Meet Patti Boeckman – Guest Blog

Meet Patti Beckham

In my head, I have been writing since I was a child. I’d read a story and mentally concoct a different version. To this day, I construct stories, scenes, characters, conflicts, resolutions, all the time. In school, I loved to write. An essay was a joy for me. Give me a sheet of paper, instructions for the assignment, and I couldn’t wait to get started. In high school, I participated in UIL Ready Writing. UIL (University Interscholastic League) was an interschool competition in various subject areas. I won the writing contest at my local school, and the area and regional levels and went to state. There, in competition with the winning student writers from all over Texas, I placed third. The judge said I would have placed first if the second half of my essay had been as good as the first half. One of my teachers kept telling me that she thought I should write a book. Little did she know that, years later, I would write many books.

I worked on the school year book all four years in high school. The last two years I was the editor. I looked at the bland name and title used to identify the staff and decided that those people deserved something better. After all, we interacted with them every day. At my small school, we were like family. So I livened up the attributions with little blurbs about each staff member to capture the essence of their personality so that years later, they would come alive for us when we reminisced by looking through those year books. Today, I know which secretary’s pet peeve was people who didn’t talk loud enough on the phone, which one made her own clothes, which one liked to fish, and which one was irritated by rude people. No one before me at our school had ever personalized the staff photos with such commentary.

In college, my English 101 teacher asked me if I had read a lot. She loved my essays and said that only someone who read a lot could write as well as I did. Actually, although I read an average number of books, I was not a voracious reader. I think my inclination for writing came naturally from my gene pool. Three of my four cousins on one side of the family have all written extensively in various fields. And their mother, my aunt, kept a daily journal from the eighth grade until just before her death at 94. Writing may be a compulsion as much as it is a talent.

Patti and Charles BoeckmanAs for commercial writing, meaning I put something on paper and received either publicity or money for it, my first foray into that level of writing began with a short children’s magazine story. It didn’t pay much, just $5, but I could boast that I had sold something. You see, it wasn’t until I met my husband, Charles, who became a professional writer at the age of 25, that I grasped the concept of selling my writing. Somehow, in spite of all the stories and books I had read, it never really jelled that contemporary authors were out there pounding out stories for money in almost unlimited genres. Wow! You mean I might do that, too?

I had gone to college to be a teacher, a teacher who happened to love to write. But I never conceptualized myself writing fiction. Weren’t all fiction writers old dead guys, with a few women thrown just to keep things a little equal? Hmmm. So after the children’s story smash success, I decided to try my hand at writing a woman’s confession story. With help from Charles, I whipped it into shape and sent it in. When I got back a check for $125, I was astounded. That was around 1966. That seemed like good money for one submission. However, I was a teacher, and the professional writing bug just didn’t bite me very hard, so I didn’t write anything else for years.

Then, after my daughter was born in the mid-1970’s, we broke into the article market and both of us sold regularly. In the mid-1980’s, before one of the many writer’s conferences we attended where Charles spoke at workshops about his writing career, he was looking for a new market. Markets come and markets go, and his bread-and-butter market was on the skids. When his sister handed him a couple of Harlequin romances and told him how popular they were, and suggested he write one, he just tossed them aside and said he wasn’t interested. He thought they paid a one-time, low, flat fee for each book. However, a female writer he had mentored to write confession stories had earlier switched to romances and called to tell us about her royalty check from Harlequin. When she said she got several thousand dollars, he dropped the phone, grabbed up the romance books given to him by his sister, hurriedly scanned them, and said, “I can write this.” Two books read, and he had the formula.

At the writer’s conference, we went to romance workshops and found out that Simon and Schuster, who had been distributing Harlequins in the U.S., were no longer going to distribute someone else’s books. They had smelled the money of the burgeoning romance market from up close and were going to develop their own line of romance books under the Silhouette imprint. Charles sniffed the scent of money, too. So we made it a point to meet the Silhouette editor attending the conference, who asked us to send in a proposal.

