Slouching Towards Publication

A guest blog by David Hallock Sanders, author of Busara Road

© 2018 David H. Wells

This is not a feel-good story. It’s too full of disaster, disease, and failure.
It’s not a sob story, either, even though it does include some sobbing.
It’s also not a how-to story, although it does have bullet points.
But then again, it ends on a happy note, so maybe it is feel-good after all.
And maybe that’s where I should start, with the ending:
This year my novel, Busara Road, got published.

That may sound like solidly feel-good news, except that it took me 20 years to get the book into print – years filled with grave setbacks, personal traumas, and drawers of failed drafts.

Let’s go back to the beginning. In 1999 I wrote my first draft of something that was not yet a novel, but was more like a short-story attempt that got way, way out of hand.

It was titled Return to Kwetu, and contained many of the same characters, settings, and themes that would one day become Busara Road. The core story, which has remained remarkably intact over the years, involved an American Quaker boy who gets transplanted to Kenya in the early sixties, just after Kenya’s long and bloody struggle for independence. The story followed this kid, Mark, as he comes of age in a nation that is coming of age itself.

That first story was a long, royal mess. Rambling, leaden, and confusing, it just kept growing longer and longer, until it was so unwieldy that I finally abandoned it.

Two years later, though, I excavated the original story and took another look. That’s when it occurred to me that maybe I was dealing with a novel here. I renamed it Kijiji Road, and began again.

I fleshed out some of the more compelling characters. I wrote new scenes that became new chapters. I ended up with several hundred pages of new text – some of it interesting, most of it not.

That attempt failed as well.

I started over. This time I reconceived the work as a magnum opus in three parts. The first section would be the boy’s childhood in Kenya. The second would be the span of his adulthood back in the United States. And the third section would be his return, in his aging years, to the village where he’d lived as a child.

By 2007 the manuscript, now titled Busara Road, had grown to over 800 pages, yet I was still stuck fumbling around in the character’s early life. I was finding the whole thing completely unmanageable. Another failed attempt.

Here I was, eight years in, and I still didn’t have a legitimate draft.

So I decided, once again, to start over. I set parts two and three aside to concentrate on the first section. I decided to focus on the plot, a sensible approach that I should have taken eight years earlier. I bought new software to help me create a master plotline, filled poster boards with scene-by-scene index cards, and charted each chapter in detail to track my through-lines, thematic developments, character motivations, etc., etc. I lugged boxes of notes and source materials with me to more than half a dozen writing residencies.

It was slow going. But by 2011, I finally had what felt like an actual, presentable draft.

And then disaster struck.

My computer suffered a catastrophic hard-drive crash. Even worse, I had not been backing up for years.

I lost everything.

A long road back

The wonderful writer Pico Ayer has written movingly about losing his home and all of its contents – including 15 years of notes and manuscripts – to a devastating fire. He ultimately described the experience as liberating, one that left him with a strange sense of freedom.

I don’t have Mr. Ayer’s Zen Buddhist composure.

When I lost my novel I nearly lost my mind. I literally curled in a ball on the floor, sobbing and moaning, “I fucked up! I fucked up!” My wife, grasping the seriousness of the situation, fed me shot after shot of whiskey.

From there I began a painful, lengthy period of reconstructive surgery. I dug through cardboard boxes for old printouts of early chapters. I thumbed through file cabinets for old notes and searched through old thumb drives for discarded text. I reassembled all of this material the best I could, and assessed what I had.

The whole thing was a mess. The novel’s narrative voice was all over the place. Scenes meandered. Characters behaved in inconsistent, unconvincing ways. Story arcs conflicted. Tenses battled – present in some sections, past in others.

And this wasn’t only the fault of the disjointed drafts. The entire novel suffered from these shortcomings. It just wasn’t working.

That stark realization, I now believe, was a gift. My version of Mr. Ayer’s liberation.
So I started over, once again, from the beginning. I re-plotted the book in detail, chapter by chapter. I re-defined character bios and thematic threads. I dispensed with the wandering prose that had diluted early drafts and focused on simply telling the story. I even re-wrote the whole novel as a screenplay, which taught me a lot about plotting and pacing and efficiency.

