How Port Orchard's Debbie Macomber almost didn’t become a bestselling author

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. -- Ask anyone from the southern half of Kitsap County about their most famous neighbor and they likely have a story about best-selling author Debbie Macomber.

Macomber has been a published author for nearly four decades. Her popular series aimed at female readers has inspired television shows, movies, calendars, magazines and more than 100 Hallmark products; her name is a multi-million dollar media brand.

So, it shocks some people to know that as a little girl Macomber was told she would never do well, or that an editor told her to throw her stories in the trash.

Hard Work Pays Off

Debbie Macomber grew up in Yakima, Washington. One of her earliest memories is visiting the public library and being given a book by a children’s librarian.

“My mom said when the librarian gave me the book, I took hold of it with both of my hands and put it right next to my heart,” said Macomber in an exclusive interview with Q13 News.

That little girl slept every night with a book in her hand despite the fact that, initially, she couldn’t read the words on the page.

School was difficult, and teachers at her small Catholic school were no help.

“When I was in the third grade the teacher told my mom at a parent-teacher conference, ‘Debbie is a nice little girl … but she’s never going to do well,’” Macomber explained.

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 03: Actress Doris Roberts and author Debbie Macomber visit Borders Books & Music, Columbus Circle on December 3, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

In fifth grade, Macomber says she was diagnosed with dyslexia. But even with an answer as to why she struggled, those struggles continued through middle and high school. Macomber says she barely graduated and that college simply wasn’t an option.

Even still, she longed to write stories.

“The dream of writing books pounded in me," she said. "The only way I can think to describe it is if you cut yourself, it will throb with pain. But when I thought about writing books, I throbbed with joy.”

That desire remained and grew after she moved to Seattle, married and had three children. Eventually, in the early 1980s, she decided she needed to do something about her dream and she rented a manual typewriter.

“We couldn’t afford the rental fee on an electric because we were a one-income family, and I stayed home with the four kids," Macomber explained.

Macomber had so many stories to tell, she turned out four books.

“One book went out the door, started on the next one out the door, started on the next one out the door,” she said.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 08: (L-R) Actress Andie Macdowell, Bill Abbott, President & CEO at Crown Media/Hallmark Channels, Author Debbie Macomber and Michelle Vicary attend the Hallmark Channel & Hallmark Movie Channel's 2014 Summer TCA Party

Five years passed as the Macomber family mailbox filled up with rejection after rejection. Macomber says she remembers one particular writing workshop where an editor read her manuscript.

“I’ll never forget this pitying look," she said. "She leaned in and put her hand on my arm looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Throw it away.’”

She says she nearly did until she spoke with another author at a different workshop who shared very different advice.

"Don’t leave a rejected manuscript on your desk – it has a home, your job is to find it,” Macomber said.

So, she decided to send her book to a new publisher in New York.

“I loaded the kids up into the station wagon, I took them to the post office, we mailed off the manuscript,” said Macomber. “I got home. Ted went to get the mail and he said, 'Mom – that letter you’ve been waiting for is here,' I stood right in the middle of the street, tore open the envelope and it said, 'Do not mail us your manuscript, we are not buying.'”

Macomber says she collapsed.

“I went into the house, I laid down on the sofa, I didn’t move; I’ve never been that depressed,” said Macomber.

Three weeks later, the New York publisher called and bought all four books.

“If I had waited a half an hour, I would never have mailed it off – God’s hand," Macomber credited.

Macomber says if she had stopped writing she would have lost a piece of her soul, and yet it was only then that she discovered destiny may have had a hand in her success as well.

Remember that childhood visit to the Yakima library where the librarian handed her a book?

“The librarian who handed me that book was Beverly Cleary,” Macomber said.

Clearly had moved to Yakima with her husband for a job before she began her own published writing career. Now both women were adults and successful authors. That’s when Macomber made the connection.

It was a sign, a gift and a lifeline, from one future writer to another.

“The stories were always good," she said. "The writing was very immature. I had to learn to be that writer.”

Port Orchard’s Favorite Author

In the middle of the 1980s, the Macombers moved to Port Orchard in search of a new home and more space.

Today, Port Orchard is home for three generations of the family.

“This is where we were supposed to be,” said Macomber. “The kids found spouses, where grandkids are.”

Macomber says Port Orchard gave her something she didn’t know she needed.

“We want to be part of something, everybody wants to feel that they are part of a whole and that they belong, and I think Port Orchard has given us a sense of belonging,” she said.

As Macomber wrote, the family flourished. Then Port Orchard became even more important to Macomber and the literary world she was creating.

“I had done a number of series books, I’d set them in Alaska, Texas, North Dakota,” she said.

But she needed something new.

“One of the big things, when you create a series, is you set up the town and the people who are in it,” she said.

So, Cedar Cove was born.

“It was from Port Orchard!” Macomber exclaimed.

Cedar Cove now serves as the home for two of Debbie’s book series, and an original television series shares its name.

“I know where everything is in Port Orchard,“ said Macomber. “So the work was cut in half.”

Macomber says if any of the characters seem familiar, there’s a reason, because she tells friends and neighbors to give her ideas.

“If you have an experience or whatever, I could use that, and I do,” said Macomber.

Macomber’s family is also making Port Orchard a richer and better place. Her daughter Adele serves as the CEO of her mom’s company, and her son Ted is the principal at Olalla Elementary School just a few miles down the highway.

“I’m happy to give this town a little bit of recognition," Macomber said. "It deserves it.”