Raising the Dead Manuscript from Its Grave Part 1
by Robert W. Walker
I published myself after a lifetime of eschewing any sort of vanity press. And I did it using a “dead” manuscript about a “dead” subject filled with “dead” historical characters in a “dead” time period which one editor, a true pro, said of: “It is the hardest time period to write about, to make come alive, and especially to display any sort of sexual encounter, but in your hands Rob, if anyone can pull it off, it’s you.” That sort of trust and confidence in my writing and even rejection letters laced with lovely and positive remarks has kept me going back and back to the grave to unearth this dead manuscript. Rejected hundreds of times and stowed away off and on for some thirty years or more. I had every reason to lower it into the ground of my past writing attempts and leave it buried and chalk it up to part of that large graveyard of previous work that stays in the grave but represents lessons learned, craft-building, and I am a firm believer that book X could not have come into being as it is had I not failed on book Y from which I learned so much of what to do and what not to do.
Recently as July I began putting up ebooks on the paperless bookstore called Kindle (for the Kindle reader) and I put up a number of out of print titles, and a book of short stories, and a how-to book that is doing well there, and then I decided to place up an original never before seen anywhere else title – Children of Salem, one of my books that had been buried by a stack of rejections so heavy as to be used as the headstone. Why put it up on Kindle, a book rejected by EVERY New York publishing house twice over in various permutations? A book turned down in fact by any and all publishers, editors, and agents who ever took a look. Was I just being arrogant and publishing the work out of anger or angst or what? No frustration is the word. Fed up with traditional publishers who could not SEE the possibilities of this novel, a novel I had kept faith in for over thirty years, with agents who loved it but couldn’t sell it…with editors who could not turn it down without writing personal notes about how it affected them, etc., etc., I saw the new technology as a godsend for Children of Salem and decided to take the bull by the horns and put it out there.
My risk? Only my reputation. Maybe all those people who had rejected the novel were right, but I didn’t think so and I trust that readers will agree with me, and at least one has! One who has given it a Five-Star review on amazon.com now finally. It feels freeing and great to have taken control and vanity or not, whatever you call digital publishing, for me it was and is VINDICATION as Children of Salem is outselling all my other ebooks save my how-to (Dead On Writing). To see the review and the fantastic cover art my son, Stephen, designed for Children of Salem you need only click here:
I kid you not, I never give up on a novel idea once I have determined it is a worthwhile project, worthy of my time, energy, blood, sweat, and rewrites. This goes for this manuscript that may even be thirty years old, rewritten countless times, given the “drawer” countless times, but never thrown into the flames or fed to the landfill. Is this a good or a bad thing? I suppose it depends on the idea and the execution of the novel, the crafty crafting of the craft.
I bring this up because my Children of Salem, which for decades went by the title of Bloodroot, and I tenaciously held onto the title until I changed my attitude toward the novel. Bloodroot as a title for me was a double entendre: poisonous nightshade or bloodroot posed the idea of a poison in the blood of Puritanism, and it held the image of a rooting in the old world, a poisonous idea that followed mankind on the ships that led us to America and the Bay Colony of Massachusetts.
The title simply felt like a good fit, and the novel was a serious, heavily-heavily researched and layered tale of the Salem Witchcraft episode as it was never portrayed before—a unique look at the economics, the politics, the theology of witchcraft, as well as the geography and history and sociology of the belief and use of that belief during an election year to condemn and thus win reelection. I saw so many connections to modern life in what happened to “us” in 1692.
I can’t count on two hands the number of editors and agents who turned the manuscript down with the proviso that it was a great book “But I can’t sell it.” So it was stashed away again and again, trotted out every couple-few years and rewritten again and given its chance with a new agent or another editor only to chalk up more rejections than Babe Ruth strike outs. But always with the warmly worded, “I can’t get the scenes out of my mind and I loved the book BUT I can’t sell it.”
Again to the bottom drawer, literally. It fit no “commercial” needs or cubby holes, no pigeon holes and no category. It was historical but scary as in real—reality-based terror in which neighbor hangs neighbor but it was also a sociological tract that shed a light on human activity that points a finger at us all. No one was safe and everyone was guilty, and even our hero, Jere Wakely, had unspoken issues that only helped to fan the flames; and it was a condemnation of church and state in bed together, and it was multiple point of view, and somewhere in there a romance was at work….
