Paving her way to Success
A Talk with Bestselling author Dorothy Garlock
By Jody Ewing
July 17, 2003
Author Dorothy Garlock has paved her way to success, though the byways she traveled to get there were not always clearly marked. The route that put her books in print turned out to be as promising as the roads of which she writes.
“My husband wanted to go south with a trailer behind a pick-up like people do,” says Garlock, a Clear Lake resident and veteran newspaper reporter. “So I quit my job and we went down there, but it was so boring and there wasn’t anything to do except shuffleboard and potlucks. So I got this old typewriter and I just started writing for my own pleasure.”
She wrote a whole book that winter, and when they came home in the spring, she keep on writing. Once she’d finished the fourth book, she entered one in a contest for unpublished writers.
“An agent was one of the judges,” she says. “He called and said, ‘Do you mind if I sell your book?’ and I said, ‘No, and I’ve got three more.’ So I sent them and he sold them and I’ve been writing on contract ever since.”
Twenty-five years later, Garlock has more than 45 novels published in 15 languages, making her one of the world’s favorite novelists. Known for romances that feature the backdrop of the Old West, she depicts stories of passion, courage and dreams from America’s heartland.
In her new novel “Mother Road,” she captures the spirit of rural Oklahoma in the first of a series of novels that are set in the 1930s on Route 66, the Depression’s famed road to the Golden West.
Though Garlock’s books are classified as romance, the author says she didn’t intend to pen romance books. Back then, she says, everything was either fiction or non-fiction. Publishers finally settled on romance, which suited Garlock just fine.
“Most everything in the world is romance,” she says. “Romance of the road, romance of the forest – it doesn’t just mean love affairs.” It also includes the Depression, a major theme in Garlock’s recent works.
When I first started writing about the Depression people would say, “Why do you want to write about such a dark, dreary period?” but we didn’t consider it so dark and dreary because everybody was in the same boat,” says Garlock. “You made do with what you had.”
“Mother Road” finds Route 66 busy with the desperate farmers whose lives have been devastated by drought, and the dreamers seeking a new life in California.
On a hot summer day in 1932, trouble and salvation come to Andy Connors, whose garage serves travelers along the highway. The trouble is major: a bite from a rabid skunk, yet salvation comes in the form of Yates, a stranger whose life Andy once saved. When Yates stays on to help Andy’s family – two daughters and Leona, an unmarried woman living openly with her sister’s widowed husband” he’s soon caught in the turmoil of gossip and threats.
“I have always been interested in Route 66, and people from Oklahoma really idolize it,” says Garlock, a native Texan who says she was “raised in Oklahoma City, married a Yankee and moved to Iowa.” Growing up, her family talked a lot about the Depression. Her books, she says, are aimed at making sure people don’t forget that time.
Advice from Louis L’Amour
Though she’d never written a novel until she retired from reporting, Garlock says ideas were never a problem. Nor has she questioned her craft as a storyteller. Early in her career she met writer Louis L’Amour, who gave her invaluable advice.
“I asked him, ‘What do you contribute to your success?'” she says of the late best-selling western author. ‘He said the fact that he wrote short sentences, short paragraphs and he told as much of the plot as he could in dialogue. And, that if he used a big word and could find a smaller one to take its place, he would put in the smaller word so the reader’s eye would travel fast across each line.”
That advice paid off. With more than 15 million copies of her own books now in print, Garlock is a seven-time New York Times extended list best-seller in mass market. Yet success hasn’t changed the grandmother who responds to all reader mail.
“I realize I’m not a great literary writer,” says Garlock, who admits she has taken only one writing class and wasn’t impressed with it. ‘Some people will write a book and get it published and think they’re the next Margaret Mitchell. I’m just a storyteller and like homey, down-to-earth characters, everyday people who have everyday problems and solve their problems with dignity. I’m not trying to give them a history lesson. I just want to entertain, if for a little while.”
Visit Dorothy’s website at: www.dorothygarlock.com