I signed up for a one-on-one novel intensive with Nancy Zafris, a marvelous writer and teacher who literally tore the manuscript into pieces and helped me reassemble it with a better, stronger structure.

It took me two years to complete a new draft. I submitted an excerpt to the William Faulkner – William Wisdom Prize for a novel-in-progress, and was shortlisted as a finalist.
I pitched the novel to agents at conferences – AWP in Seattle, PWO in Philadelphia, Grub Street in Boston. I got requests to see more of the manuscript, and sent it off with high hopes.

I sent the new manuscript to more editors and publishers. I pitched it to the agents of writers I knew. I pitched it to the agents of writers I didn’t know. I got more requests to see the complete manuscript.

I was certain that acceptance was near at hand.

But no.

“The writing is beautiful,” said one agent, “but I don’t know how to sell it.”

“I love it,” said another, “but just not enough.”

I continued to collect rejections. I felt lost.

And then I got cancer. Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Over the next half-year, throughout chemotherapy so debilitating that many days I couldn’t sit upright for more than an hour at a time, I started re-writing the novel again. I cut scenes, added scenes, moved scenes. I changed the entire narrative voice from past to present tense. Decided I didn’t like it, and changed it all back. I continued to send the manuscript out, and the rejections continued to arrive in return.

But as the Buddha said, “Each day we are born again.” And one of those days finally brought acceptance.

This spring Busara Road was published by New Door Books. Hardcover. Paperback. E-book. Big release party. The works.

So there’s my happy ending.

And what did this whole saga teach me? Here is my promised set of bullet points, my three-p finale of lessons learned:

• Patience. Things simply take the time they take to get to where they need to be. Had any earlier draft of the novel appeared in print, I would have been disappointed in both myself and the work.

• Persistence. I was determined not to give up. I was stubborn about seeing each stage through to its completion, and when it didn’t lead me where I’d hoped it would, I’d find another way forward. And finally:

• Pain management: Sometimes, when anguish overwhelms, a shot of whiskey works wonders.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

For more information about David Hallock Sanders, check out his website. For more information about his novel, Busara Road, check out information here.

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Justine Dymond Is Winner of the 2018 Eludia Award

Justine Dymond has won the 2018 Eludia Award for her story collection, THE EMIGRANT AND OTHER STORIES

Hidden River Arts, the inter-disciplinary independent arts organization located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is pleased to announce Justine Dymond of Belchertown, Massachusetts, as the 2018 winner of The Eludia Award, for her collections of stories, The Emigrant and Other Stories.

In describing her award-winning manuscript, Ms. Dymond says, “The stories in my collection range widely in setting and era, including France during World War II, Maine in the early eighteenth century, and Tennessee in the twenty-first century. What the stories all have in common, however, are characters who experience life as foreigners, whether in their own countries or not, and who long for a real or imaginary elsewhere. Each character has a different impulse that propels their longing. For one couple, it is discomfort with their identity as Americans as they spend time in another country. In the title story, a young teacher discovers freedom and desire inside the walls of a prison. In another story, a teenager in Washington, D.C. yearns to be included in the lives of strangers. In the story titled “Intruder,” a woman in colonial New England gradually realizes that her neighbors want her to be elsewhere. Each story represents a border experience, imposed from the outside or inside, that paradoxically confines and propogates the human desire to be somewhere else.”

Given that we live in a time so filled with xenophobia and nationalism, so filled with out-of-control hatred of the “other,” The Emigrant and Other Stories speaks to our lives in a very timely and powerful way.

Justine Dymond is Associate Professor of English at Springfield College in Massachusetts, where she teaches literature and writing. Her short story “Cherubs” was selected for a 2007 O. Henry Prize and was listed as a distinguished story in The Best American Short Stories 2006. Her stories have appeared in Pleiades, The Massachusetts Review, The Briar Cliff Review, Meat for Tea, Lowestoft Chronicle, and Cargo Literary, and have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes and The Best American Travel Writing. Her fiction has been honored with grants and awards from the Vermont Studio Center, Writers OMI at Ledig House, and Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. Demeter Press issued her co-edited collection Motherhood Memoirs: Mothers Creating/Writing Lives in 2013. She is currently writing a novel based on the life of a woman who was tried for infanticide in Boston in 1733.

