Monday, November 5, 2012

The Mystery of the Edgar Allan Poe Award



a guest post from Dandi Daley Mackall

Dandi won her first writing contest as a 10-year-old tomboy. Her 50 words on “Why I Want to Be Batboy for the Kansas City A’s” won first place, but the team wouldn’t let a girl be batboy. It was her first taste of rejection.

Since then, Dandi Daley Mackall has become an award-winning author of over 400 books for children of all ages, with sales of 4 million copies in 22 countries. The Silence of Murder is winner of the 2012 Edgar Award and is nominated for ALA Best Book 2013. Dandi is a national speaker, keynoting at conferences and Young Author events, and has made dozens of appearances on TV, including ABC, NBC, and CBS. Visit Dandi at www.dandibooks.com, winniethehorsegentler.com, and www.silenceofmurder.com; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85oaIUbJ8j8



First off, thanks for letting me onto this amazing website. Great tips, great comments…and there’s something about being surrounded by writers that makes me think that maybe I really am one. Yep—over 450 books under my belt and about 50 YA novels, plus the fact that I’ve actually earned a living writing books, doing what I love for a couple of decades—but I still have those raging doubts. On my worst days, a knock at my door makes me jump because I just know that it’s the Real-Writers-Police, here to tell me that they’re finally onto me and who did I think I was kidding (they’d say “whom,” of course), and they’d take away my computer to give it to a real writer.

Like you guys, I love to write and always have. I’ve published books with about every publisher out there, and definitely books for every age group, from still-in-the-womb (2 babybooks where Moms-to-be record everything), through rhyming board books, picture books, I-Can-Read books, early chapter book series, chapter books, middle grade novels and series, young adult novels and series, and grown-up fiction and nonfiction. I’ve even written Scooby-Doo and Flintstone and other licensed character books once upon a time.

Write What You Know

But I keep coming back to YA, as if my mindset is still back in my teens. I’ll bet you’ve heard this bit of advice: Write what you know. It’s good advice. I’d given it out freely. I sort of followed it in writing My Boyfriends’ Dogs, a funny, romantic comedy (soon to be a Hallmark movie!) that tells about the 3 loves of “Bailey Daley,” a thinly-disguised version of “Dandi Daley” before I become Dandi Daley Mackall.
And then one day I realized that I know more about horses than I know about anything. I grew up riding bareback (couldn’t afford a saddle), and I’ve always had horses. But I’d never written a horse book. So I did—several series, in fact: Horsefeathers!, Winnie the Horse Gentler, Starlight Animal Rescue, Backyard Horses, and some stand-alones too.

Then I realized there might be something else I knew a lot about and had never written: mysteries.

Mysteries

I adore mysteries. I’ve always read mysteries, usually right before I go to sleep. So I also dream mysteries. I love British mysteries on BBC and cop shows and anything with trials and lawyers and whodunits. Sure, I usually managed to make at least one book in each series a mystery—but never a murder mystery, never a trial…until…

The Silence of Murder



Believe it or not, I wrote the first chapter of this book as “play” a decade ago. Whenever I finish a book and send it in, I reward myself by giving myself 2 days to “play-write.” I write anything that comes into my head, knowing I won’t have to finish it or be on a deadline. It’s just for me. So I wrote what became a first chapter, then put it into my “Play” file on my computer, where it sat. Every year I’d take it out and fiddle with it. But I couldn’t see where it was going or what kind of book it was.

Jump forward 9 years, and I decided I’d make myself write Chapter 2. The first words I typed were “Your honor, I object!” And all at once, I got it! Don’t you love those epiphanies? I knew that Hope was on the witness stand, testifying on behalf of her brother, who was on trial for murdering the town’s beloved baseball coach. The first chapter had taken place a decade earlier, the last time her brother had spoken. And Hope, now 10 years older, is the only one who believes her brother didn’t murder Coach.

