One: It’s never too late – even when in your forties, fifties, sixties, or seventies – to launch a new start-up, shift careers, or become a gratified author. Two: Doing so requires hard work plus mastery (i.e., learning and honing new skills & applying new knowledge).
You know which one we don’t like to hear.
Take Malcolm Gladwell’s portrait of Dallas-based author Ben Fountain in his essay “Late Bloomers”:
Ben Fountain’s rise sounds like a familiar story: the young man from the provinces suddenly takes the literary world by storm. But Ben Fountain’s success was far from sudden. He quit his job at Akin, Gump in 1988. For every story he published in those early years, he had at least thirty rejections. The novel that he put away in a drawer took him four years. The dark period lasted for the entire second half of the nineteen-nineties. His breakthrough with “Brief ” came in 2006, eighteen years after he first sat down to write at his kitchen table. The “young” writer from the provinces took the literary world by storm at the age of forty-eight.
In this age of Google-quick answers and instant e-publishing and three-step app-making, we can easily forget that creative start-ups, next-phase careers, and creative work that matters take time for mastery. (See Kay Larson’s story of authorship or Laura Olson’s story of entrepreneurship for reference, and I could write stories about other clients whose author careers and start-up careers started in their fifties and sixties.)
Enter Amber Polo. I met Amber eight years ago when she came to the first annual retreat I held at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico. Retired in Sedona, Arizona from a career as a librarian and then in marketing, Amber knew she had at least one good book in her. She was right. She has attended every Taos retreat since then, and she has since published that book plus three more.
In fact, Amber has just ended a blog tour for her latest novel – the first in her Shapeshifter’s Library series. The first book – Released! – pits dog-librarians against werewolf book-burners. But underlying the novel is a parodic look at the state of publishing, the state of reading and literacy, and much more.
Amber is at a rich point in her life that draws on all facets of her adult professions – former librarian, former marketer, current author – to shape a deeply gratifying career.
What’s your take on the mix of mid-years opportunity and the hours needed for mastery? Check out Amber’s story, share your stories and situations, and add to the conversation.
Dogs, Werewolves, & Wonder: A Tracking Wonder Interview with Amber Polo
You’ve had experience with self-publishing, hybrid publishing, and conventional publishing. Which path do you prefer?
My latest book has been the best experience. My new publisher, Blue Merle Publishing, believes in creating a real partnership between author and publisher. My editor is intuitive, loves my work, and is helping get it to readers.
You’ve been impressively consistent and prolific as an author. How many books have you published in the past eight years since I met you? What do you attribute to your productivity?
I published two romances with small publishers, self-published a non-fiction book on relaxation and two CDs, and now have a fantasy series with a new publisher. I don’t think of myself as super-productive. I “write” full time and often think I’m slower than other writers. Yet I feel the flow is quickening with practice.
You’ve ably crossed genres from romance to fantasy. Was this cross-over challenging for you?
I started writing a paranormal romance because there was a romance writing group close to the rural Arizona town where I moved. I discovered many new romance publishers were looking for manuscripts. A friend told me to submit. I was accepted and I began to learn at a faster rate because I was working within the publishing process. Since my first romance started out as a parody of a romance novel, moving to fantasy felt natural. I write funny and now I don’t have to be as be careful not to get too quirky.
Was the cross-over challenging for your fans?
I like to think my readers have always crossed genres. Even men liked my second romance because I included a lot of airplanes. All my books have the same goal – to relax the reader.
What was the genesis, the seed inspiration for your new series, The Shapeshifters’ Library – this fantastic and fantastical series of dog librarians and werewolf book burners?
I spent a huge part of my life in libraries. I also spent a period immersed in the world of dogs. I wanted to write a novel that took readers inside libraries, but was not boring. And would entertain dog lovers. I loved shifter fantasy and wondered why no one knew about the dog-shifter librarians who have protected knowledge throughout history.
Of course, reading bits of the manuscript in Taos and having listeners fall off their chairs laughing encouraged me. But this is serious business. Here’s one werewolf’s plan:
“I want to eradicate books. My long range plans are so much bigger than this town. If publishers and agents irritate authors enough, less books will be written. Certainly fewer good books. Everyone knows writers will stop writing if they can’t make million dollar advances and go on extravagant book tours…We’ve made such great progress. Already there are hundreds fewer bookstores. All over the country libraries have closed branches and cut staff and book budgets. We can’t let up now. The billions we’ve spent subsidizing the publishing industry to make sure the best books never reach a library shelf will go to waste.”
Do you really think we’re in actual danger from book burners?
Absolutely! Look around. There are werewolves everywhere trying to cremate creativity.
When did you realize that to be a gratified, well-read, well-fed author you’d also need to gain some business and marketing savvy? How did you gain it?
Both writing and marketing use every single life experience. As a librarian I used the basics of marketing. From there I became a marketing manager/consultant to libraries, selling services and computers before most people dreamed of carrying one in their pocket. I wrote advertising copy and exhibited at trade shows. Becoming a novice yoga teacher, I marketed services in a more personal way. As a writer pulled together all I’d learned and added new skills – one by one. As much as writers think they’d love to do nothing but write, marketing opens the garret door and brings the reader inside.
You practice yoga & meditation. You also offer fantastic relaxation CDs and have published a smart book Relaxing the Writer: Guidebook to the Writer’s High. How does your yoga & meditation practice help you generate insight for your books?
My passion to write surged after I began practicing yoga regularly. I meditated more and began teaching. I cannot say that yoga brought life to my need to write, but, if not, it’s an interesting coincidence. Perhaps the ability to process my creativity into productive channels had been blocked. In any case, I’ve never experienced the feel of rightness as I do now when I write.
How does your yoga & meditation practice help you contend with the inevitable challenges of the creative’s life?
I require and am fortunately blessed with a great deal of solitude. Even so, I need to retreat even more deeply into myself with yoga and meditation to focus clearly. Meditation often brings forth fresh inspiration and unsticks my writer’s mind.
You’ve attended the annual retreat for creatives in Taos, New Mexico, that I’ve hosted for each of its seven years. And almost every March, you leave with a project that you launch before the next retreat. What value do you find in retreats?
Jeffrey, you know I only come to your retreats because the Mabel Dodge Luhan House food is fabulous. (Just kidding.) Your Taos retreats provide the perfect blend: a magical mountain setting, literary ghosts, gentle body-opening yoga, mixed with creativity-stimulating exercises and solitude. There’s time for writing, creating, and sharing space with a small group of amazing creatives. Your schedule turns five days into a feeling of a lengthier escape. And the food is fabulous.
I find the journey regenerates me as I transition back. The entire experience causes me to pause, refocus, and rediscover and validate myself.
How do you track wonder?
I open my eyes to the world around me. I remind myself to observe and detach. I live surrounded by mountains as glorious as those in Taos. Every day I prompt myself not to take for granted one peak, cloud, or rainbow.
What does tracking wonder mean to you?
Besides the pure pleasure, I value the joy I feel when magic happens in the midst of creating. I am always in awe of the words and ideas that come out of me.
What’s your take on the mix of mid-years opportunity and the hours needed for mastery? Add to the conversation in the comments section below.
See you in the woods,