Saturday, February 9, 2008

Middle-aged Beginner

June Shaw (Guest blogger)

Sandy Parshall asked if I’d write on this topic. I assume she wasn’t saying I’m middle-aged. Probably she was thinking about the Middles Ages. She surely didn’t mean I’m getting older because I have eight grandchildren and finally sold a book.

Maybe she was talking about me. I’m proud to say I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since ninth grade—and now I am one!

Back then, my English I teacher wanted me to
practice writing a paragraph because he was sending me to the literary rally. He said to write about a splinter.

I ambled to my desk, deciding the man was definitely boring. I wrote a grammatically-correct paragraph describing a sliver of wood and carried it to his desk.

He skimmed it. “June, this is boring.”

“Yes, but you told me to write it.”

“No. Like this.” And then he wrote, “Ouch!” He said, “Take it from the splinter’s point of view. Somebody just sat on it.”

Wow! My inspiration. All of my creative writing instructions.

I placed first in that rally but don’t remember what our paragraphs were about. I’ve always recalled the splinter that came to life. Before then, I’d thought all good writers were old dead men from Europe. Besides, I hadn’t been exposed to humorous writing.

Once I realized writers could create any thing or person and make it do or say anything, I decided one day I’d do that. I’d be a writer.

I didn’t try until I was a young widow with five children.

I was busy throughout high school, married my older school sweetheart soon afterward, and had five children in six years. “Good Catholic or sex fiend?” people asked.

“Both,” I’d reply.

Once my mind kicked in after my husband’s death, I knew I needed to do something to bring home money. What would I like to do? Write. That thought came, along with images of the talking splinter. Yes, I still wanted to be a writer.

But my silly children wanted to eat and wear shoes. And I hadn’t read novels in years. The main thing I’d been reading was backs of cereal boxes, but I seldom had time for a whole one.

I never considered writing novels back then. I had to earn money and do it soon. Re-enrolling in our local university, I completed a degree and started teaching young teens. My own kids started becoming young teens, too, and they drove the younger ones to practices, giving me a pinch of free time. That maimed splinter emerged in my mind. The time had come—I’d be a writer!

I had no idea what to write.

Gradually I wrote and later sold a few essays and stories. Along the way I read and tried writing novels. The first two or three (okay, maybe four) didn’t sell, but I don’t think you’re supposed to sell those first ones. They’re practice, like athletes practicing for the pros. There’s a learning curve. Of course I still hope one day I’ll be an important enough author that editors ask to see everything I’ve ever written. That happened to my idol, Janet Evanovitch. Some people have compared my style to hers. I’m deeply flattered.

Finally I sold an e-book, a romantic suspense. I liked it. But e-books didn’t sell well except for erotica, which I wasn’t writing. I decided to work harder until I could sell a book that my family and friends could hold in their hands.

I did it! Creating and selling that hardcover book took forever—but it happened! Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and others gave Relative Danger great reviews. Deadly Ink nominated it for their new David Award for Best Mystery of the Year. Oh my gosh, it wasn’t just some of my own gown kids liking my book. Harlequin bought reprint rights. At Relative Danger is available in paperback. And my publisher just bought its sequel. I’ve started the third book in the series. What fun!

Now instead of being confined to my house with kids, I travel and write off the trips. Somebody has got to cruise Alaska (in August—and I’m from south Louisiana). I asked people on board where would be a good place to find a body. Got one! It’ll be in my third Cealie Gunther book. (Don’t ask where her name came from. She is who she is. I tried to change her, but she is so stubborn.) I get to fly to Dallas and Washington, D.C. and lots of other places to speak about writing (me!) and sign my books. And people interview me for newspapers and newsletters and blogs. And people give me money for my writing. How cool is that!

My best friends asked if I’d still talk to them after I became rich and famous. I laughed and said, “I don’t know. You’d better talk to me now.”

I love being with my friends and large family. They’re extremely proud of me. All of them cheer me on—and tell my younger grandkids they have to wait until they’re teens to read my current book since it’s PG13. I keep the little ones whenever I want to play. And my mom lives with me now since she’s almost blind from macular degeneration. She loves to dance (check her dancing at, and I dance with her, and we read my book to her, skipping some parts.

Life is good. Different. Interesting.

So Sandy, does reaching middle years mean a woman slows down? This gal is just getting started! I loved meeting you and some other terrific ladies from Poe’s Deadly Daughters at Malice Domestic. Y’all have a great blog. Thanks so much for inviting me here.

Visit the author’s web site:


Sandra Parshall said...

June, I wish I were as young in spirit as you are!

Anonymous said...

What a great story and such a wonderful sense of humor! You've just sold a book :-)


Sofie Kelly said...

I don't care what the calendar says, June. You sound very young.

And BTW, Relative Danger is terrific.

A Paperback Writer said...

Ah, you give me hope.
And the Scottish poet Edwin Morgan (who's famous everywhere except the US) didn't publish anything worth noting until he was 40. He's now 87, and I own someting like 17 of his books, but it's not a complete collection.

Anonymous said...

I laughed, and I nodded, throughout this post. I wrote from the time I was eight years old, but, although I had poetry, short stories, and articles published along the way, I didn't work on novels until I retired from teaching.

Now, I have three novels trying to find a home, but they will in time. They aren't my first but are my best.

I'm quite a bit over middle age, more like young old age, but I know that the stories in me will take me another thirty years at least to finish.

I want one of your books, and I'll get one soon.


June Shaw said...

Wow, I just returned from doing a book signing in New Orleans and then a friend's party -- and found such nice words from Sandy -- and then also from some of y'all. How great y'all are!!!

Thanks for such nice comments. Love y'all --

RELATIVE DANGER-Available now in paperback from

Joanna Campbell Slan said...


Is it possible that all this talent was just percolating until you unleashed it?

I think so!

From one beginner to another, "You go, girl!"

NL Gassert said...

June, I think there are quite a few of us who’ve raised families and were busy with life and only found time to write a bit later in life. You’re an inspiration to us. Thank you.

I'm hoping I'll have your energy when I reach the Middle Ages ;-)


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

June, you just put a big smile on my face. See you at Malice again this year!

Martha said...

What a terrific piece of writing! I'm now looking forward to reading your fiction. Thank you.