The Mystery Process

I learned a lot about mysteries by writing that book. I read trial transcripts. I talked to lawyers and police. I got a judge, a defense attorney, and an assistant DA to read the manuscript. About halfway through, I knew my murderer was too obvious, so I changed everything, including the murderer. With my agent’s input, I added another strong suspect. And for the first time, something I wrote went to auction! It’s as fun as it sounds—publishers (4 of them) had 24 hours to bid on the manuscript. I was in the hospital for those hours (no big deal—I’m fine now). Nurses broke rules and let me take calls,(even while being X-rayed) from my agent reporting each upped bid. Doctors, nurses, and techs cheered when the auction ended and I got my dream publisher—Knopf/Random House—in a 2-book deal. Only, you guys, that was just the beginning of rewrites and more rewrites. But the book got better and stronger with every revision. I love rewriting—all you can do is make things better (usually).

The Edgar Awards

So now I’m finally getting to the reason I was invited to chat with you. Sometimes I think I probably dreamed this part. The book had just released when I got an email from someone I didn’t know. She said she’d meant to write me after reading my Advanced Reading Copy of the mystery, but now she could tell me she loved it and congratulate me on the Edgar nomination. I grinned at the email, wondering how she’d gotten so mixed up. I knew only real mystery writers ever got nominated for the Edgar Award. I tried to read every nominee every year. But hours later, I got word from Knopf/Random House: The Silence of Murder was one of 5 books nominated as the Best YA Mystery of the Year, along with Harlan Coben, Todd Strasser, Maureen Johnson, Kathryn Miller Haines. And unless the Real-Mystery-Writers police showed up, I’d be going to NYC for the Award Banquet and Presentations.

At dawn on April 25th, Hubby Joe and I were flown to NYC for four fantastic, dreamlike days. I met all the wonderful mystery writers I’ve been reading my whole life, attended Mary Higgins Clark’s cocktail party, posed for photos with Martha Grimes, and got to hang out with my wonderful Knopf editor and my amazing agent. I sat on a panel with bestselling authors Sandra Brown, S.J. Rozan, and Meg Gardiner at the Mystery Writers of America symposium. Our panel was: Agatha’s Heirs: Smart Women: Smart Fiction, and I clarified that I was just a very blessed woman, grateful to tag along. I looked forward to the awards banquet because I wasn’t concerned about winning—I was sure I wouldn’t win. The word was that nobody wins the first time anyway—maybe the second or third time as a nominee.



On April 26th, Joe and I got all gussied up for the banquet in the Grand Hilton ballroom, and it was even more wonderful than I’d imagined. Think Academy Awards, with long gowns and tuxes, etc. My whole Random House team sat at our table—all there to support me. And Joe—I didn’t know it then, but while I met with my editors, Joe had been walking the streets of New York, checking pawn shops and jewelry shops until he found the perfect gift: a 56-year-old gold typewriter charm with tiny pearls for keys, engraved on the back: For my love at the Edgars. He hid the tiny, wrapped gold box in his coat pocket and planned to hand it to me when they didn’t call my name as winner.

One of the Edgar judges read the names of the nominees as the covers of our books flashed onto a big screen. She opened the envelope (yep—really opened an envelope)…and called out my name. Joe and I turned and stared at each other…and stared…and stared, until my agent poked me to go up and accept my award. I had no acceptance speech ready and barely remember what I said. (Later, Sandra Brown said my first 2 words were “Holy cow!”) I hope I thanked the right people. I recalled—out loud—that when Joe and I met in grad school, he spotted me, then waited for me to come out of my classroom, which happened to be How to Write a Mystery. His first words to me were: “So what’s your favorite way to kill people?” A couple of months later, we were married.

So, I hope I haven’t talked too much about me, me, me. I hate that! Maybe the best advice I can give is that it’s okay when you don’t feel like a real writer. Those feelings didn’t leave me because I won a fancy award. One week later, when I struggled with my next YA, I was sure I’d never finish another book. And if I did finish, no one would want to publish it. And if they did publish it, no one would read it. And if they did read it, they’d hate it. But I wrote anyway.

