Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’

THE STORY OF MY QUEST FOR PUBLISHING SUCCESS

Where should I start?  The beginning, I guess.

My historical novel, Black Iron Mercy, began as a notebook filled with research more than four-and-a-half years ago.  The project started as a pledge to tell the story of the Iron Brigade from the viewpoint of a common soldier, inserting a fictional protagonist among the actual participants.  Nine months of research followed, utilizing 19 books, countless articles, and the help of many friends, colleagues, and experts, to produce a rich, historically accurate and entertaining epic about one Wisconsinite’s exploits before, during, and after the American Civil War.  The result was a poignant tale of love and faith, war and discord; a family shattered by loss and sorrow, and a man who struggles every day to hold onto hope.  Deeds Publishing, of Athens, Georgia, is the company that has changed my life forever.  The advance reading copies, for endorsements and reviews, will be out later this month.  The expected launch date for the general public is mid-June.

download

Success!  Oh, it feels so sweet.

How did I get here?  More research!  Even as the research stage of this project was ending, I began to research the publishing industry in earnest.  Over the last few years I spent nearly twice as much time researching the business as I did the novel, because failure was not an option.  For new authors, there is no advice I can give you that is more important than “Do the research.”  Learn the industry, including things like literary agents and agencies, query letters, synopses and synopsis writing, book marketing, book publicity, and formatting.  Nothing will lead to failure faster than showing the publishing world that you’ve spent zero time getting to know their business.  This blog was created strictly because I did my homework.  The publishing industry wants you to have a nest in order to promote and sell your work when the time comes to do so.

In June of 2015, I was ready for the querying process to begin.  I had a notebook filled with literary agents willing to take on historical novels.  I knew each of their expectations, their quirks, their requirements, and their attitudes toward eager, new authors.  You must remember that each literary agent has a very strict, detailed list of requirements.  If you stray from them even a little, you’ll be rejected before any of your material is even looked at.

Allowing myself one full year to find an agent, I sent out a total of 66 queries… usually in groups of five to eight.  Some contained only a query letter.  Some contained a synopsis and the first three chapters.  Some contained a synopsis, the first fifty pages, a photo of me, and a bio.  And although it felt like some contained the kitchen sink, not one of them contained the entire manuscript for Black Iron Mercy.

In time, I received 32 rejections.  Yes, the first couple were difficult.  Nobody likes to be rejected.  Not for a date, not on the dance floor, not in the publishing world.  But after a while, even I could appreciate being rejected, because receiving a rejection letter is better than being rejected without notice.  Many literary agents will warn you up front that they do not have the time to respond to all queries.  Because of this, I actually looked forward to receiving a rejection.  Quite frankly, I felt like I deserved a notice when rejected.  It’s not difficult to fire off an email that reads, “Not for us, thanks.”  (an actual rejection, my favorite… because it’s not a form letter.  It may be short, but it’s personal.)

12662447_1242448662438163_6244356231805164662_n

MY ORGANIZED BOARDS OF QUERY LETTER FAILURE

By November, I had grown weary of the whole query process.  Sure, I had received 32 rejections, but I had actually been rejected all 66 times, whether they had sent notice or not.  But here’s the kicker:  NOT ONE OF THE 66 REJECTIONS WAS BASED ON THE ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT!  No one had even seen the entire manuscript.  Few, if any, had more than fifty pages of the double-spaced document, which equated to one-sixth of the entire novel.

Now, wholly bitter about agents and the agent process, I decided to forgo the agent course, and began researching publishers in the same way I had researched agents six-months prior.  I needed a publisher who would not only publish a historical novel, but who would do so for a first-time, unagented author.  So, I took five weeks to explore this option, compiling a list of 86 possible publishers, and whittled it down to the top three.  These, I queried on December 29, 2015, sending each of them a query letter, a synopsis, and the entire manuscript.  To one of them, I attached a comprehensive, six-page marketing plan aimed specifically at their company.

The very next day, I received a warm, personal note from the CEO of Deeds Publishing, saying that he would try to read at least 10% of my manuscript over the next week.

Wow!  I couldn’t believe it!  I was so emotional, I sat and read his message over and over and over.  Someone was actually gonna read my manuscript.  Life couldn’t have been any better than at this moment.  Or could it?

From an email dated January 2, 2016, just three days later:

“I am reporting that here at 8:00am on Saturday, January 2, I had read 10% of your book – and it grabbed me so completely that this morning I finished the last 10 pages. I have read your whole book – cover to cover.”

I wept.  I sobbed uncontrollably.  I’m not ashamed to admit this.  This book has been my life for the last five years.

