Monday, July 14, 2014

Meet OTP Author Amy M. Bennett!

It's Monday morning on The Back Deck and today, I'm hosting Oak Tree Press author... me! I hope no one minds long-winded blogs... those of you who know me personally have heard this all before (or been along for the ride!)

I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas and lived there until 1988 when I married and moved to New Mexico. I attended Lee/Magoffin Elementary (in the Northeast) until 5th grade and then my parents transferred my sister and me to Blessed Sacrament School. It was there that I met one of the best teachers the world has ever offered, Mrs. Patricia Quinn, who taught 7th and 8th grade history and literature. She encouraged us to read and write and she was a master storyteller. We knew that when she took off her reading glasses and rested her elbow on the podium, we could close our books and listen while she told us stories of growing up "on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., five blocks from the White House"!

In a way, she was my first writing coach. Her stories came alive in the way she described the people (characters) in her stories so we came to feel that we knew them, and the way she masterfully set the scene for us without making her stories sound like encyclopedia entries (I'll never forget the story about how she was supposed to clean the drip pan under the ice box and neglected the chore all one summer and the ice box fell through the rotted wood floor under it and into the basement!) I loved the writing assignments she gave us and usually wrote more than she requested!

I continued my Catholic education at Father Yermo High School, where I met another wonderful writing mentor, Mrs. Patricia Hollis. She was teacher-sponsor of our high school paper, which featured a lot of creative writing and short stories from the students. I was always thrilled when I was asked to write a short story for the paper, and Mrs. Hollis taught me the value of "less is more" when I tended to turn a one-page story into a three-page one! She was a stickler for correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling, skills I'm so grateful to have as a professional writer.

I graduated in 1985 and in 1988, I married the most wonderful man in the world, Paul Bennett. We moved to Alamogordo, New Mexico and have been living in the area since then (except for a six-month stint in Mt. Kisco, New York). Our son, Paul Michael, was born in 1994 and, during the two years I stayed home raising him before I had to return to work, I started working on a novel. That effort is lying in a box or drawer somewhere, with Paul urging me to take it out, dust it off, and work on it some more but I have to confess, I'm almost afraid to see just how bad my early efforts really were!

I worked for a local supermarket for a couple years then in 1998, I went to work for Walmart Supercenter as a cake decorator. Cake decorating was a skill I had learned at the age of 11, when my mother signed me up to take classes from a neighbor who had taken the Wilton course at J.C. Penney's. I'm pretty sure I never asked for cake decorating classes, but sometimes, Mother does know best and I've been decorating ever since! I transferred from the Alamogordo store to the Walmart Supercenter in Ruidoso Downs, NM shortly after my brother-in-law's wife passed away from primary pulmonary hypertension in 2002. Their three children were ages 7, 5, and 2 and the family banded together (six of us, trying to take the place of one) to help him raise the children while he worked. My job allowed me to adjust my work hours to 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. so I could come home early and homeschool the kids along with my son.

During this time, I had continued writing and even taken the Writer's Digest Novel Writing course and was subscribing to The Writer and Writer's Digest. These were expenses that were never questioned in the household budget, just as my writing time was considered as important as time spent doing "real" work, laundry, and homeschooling. I discovered National Novel Writing Month in 2000 and have tried to participate every year. Since then I've written two more novels and collected an even larger amount of rejection slips. But I kept it all quiet; I was a "closet" writer, never talking about my work, never even showing it to anyone, not even my husband. "End of the Road" was a mystery novel I started as a NaNoWriMo project, in 2007.  I didn't make the required 50k word-count, but I had something and I did something I had never done before: I showed my work to someone else.

My husband, Paul, and his sister, Cynthia, both read my rough draft, 30k "novel" and they both said, "You have to finish this!" Paul is not a reader and Cynthia is a college professor with a master's degree in languages. Thus was the fire to finish the novel kindled and where I discovered my first-reader and my editor.

 After finishing "End of the Road" in 2009, I began to search for a publisher. During that time, I became acquainted the J. Michael Orenduff, author of "The Pot Thief" mysteries, which were published by Oak Tree Press. I had discovered his books while Paul and I were visiting a winery in Albuquerque and I saw his books on the winery's sales shelves. His main character had a fondness for the winery's champagne and I wondered if he'd had to get permission to use the winery's name in his books, since my main character had an affinity for a local winery's wine, Jo Mamma's White, from Noisy Water Winery (where I began working part time in 2011.) I e-mailed him and asked him about it and he surprised me by writing back immediately and asking, "Are you writing a book?" Brave man! I admitted to it and he made the incredible offer to look over the first fifty pages. I told him that I was submitting it to a first novel contest, sponsored by Poisoned Pen Press. He suggested a few changes in the manuscript and wished me luck and then said if it didn't work out to let him know. Shortly after, I met him at a signing in Ruidoso, where I made the off-hand comment about writing between "the real jobs". He pointed his finger at me and said, "The WRITING is the REAL job."

When I didn't win the Poisoned Pen Press contest, I licked my wounds for a couple days, then sent an e-mail to Mike. He told me about Oak Tree Press's Dark Oak mystery contest and encouraged me to enter. In 2012, "End of the Road" won the contest and the rest, as it's said, is history!

If I have to give advice about writing (and believe me, I'm still learning), it's that talent is never enough. You have to be persistent. It was tempting to give up after so many rejections. Yet I never wanted to go the self-publishing route; I knew it would take longer, but I wanted someone to say, "Yes, your book IS good and WE are going to publish it for you!" I believe it made me work harder and never settle for "good enough". You also have to be willing to keep learning. The publishing world changes every day (the whole world in general changes every day!) and someone who wants to write for publication needs to know what's going on.

And it helps to have people who believe in you. It's not enough to have cheerleaders (my sister, Toni, is tops in that department, along with my friend, Patty!) who love you no matter what. Find someone willing to look over your work, cultivate friendships among people who care about you enough to say, "Your story needs work. Fix it!", and always have a good attitude about victory AND defeat.

When all is said and done, what matters most is writing what you love to write and doing it to the best of your abilities. Finding a publisher (thank you, Billie!) and audience (thanks to everyone!) are all just bonuses.

Write on!


  1. Wonderful story, Amy. I learned so much about you and your writing. I hope this is the beginning of much success for you and your future works.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words, John! I'm really liking the way this blog blitz is helping us OTP authors get to know each other better!

  2. Glad to know others who were "closet writers" :) Thanks for sharing your personal story.