And you…So, please talk to me now. Do you ever feel like you’re not a real writer? What would it take to make you feel like one? And if you tell me you never doubt yourself as a writer, I may have to send the Real-Writers Police to your house next time they knock on my door.

44 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness. The Winnie the Horse Gentler series was one of my favorites as a kid! Now I'm in college, but those books still have a place of honor on my shelf, and I love loaning them to younger girls. Your books actually contributed to my dream of being a writer. Over the years, that dream has grown into a calling. I often feel like I'm not a "real" writer, I guess mainly because not many people have read my work yet. But then, as long as I'm learning, loving the process, and knowing I'm doing what I feel like I was made to do, it's a little easier to picture myself as an actual writer.

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    1. Anna, I just wrote a long reply to this wonderful email (Made my day!). But it didn't post, so I'll try again. No doubt, I hit the wrong button.

      Thank you for passing Winnie along! And thanks for letting me know--Dandi

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  2. Oh my gosh, DANDI DALEY MACKALL IS ON GTW! *pauses briefly to fangirl* I've always liked your books, but I haven't gotten to read much of them because the library doesn't have many. :(
    Anyway, I felt like this yesterday. My grandma was talking about me getting published and on the inside, I'm thinking "yikes! I'm not ready to be published! I never revise anything (unless rewriting counts, I'm addicted to drafting, lol.), I feel like such a fraud!" The not-revising thing is a habit I'm trying to break.
    But that moment totally made me feel like I wasn't a writer.

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    1. Allison, did you get my reply on this one?? I've sent 3 total posts. This one, I'll copy in case it gets lost again.

      Congrats on being a real writer! And thank you for reading my books. I agree--revising is tougher than rewriting. It's hard to "see again" with your own eyes. Two things that help: Put your ms. away for a month, and then try looking with fresh eyes. Or, get thee to a critique group and have all kinds of eyes on it. Thanks again-D

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    2. Yep, I got it. Blogger can get annoying sometimes! And thanks for the advice. :)

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  3. OMG! I loved Horesfeathers! But I had no idea it was a series. It was just one of those books that was in our house so I read it, but I had always thought it was a single. Now I have to go find the rest of the series to read. . .

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    1. Wow, Julie-Anne! That book must have been lying around for quite a while. If you can't find the other books, give Winnie the Horse Gentler or Starlight Animal Rescue a try. D

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  4. O.O Dandi Daley. No. Blinking. Way. O.O Can I just say how much I enjoyed your Winnie-the-Horse-Gentler books when I was younger? And the Starlight Animal Rescue? And thank you for mentioning "My Boyfriend's Dogs," because it's about time I read that one again.

    I've never really thought about not being a real writer...it's really just been something that I've always done. It's not my career (and I don't plan for it to be) it's more of just a hobby...I don't really know. :P I just do it. It's kind of like my left hand - I don't really think about it, but I use it all the time and I'd have a really hard time without it.

    (I think you'd better send the RWP after me now...*hides under the bed*)

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    1. Thanks, Olivia.

      I have to tell you that I thought writing would be a hobby for me because everyone told me I'd never make a living writing books. I got a degree and taught part-time at a university until I worked my way out of my job. That's not a bad formula really. Dandi

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  5. =D So I was SO excited when I saw your name! I have read countless books of yours and have loved each and every one of them! Currently, I am reading your devotion for "animal lovers" with my younger brother. We both love it and I really need to thank you for that. It is the only non-dangerous thing that I can do with him that still makes me "cool" in his mind. So thank you so much! ♥
    As for not feeling like a real writer...you do not know how relieved I was when I realized that I wasn't the only one who felt this way. Much more, that YOU do! I mean don't get me wrong! I don't like the fact that you feel this way and promise if I come across a curing potion, I'll give it to you. But this has really been one of my biggest challenges as a writer. I constantly feel like I am not good enough to be a "real writer." Or old enough, or smart enough, or witty enough, or experienced enough, or...need I go on? It is sssoooooo nice to know these feelings are natural and I'm not the only one who has them! So thank you!

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    1. AAARGH! I just wrote this email, and it disappeared when I hit Publish--I hit refresh, and that left the box empty--so here I go again.