All the way home from the conference, we discussed a romance plot. At home, we threw ourselves into hammering out that plot on our portable typewriters. This was before computers. We tinkered with it for a couple of days until Charles declared it ready to go. We sent it in, and a week later we got “the call.” Kate Duffy, the main editor of the line, said they had been seeking manuscripts for a while and were beginning to think that they weren’t going to get anything suitable, when our plot dropped in their lap. They were delighted. It was exactly what they were looking for. She said that if we had another proposal and could get it to them within the next week, they would send us a two-book contract and shoot us an advance as soon as we signed and got the contract back to them. I literally danced around the house and whooped for joy! It was a dream come true. Although that first romance didn’t bear the number 1 on its cover, it was the first proposal accepted and the book that launched the Silhouette romance line.

Later, when I spoke at writers’ conferences, and the Patti Beckman name (that was my pseudonym) meant something, the audience of aspiring writers, made up of all women, would crowd around me after I spoke and ask me lots of questions. When I tried to tell them that my books were a collaboration between my husband and me, that he taught me to write them and that he wrote some and I wrote some but they were all under my byline, the ladies gave Charles a dismissive glance and huddled closer around me. One of their prime questions was how I learned to write romances. I always said, “Oh, I did it the easy way. I married a writer. He taught me. Maybe you can marry a writer, too. But this one is taken. You’ll have to find your own.” Of course, I then gave them my best advice and said to read widely, focus a large percent of reading on the field for which they wanted to write, analyze plot, structure, characterization, read books and articles on writing fiction, and, if possible, find a qualified mentor to help guide them. And be sure to know the requirements of the market if you are writing category novels. For example, one requirement for category romances is no head hopping with point of view. Recently I read an agent’s website that confirmed that this guideline is still in effect for category romances. And I said to aspiring writers, “Never give up.” To anyone reading this interview, I would recommend this website:

As for my byline, I dropped the “o” from the last name to make it easy to pronounce. Back then, romances filled bookstore shelves, and if a reader asked for one of my books, I wanted her to get my name right. As a matter of fact, unlike today where you have to seek out category romances, back then they were like tissue paper popping up out of gift bags. You didn’t look for them; they looked for you. You walked into any variety store, grocery store, drug store, convenience store, department store, and there were shelves filled with Silhouette romances. From the original one imprint to an imprint for every reader’s preference, they proliferated like wild fire. I think that, in addition to their natural popularity, they were scarfed up by readers who aspired to be writers. And Silhouette fed off of that aspiration. They held seminars around the country, inviting would-be romance writers to attend and learn to churn out the books of their dreams. Read, read, read the romances, soak up the concept, get at that typewriter, and become a Silhouette author! No telling how many book sales were based on that sales pitch. And it worked. Soon there were writers for every new imprint that Silhouette even whispered about. In fact, to the detriment of the writers, Silhouette came up with so many different lines, that any one book finally had a limited audience.

However, before that happened, Charles and I took to the road with our young daughter and traveled the country, soaking up backgrounds for our books. We spent five years writing for Silhouette. By the time we stopped, we had produced 25 romances that sold over 2,000,000 copies world wide. And I had made the B Dalton Book Store Best Seller list with a teenage romance. I had knocked the teenage book out in three week of marathon writing It was at that point that I felt I had “arrived” as a novelist. It was totally my idea, and except for a few editorial changes common to all submitted books, it was all my writing.

After our books were no longer in print, I got our rights back, and about three years ago, a Japanese company that, years ago, had bought rights from Silhouette for nine of our books, decided that they wanted to reprint those as graphic novels. So there was still life in those books from the 1980’s. Who knew? Since we owned the rights, we made the deal ourselves and are still getting small royalty checks. Now if they can just find life on Mars, maybe we can sell our novels intergalactically.

I have been both a plotter and a panster. At first, I was too intimidated by the blank page to start a story without knowing where I was going. But after many books, I learned to like the challenge of starting with a premise and just letting the story and characters grow as I write. However, I do begin with an understanding of the characters’ attitude and basic background and their main goal, etc. But I have never written dossiers on my characters. My mind can’t wrap itself around that. I don’t know all the details of their background until they begin interacting with other characters in the story and they reveal those details to me. I like to describe the physical features of my characters early on so that the readers can also visualize them as if watching a movie

As I write, I flit around in the story and imagine myself being each character. I picture the story in my mind as if it’s a movie, and I play all the parts. If I have a little child in the story, I become the little child. If it’s a villain, imaginary horns pop out on my head as I assume the personality of someone filled with rage or evil. In other words, I get to be a writer and actor at the same time. I like performing before an audience and love pretending to be someone else. That is a real plus when I’m playing with my young grandchildren and when I’m writing.

