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Writer finally achieves dream

January 30, 2006|by MARIE GILBERT /Staff Writer

marieg@herald-mail.com

Whatever Gail Barrett is doing now, you can be sure she'd rather be writing.

"I'm one of those people who knew what I wanted to do early on," the Hagerstown resident said. "I have always loved to read. In fact, some of my best childhood memories involve being curled up with a good book. And by the seventh or eighth grade, I had formed the concrete goal of becoming a published writer."

After years of dedication and hard work, Barrett has finally achieved that goal.

Last November, her first book, "Where He Belongs," was released by Silhouette, which is owned by Harlequin, the largest publisher of romantic fiction.

The book, Barrett explained, is the story of a Harley-Davidson-riding bad boy who returns to his hometown, stirring up gossip and trouble as he rescues his former lover from financial ruin.

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The book has won an award - the Golden Heart, a prestigious award from the Romance Writers of America - and has been well received by readers.

But Barrett is the first to admit that it was a long and winding road that brought her to this point.

Even though she knew she wanted to be a writer, Barrett said she has always loved languages and studied Spanish literature at the University of California, Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain.

"After four years in Madrid," Barrett said, "I straggled back home, broke but fluent in Spanish, and discovered that I had acquired a marketable skill. So instead of writing, I began teaching Spanish."

She also married a Coast Guard officer, moved with him around the country, had two sons, earned her master's degree in Linguistics and continued teaching. But she never lost her desire to write.

She wrote articles for professional and educational organizations and had short pieces published in newspapers. Then she finally decided to get serious about writing.

"That had always been my dream," she said. "It was what I knew I'd been destined to do; and yet, I had never done it. One day, I made a decision. If I wanted to become a published author, I had to stop fantasizing about writing and actually do it."

The first thing she did, Barrett said, was to take a frank look at what she liked to read "or what elements I enjoyed most in a book - which was the romance and mystery."

She then defined her goal.

"I didn't want to just write a book for my own enjoyment," Barrett said. "I wanted to sell a book to a major New York publisher and build a writing career."

With that decided, she read various types of romance and mystery novels to find where she thought her writing might fit in. She also researched publishers and decided which ones to target for the type of book she wanted to write.

"After that," she said, "I attended workshops and conferences and read everything I could about the craft of writing and the business of publishing."

Barrett said she had been actively writing for nine years before she sold her first book.

"'Where He Belongs' is actually my sixth completed novel," she said. "The other five were pretty dreadful.

"I had also written various partial manuscripts in that time, so there were lots of rejections, more than I care to remember."

Early on, Barrett said, she decided on a strategy to get noticed by book editors - by entering her work in contests that were judged by editors.

"In the end," she said, "I sold my first book the way I had intended all along - through a contest. The editor saw the first chapter of 'Where He Belongs' in the final rounds of a contest she was judging and then contacted me and requested the entire book. She later bought it."

What was Barrett's reaction when her book was accepted?

"Shock and disbelief," she said. "I was stunned. It didn't seem real after all this time. Of course, as soon as I hung up, I started shaking and couldn't stop. I felt dazed and couldn't focus on anything."

When Barrett's book made its debut last November, it was released as a category romance.

"This type of book is distributed somewhat like magazines," Barrett explained. "It has a short, usually one-month shelf life in a bookstore, then is rotated out. As startling as that sounds, it is actually a better situation than a lot of single-title books. Shelf space is so competitive that often books are yanked from the shelves. At least this way, I am guaranteed one month of exposure."

With one book under her belt, a second book, "Facing the Fire," will be released by Silhouette this April. It is the story of an injured smokejumper who teams up with his ex-wife to make a perilous journey out of a burning forest.

Barrett said balancing a writing career and home life is much easier now that both of her sons are grown.

"It's not the same issue it used to be when they were younger," she said. "I always felt guilty taking time away from the family to write, especially when I was also teaching full time. My husband has always been supportive, though, and did way more than his share of the cleaning, shopping and cooking."

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