      Leorah,congrats on being the best sister ever and a real writer--and I said so! I love picturing you guys reading that book and maybe laughing, but thinking, talking. He's lucky to have you!
      Blessings, Dandi

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  6. Oh my gosh I'm so exciting you are on GTW! I love all your horse books! I read all of the Winnie the Horse Gentler, Horsefeathers and Starlight Animal Rescue books when I was younger. I'm dying to get my hands on the mystery of yours! :D When I first read your books I loved your style so much had had to keep reading it was so distinct.
    Haha, I have days when I'm like "I can do this!" and other's when its like, "Why am I wasting my time?" Scratch that, who am I kidding, I think that happens every hour. xD Its good to know even published authors have doubts sometimes. I'm not published but I really hope to be one day. I LOVE what your husband said to you when you first met! Only a writer... Thank you so much for share your story with us! =D

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    1. Tess, thank you! I love that you've read so many of the books. And thanks for the nice compliment about my style. Yeah, you'd like my hubby. Plus, he's a wonderful writer. Of course, nobody in our house can cook, clean, or keep track of taxes and bills....

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  7. What a wonderful story! Thanks so much for sharing, Dandi--I'm still dazed at your auction...and your award, LOL. And now trying to remember which of your gazillion books I've read to my kids. Hmm. I remember my daughter commenting on your name and thinking "Dandi" was SO much fun. ;-)

    Now I'd better go back to my WIP before the Writing Police happen by this way...

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    1. Thanks, Roseanna. And thanks to that daughter of yours! I love her already. I'll send the Writing Police in the wrong direction.

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  8. Wow ... despite my devotion to words, they fail me as I try to express how much this post means to me. It's so encouraging, I could cyber-hug you, if I didn't stand quite so much in awe of you. :) Thank you SO much.

    Like Leorah said, that you, of all people, feel insecure sometimes, is such a boost to my confidence. I typically sit down at my repulsive first draft and think, "What? And I thought I could write?" Now you make me want to pull it up and type until my keyboard goes up in flames...

    So, once again, thank you.

    (Oh - and if a guy came up to me and said, "So what's your favorite way to kill people?", I think I'd marry him too.)

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    1. :D So would I. Out of context though, that sounds really evil and you-need-to-spend-the-rest-of-your-life-in-prison-ish. :D

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    2. Well, yes. Context is key. :D

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  9. Congrats on your award, Dandi! And thanks for a wonderful post. I got goosebumps reading about the auction. And I totally see this book as a great movie. Here's hoping. :-)

    Guys, The Silence of Murder is EXCELLENT! You all should go read it. Such a great story. I own the beautiful hardcover book myself. Worth every penny.

    Yeah... I don't feel like a real writer. I have theories of what would make me feel like a real writer, but I know it's just my own insecurities and pride having a war in my head. So I try to ignore that and keep on typing. It can be hard though... But, yeah, find ways to beat down the insecurities because they don't ever go away completely.

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    1. Thanks for the great sales pitch for SILENCE, Jill! I really appreciate it. I lucked out with both covers--not always the case....

      Good hearing from you--D

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  10. Thank you so much for this post. It's really encouraged me to keep going with my stories. This was a really amusing post, it made me laugh and smile and I can see why you've been published so much with that style. :D

    What would you recommend doing when I get several chapters into my story and come up with a new idea and the old one loses its pull? Or it just loses the pull without a new idea popping up?

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    1. What a great question, Tiffanie!

      I think every book/story loses its pull at one point or another. Knowing that makes me plow through with the rough draft--and my rough drafts are horrible! Sometimes, it feels like slogging through quicksand, and the book doesn't "pull" again until I get into the second draft.

      But if another idea truly tugs at you, take an afternoon and run with it. Then, I'll bet you'll know if you're running to, or running away. And keep your notes--may just be your next project.

      Thanks so much for asking this.

