Prize winning mystery author and tough-love expert and motivational speaker Paula Renaye launched her own publishing company (DIOMO for Did It On My Own publishing) back when self-publishing was still relatively unknown. Kirkus recently gave her newest book Living the Life You Love a starred review, calling it a “hard-hitting yet realistic program for self-improvement.” Paula talks with us here about her various journeys, from self publishing to self-discovery.
Can you tell me about your path to self-publishing?
In 1999, after spending a couple of years querying agents and publishers, I was finally just waiting for my contract to come in the mail. A big New York publishing house had written and called several times, very excited about my mystery novel; all it needed was the blessing of “the committee.” Well, the blessing did not come. Instead, my manuscript arrived on my doorstep in a crumpled envelope from the VP saying they decided it was too similar to another series they published.
To say that I got mad seriously understates the situation. I threw a bit of a fit and vowed that I would never waste my time with that sort of thing again....So, I started my own publishing company. That first mystery novel, Hot Enough to Kill by Paula Boyd, was featured in Redbook, Romantic Times and many other publications. An excerpt is also included in the 2007 University of Texas Press’ Lone Star Sleuths: An Anthology of Texas Crime Fiction. Being included with the likes of Rick Riordan, Joe Lansdale, Nevada Barr, Walter Mosley, Mary Willis Walker, Kinky Friedman and other fabulous writers was—and still is—quite a thrill. All of those things were deemed pretty impossible for a self-published book at the time, but I did them, and the second book in the series, Dead Man Falls, won the 2001 WILLA Literary Award for Best Original Paperback.
Tell me about the connections between writing mysteries and self-help books?
People tend to think that my self-help book was my personal “therapy” book. Not so. It’s true that I do share stories from my journey in all their brutally frank glory, but I simply share what I need to in order to explain how to get out of the mess rather than working through it as I wrote about it.
In reality, my mystery novels were—and still are—my therapy books. Because really, in fiction, anybody who ever did you wrong can die! In fact, “Plot a Murder” is one of the suggestions in my “33 Tips for the Dips” chapter in Living the Life You Love. Not a real murder, of course, but figuring out the motivations of, and plotting the comeuppance for, the “bad” people is a great way to get down to the bottom of what you’re really feeling about the real-life situation.
Were there moments during the writing of this book when you had to use “tough love” tactics on yourself?
No, I was actually driven to write and did so for 12-16 hours a day, seven days a week—yes, really. Actually, I still do work about that much now. No one has ever had to force me to write, and the deadlines I put on myself are far more strenuous than what others do. I guess the only tough-love I have to do on myself is making myself take time off!
What section would you say you’d turn to most often for a quick fix or a positive refocusing of your energy?
Having written the no-nonsense book I have, there isn’t much room for me to whine about anything anymore, and if I ever do, I have plenty of friends who will cheerfully remind me of a good book I can read or quote my own words back to me. I definitely do still go back and reread the book. I usually just open it to a random page and trust that I’ll get the reminder I need. Works every time, and I always read something I’ve forgotten about.
Your “additional resources” page suggests that you draw energy from reading other self-help books. Any in particular that you’ve discovered recently?
I’ve read a lot of self-help books in the past when I was going through my own dark times. Most were helpful at different points for different reasons….A lot of books made me feel inspired or good in the moment, but nothing really changed in my life. Granted, I had a pretty good denial thing going and didn’t want to see my own truth, but I think if I’d had Living the Life You Love, it would have made a difference. That’s really why I wrote the book. I wrote it for the me back then who needed a step-by-step guide out of the forest so she could see the trees—and know what to do about them.
These days, I don’t read many self-help books, yet I’m on a perpetual personal development quest—just from a different angle. I’ve learned that we don’t need someone to give us answers or tell us what to do. We just need to know what questions to ask ourselves so we can find our own answers. That’s what the Transformation Insight exercises at the end of each chapter do for readers and what I still do for myself. I take the time to answer my own questions.