Life Before Writing
Francine Thomas Howard, born in Illinois, and a child transplant to California, is a proud product of the San Francisco Public schools. A rarity among writers, her first love was not writing, but the sciences. She received her degree in occupational therapy from San Jose State, and her Masters in Public Administration from the University of San Francisco (USF). She enjoyed a rewarding career treating children with physical disabilities, and working with their families on long term goals. Children with cerebral palsy comprised the majority of case load. She often reminds others that differently abled children are not aware their physical abilities are considered negative, until they are taught.
That revelation, along with the insistent voice of her long-deceased grandmother, combined with driving love of history and genealogy demanding to be heard, may well have been the driving factors that nudged her to leave occupational therapy and start combining oral histories, family research, and DNA into written form.
The Writing Contest that Changed Everything
In Ms. Howard’s own Words
Though I had completed two novels by 2008, I understood I was not a “real” writer. Yes, I could tell a great story, but I lacked the sills of an authentic novelist. I challenged myself to improve. I entered writing contests. I happened upon an announcement by Amazon’s self-publishing wing, CreateSpace, proposing a contest with a $25,000 grand prize, named the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest. A four-stage judging process was outlined. My novel, The Sisterhood Hyphen did not move beyond round one.
I tried again in 2009. Thanks to spectacular feedback from a critique group sponsored by the Berkeley branch of the California Writers Club, that March I moved from 8,000 submissions to 2,000. My prize was two reviews by Amazon star reviewers. Both outstanding. I was confident I’d be in the quarter finals. I didn’t make it. I was crushed.
In May of that year, I received both an e-mail and a voice message. Someone who identified himself as the Senior Acquisitions Editor at something called AmazonEncore wanted to talk to me. A-ha! I knew a plot when I saw one. No, said I, I was not interested in self-publishing because my quasi-romance novel had just received two offers from small, but royalty-paying, presses for publication. How was I to know a week earlier, Jeffe Belle of Amazon announced to the press, the company was entering the world of traditional publishing. I was in the wave of those selected.