Getting By With a Little Help From My Friends

I completed my first manuscript in six weeks, spurred by the ability to have laser-focus when I have a goal. I think that comes from my half-German side. (My half-Italian side tells me to slow down, take a sip of vino and relax a bit.)

I knew nothing about the craft of writing. Not a thing. But I had an enormous love of reading and felt strongly that I had a story in me that was ready to be told.

Fast forward six years, and that manuscript became my bestselling novel, THE MEMORY OF US. But back then, it was a sorry first draft. I just didn’t realize it.

When I typed THE END, I thought, “I did it! I wrote a book!” Countless rejections later, I realized that I needed help.

Sitting in my house in Texas, exhausted by having just given birth to my fourth child, I had dreams of going to New York – the center of the publishing world – and learning how to make my writing better.

Enter a Google search and a saintly husband, and weeks later, I was on a plane to the Big Apple to a conference called Backspace.

Backspace was ideal for what I as was writing and the access to publishers, agents, and teachers – frankly – made me feel like I’d died and gone to Heaven. That is a whole other blog post.

But I walked away with a bonus that I didn’t expect – new, lifelong friends.

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Eileen, Melissa R., a second Melissa R. and Jeanette were all aspiring writers like myself. Eileen says it perfectly: “Next thing I knew, I was spending the lunch break with women who understood why the compulsion to write can keep you up at night, how finding time to write is always at odds with the day job or car pool, and how it always feels like something’s missing when you’ve gone a few days without touching your manuscript. Little did I know when we exchanged contact info and social media handles, that we would one day be attending each other’s book parties, cheering each other to the finish lines of big writing deadlines, offering up prayers for each other, and exchanging publishing business advice.”

Eileen Palma published first, a wonderful book called WORTH THE WEIGHT. It was a different one than she’d brought to Backspace, but speaking for myself, she set the bar high and motivated me to see my own project through to completion. I learned from her that sticking with the goal will make it happen.

Melissa Roske came to Backspace writing self-described “chic lit”, but was later inspired to write a middle grade book. In her words: “I wrote the first draft of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN in 2011. It was only 100 pages long, but I knew I had something I could work with, so I did another draft. And another. And another. A billion and twenty-five-thousand drafts later (a slight exaggeration), I started querying agents. Within a year I had representation.”

Melissa’s agency is Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. So when I had serious interest in my manuscript from Jill Marsal at that same company, it was Melissa whom I turned to with questions. She was so encouraging and forthcoming with her advice, and I signed with Jill – who is still my agent – a few days later.

Like me, Melissa Romo writes historical fiction. I was immediately enchanted with her experiences of living in Europe and her fascination with a little-known part of Polish history that definitely made for great storytelling. With much marketing experience under her belt, she chose to publish BLUE-EYED SON independently, hiring an editor on her own and even holding a contest among artists to pick a winning – and gorgeous – cover for her novel. She is currently working on its sequel.

Jeanette Schneider had the most magnificent start to a book about a barista, and I hope that one day she will revisit that story. But she had bigger plans, like saving the world in her spare time, so her writing took a turn toward creating a successful website/movement called Lore and Little Things. She writes compelling and honest pieces about women’s issues and started a popular segment called Love Letters – where women write letters to their younger selves and tell them what they wish they’d known then. Her soon-to-be-released book, LORE: HARNESSING THE PAST TO CREATE THE FUTURE, is a work of non-fiction, and I’m certain it’s going to be huge.

We all took such different paths to publishing, and while I’m certain that they would have all gone and done big things regardless, I know how their friendship through this process (and beyond) continues to be so meaningful to me. Thanks to social media and travel schedules that sometimes put us in the same city, we’ve been able to keep in touch.

This is my way of saying that you must find your tribe. Surround yourself with other authors who will lift you up, teach you something, cry with you in your failures, celebrate with you in your successes. Writing can be such a solitary path, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And I would suggest that it is immeasurably better if you walk it with friends.


unnamed Camille Di Maio recently left and award-winning real estate career to be a full-time writer. She’s been married to her husband Rob for twenty years, and they enjoy raising their four children. She has a bucket list that is never-ending, and uses her adventures to inspire her writing. She loves finding goodies at farmers markets (justifying them by her support for local bakeries) and belts out Broadway tunes whenever the moment strikes. There’s almost nothing she wouldn’t try, so long as it doesn’t involve heights, roller skates, or anything illegal. Her debut novel THE MEMORY OF US became a bestseller, and was followed by BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS. Her third book, THE WAY OF BEAUTY will be released on May 1.