We are thrilled to announce that THE SECRET MUSIC AT TORDESILLAS by Marjorie Sandor has been named winner of the 2020 Foreward INDIES Award for Historical (Adult) Fiction. As the editor-in-chief of Hidden River Publishing, and the proud publisher of this wonderful book, I am very happy for Marjorie, who has created a world that every lover of historical fiction should be eager to enter. It is the court of Juana the Mad, during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. It was a time when even the court musicians had to face the horrors of the Inquisition and were forced to renounce their own religions. What happens when a court musician secretly holds fast to his own spiritual traditions at risk of death? What happens to the underground religious communities during this time of great religious violence? You need to get your hands on this book and enter this world. Everyone who loves historical fiction should be rushing to add this book to their bookshelf.
The inaugural winner of our Blue Mountain Novel Award, Kings Row by Jeffrey Voccola has been launched, published by our Hidden River Press imprint.
Joel Martin is a twenty-four year old construction worker who lives with his mother and struggles to provide for his four year old son. Longing to break free from the bleak confines of Langley, Pennsylvania, the dried-up industrial town where he has lived his entire life, he commits a series of burglaries with his brother, Derek, in the hope of finding more. Faced with legal troubles, problems with his ex, and the possibility of being separated from his son, Joel begins to unravel, and the unthinkable occurs when his life intersects with Christopher Roche, a freshman at Waylan University. Kings Row explores class disparities as they exist today and the tragic events that inevitably unfold when people are driven by anger and resentment. Rich in character and carefully observed, Kings Row is a gripping story of two Americas growing farther apart.
Praise For Kings Row
“In the utterly absorbing Kings Row, Jeffrey Voccola shows himself to be a master of the faultlines of class and of all the ways, large and small, in which people hurt each other. I couldn’t stop turning the pages of this suspenseful novel. Kings Row is a stellar debut.” –Margot Livesey, author of Mercury and The House on Fortune Street
“This beautifully-paced, eloquent and suspenseful novel is full of persuasive, sharply observed psychology, sociology, and topology, and an honest voicing of working class people, male and female….Voccola writes with dead-pan lyricism, an attentive ear, and generous heart.” –DeWitt Henry, author of Sweet Marjoram and co-founder of Ploughshares
“From its masterful opening chapter on, Kings Row captures the divides and resentments that have brought us to this moment in America. This novel is a deep study of people unsure of their positions in their personal lives and in the larger sphere of change. Voccola writes beautifully and compassionately, even about tragedy.” –Tim Parrish, author of Fear and What Follows: The Violent Education of a Christian Racist, A Memoir
“Kings Row masterfully deconstructs a killing deeply emblematic of the class and race issues that plague our time. With lyrical, heart-piercing realism, Jeffrey Voccola evokes our deepest compassion for these ill-fated characters, showing us ourselves reflected in college students struggling to belong, in displaced working class communities. Provocative and suspenseful, Kings Row introduces an exciting new writer to watch.” –Wayne Harrison, author of The Spark and the Drive and Wrench and Other Stories
The Blue Mountain Award is offered yearly. The next cycle of submissions opens August 30, 2020 and deadlines March 31, 2020. Please see the guidelines.
Jeffrey is available for readings, conferences, interviews and other events. To discuss options, please contact us. More information about Jeffrey, and a link to a live reading from Kings Row can be found here.
A guest blog by David Hallock Sanders, author of Busara Road
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.
“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.
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