Once upon a time, a few years ago really, I wrote a novel. I had written two nonfiction books about my home town, and, as a lifelong scribbler, somehow always thought I'd write a novel. I had been through some difficult days, revolving around the return to the utopian community of my childhood and attempting to inform its new citizens of its history, in which they had little to no interest. I had been educated in a radical progressive school that was now fighting for its life in a town that had grown to be upscale, uninformed, and snobbish. I saw my mission as restoring the magic of the past.
My two nonfiction books, Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree and The Fair Hope of Heaven met with moderate success. The first had been published for me gratis by a local vanity press but when I came up with the second, basically an update of the first, the publisher balked, rightly judging that it would sell less than a thousand copies and he'd never make his nut back. So I self-published, went in the hole a bit, but have enough copies in a friend's garage that I'll probably eventually do a little better than break even.
In the meantime, I got involved in a nightmare scenario at my old alma mater. I was chairman of the Board of Managers, and it became obvious that the director we'd hired was not good at anything but her own public relations--she had convinced the parents of children enrolled that her presence was keeping the school afloat. The job fell to me to fire and replace her, while she organized the parents to do their best to get me removed from the Board and reinstate her. There were villains aplenty, and all I and the Board wanted to do was put a good director in place and restore the school to its mission of providing a solid, child-centered, stress-free education.
I felt inspired to fictionalize the story--to time-machine myself back to 1921, at the height of the little school's fame and fortune, when the town abounded with reformers and nonconformists. I wanted to write my novel in the style of Edith Wharton, all very formal and elegant, about a young woman in the 1920s who sees herself as a New Woman, and moves to my little town to be in the vanguard of educational reform. I used real people in my story, and for the fiction part, I created a broken man who wanted nothing more that to assassinate the inspiring woman who founded the school. (To be honest, i stole the fake assassination story from the movie Young Victoria, in which a dashing Prince Albert shields his lady from a bullet--an incident which never happened).
It was clear I didn't know how to write like Edith Wharton. I didn't even know how to construct a novel. I did my best, worked and reworked it, paid an editor to help me with rewrites, Sent it off to about four dozen agents and got only standard rejection letters. Finally my struggle to get a publisher came to an end and I published it under my own imprint as both an eBook and a paperback. I used my maiden name as my nom de plume, because I've always felt that was really my name, no matter how many husbands have come and gone.
I got good reviews locally. Luckily for me the local newspaper didn't go 100 per cent digital until about a month after That Was Tomorrow hit the presses. I went to book signings and did interviews. However, the book never found its feet in any particular market, good as it may be. Being self-published only a few indie bookstores would carry it. I urged readers to submit reviews on amazon, which many did. I did a lot of self-promotion on Facebook, and got an email from an acquaintance who totally astonished me by saying she had read the book and decided, since she was preparing to retire from the public school system, that she would apply for the job of director of our old school--the job was becoming available again.
So my little book had some positive effect! I was thrilled at that.
Then, a Facebook friend, a black police officer in Tuscaloosa, begged me to send him an autographed copy. He was a sweet, church-going guy--really not the demographic I thought That Was Tomorrow would appeal to. I thought he was just being nice. Then he kept posting on Facebook how he was enjoying this book he was reading...and he posted a review on the page I had created on Facebook. Try as I did I never got him to post on amazon, but I think it just slipped away from him.
About a year later, he began writing how he wanted to write a book. Sure, Anthony. Go ahead, I thought, realizing he was totally unaware of the difficulty. About three months ago he sent me a private message asking if I'd co-write his book for him. I told him there was no way I'd do that, but if he actually wrote something, I would read it and make suggestions.
I've written here about my journey with Anthony. he's a natural, full of stories, a fast study and his book is full of action, violence, romance and fun. He's a joy to work with. I'm hoping to help him shape his book into a powerhouse that will sell in the thousands. (I know that doesn't sound like much, but my experience has been that "in the hundreds" is about all I can expect.) He's writing in a very popular genre, which I wasn't, and he has an authentic cop's voice. I know a little about where to pitch his tale, and I hope I can be of help.
And he has an exciting story too. But in my mind, I'm sitting with him in an interview, with Tavis Smiley, say, holding up That Was Tomorrow, as he's holding up Twist of Justice, and we're telling the story of how one little book can help a big one, and how this black-white cooperation and collaboration can truly work.