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  11. 450 BOOKS?? YOU'RE INSANE, WOMAN!! Insanely GOOD, that is. X)

    I always feel like I'm an intruder into the writing world, an impostor who doesn't really belong there. Mainly because, while I have story BEGINNINGS out the wazoo, I've never actually finished any of the stories I start. :(

    However, my WIP gives me a new and exciting feeling such as I've never felt before for ANY of my stories, so if I hurry, I may just be able to keep the Real Writers Police off my doorstep. ;)

    Congratulations on your reward!! :D And "So what's your favorite way to kill people?" Best pick-up line for a writer EVER. XD

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  12. Oh. My.
    I can't even tell you how many times I checked out the "Winnie" series from my church library when I was 11. Even though I'm 17 now, I've been thinking I should get them again for old time's sake.
    Thanks for paying a visit, Dandi!

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  13. Congrats Dandi!

    Of course I don't feel like a real writer. I feel like my sentences aren't exciting enough... etc.

    I don't know what could make me feel like one. Maybe in that moment if I publish a book, it might hit me for a moment, but I'm sure it will leave soon after.

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  14. Thanks! I always thought when I write one book I'll feel like a writer. Well, now that its written i don't want to tell anyone because it need resuscitation and what someone asked to read it, they'd think I'd never stand a chance. I'm insecure over my writing, period. I've read of some others that say no matter what it doesn't go away so maybe i need to learn to live with that feeling because it roars so loud there are times I don't write because of it,

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  15. “So what’s your favorite way to kill people?” LOVE this. So writer-ish! :D

    I feel like I'm not a real writer when everyone else has a higher word count than I do, and everyone else writes faster. I think I'll feel like a real writer when I finish this draft and start editing, 'cause that means that even if I'm slow, I at least finished.

    Super fun post!

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  16. Wow! It is great to hear your story, Dandi. This is the first time I've heard of you or your books and I must say, I'm fascinated. :)

    I am a young writer with only a small home-based bit of experience. My inspiration began from a very young age and has gone to now (almost 17). I've learned what I can from different sources over the years and I began to put more dedicated attention to learning since age 12 when I realized that if I really wanted to be a writer, I'd need to focus and be disciplined in writing (this I learned from my Dad who is a published writer and copy-editor).
    Finding Go Teen Writers has been a refreshing part of my time each day: a time when I can build up my list of things to remember to do when writing, to change about how I have been writing, and to refresh my memory in what I've learned.

    I began with really short stories as a kid, one of them going into a tiny series of 4 books which I carried on writing until I was 12 (as a side project) and put illustrations with the story to make it fun.
    My little brother has sort of been like a test-subject, in that, I'd read my stories to him while writing or when one was finished and he would beg me to read them again and again. He liked them, so I decided to keep sharing them. I love the input and advice of others and so finally, after writing a bunch and finishing several more, I began to set up a small website for my stories: aaprile.wix.com/thestorybook.
    It has been fun running it and I even put a place where others could add their own stories or poems.
    I kinda wanted to do a little mystery for awhile, but didn't know how well I'd do, so a few years ago I wrote a short one about an 11-year-old boy who is adopted by his aunt and uncle who live in an old farm house...this I made a blog for and posted the chapters as I wrote them: themysteriousroom.blogspot.com. I think it turned out fairly well, but only good enough for a small circle of people to like.

    I received advice and lessons from my Dad on writing and punctuation, but as a young girl my english and grammar experience were from observance alone. I hadn't officially taken english (being homeschooled and my parents not forcing me to, I didn't ever think it too important until I saw I needed it for writing) so my parents were amazed and said they couldn't believe how well I did with the english in my writing. I had only done what I knew and had learned from reading YA fiction and biographies in school and on my own.

    My point is, would you mind taking a look at my stories and telling me-in complete honesty-what areas I could improve on? It would be great if I could get a little advice from someone I don't know and who would most likely tell me what I need to hear. I've gotten few people who tell me what is wrong with my stories (with the exception of my Dad, of course) and it doesn't help much to receive only praise.

    I appreciate it!
    God Bless,
    Megan

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    1. Dandi has a great heart for aspiring writers, so I'm guessing she'd love to, but I know she's in a busy season right now with edits to turn around.

