It seems that I do. The phrase “story of your heart” came from a beta reader concerning a novel that I’ve written about here before, We the Enemy. She just read it (and liked it, thank goodness), and, because she sensed that it was coming from a special place in me, made an extra effort to give me notes and insights.
I’d never thought about this story in that way—but it does explain a high level of dogged persistence. I wrote it back in 1996, spurred by my reactions to growing violence in our society, especially gun violence. The original stimuli were two: a news story about a gunman holding children hostage in a California kindergarten, and reading The Chalice and the Blade, a wonderful book about the male/female dynamic; it has to do with partnership versus dominance.
I wrote We the Enemy to explore ways we the people could work together to bring about change in our society, to seek ways to address some of the social ills that cause grief and harm every day. The key was creating characters that could experience solutions so that a reader could experience them as well. I didn’t want to write a polemic.
I did the normal routine of submissions. Lots of strikes, not even a foul tip.
Then the heart part took over
Because of the Columbine shootings in 1999, I stopped the normal submission-to-agents path and self-published in the hopes that it could somehow spark discussion that would lead to helping in some way. I published the story as The Enemy with iUniverse in 2000.
I later realized that it wasn’t well written and withdrew it from publication (though it’s still listed on Amazon). With no promotion, there were hardly any sales, anyway. So I was done with it, right?
Nope. The heart thing. Way too many school and workplace shootings kept happening week after week, month after month, year after year. . .and still do.
So I rewrote. And submitted to agents. One of them, Dan Lazar at The Writers House, took an interest. This was early in his agenting career. If I was willing to rewrite, he said, he would give me editorial input. Heck yeah!
His insights were extremely valuable, and I did an extensive rewrite. However, I was, at that time, unwilling to implement one of his suggestions—it had to do with making the protagonist more likeable. I didn’t because my vision had the protagonist staying cold and hard (and unlikeable) until late in the book. It was his character arc.
So Dan and I didn’t connect, and I kept submitting.
Still, as I grew as a writer and editor, it slowly came to me that Dan had been right, so I did another rewrite to make the protagonist more empathetic, even if not totally likeable at first. Alas, Dan had moved on by that time and was no longer interested.
Back to submissions.
Back to more shootings in the real world.
The novel went through a number of beta readers and two critique groups. It kept evolving, and getting better at doing what it was supposed to do.
But still no luck on the submissions.
Taking one’s heart to market.
When do you stop believing? When do you stop trying? Especially if you believe, in your heart, that you might be able to do some good.
You don’t. So I decided to self-publish again, but this time I wanted to make sure the book was as professional as possible. I hired a top editor/publisher for a fee I couldn’t afford to make sure that the story was as good as it could be.
While he found the writing to be fine, he saw story flaws—logic problems and a couple of subplots/characters that made the narrative wander. Another rewrite, this time a massive one. Significant characters and their subplots disappeared, logic holes were plugged, and the storyline grew stronger and more direct. After his review of the rewrite, he pronounced it ready and professional.
But, still . . .
I know that self-publishing, especially by someone who doesn’t have the bucks to print a couple thousand copies, the key to placement on bookstore shelves, is a long shot—it’s like trying to hit a thimble with a rock at a hundred yards in the dark. Seriously. Especially with a novel that’s hard to categorize. My editor called it a speculative social thriller, not a common subgenre, nor a wildly popular one. And I just can’t bring myself to include zombies to increase appeal.
So I have this book. Polished and expanded and improved over 15 years. It ain’t great literature, but it is a good read, and it has something to offer.
But to see it get lost in that lonely dark . . .
Maybe I can find another heart
I’ve seen the power of the story in action. One woman said she wished the world I’d created existed (I think it could). Another woman got two extra copies to send to a friend and her grown daughter to discuss. A younger woman, a college student, called it a work of inspiration.
But those were people who read the whole book, not just a query or 10 or 50 pages. How to get it read by someone at a publishing house with the power to publish it, and maybe touch another heart?
By doing what you’re not supposed to do, I hope. Using the wonderful capacities of print on demand, I designed and created a trade paperback book with a “?” on the spine instead of a publisher’s imprint logo.
Six weeks ago, I mailed copies to top publishing executives at 20 houses/imprints, simply asking that they have someone read it and give it some thought. I included marketing ideas and examples of news headlines that dramatized continuing currency of the issues the story deals with. To reduce their risk, I volunteered to decline an advance. The point of publishing a story of the heart is not money.
I expect this not to succeed. In fact, I am convinced it will be an epic fail. So far, 3 publishers have graciously declined. There will be more, I’m thinking 17 more. But I had to try. Had to.
Oh, I also sent a copy to a non-profit organization that fights gun violence, suggesting they finance its publication as a way to bring new thought to the arena. Although, if you were to ask if the novel is for or against guns, the answer would be “Yes.”
Someday, this novel will be published because it simply has to be. Am I irrational about this? Could be. I could be right about it, too. Obsessive? Yeah—but I don’t think anyone can write a whole novel without a touch of OCD.
Besides, this is an affair of the heart.
I promise my next post will be about writing/editing and not so much about my particular journey. And I’ll try not to write about We the Enemy again, unless there are interesting results.
For what it’s worth.