It’s December! Are you slowing down or gearing up? Are you taking inventory of what you’ve accomplished this year or what you’ve neglected? I’d say that amidst the cookies and presents, it’s time to (at the very least) remember that there are many ways to meet (or exceed) writing goals. Sometimes one good, solid paragraph is a major accomplishment. Sometimes it’s a word count. Sometimes it’s simply untangling a plot knot in your head. No matter what, it’s always good to get a little inspiration—and that’s what I offer you today with the introduction of author Sonia Taitz, and her interesting road to the publication of her three novels.
Sonia is honest and funny—key components of author sanity in my opinion.
Please welcome Sonia to Women’s Fiction Writers!
When the Going Gets Ridiculous, the Writing Gets Sublime
by Sonia Taitz
I started out young. My first novel, IN THE KING’S ARMS, was written in my 20s – a decade so far away as to now seem mythical. Unless you’re actually in your 20s, in which case you’re probably deeply upset about something, this decade seems like a fairy tale where anything is possible. Every phone call (in my 20s, there were phone calls) and letter (and there were letters) could bring the news that would change the world. Forever. So there I was, shopping a novel, ready for that phone call or that letter.
IN THE KING’S ARMS was, like most first novels, entirely based on my own story. But it was a pretty good story, with a romance at its heart. A child of Holocaust survivors (me, disguised as a girl with different coloring) gets into Oxford University. And although her war-traumatized parents fear her going away, not to mention exceeding them by miles in education, what they dread most is the chance that she’ll fall for a non-Jew. Guess what she does (guess what I did)? In my book, I make the young man an aristocrat from a haughtily anti-Semitic family. On top of which, he wants to be an actor – hardly a Jewish mother’s dreamboat. He’s not even taking pre-med (or optometry) on the side, just in case. No, he’s a rogue, a dropout; he’s not even an Oxford student but the raffish brother of one. And he wants to be a theatre actor, a traveler, part of a troupe. Does this Romeo and Juliet pair end up together? You’d have to read the book to find out. And I’d have to be published for you to read the book. A goal that remained in the air for a while, as you’ll see.
Throughout my 20s, and into my 30s, I discovered that getting published is as fraught with drama as (but far less sexy than) star-crossed love. I even managed to get an agent, a good one – who dropped me after trying three or four publishers. After much struggle, I got another, less prestigious but more persistent agent. This one found me a wonderful independent press. A senior editor at the publishing house, an elegant man in his 60s, announced that I — and my fledgling book –were about to become “a literary event.” A promised cover review in The Washington Post was one detail I recall. I began musing about how many pairs of shades I’d need as I rode the limo from bookstore to bookstore for signings. Then the deal fell through – the publisher told my editor that he’d already acquired a similar book. Goodbye, second agent.
Cut to 25 years later. Let’s call it a quarter century — that sounds even longer and more portentous. At this point, I have actually published a book about mothering, acquired and disappointed a few more agents, and have completed a memoir, THE WATCHMAKER’S DAUGHTER, about growing up as the child of immigrant concentration camp survivors. After one year of dogged searching, I land a big agent. This lady is the best of the best. Her clients are household names, and those that aren’t have the consolation of Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards. I remember toasting my luck with a friend. Never toast to the mere fact of getting an agent. Though this luminary loved my memoir, in the end she failed to close a deal. Two promising houses fell through, after taking me agonizingly close to literary consummation. Then this agent, too, sent me on my not-so-merry way. I went away more slowly than I used to. I was older, after all. A manatee streaked with scars, as it were, drifting into the open seas.
At this point, I began looking at small publishers, academic publishers, anyone with a printing press (or a stamp pad). I finally found a tiny publisher, an infinitesimal but good house, run by a husband and wife, who fell in love with THE WATCHMAKER’S DAUGHTER. I meekly asked if they would begin our collaboration with the publication of my novel, that 25-year old bearer of broken dreams, which had fictionalized the memoir story. I had to ask. IN THE KING’S ARMS was my forlorn child. It lived in a dark drawer, but I’d never forgotten it. The editors miraculously fell in love with the novel as well. Without changing a word, it went to press – and came into the world in 2011. Not only did this once discarded manuscript make it to print — it made it into New York Times print; the fiction editors gave it a wonderful review.
A year later, THE WATCHMAKER’S DAUGHTER emerged from the same tiny press, garnering praise from Vanity Fair, People, The Reader’s Digest, NPR and more. Both books, fiction and non, were nominated for prizes (the memoir won a medal from ForeWord, that champion of indie presses). Finally, I felt I had arrived.
Two years later, I am typing on my laptop, addressing my colleagues, my friends, my buddies in the trenches and the margins. I mean you. My new book, DOWN UNDER, was published a few weeks ago, and I hope you’ll read it. It’s not about the Holocaust, but it does have that star-crossed lovers theme. You’d know it was the same author. This time, however, my subconscious carried me along to stranger climes. The story is inspired by famous movie star who went a little crazy and started cursing out Jews, women, and gays. I used to love this guy, so I’ve taken that downturn personally (not to mention the fact that he filmed two movies on my block). The title – DOWN UNDER– gives you a clue as to who it is. OK, he’s Australian, but not Hugh Jackman. His initials are MG. Did you know that MG was born and bred in America? That fact formed the kernel of my tale. The character based on him, a black sheep Irish-American boy, falls into deep teen love with a prim Jewish girl who breaks his heart. Years later, his star in decline, he journeys back to the U.S. to rekindle the flame and/or settle the score.
My little press, sadly, is closing this year. DOWN UNDER will be our last book together. But because of this platform, I’ve had the confidence to go on and look for yet another agent for my next novel. After four years flying solo, I’ve now found one, and she loves the new manuscript I’m polishing for submission. This one (GREAT WITH CHILD) is about an ambitious law associate who gets pregnant by accident. No Holocaust AND no Romeo and Juliet. But sex and love, per usual (including motherhood)? Check.
There’s no telling what will happen in the future. Bigger publication? A little fame flare-up? Disappointment? Some familiar mixture of all of the above? I can’t control the world. I can’t see the path ahead to make sure it’s free of pebbles and sinkholes. Nor can I control agents, publishers, reviewers, or the literary marketplace. There is just one little thing I can control. It’s actually a huge thing.
I can keep on writing no matter what. And I hope you’ll do the same.