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Monday, October 22, 2012

The Novelist Day 19 Year 2

The Growing Season Manuscript - all 354 pages

I dedicated seven years of time -- time stolen from sleep, children, husband and friends -- to write a novel.  It was not my first.  The first novel I wrote was in fourth grade. I was certain of its place on the library shelf.  I held back nothing. I not only wrote the novel, but I printed and bound copies of it as well.  It was with some trepidation and a great deal of pride that I presented it to Mrs. Lewis, my school librarian.  She had the kindness and grace to accept it.  Frequently, I made my a surreptitious trip to the shelf in the library where my work rested.  It was hard to bear the knowledge that I had few readers.  Only my name and Mrs. Lewis's appeared on the library card.  When I left Mountain Brook Elementary School, I hoped my book would find a wider audience.  Instead, it disappeared in the wake of time, leaving only its memory in tact.
My second novel had a coming-of age plot.  It took two years to write.  I wrote it in my thirties.  A friend from high school, Ellen, and I had an arrangement; on a monthly basis, I would send her whatever I had managed to write on my novel, and she would send me hers.  Ellen and I would edit each other's work, then have a telephone conference to make suggestions on improving our writing.  She had recently attended a writer's program at Harvard and was committed to writing a novel. Already, I was writing textbooks and recipes while raising my children.  I squeezed in time to write fiction to still the stories in my head; I learned that discipline is everything as a writer.  Unexpectedly, I made the acquaintance of  writer Karen Osborn (author of Patchwork, Between Earth and Sky, The River Road). We forged a creative alliance and she was an inspiration to me. She urged me on. After finishing my novel, I sent it out into the world to a lukewarm reception.  Agents said I had "something" but the novel didn't show it to my advantage.  I had the good fortune to receive salient and succinct advice from author John Katzenbach; his wife, author Madeline Blais, was in a Jazzercise class that we both attended.  Somehow (exactly how is unclear, the edges are blurred by time) Madeline made the phone introduction of Dawn Elise to John. John was direct. "Put it away. Start to work on the next novel. If you are any good, you will sell the second novel first and publishers will ask you if you have any other publishable work lying in a drawer. Rewrite it then and it will sell for more."  That made sense to me.  As hard as it was, I boxed up the notes and all the drafts of Novel 2 and turned my attention to Novel 3.

I finished Novel 3 in 2008. The first twenty-five queries met with a modicum of interest.  However, my health, my children's health and the waning economy struck hard.  I had the remarkable good fortune of having my friend, George Colt (author of November of the Soul, The Big House and coming out in a few weeks, Brothers) offer to read the manuscript.  He made insightful criticisms and perhaps, most importantly, convinced me there was value to my work. I ripped through the manuscript making revisions.  Then, I lost momentum.  Creating an entire world part and parcel from memories and imagination is challenging.  Finding the words when one is compromised by ill-health, can become insurmountable.  However, I remain determined.  I believe that we create our realities.  Once again, I am the Dawn I was in fourth grade, leaving my mimeographed and stapled novel on the library shelf for others to read.  This morning, I rewrote my query letter in search of an agent. This morning, I reviewed my five page synopsis.  This morning, I became reacquainted with my novel.  Only to discover it is really quite good.
Anyone know an agent?

I was researching the town in which my novel, The Growing Season, is set. I surprised myself with my reaction when I stumbled upon a film of Johnson taken in 1954.  That would have been nine years after the conclusion to The Growing Season. Seeing the town that I have held suspended in my imagination for so long both populated and in 3-D was surprisingly emotional.  Take a look!

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