Surviving As A Writer
By Cat Spydell
When I was 12 years old, I remember sitting at the Formica kitchen table with my dad in our mountain vacation cabin near Lake Arrowhead, in Southern California. I loved the woods: the crisp air, squirrels and jays, swimming in nearby Lake Gregory, and family time.
As we shared a snack one afternoon there, my dad asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I said, “Write books!”
I had been making up stories since Kindergarten, first as colorful drawings and later, drawings with words. Finally, I mastered my craft of making stories out of words, and the best gift anyone could give me was a notebook and a ream of blank lined paper. I have created worlds on paper ever since I can remember.
My dad looked at me as we shared Cheez-Its and a Coca Cola. “What are you going to eat?” he asked.
I shrugged and pointed at our food before us. “No,” he said, “I mean, how will you support yourself? Earn a living?”
“By writing books!” I said, feeling the answer was obvious, but catching a sense of doubt. What could possibly be wrong with that plan?
Fast forward: years later I would study “writing” in college, and was working on getting my BA degree in English when my father, a lifelong learner, passed away at age 63. He received his PhD at age 60, and gently guided me toward the idea of getting a teaching credential with my hard-won English degree. No one entertained my idea of novel writing as a valid career choice.
By the time I was getting my Master’s degree in Creative Writing, I was a dressed-in-black writer in Long Beach, hanging with a local group called the Thursday Poets, and publishing poetry journals and chapbooks and attending writer open mic nights at edgy venues.
Right after I snagged my MA, I moved off grid to the country in Northern California with my new husband, had kids, and wrote nonstop in any free moment I had. In about 5 or 6 years I wrote 5 complete novels, 5 film scripts, 2 poetry chapbooks, and published 2 more literary magazines, numerous articles for the local paper, and was involved in the local writing community.
Then, in order to eat and raise 2 kids alone when my marriage failed, I moved back to Los Angeles to be near family, and got a job I created by convincing a local ice rink manager where my kids took (expensive) lessons, that my writing and producing ice shows there would dazzle the skater parents.
He agreed, I got free ice skating lessons for my kids and a meager paycheck, and so I wrote and produced: The Wizard of Oz on Ice, Peter Pan on Ice, the Nutcracker on Ice, and about ten others…the classics, each show demanding the participation of 60 kids, a pound of glitter, and a lot of fortitude. For the first time, I was actually getting paid to use my degree in creative writing!
I continued to write my own projects and attended conferences and my weekly beloved Millie Ames writing group at our local library. I wrote numerous queries and landed a couple agents, but didn’t make the big sale I had always dreamed of that could free me from having to work a ‘day job.’
As my kids turned toward their teen years, I met a woman in my writing group named Gineve, a fellow author like me who had an agent but no sale yet. We hit it off and one night went to have dinner to talk writing. Each having a large stiff drink, we laughed about how we should start a publishing company to publish our own books since we had so many near-miss sales over the years.
We jokingly named our fictional company “Mischievous Mints,” inspired by a box of Mystic Mints sitting on the table. We proceeded to make a list (on a cocktail napkin) of all the ways our company would be different. As the night went on, the idea grew. “We should also publish some of the great books from our writing group,” said Gineve. I agreed.
After that night, we were inspired. We persevered with our heady idea, got a financial backer to help with the funding, and our company, World Nouveau Inc., was born. We named our fiction imprint “Mischievous Muse Press” in honor of our humble and somewhat squiffy beginnings at the Marmalade Cafe.
It seemed as if my dad had been sadly right all those years ago. I did need a day job to write. I wasn’t going to get published through the normal channels, and was jaded by years of near misses. World Nouveau provided a paycheck and I was able to write in my free time. It was a great compromise.
Fast forward 10 years: World Nouveau published 55 books, written by various authors from around the world. The pay was minuscule, sales low, but World Nouveau was our baby, and we were dedicated to our authors
We made mistakes and had many triumphs along the way. There were more than a few months where we went without a paycheck from the company. Eventually, we did publish our own novels.
In order to adhere to our submissions standards, we had a board that anonymously reviewed our personal books to decided if our books were publishable. So my only published books through the company were those approved by others. They did not agree to publish all of our books, so we felt the process was fair. And by the same governing process, we did end up publishing several of our writing group authors.
Ultimately, the lack of author sales and the California tax board put us out of business. Mischievous Muse Press morphed into a “publishing club” now known as Mischievous Muse Publishing Arts Alliance.
Basically we publish accepted members for a modest fee (a book submission process is required similar to World Nouveau’s submission requirements). In exchange for the membership fee we offer all aspects of publication from editing to cover design, to upload, and then the published club members, in turn, mentor other newbie authors in an attempt to help young and new writers get the support they often miss when left on their own.
Also published is my ‘fairy book’ The Fairies of Feyllan. My ‘horse girl’ novel Epona’s Gift is due in early winter. I have a memoir proposal for an agent due in early spring about my owning and traveling with a famous peacock named Rad (#radthepeacock), tentatively called On the Road with Rad the Peacock.
I have a sequel to my published YA novel The Time Traveler’s Apprentice at Hollywood High messing with my mind most days, called The Time Traveler’s Chronicle. 2020 will bring my women’s lit novel The Planted Seed to fruition, and in 2021, the YA about the rave scene, Jenna’s Rave, will be published.
I also edit professionally to pay the bills, which means if I am not editing medical brochures for my usual freelance job, I am reading other people’s novels for a living, which is not the worst thing to have to do in life. Most days I’m home, with my cat by my side, surrounded by trees and nature outside my window, doing what I love most: Exploring interesting worlds that can only be found in books.