MamaWriters are completely thrilled to have Sally MacKenzie with us today. With a series of fabulously popular, fun Regencies, starting with The Naked Duke, Sally MacKenzie knows what it’s like to be a mom and a bestselling author. But not at the same time.
With some surprising lessons and wonderful insights, Sally talks with us about something we writers and mos don’t usually discuss: Maybe we can’t do it all, not at the same time. And maybe that’s okay.
Please help us welcome Sally MacKenzie!
Hello to all the mama writers out there! I have to like the blog’s motto: “Raising kids. Writing romance.” When Kris asked me to stop by, though, I wasn’t sure if she really wanted me. I told her I felt a bit of an imposter, but she said that was ok.
How am I an imposter? I am a wife and mother and I write romance, but I quit writing fiction for a number of years while I was raising my four sons.
Yep, I quit. Not right away. At first I wrote while the baby of the year was napping or played nearby. I bought a thick pad to muffle the sound of the typewriter. (I shudder to admit that was pre-personal computer days.)
I finally did get a PC–an IBM XT for what now would be an outrageous price–when son #2 arrived, and then I switched to writing picture book texts. The shorter length seemed more manageable and, truthfully, picture books were my main reading material at the time. I sent many of those out to publishers and got some positive rejections. I even went through revisions with one house, but ultimately they decided my story was too much like another book already published and passed on it.
And then the youngest reached his final year of pre-school. I decided to put writing aside to enjoy my last baby until he went off to full day kindergarten
Eight years and many carpool miles later….
I got back to writing when my oldest son was heading off to college. I decided it was time to either follow my dream or give it up. I’d always loved Georgette Heyer’s books, and I’d read many–probably hundreds–of regencies while I was doing the baby thing, so I thought I’d try my hand at writing one. The stars aligned, and The Naked Duke debuted in February 2005. I’ve been writing Naked every since.
Do I regret my decision to stop for a while? Yes…and no.
If I’d kept writing, maybe my career would now rival Norah Roberts’.
Wait. Let me take a moment to savor that thought.
Or maybe not.
I don’t know what would have happened if I’d made a different decision. When I look back, I have to remind myself how busy I was with kid duties. My husband worked virtually 24-7. His salary allowed me to stay home, but his hours meant I was mostly a single mom. I wanted my sons to be in scouts and sports, to take piano lessons, to have lots of opportunities and experiences–and some of those activities needed me to step in to keep them going.
Would I recommend quitting? No, unless you can walk away with no regrets. If you can truly give writing up–or at least writing for publication–I’d say do it. Publishing is a crazy business with no guarantees and absolutely no job security. But if you’re cursed to be a writer (and I have to say some days it does feel like a curse), you probably don’t have a choice. The need to write will nag at you and eat at you until you finally give in.
If for some reason you can’t put aside a little time regularly to write fiction, you can do other things to hone your skills and prepare for the time when you can carve out fiction-writing time. I always looked for volunteer jobs that involved writing. I edited school and community newsletters: I wrote swim league guidance and high school fundraising programs and even a couple kid plays. And my other volunteer positions–Cubmaster, swim team organizer, PTA president–helped me develop skills I find useful in the non-writing side of my writing business.
There’s definitely a risk in stopping. On more than one occasion I found myself thinking about Langston Hughes’ poem, “A Dream Deferred.” And the longer I went without writing, the more impossible the dream seemed. (Though I have to confess I feel overwhelmed every single time I face a blank computer screen whether at the start of a new novel or even the start of a new day’s writing session.)
I’m in awe of all my friends who are meeting deadlines and raising kids. But we are each different with different demands on our time and energy and mental space. Balancing everything is an ongoing challenge that I still haven’t mastered. But then life is a journey, not a race, right?
Okay, here’s the promo part–you didn’t think I just stopped by for the heck of it, did you? If you’re looking for an escape from all the balancing, my next Naked book, The Naked Viscount, is out June 1–and earlier in some places.
The heroine is Jane Parker-Roth whom I met when I wrote The Naked Gentleman. She pretty much grabbed me by the ears and demanded her own story. The hero, Lord Motton, is beset by aunties. The story was inspired by one of Thomas Rowlandson’s pornographic prints that I saw in Vic Gatrell’s City of Laughter and features Pan statues with prodigious penises.
Did I happen to mention my youngest son’s college application essay was all about how embarrassing it is to have a mother who writes these books? I did feel for him. The Naked Duke came out when he was a sophomore at an all male Jesuit high school and I’d just finished a term as Parents Club co-chair. But hey, don’t we parents exist to embarrass our children?