The Eludia Award is a first-book award, offered yearly for an unpublished book-length work of fiction written by a woman writer, age 40 or older. The winner receives a $1,000 cash award and publication with Hidden River Publishing. The next submission cycle for the award deadlines March 15, 2019. Please see our guidelines for additional information.

Hidden River Arts was established over twenty years ago in Philadelphia, PA as an organization focused on “serving the unserved artist”, looking to provide supports in the form of awards, live arts events, workshops, and publication to bring attention to artists working in under-recognized areas, or in under-recognized forms. More on Hidden River Arts can be found at our website. And the names of our semi-finalists and finalists of the 2018 Eludia Award cycle can be found here.

Marjorie Sandor Is Named The Inaugural Winner of The Tuscarora Award

Marjorie Sandor, Winner of The Tuscarora Award for Historical Fiction

Hidden River Arts is pleased to announce Marjorie Sandor of Corvallis, Oregon, as the inaugural winner of The Tuscarora Award for Historical Fiction for her novel, The Secret Music at Tordesillas.

Ms. Sandor speaks of her novel, “The novel tells the story of a 16th-century musician of Jewish descent navigating the ever-growing terror of the Spanish Inquisition from within the court of the Catholic Kings Fernando and Isabel, and later, that of their tragic, intriguing daughter, Queen Juana “the Mad.” Forcibly converted to Christianity as a child, the gifted young instrumentalist Juan de Granada carries in his memory a music—and a culture—now punishable by death. The dangers of his daily life gradually increase as he finds himself drawn close to a young woman of the court, herself the daughter of converts, whose courage and secret passion for the old traditions threaten her life, and the lives of those she loves.”

While exploring a particular historical time and place, the novel also explores the very human and timeless struggle to hold fast to personal and artistic liberties in a time rife with national paranoia, ethnic cleansing – certainly relevant to our times. The Secret Music at Tordesillas reveals a nearly-undocumented aspect of the Spanish Inquisition: the way that cultural and religious oppression threatens to doom forbidden artistic practices.

Marjorie Sandor is the author of four highly-acclaimed books of short fiction and essays, including the linked story collection Portrait of my Mother, Who Posed Nude in Wartime, winner of a 2004 National Jewish Book Award. Her work has appeared in such journals as AGNI, The Georgia Review and The Harvard Review, and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize. Her edited international short-story anthology, The Uncanny Reader, appeared in 2015. She teaches in the MFA Program at Oregon State University and the Rainier Writing Workshop.

The Tuscarora Award is offered yearly for an unpublished book-length work of historical fiction. The winner receives a $1,000 cash award and publication with Hidden River Publishing. The next submission cycle for the award deadlines May 31, 2019. For information, please see our guidelines.

Hidden River Arts was established over twenty years ago in Philadelphia, PA as an organization focused on “serving the unserved artist”, looking to provide supports in the form of awards, live arts events, workshops, and publication to bring attention to artists working in under-recognized areas, or in under-recognized forms. In addition to the information here on our blog, you may explore our Hidden River Arts website.

The semi-finalists and finalists of this inaugural cycle of The Tuscarora Award can be found here.

Autumn Activities Begin


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Welcome to Autumn, 2018 everyone. We are back at our desks here at Hidden River, and I thought I’d give you a heads up on some of the activities. This will, essentially, be a kind of blast of information. The fully detailed blogs will be coming for each of these headlines, so be sure to subscribe to our blog so you’ll be notified when more is published.