Little wonder it has always been a hard sell; loved ones considered my angst with this novel as simple—the book had a curse on it, and it had control of me, and it would never give me my freedom. It was a deep well and I was its ghost with chains upon my feet. Loved ones confused my passion with obsession, and at times I too decided it was all a cursed foul matter that I should burn in the nearest roaring fire. Instead I would pull on something within me that insisted this story could be reshaped to get something other than a wonderfully kindly gently worded rejection.
I intend to carry on this discussion NEXT FRIDAY here at Acme so do return. There is a great well of resolve required to have faith in your own work for as many years as I held this belief for my Salem Opus. And so this blog needs be split. Hope to see you back here then and in the meantime do leave me a comment as we make it soooooo easy to leave a comment here.
Raising the Dead (Manuscript) PART 11
by Robert W. Walker
Yes, more about the novel I dug out of its grave to breathe life into it and reshape it and publish it. I have kindle-lized my so-called “dead” novel that would never see print according to the powers that be—the people who determine for you and me what is bestseller material, what they will get behind, what they will put on shelves for our reading pleasure. I am still waiting for a green light from a traditional publisher for Bloodroot which is now Children of Salem, but now it is a different book as a close friend and fanatical reader on finishing the last rewrite of this cursed book said to me, “This is an historical romance, Rob.” And she gave me a number of points in the novel where the romance could and should come to the forefront and such things as the geography of a witch hunt needs find the backdrop. She was right, of course, and I changed the title thereafter from Bloodroot to Children of Salem and subtitled it “Romance in the time of the Witch Trials.” And thereafter on the final final rewrite, I transformed this opus (160,000 words that breaks down in three books – another reason for its being a cursed book in the eyes of agents and editors I have known).
I transformed Bloodroot from a seriously wrought historical novel pitched on the fork of one attitude on my part to an entirely different pitchfork…the attitude of the writer of romance and intrigue, and a far less serious-seeming attitude it is.
I use the term serious here to describe my approach, my internal dialogue with myself about the nature of the novel that changed so much over the years from a dissertation –literally as it was my dissertation at Northwestern University in first draft in 1972 that set me to work on this accursed journey to craft a truly worthwhile novel that would go well beyond the famous play, the Crucible written by Marilyn Monroe’s husband as an allegory for McCarthyism. Arthur Miller did his homework and crafted an amazingly close to the truth play, and I suspect he read Francis Marion’s nonfiction work on the subject in order to write his play. I was determined to write an expose to shed light on every aspect of the event, something no play could do but perhaps a novel might.
Of course while putting the novel away and taking it out every couple few years to rewrite it, I wrote other titles—in fact over forty-five—and I honed my craft, and in writing my Chicago City series begun with City for Ransom and the award-winning Shadows in the White City, and the trilogy ender City of the Absent, I realized that what I took to 1893, I needed to take (this attitude) to 1692. Finding the right attitude toward the work and going back in for a final time to rework it as a thriller yes but a romantic thriller and a romantic historical changed everything down t the title – Children of Salem.
Not that the curse has been lifted as it sits on the desk now of one agent for what will be a year in February….and it has continued to be turned down with a lovely note attached but now I KNOW it is not the work that is cursed but the so-called business of traditional publishing that is cursed. And so it was with absolute confidence that I set myself up as my own digital publisher and published Children of Salem via the Kindle store where it is available on the Kindle and in many another format for a modest price. And I have also placed it on the paperless, virtual shelf at www.thedigital-bookstore.com
Admittedly, in its earlier permutations and form, Bloodroot should most certainly have been rejected but not Children of Salem. I had every reason and the some to give up on this novel; I even began to believe it had a curse on it and did not want to be told—that perhaps the villains in the piece, based on real historical people, were working against me. But by the same token, Jeremiah Wakely would not let me off so easily; he kept coming back at me and demanding my attention and time and devotion to this story. A good thirty years later I don’t need traditional publishers to finally get this tome, this opus, this book I was born to write out of my bottom drawer forever and into the hands of readers. It is outselling all my other ebooks put together, including the HarperCollins pubbed City Series books that have been priced to high for the typical kindle reader’s liking. Bottom line is that technology I could not have imagined even a year ago has given me a platform and a publication springboard for Children of Salem. And now a first review of the book has popped up on Amazon and it is vindication balm for its author—a FIVE-STAR review. You can read the review and see the great artwork at:
Thanks for reading this obsessed author’s blog and happy reading and writing to you. Do leave a comment and let me hear from you.