For five years, Helen Erickson has been entering her novels -- written under the pen name Kathryn Keller -- in the National Writers Association's annual novel contest. In every one of those years, she has placed in the top five.
Still, the top spot has eluded the Detroit Lakes writer -- until now. Erickson recently won first place in the 2006 contest with her suspense novel, The Ultimate Revenge.
"I couldn't believe it," she said. But it wasn't just the shock of finally winning that left her a little nonplussed.
Erickson had entered two novels in the 2006 contest -- Revenge and another tale called Empty Dreams. The second entry was actually one that she had revised from the previous year -- when it took third place in the same competition (writers can re-enter revised versions of the same novel in more than one year). After having placed just a couple of slots short the previous year, Erickson half-expected Dreams to be the winner.
Instead, the revised novel placed no higher than it had the previous year: Revenge was judged to be the best. But despite striking out twice with Dreams, Erickson hasn't given up -- she plans to rework the novel again and submit it for the 2007 competition.
It's all part of her writing philosophy -- "revise, revise, revise," until you get it right. And also, Erickson said, writers need to remember to "take criticism as a positive and use it to improve your work."
That's 25 years of experience talking. Though she'd always been interested in reading and writing -- "I was reading big novels like Wuthering Heights before I really understood what they meant," she said -- Erickson didn't decide to pursue it seriously until after her four children (one is deceased) had grown and no longer needed constant supervision.
"After the kids were grown, I just started doing it (writing)," she said. At first, she mainly wrote religious-themed articles -- "my first article published was for Guideposts (a Christian magazine).
From there, she branched out to write short stories for women's magazines, and then she wrote a series of four romantic/suspense novellas (longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel) that got published.
Finally, a little over a decade ago, she had her first full-length book published -- a romance novel called Love's Rocky Road, which was published by Rubenesque Romances. She's been writing them ever since.
"I wore out three typewriters and a word processor before I got a computer," she said. Now, Erickson adds, "I can't stay away from that computer."
Still an avid reader, Erickson garners some of her story ideas from novel plots that she feels could have had a better ending, or beginning, or middle.
"I read things and start thinking, 'what if this or that was different'?" she said.
Now, after her first-place coup, Erickson appears to be on a roll. Her latest suspense novel, The Backup Plan, was published last month, and she plans to start scheduling some local book signing events in the near future.
A widow, Erickson said she nevertheless feels strong family support from her children.
"They sell a lot of my books to their friends," she joked.
Though her oldest daughter is "a definite reader," none of her offspring have shown an inclination to follow in her footsteps -- at least, not yet.
The novels of Kathryn Keller, aka Helen Erickson, are available directly from PublishAmerica, via its web site at www.PublishAmerica.com, or by calling 1-301-695-1707 (fax is 1-301-631-9073). The books are also available through wholesalers Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Brodart Co.