On Stage with the Sixth Graders: Kathleen’s Path to Publication

We’re writing about paths to publication this week and, on reflection, I think mine began with violin lessons and the Suzuki curriculum my parents foisted upon me as a child. I started playing at age three and stopped abruptly at eleven when I shoved my violin under my bed in a fit of anger. I swore I’d never play again.

Let the circle be unbroken, then, because when my own son Mac was three years old, I forced a violin into his hands and signed him up for Suzuki. As soon as Mac started playing the repertoire–“Go Tell Aunt Rhody” and “May Song”–I realized that I still knew the fingering to these pieces. I remembered the string changes and all of the melodies. I could probably still play the songs, I thought, even though I hadn’t touched my violin in more than 20 years. 

Curious, I started my own lessons. Lo and behold, I could indeed play the pieces. Even better, I enjoyed doing it and practiced most nights with a joyful heart, unphased by my family’s suggestion that I purchase a mute to dampen my volume. The violin routine created a nice little space for solitude and rest within my busy life. In my teacher’s studio recitals, I got on stage and performed with the sixth-graders. It was maybe a little weird that a lady in her mid-30s had joined the band, but I didn’t care about the optics. It was so fun! And most importantly, I had invested in creativity. If I hadn’t returned to violin, I don’t think it would have occurred to me to return to writing fiction. I hadn’t done it since junior high; I had no reason to think I’d be good at it. 

But practicing violin made me realize that “good” isn’t really what it’s all about.

I quit my adult violin lessons (in a much less dramatic fashion than I had as an eleven-year-old) when I began MINOR DRAMAS & OTHER CATASTROPHES. It’s tough, as it turns out, to have more than one hobby when one also has a full-time job, a husband, a dog, and two children. In my new spare time, I took a couple of classes online at The Loft Literary Center to learn how to structure a novel. I met some critique partners. I finished a few drafts. I worked with a developmental editor. I took another class to learn how to write a query. I sent the queries. I accepted an offer from an agent. We revised the book together, and then she sold it. The deal news came about seven years after Mac had first cracked Suzuki Violin Book 1.

My publishing story is one of those short and straightforward ones. In a nutshell, I just took the next logical step after I’d finished the one that came before. I’ll write about all of these decisions and strokes of luck as we continue this year on The Debutante Ball. Would I have begun the journey if I hadn’t also wriggled into some tights and performed the Corelli Christmas Concerto in a kids’ violin recital? Maybe? But, I’m really not sure.

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Kathleen West

Kathleen West is the author of the forthcoming novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, out 2/4/20 from Berkley. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.