• Shawn Keller Cooper

Finding My Words

Two weeks ago, on September 28, I officially launched my debut novel, Drawing Down The Moon, at Park Road Books in Charlotte. It was the culmination of fifteen years of work. I remember in vivid detail each milestone I reached with this project. There was the day I realized my collection of notes and character sketches could be a real story. Then I decided I could turn that story in a trilogy, the James Island Trilogy. My children were elementary and preschool age way back then. I had intense periods of time over the next decade when I committed my handful of free-time minutes to writing. I got another book idea and started writing that one. Then I went back to the first one, then back to the second, until I realized I was creating chaos, not art. In the meantime, as I waited for that magical moment when the Universe would inform me it was time, I read books on plot, character and scene development, and editing strategy. I attended writing workshops and industry conferences and compiled binders of research on how to write. But I wasn’t writing. I studied my literary idols, researched their writing process and tried to pattern my approach. However, my novel wasn’t growing, just my frustration. The bones of it were still resting in my desk drawer. I put corkboard on my office wall and pinned index cards of plot points on it and implemented a variety of concepts that worked for other authors. My novel hovered at 30,000 words for years.

Finally the Universe spoke and I heard. My preschooler was in college, my nest was empty, and I had run out of excuses. So I threw out everything I had learned about other writers except the phrase, put your ass in the seat and write. Write anything, I thought, even the grocery list, even if it was crap and had no place in the story. Maybe a spark would ignite. Soon enough, I found a rhythm. I hovered above my brain like a voyeur and watched these people from my imagination create a world and tell me their story. I wrote it down. I became so immersed in their lives, I couldn’t leave them and in a matter of months, I had 60,000 more words. Two months before my fiftieth birthday, my personal deadline, I had a fully formed, typed manuscript and I rejoiced like I had birthed a third child. That was June of 2018. It took me the next eleven months before I held the actual book in my hands. I was elated, proud, and overflowing with personal satisfaction. I watched it sell all summer from a surreal place realizing that readers liked it.

So two weeks ago, much like a debutante coming-out, I presented my book at the official launch party. Friends, family, and book lovers whom I didn’t know came to hear me read from it and celebrate this milestone in my career. It was glorious. I appreciated that moment in my life as a symbol of perseverance and resilience that I never gave up on my dream. My diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and two other chronic illnesses slowed me down but I refused to quit. My daughter’s battle with anorexia and later the discovery of a congenital issue that required brain surgery only put it on hold. All the other events that made life complicated and messy challenged me but I was never willing to put it back into that desk drawer to hibernate.

Saturday night, I sat with my husband and friends in a Charlotte tavern and thought how long this accomplishment had taken me. That’s when I realized I could not have done it any faster or sooner because it was along this journey that I found my words. #shawnkellercooper #TurningThePage #booklaunch #gettingpublished #milestones

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