter itself covered with footprints. Everybody’s a critic. 

Eventually I signed with an agent in Manhattan (Manhattan!!) who was very enthusiastic about the manuscript and sent it off to several top New York houses. When no one bit, we doubled down. Ten more submissions, ten more rejections. Twenty, thirty—which in the annals of publishing, is a mere drop in the bucket. I reassured myself with stories I’d heard of far longer waits than mine. Robert Persig’s classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was rejected by 121 houses prior to its eventual publication. Karl Marlantes’s debut novel, Matterhorn, was stuck in literary purgatory for more than thirty years before he found a publisher willing to take it on. He simply refused to give up. By comparison, Hunter Huntress was turned down by a paltry 35 publishers before my British publisher picked it up. 

Happy ending, right? I wish. Upon publication, the head of this erstwhile concern suffered a nervous breakdown (the dual victim of financial fraud and a romantic con), and hid from all the world, including her clueless roster of increasingly agitated authors, for a good six months. This is not a joke.

By this time, though, I was well into writing Matinicus, the first of my Maine Island Mysteries, and hardly blinked when that Manhattan agent informed me she was burned out and leaving the business for a job as the manager of a Playboy Club. This is also not a joke. 

But, as they say, that was then and this is now. Today I’m happily ensconced with a small regional publisher specializing in books about Maine written by Maine authors—a close-knit, passionate group that spends its days joyfully ushering books into print. Lucky me. 

Darcy Scott (Winner, 2019 National Indie Excellence Award; Best Mystery, 2013 Indie Book Awards; Silver Award, 2013 Readers Favorite Book Awards; Bronze Prize, 2013 IPPY Awards) is a live-aboard sailor and experienced ocean cruiser with more than 20,000 blue water miles under her belt. For all her wandering, her summer home and favorite cruising grounds remain along the coast of Maine—the history and rugged beauty of its sparsely populated out-islands serving as inspiration for much of her fiction, including her popular Maine-based Island Mystery Series. Her debut novel, Hunter Huntress, was published in Britain in 2010.

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1 Response to So, When Did You Start Writing?

  1. I own a copy of Matterhorn. Like Karl Marlantes, I have two novels about Vietnam that I wrote in 1988 and 1989 still looking for a publisher. While the American public seems to have come to recognize Vietnam vets it seems that the publishing industry has not.

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