Anita Hughes’s fourth and fifth novels are both coming out this year: French Coast will be out next week, and Rome in Love in August. Patti Callahan Henry calls French Coast “the kind of novel I sink into, a story soaked with glamour, family loyalty tested and love’s resiliency proven.” And Anita’s story of how her first novel, Monarch Beach, was published starts with first prize in a nationwide writing contest in Australia–when she was eight years old! (And this is not an April fool’s.) It’s a peripatetic path through Bard College and UC Berkeley’s Masters in Creative Writing Program. – Meg
Child Writer Makes Good
When I was fourteen we lived on the beach in Florida and every afternoon there were terrible thunderstorms. Having never experienced them before, I was terrified. I, my dog and my grandmother, spent a good deal of time hiding under the bed. The rest of the time, I would grab an Agatha Christie book, curl up in a chair and wait for the dark clouds to pass. Eventually I ran out of Agatha Christie books and decided to write my own novel. My parents were quite literary and I had won a national writing contest in Australia at the age of eight so I was no stranger to writing.
I spent the whole summer working on the novel, and with my mother’s help (I hadn’t taken typing at school yet) we sent it off to Harper & Row. (Later to become Harper Collins). To my amazement, I received a revision letter from a prestigious children’s book editor, Charlotte Zolotow.
But the thing about being a writer is you have to be willing to sacrifice a lot to spend your days hunched over a notebook (or laptop). I started high school and became interested in cheerleading and boys and didn’t make the revisions. I spent the next few years reading Seventeen and being jealous of anyone near my age with a byline. I majored in English and Creative Writing at Bard and took a short story class taught by a wonderful professor. I sat at the round table and listened to the other students recite their words and was blown away by some of their stories. I became passionate about writing again and sent short stories to Mademoiselle and Elle and The New Yorker. I visited my little mailbox on campus and saw the rejections mount up. But I kept writing and by the time I graduated I had a neat stack.
I applied to UC Berkeley’s Masters in English with a minor in Creative Writing and again I was surrounded by brilliant professors and writers who had a lot more experience putting words on the page. I soaked up everything I could and wrote pages of notes about setting and plot and character development. I had to put it aside for longer than I ever imagined because I got married and had five children. I remember the early days when I tried to write and change diapers at the same time and eventually realized I had to put writing aside. I did spend many of those years reading wonderful writers which I think is an essential way to perfect one’s craft. I have always believed one of the most important things about being a writer is being a reader and there are few women fiction writers (and a lot of male writers) who I haven’t read.
Forward many years past marriage and five children. Five years ago, with my children either grown or able to tie their shoelaces and get breakfast themselves, I had an idea for a novel. I wrote it in three months and sent it off to various agents. I remember the first positive response I got said: “You made me laugh out loud, please send.” I had to read it twice, because I thought she was referring to a poor query letter rather than the first ten pages of the manuscript. It took me seven months to get an agent which at the time felt like an eternity. (Almost the amount of time to have a baby!). But once I did she sold my first two novels in a two book deal to St. Martin’s Press and I was on my way.
Becoming a published author so many years after sending my book to Harper & Row is really a dream. But for me the best part of the writing experience is no different than when I was at fourteen (except I now know how to type). I love to write. I could spend all day fiddling with words and sentences (and often do once I have gotten my daily goal of 1,000 words out of the way). I look forward to spending time with my characters and going to all the places I may or may not go in my daily life. – Anita