We’ve been hard at work reading manuscripts, naming semi-finalists, finalists and winners for our literary awards. We are working with our newest writers on our forthcoming titles: Catharine Leggett, whose Eludia-winning manuscript, In Progress, is….you guessed it, in progress. Jeffrey Lesser, whose book on vocal technique, Your Voice, Your Instrument: Learning to Play, is launching our newest imprint, Many Frog Press (yes, Frog is singular — and there is a story to the name). We will shortly be releasing the eBook of Cheryl Romo’s book, Ruby Hands. The paperback of the book was released in the autumn of 2017. Complete profiles of our new writers, and more information about each of these releases will be coming shortly. It’s hard to believe that it is already October, since here in Philadelphia, the temperatures have remained in the high 80s, and are only now beginning to drop. The leaves have been slow to turn, but our Philly Fringe Festival has ended, our students are back in school, and there are signs everywhere that Halloween is fast approaching.


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Recent winners of several of our literary awards have been named. We will be writing profiles and providing much more information about each of the winners, as well as posting the complete list of semi-finalists and finalists of each category very shortly. Jeffrey Voccola, of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, is the first winner of our Blue Mountain Award, for his wonderful novel Kings Row. Marjorie Sandor of Corvallis, Oregon has been named the first winner of our Tuscarora Award for historical fiction for her fascinating novel, The Secret Music at Tordesillas. Our inaugural Willow Run Poetry Book Award has been won by Carol Tyx, of Iowa City, Iowa, for a powerful collection of poetry, Remaking Achilles: Slicing Into Angola’s History. And our latest Eludia Award winner is Justine Dymond, of Belchertown, Massachusetts, for her remarkable collection of stories, The Emigrant and Other Stories.

We continue to work on our literary award submissions, and will shortly be naming the winners in our script awards and several other categories. This is the first year since we’ve expanded the award categories, and the dedication we feel toward the writers who have submitted to us causes things to move a bit more slowly than we had hoped. But the choice is between rushing through the creative work with which we have been entrusted, or providing several readings for each manuscript, done with intention and attention — not to mention great affection and respect.


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We are a bit buried in all this work right now — but it feels wonderful to be this busy with such wonderful activities. Stay tuned for more details of everything we’ve mentioned here, as well as for other blogs, the launch of our book reviews and news about other Hidden River Arts activities.

Enjoy your autumn — and if you are doing NanoWriMo, have lots of fun. Be sure to follow us here, so you won’t ever miss a new post.

The Speed of Clouds by Miriam Seidel – a Review by Brittany Loeffler

The Speed of Clouds by Miriam Seidel

Miriam Seidel’s The Speed of Clouds is a coming-of-age story that readers of any genre will enjoy. Taking place in 1999, Mindy Vogel loses her leadership role for the sci-fi zine she created and is forced to gain another perspective on life while inserting herself into a new SkyLog fan group that eventually becomes her family. Wheelchair-bound, Mindy overcomes medical obstacles all while living in a scientific fantasy world of her own.

Seidel takes a unique approach to the sci-fi genre by incorporating a world of cyborgs, artificial intelligence, and foreign species into a believable story that takes place just before the Millennium. She builds a world away from planet earth with history, wars, and relations through Mindy’s obsessions and fan fiction. Readers have the joy of reading two versions of Seidel’s novel, one based in the real world and one that takes place in another time and universe. However, readers must pay close attention to each of the three storylines offered throughout the novel to fully grasp the world of SkyLog.

Mindy is truly a character that everyone can relate to in some fashion. Stubborn at first, the main character slowly realizes that she must live her life joyously rather than indulge in her pessimism. It is greatly appreciated the steps Seidel takes to make Mindy’s handicap incredibly realistic as she overcomes everyday struggles due to her disability.

It’s refreshing to hear a story told from a group of people who sometimes fall under the radar. Mindy and her friends can be found at Comic Cons, arguing about fictional characters, and obsessing over a fantasy world.

A truly heart-warming read, I would recommend this book to both lovers to science fiction and realistic fiction. I would never have thought to pick up this book on my own, I’m glad it found its way into my library to enjoy again and again.

Publisher: New Door Books
Publication Date: April 10, 2018
Paperback: 278 Pages
ISBN-10: 0999550101
ISBN-13: 978-0999550106
Author: Miriam Seidel
Reviewer: Brittany Loeffler