Publishing did not come easy to self-described "creative speller" Debbie Macomber. When Macomber decided to follow her dreams of becoming a bestselling novelist, she had a lot of obstacles in her path. For starters, Macomber is dyslexic. On top of this, she had only a high school degree, four young children at home, and absolutely no connections in the publishing world. If there's one thing you can say about Debbie Macomber, however, it is that she does not give up. She rented a typewriter and started writing, determined to break into the world of romance fiction.
The years went on and the rejection letters piled up. Her family was living on a shoestring budget, and Debbie was beginning to think that her dreams of being a novelist might never be fulfilled. She began writing for magazines to earn some extra money, and she eventually saved up enough to attend a romance writer's conference with three hundred other aspiring novelists. The organizers of the conference picked ten manuscripts to review in a group critique session. Debbie was thrilled to learn that her manuscript would be one of the novels discussed.
Her excitement quickly faded when an editor from Harlequin tore her manuscript to pieces in front of the crowded room, evoking peals of laughter from the assembled writers. Afterwards, Macomber approached the editor and asked her what she could do to improve her novel. "Throw it away," the editor suggested.
Many writers would have given up right then and there, but not Macomber. The deeply religious Macomber took a lesson from Job and gathered strength from adversity. She returned home and mailed one last manuscript to Silhouette, a publisher of romance novels. "It cost $10 to mail it off," Macomber told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2000. "My husband was out of work at this time, in Alaska, trying to find a job. The children and I were living on his $250-a-week unemployment, and I can't tell you what $10 was to us at that time."
It turned out to be the best $10 Macomber ever spent. In 1984, Silhouette published her novel, Heartsong. (Incidentally, although Heartsong was Macomber's first sale, she actually published another book, Starlight, before Heartsong went to print.) Heartsong went on to become the first romance novel to ever be reviewed in Publishers Weekly, and Macomber was finally on her way.
Today, Macomber is one of the most widely read authors in America. A regular on the New York Times bestseller charts, she is best known for her Cedar Cove novels, a heartwarming story sequence set in a small town in Washington state, and for her Knitting Books series, featuring a group of women who patronize a Seattle yarn store. In addition, her backlist of early romances, including several contemporary Westerns, has been reissued with great success.
Macomber has made a successful transition from conventional romance to the somewhat more flexible genre known as "women's fiction." "I was at a point in my life where I found it difficult to identify with a 25-year-old heroine," Macomber said in an interview with ContemporaryRomanceWriters.com. "I found that I wanted to write more about the friendships women share with each other." To judge from her avid, ever-increasing fan base, Debbie's readers heartily approve.
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Good to Know
Some outtakes from our interview with Macomber:
"I'm dyslexic, although they didn't have a word for it when I was in grade school. The teachers said I had 'word blindness.' I've always been a creative speller and never achieved good grades in school. I graduated from high school but didn't have the opportunity to attend college, so I did what young women my age did at the time -- I married. I was a teenager, and Wayne and I (now married nearly 37 years) had four children in five years."
"I'm a yarnaholic. That means I have more yarn stashed away than any one person could possibly use in three or four lifetimes. There's something inspiring about yarn that makes me feel I could never have enough. Often I'll go into my yarn room (yes, room!) and just hold skeins of yarn and dream about projects. It's a comforting thing to do."
"My office walls are covered with autographs of famous writers -- it's what my children call my ‘dead author wall.' I have signatures from Mark Twain, Earnest Hemingway, Jack London, Harriett Beecher Stowe, Pearl Buck, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, to name a few."
"I'm morning person, and rip into the day with a half-mile swim (FYI: a half mile is a whole lot farther in the water than it is on land) at the local pool before I head into the office, arriving before eight. It takes me until nine or ten to read through all of the guest book entries from my web site and the mail before I go upstairs to the turret where I do my writing. Yes, I write in a turret -- is that romantic, or what? I started blogging last September and really enjoy sharing bits and pieces of my life with my readers. Once I'm home for the day, I cook dinner, trying out new recipes. Along with cooking, I also enjoy eating, especially when the meal is accompanied by a glass of good wine. Wayne and I take particular pleasure in sampling eastern Washington State wines (since we were both born and raised in that part of the state).
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In the spring of 2005, Debbie Macomber took some time out to answer our questions.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
The one book that has had the strongest influence on my life, without question, is the Bible. God's Word has been the guiding force behind all I do. I read the Bible each and every day and gain inspiration, encouragement, and joy.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
Before I answer this, I feel it's necessary to mention that I read widely, across the board. In compiling this list I discovered several of my favorite books are nonfiction. I have not noted the Bible a second time, although as I indicated above, it is the most influential book in my life.
Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons -- For its charm, its wonderful writing, and its truth. (I introduced this book to my editor, who now loves Kaye Gibbons's work as much as I do.)
And Then There Was Light by Jacques Lusseyran -- I read this book shortly after learning that my father had been a POW in WWII, something he never talked about until the end of his life. It helped me understand some of what he endured and gave me a deep appreciation of the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation.
The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale -- When I first decided to write, I knew I was going to need all the positive reinforcement I could get. I read and reread Dr. Peale's wonderful words of wisdom. After I published my first book, I wrote Dr. Peale to thank him for his inspiration, and he wrote me back. It is a letter I will always treasure.
The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss -- I loved and read this historical romance so often that I had the first page nearly memorized. Kathleen Woodiwiss opened my eyes to the possibilities of fiction. These characters felt real to me. I cheered and cried with them and never wanted the book to end. I first read this book in the early 1980s and knew from that moment on that I wanted my readers to feel the same way when they finished one of my books.
