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Painting on Canvas

June 15, 2013

I recently had the pleasure of presenting a program on self-publishing at the Writers Alliance of Gainesville. My topic included publishing in both digital and print formats and I basically told the story of how and why I came to publish my novel The Pecan Man through Amazon’s program. While I was careful to include as much technical advice as I could, I had one goal that surpassed all else: I wanted to inspire others to publish their own work, one way or another. So, here is my story and I hope it inspires you as well, whatever your artistic endeavors may be.

I havCass and Emmy MD 2013e been writing since I figured out that you could put a story on paper by stringing words together. My second grade teacher Mrs. Miller at Skeen Elementary was the first to tell me I was a writer. I had many other confirmations along the way that I was a gifted writer and storyteller and that I should focus on that as a career. But somehow life got in the way. I thought of writing as a pleasurable hobby, albeit one with certain drawbacks. Written words were permanent, and if I was going to be true to myself and my world view, I was going to offend some people. For many years, I just wasn’t that brave. I raised my daughters, took classes at the Junior College, worked full-time, wrote short stories, started novels and screenplays and the occasional poem, but mostly I didn’t write at all.

I encouraged my daughters to pursue their passions, to choose what they love as a career path, mostly because it was always my biggest regret that I had not done the same. They have all done this with great success and pleasure and I am proud of them, and proud of myself for believing in them. There is a huge spread in their age; my oldest was 17 when Emily was born. In 2001, we moved to North Florida from my hometown of Leesburg and set out to live the “simple” life.

The Pecan Man, which I started in 2001 and then promptly put aside, brewed in my head for the most part while I raised Emily and worked. In 2006, when I had maybe four chapters written, I submitted the first chapter to the 2006 CNW/FFWA Florida State Writing Competition and was astounded to win first place in the first chapter, unpublished category. At the time, I was working for the local public library cooperative, coordinating and presenting literacy programs for youth. I stumbled upon a writer’s group in Gainesville and, over the years, managed to finish my novel with excellent critique and support from those fellow writers.

Off and on, I would search for legitimate agents and publishers and submit my work, but submissions for me were rare. In 2010, Algonquin books read my first three chapters and asked for the entire manuscript. My hopes were dashed when they passed, but I understood why. Their rejection was complimentary and kind and encouraging, but my little novel was just too short. 49000 words. Members of the group encouraged me to keep rewriting, but the fact was, every time I went to add or change the story I had written, I was filled with absolute angst. I just felt like I had told the story I wanted to tell. I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make myself go back and change it again.

And then, one day, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a thirty-seven year old attorney who had self-published a novel in digital format and landed on the best-seller lists alongside brand-name authors like Michael Connelly, James Patterson and Kathryn Stockett. Her story was very similar to mine, and she had clearly been successful with her novel, selling over 100,000 digital copies without ever putting the book into print.

In the meantime, Emily had gone off to college, my parents started having serious medical problems and I was feeling my own mortality, to boot. I decided, if I was ever going to stop hearing the burning question from family and friends “When is your book coming out?”, I was going to have to do it myself.

I chose Amazon’s Kindle program, an easy, user-friendly way to publish your work in digital format – e-books as they are now called. My reasoning was simple: I could get the work out there for aforementioned friends and family and maybe a few others, gather a little feedback, test the waters, and PULL IT if it tanked. Then people started asking for a printed copy. Oh, Lord, I thought, make it permanent? I don’t think I’m ready for that. I avoided it for several months.

Then one day, I was admiring a friend’s artwork. She had recently started painting again and was sharing her work on her Facebook page. Her images were stunning. Kathy is incredibly gifted and I was simply amazed. But I noticed that she was painting most of them on plain white paper and it bothered me. So, being the blunt soul that I am, I said, “Kathy, what are you doing? That work will never last! Buy some freaking canvas, for crying out loud!” Yep, I actually said it like that.

And then it hit me. I was doing exactly the same thing. My epiphany: Believe in yourself enough to paint on canvas.

I went to Amazon’s CreateSpace program and put The Pecan Man in print. To date, I have sold well over 12000 copies and the royalties are paying for me to return to college to pursue MY dream – a degree in Creative Writing.

We artists are full of creativity and doubt, that will probably never change. Here’s the thing: Not everyone is going to love your work. It is terrifying to open yourself up to criticism. Do it anyway. It has never been easier to find an audience in today’s creative market. I used Amazon because it was virtually free, if I did all the work myself, and because it was my main source for purchasing books. There are other programs as well.

Honor your work. Be brave. Paint on canvas.


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  1. Linda Wise permalink

    Cassie, was an honer to be at Your program Sunday.I learned a lot, even tho I’m not a writer. Next thing near, Mother of a writer. I’ll continue to promote THA PECAN MAN! WONDERFUL BOOK! YES! Love You Girl , Roland’s Mom Linda

  2. Carol Dannelly O'Kelley permalink

    Cassie, Mrs. Jean Miller at Skeen was an inspiration to me as well. Allen Robinson and I often reminisce about her class, and I smiled at reading of your experience with her. I also have fond memories of your dad. Best of luck with the book!

  3. Carol…so nice to hear from you!! I am absolutely positive Mrs. Miller inspired a wealth of students at Skeen. I was blessed to have great teachers there. Loved them all…Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Equi, Mrs. Trowell…all included.

  4. Rae-Marie permalink

    Cassie, I live in Kauai, Hawaii, and after reading your novel I suggested it to my book club. We are meeting on November 14th and I am trying to find some discussion questions for your book online. Any ideas? If not, I’ll just have to come up with a list myself. I thoroughly enjoyed The Pecan Man!

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