While I swam in and out of writing interspersed with teaching school, Charles kept knocking out a variety of books and articles. I did a freebie stint from 1992 through 1996. I wrote a guest column for the local newspaper every two months or so and got to see my name in a 10 point slab serif font and read occasional Letters to the Editor about my column. I loved the opportunity to write any crazy or serious column I wanted. I won a journalism award for my columns, which boosted my ego, of course. I learned a lot from that experience about the importance of nuanced writing as I spent time tinkering with sentences to convey particular shades of meaning. For instance, word order can alter the impact of a given sentence. Punctuation and brevity can speed up the pace of the story. Here’s an example of using punctuation for impact.

This is an example for a suspense story:

He walked around the corner and stared into the business end of a pistol aimed right between his eyes and wondered if he would die right there.

He walked around a corner. He stared into the business end of a pistol. It was aimed right between his eyes. Would he die? Right there?

Breaking one long sentence into several short, choppy statements conveys a heightened sense of urgency.

When anyone asks who my favorite author is, I honestly tell them it is Charles Boeckman. He has been an extremely versatile author. Markets change, and when the markets changed, he changed markets. Not all authors can do that. He planned his life as a kid and taught himself his craft. He has won two life time achievement awards, one for music and the other for writing. He knows his craft well, is still producing at age 94, and has a rich legacy to leave to our daughter and our grandchildren. And he taught me the intricacies of writing fiction. How could he not be my favorite? His biography is under production and will be available soon.

Check out my latest release:

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

Who Is Elizabeth?

Pit a feisty, she-cat against a reluctant interloper and watch the sparks fly.

When Elizabeth McDaniel’s reclusive, sheltered existence on her grandfather’s farm is invaded by Derek Huston, she cannot possibly imagine the stunning result of his intrusion into her life. And he has no idea how enchanted he will become with the lovely, spit-fire redhead who demonstrates her dead-eye, rifle aim on their first encounter.

Their first clash of wills precedes a budding romance, the flowering of Elizabeth’s musical talents with a guitar provided by Derek, and Derek’s acceptance into the family. No one suspects that Derek has a hidden agenda so explosive that, when revealed, it turns Elizabeth’s world upside down and her image of herself inside out.

No longer able to trust Derek on any level, she erases him from her life and from her heart.

Is there any hope that Derek can regain her confidence and her love? Find out in this delightful, warm account of two people whose lives are dramatically changed by each other and who have to sort through the rubble of their existence before they can know if they have a future together.

I actually wrote this novel after I retired from teaching a number of years ago. The markets were different then, and my manuscript ran into some bad luck. My agent sent it to Silhouette, where it languished on an editor’s desk for months. Then, the editor quit and left a pile of unread manuscripts on her desk, and, for some reason, they were not assigned to someone else, and all were returned to the writers. Mine was in that pile. That was pretty discouraging. However, I wouldn’t have given up, but life took a sudden back road and I found myself with unexpected responsibilities that left no time for writing. I put Elizabeth in a drawer and told her I would make sure she saw the light of day eventually. Although she was patient, she would call to me from time to time to let me know she really wanted to get out into the world and smell the fresh air and move around in her story. Finally, life found a feeder road parallel to the freeway, so I have some time now to get back to writing. Marketing has changed while Elizabeth awaited her debut, so I took her out, cleaned her up, and found a small publisher to present her to the world. I hope, if you read this book, that you will find her as delightful and interesting as she is to me. I created her, but just as I had a daughter who became her own person, Elizabeth has become her own person. She lives in my imagination. Now she lives in her own novel, as real in your mind as the person next door, your cousin, your best girl friend, your brother’s fiancé, or you. That is, she will be if you choose to meet her.

Buy the book at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

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