Why Good Girls Don't Get Ahead but Gutsy Girls Do by Kate White -- This business-related book taught me that I'm a gutsy girl in a good-girl disguise. It offers some of the soundest career advice I've read.
The 21 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout -- Another wonderful business book that is full of interesting tidbits about the buying public, their buying habits and how best to market to them.
The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh -- I'm a real fan of Regency romances, and I consider this one of the best. I read this book in one sitting, unable to put it down.
The 13th Juror by John Lescroart -- This is one of the best-plotted and most interesting books I've read in ages, and I have recommended it again and again. John is a wonderful writer, and we discovered that we have a great deal in common, including the fact that both our fathers were POWs in WWII.
If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O by Sharyn McCrumb -- My editor recommended this author to me and commented that she envied me the experience of reading my first Sharyn McCrumb. (This book is the first of her Ballad series, all set in Appalachia.) Later I was fortunate enough to meet Sharyn at a writers' conference, so I could tell her how much I enjoyed her work.
Walking After Midnight by Karen Robards -- This book was pure fun. I felt as though I was on a roller-coaster ride, and every page was a thrill.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
I'm a big film buff, although I'm not fond of movies with excessive violence. I've always enjoyed musicals. My first exposure was with West Side Story. I memorized all the songs and belted them out for months afterward. I almost entered the convent after watching The Sound of Music. Thankfully, I didn't; it wouldn't have been a good fit for either of us. In recent years I've enjoyed The Princess Bride and the Star Wars series. I like movies with what I call a zinger -- Collateral and The Replacement Killers are good examples. And comedies, too. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard as when I watched The Gods Must Be Crazy, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World, and The Hallelujah Trail.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I don't listen to music while writing. It's not that I need silence in order to create. I started out writing when our four children were small and I needed to keep my ears tuned to them in case one of them decided to play Superman and fly out a window or start a campfire in the middle of the living room. When it comes to listening to the radio, I prefer the oldies stations. When I'm on the treadmill, I play Christian CDs and make a joyful noise. Correction: It's a joyful noise to me, but I doubt others would think so.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
There's a bookstore directly below my office. It's hard to believe but I write above a bookstore and an ice cream parlor. This, my friends, is a writer's nirvana. On average I buy a book a day, and that's no exaggeration. Mostly I purchase nonfiction for gifts. One of my favorites is Gifts from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindberg. For my writer friends I've bought Goals by Brian Tracy, and for friends who are animal lovers I've bought The Dog Who Rescues Cats by Gonzalez & Fleischer.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I have a cherrywood desk with a glass top to protect the wood. Over the years a number of things have made their way under the glass. There's a picture of my dad and his brother, who looked so much alike that they were often mistaken for identical twins -- only my dad was a full foot shorter than his brother. Then there are pictures of my grandchildren (by far the cutest grandkids in the universe), and there's a slip of paper on which I've written four words. They are: "provocative," "relevant," "creative," and "honest." When I decide on a plot for one of my big hardcover stories, I weigh the story against each of these words. I want to provoke my readers to think. I want the story to be relevant to them and to our times. My goal is to tell this story in as creative a way as possible and to be honest with my readers and with myself. As you might have guessed, I'm a lover of words. As for rituals, I really don't have any.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
In my humble opinion, there are a lot of writers out there who haven't suffered enough. I suffered plenty. When I first started writing, I didn't know another writer in the world. This was back in the late 1970s before Romance Writers of America was formed. For nearly five years I wrote and submitted my manuscripts. My work was rejected so fast it practically hit me in the back of the head on my way home from the post office. At one point in my lonely sojourn, an editor read and reviewed my manuscript, and with the utmost sincerity told me there was no use in revising it and the best thing I could do was throw it away. Thankfully, I didn't take her advice, because that same manuscript sold to a rival publishing house and launched my writing career.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
I would suggest that writers pay close attention to the market -- read the bestsellers, analyze each story and look for the key element that is drawing an audience. Who would ever have imagined that Life of Pi by Yann Martel would command the audience it has? Or The Da Vinci Code? As writers, it's important we not follow trends but observe and understand life -- and start our own. It was when I saw a lot of angel figurines turning up in catalogs that I wrote the first Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy Christmas book.
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|Debbie Macomber Home
Good to Know
|In Our Other Stores|
Signed, First Editions by Debbie Macomber|
|This Matter of Marriage, 1997|
|Three Brides, No Groom, 1997|
|That Summer Place, 1998|
|Can This Be Christmas?, 1998|
|Moon over Water, 1999|
|Promise, Texas, 1999|
|Shirley, Goodness and Mercy, 1999|
|Dakota Born, 2000|
|Dakota Home, 2000|
|Return to Promise, 2000|
|Always Dakota, 2001|
|Thursdays at Eight, 2001|
|16 Lighthouse Road, 2001|
|Buffalo Valley, 2001|
|Thursdays at Eight, 2002|
|Between Friends, 2002|
|204 Rosewood Lane, 2002|
|On a Snowy Night: The Christmas Basket/The Snow Bride, 2002|
|Between Friends, 2003|
|Changing Habits, 2003|
|311 Pelican Court, 2003|
|The Snow Bride, 2003|
|Those Christmas Angels (Harlequin Super Romance Series #1164), 2003|
|Changing Habits, 2004|
|The Shop on Blossom Street, 2004|
|44 Cranberry Point, 2004|
|When Christmas Comes, 2004|
|A Good Yarn, 2005|
|50 Harbor Street, 2005|
|Susannah's Garden, 2006|
|Morning Comes Softly, 2007|
|Back on Blossom Street, 2007|
|Country Brides: A Little Bit Country Country Bride, 2007|
|Knit Together: Discover God's Pattern for Your Life, 2007|
|74 Seaside Avenue, 2007|
|Where Angels Go, 2007|