My path crosses with Erika Robuck’s in so many places that I truly don’t remember where or how we first met! What I do remember very well is how I felt when I read an early copy of Hemingway’s Girl. It’s an incredibly vivid fictional account of a young woman who works for Ernest Heminway in 1935 Key West. I felt transported to a time and place I’d never been, and I felt like I was looking inside the life of a famous author through the eyes of someone else. While this is not a book about Hemingway, it does circle around him and the character plays a major role, while not being the main attraction. The main attraction is Mariella, the Cuban-American maid. It’s a book you don’t want to miss. And Erika has three more books on the horizon — there is just no stopping her — and I couldn’t be more pleased for her, or more proud to know her. And lucky me — I will meet Erika next week at a reading near Chicago. So, photos to come!
Please give Erika Robuck a warm welcome to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Author Erika Robuck’s Journey To Publication Takes Her Back In Time As She Heads For The Future
My love of writing began when I was seven. I composed a terrible play about a king who falsely accused a jester of stealing his crown. It was just one page but very poignant, I thought. Then I moved onto poetry and song writing. After two awful novels—one in middle school and one in high school—college brought a lot of angst-filled short fiction and essays.
About ten years ago when my first son was born, the novel again surfaced, demanding my attention. My son’s naptimes allowed me regular blocks of time to devote to writing, and I completed my first novel about a haunted, Caribbean sugar plantation, called RECEIVE ME FALLING. After several years of revisions and rewrites, I started to query agents. My query letter had almost no relevant biography. I had no publishing experience or web presence of any kind. I received some requests for partial and full reads of the manuscript, but I kept getting rejections that had to do more with me and my lack of platform and experience than the novel itself. I also heard from more than one agent that novels set in two time periods by first time writers were very difficult to sell, but to please consider submitting in the future if I wrote another manuscript.
In the meantime, some friends of mine in book clubs asked to read the book. My husband encouraged me to self-publish. At first I dismissed the suggestion. There was, at the time, a heavy stigma against writers who self-published and I didn’t want to make any mistakes in my writing career. My goal was always to get a traditional publisher. I started to think more seriously about it, however, when I read an article about a woman who self-published with great success, and went on to get a contract with a traditional publisher. My book club friends continued to ask for the book. Finally I decided that I’d self-publish, see how many sales and reviews I could get, and hopefully, find my way to a traditional publisher.
I’m very happy with my decision. RECEIVE ME FALLING sold well and I got many good reviews. I also started blogging, guest blogging, reviewing books, and attending more conferences. I wrote a new novel set entirely in 1935, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, and worked with both a writing partner and critique group throughout the process. I received a scholarship to the Breakout Novel Intensive based on the first fifty pages of the book, and at the conference, received the feedback of a panel of editors that helped propel my manuscript to a new place.
My beloved book clubs started asking for the new novel, but I felt strongly that a traditional publisher would take it. I decided to try to pitch agents. If the response was strong I’d try the traditional route. If the response was lukewarm I’d consider rewriting it and self-publishing again. With HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, 95% of the agents I queried requested a partial within a week of receiving the letter. 50% of them asked for a full read. One of them asked for an excusive read, which I very politely refused. Ultimately, I chose Kevan Lyon for her quick response time, our rapport on the phone, her vision for the book, her love of historical fiction, and her enthusiasm.
We spent a couple of weeks putting the final polish on the manuscript and then Kevan started querying. I again received a very positive response from the publishers, with many requests for full reads. In the end, we accepted NAL’s offer for a two-book deal, and HEMINGWAY’S GIRL just came out on September 4th, 2012.
There were many times along the journey when I wanted to quit, when my skin wasn’t thick enough, when it felt like I was spending too much time and money on a hobby that was making me frustrated and difficult to be around when it wasn’t going well. The odds often seemed impossible.
The support of my family and friends, tribe building through social media, and plain stubbornness finally helped me reach my goal. I am thankful every day for all of the support of the writers, bloggers, reviewers, book clubs, friends, and family who encouraged me.
And now, in the wise words of one of my Breakout Novel editors, the work begins.
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HEMINGWAY’S GIRL is the story of a young woman in Key West who takes a job as a housekeeper for Ernest Hemingway to support her widowed mother and save for a charter boat business. She finds herself caught between an unexpected flirtation with the writer and a relationship with a WWI vet and boxer working on the overseas highway. Storms brewing in her relationships come to crisis as a hurricane threatens to destroy the Keys and all those she holds dear. From the bars and boxing rings of Key West to the Bahamian island of Bimini, Hemingway’s Girl explores the worth of the individual, the gulf between the classes, and the boundaries of human hunger.
Erika Robuck was born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland. Inspired by the cobblestones, old churches, Georgian homes, and mingling of past and present from the Eastern Shore, to the Annapolis City Dock, to the Baltimore Harbor, her passion for history is constantly nourished. Her first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING, is a best books awards finalist in historical fiction from USA Book News, and her second novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, was published by NAL/Penguin in September of 2012.
Erika is a contributor to popular fiction blog, Writer Unboxed, has guest blogged on Jane Friedman’s There Are No Rules, and maintains her own blog called Muse. She is a member of the Maryland Writer’s Association, The Hemingway Society, and The Historical Novel Society. She spends her time on the East Coast with her husband and three sons.