      Contests are a great way to get unbiased feedback on your writing, so I would look into those. Also, joining a critique group can provide great feedback.

      I'm so glad you've found Go Teen Writers to be a helpful place!

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    2. Thanks for replying for her. I understand that she must be pretty busy, so that's okay.

      Also, thank you for the bit of advice. I have done a few contests with no results, but will look into doing it again.

      God bless,
      Megan

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  17. Sometimes I completely question why I write, but then I realize it better then therapy for me. I use it to vent in more than one why and sometimes I forget that I can use this to make a living. My dream is to become published soon and even though I haven't done that yet I still have those moment of "Wow, I can't believe I get to do this." Just doing things like attending writing events make me become speechless and I only dream that I will get to do this more and more. And let me tell you this, when your a teenager attending writing intensives, the support you get is unbelievable!

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  18. Hey Mrs. Mackall,
    I have adored your writing since I was seven years old! Winnie was my best friend throughout childhood :) Now, I still go back and re-read the series...over and over! You have been my writing role model since I first read Wild Thing, then moved through the series and onto your other books. We are so alike - BBC mystery shows (BBC in general, actually) are incredible!
    Your writing has been such an amazing influence on my life, you have absolutely no idea. I wrote an essay (the subject was on inspiring things) the character Winnie Willis, because she was so influential to me. Just something funny - my younger sister, Lizzy, and I are just like Winnie and Lizzy - I am slightly older and adore horses, Lizzy is slightly younger and adores lizards and is scared of horses and makes friends easy. I just loved that :)
    I am absolutely thrilled to see you on GTW, it absolutely made my day...or week ;)
    Your dedicated fan,
    Sarah

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    1. Sarah, thank you for this sweet email! I'd love to meet you and your sister. Winnie and Lizzy felt like my friends too, but it's so great to hear that they were your childhood buddies.

      Thanks for saying my writing influenced you--you've made my day...or week!

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  19. May I just say... you have written a lot of books. And I was getting so excited as I read this post, and then the lady pulled your name out of the envelope... I think I'm about to order your book. (The mystery. Not all your books, at the same time. Although that would be an insanely awesome thing -- imagine that, 400 books arriving on my doorstep! Or maybe one every day in a package...)

    Oh, and the part about grad school -- I misread and thought that it said GRADE school.
    This is me: What?! And they got married a few months after this?!

    This is such an inspiringly encouraging post. Thankyou!

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    1. Too funny, Emii! Nope-definitely not grade school. Now, back to writing...6 new projects on my desk (not to mention a dozen "dangling" stories I need to get back to.

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  20. That's an amazing story! Congratulations on winning the award, and thanks for sharing it with all us aspiring writers over here. Great inspiration!

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    1. Thanks, Alice! It's been inspiring to be on this website!

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  21. WOW! Awesome story! I guess I just need to tell my brain "STOP TELLING ME I'M NOT A REAL WRITER!!!"

    Thanks so much for the encouragement!

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    1. Maybe we all we need to tape a 3.5 card to our computers reminding us WE ARE TOO REAL WRITERS!

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  22. From Amo Libros:
    THIS IS SO COOL!!!
    First of all, this was a very inspiring story. I feel so much better knowing that even Real Authors with 400 books published don't always feel like "Real Writers"....and then go on to win the Edgar Allen Poe award. So Awesome!
    Thanks so much for posting!

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    1. From Amo Libros"
      Also, I enjoyed learning that even "Real Writers" have a "play" folder, and that great stuff can come out of it - it makes me feel so much better about that file of unfinished beginnings!

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    2. I know, right? I call those "Untitled Documents," from my habit of leaving them dangling in and unsaved Word doc on my computer. :) Eventually I just made an Untitled Document File and I've started saving them all. One story idea already has come from them...

      It's so cool that Ms. Mackall does that, too. :D

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  23. I feel like that all the time. But I just keep typing away at the keyboard. Someday... someday it'll all pay off

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  24. Inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story. :)

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