After much discussion, Deeds Publishing, LLC offered me a contract.  I sat on it a while, an excruciatingly painful thing to do, while I obtained some legal advice.  Then, on the 15th day of January, another extraordinary event occurred:  I was offered a second contract by one of the other publishers I queried.

Are you effing kidding me?  A month ago I couldn’t get anyone in the world of publishing to look at my material.  Now?  I’ve got choices!  I couldn’t even comprehend what was happening!  I’m still in disbelief.

THE FIRST TWO PUBLISHERS TO SEE MY MANUSCRIPT OFFERED ME CONTRACTS!

I signed with Deeds on January 21st.  The book is in layout, and a front cover is being designed as I write this.

Authors:  Don’t give up.  If you’re being rejected, keep trying.  If you’re still being rejected, circumvent.  There’s always a way.  Don’t allow anyone else to be responsible for your failure.  Sooner or later, you’ll find the one that says, “Yes.”

 

Advertisements

BLACK IRON MERCY  TO BE LAUNCHED IN JUNE

I’m so very happy and proud to announce that I’ve signed a contract with Deeds Publishing of Athens, Georgia, to publish my novel, Black Iron Mercy.  Final edits have been applied to the manuscript and it’s on its way to the creative director for the layout process.

download

Whew!  It’s been four and a half years since I started the research for this project.  Nine months of research, two years of writing, a lifetime of editing, and five long months of querying and rejection have culminated in success.  It’s been a long road, but could have been so much longer if not for the help and support of my family and friends.

Thank you to all of YOU, my friends and followers, for your continued support through your words of kindness and encouragement, assessment and criticism.  So many of you have said the right words at just the right moment, providing motivation and inspiration to continue this voyage.  I’m grateful!

TEARS AND SORROW EMBEDDED IN MYTH AND SONG

 

“Thirteen hundred died that day…

It took ten good men just to dig the graves.”

There’s an old song that tells the legendary tale of an American Civil War battle fought a week after the war’s end.  “Dry Run Creek” has been played perhaps ten thousand times by over a thousand artists,

“They buried them shallow, they buried them deep…

They buried them next to Dry Run Creek.”

The song has long been a favorite of bluegrass fans and civil war enthusiasts alike, but is there any truth behind the lyrics?

“Well, they weren’t just blue and they weren’t just gray,

Death took no sides when it came that day.

They laid them down side by each

They placed no stones at their head or feet.

And their mommas cried…

Oh my Lord, how their mommas cried…”

Dry Run Creek runs through the Ozark Mountains, spurring from the gorgeous Norfolk Lake, which is constantly drawing tourists and fishermen to the town of Mountain Home, Arkansas.  The creek boasts beauty, clarity, and, if you’re mobility impaired or under the age of 16, an amazing trout fishing experience.  What it does not boast is a civil war cemetery with 1300 unmarked graves.

Dry run creek

Dry Run Creek, Arkansas

There is also a Dry Run Creek in Iowa and a “Dry Run Creek Cemetery” in Boise, Idaho.  Need we even discuss these?

The song “Dry Run Creek” is often credited to the McPeak Brothers Band, or, more directly, to bluegrass legend Larry McPeak, one of the original VW Boys.  A fine version of the song, covered by “The Seldom Scene,” can be found here:

http://grooveshark.com/#!/search/song?q=The+Seldom+Scene+Dry+Run+Creek

But the McPeak boys were Virginians, not Arkansans… so any motivation for local legend can be ruled out.  Some believe the song’s title is from a combination of the Battles of Bull Run and Wilson’s Creek.

“The war’d been over for about a week

But word hadn’t gotten to Dry Run Creek.

They fought and died right to the end

A battle that should have never been…”

Wherever you might believe the origins of the song came from, the number “1300” should give a clue as to the validity of the story.  Although 1300 is not a high casualty amount for a civil war battle, it would be an extremely high number of killed for a battle fought after the surrender at Appomattox.

By comparison, the battle fought at Palmito Ranch, considered to be the last major engagement of our civil war, is well documented and known by anyone who claims to be a true civil war buff.  It was fought in Cameron County, Texas on May 12th and 13th, 1865, more than a full month after Lee surrendered to Grant in Virginia.

The casualty count at Palmito Ranch?  Four killed, 18 wounded, 104 captured.

Likewise, the Battle of New Orleans is submerged in legend and folklore for being fought more than two weeks after the War of 1812 had ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent.

How many died during the Battle of New Orleans?  440 or so, depending on your source.

A battle that saw 1300 die would see at least twice that many wounded, another gross or two captured, and if it had been fought after the end of a war it would be forever seared into the minds of generations to come.

Still, it’s a darn good song.

Thank you to my new friend and fellow blogger, David Zethmayr, for inspiring this topic.  You can find his blog here:

http://earfirst.wordpress.com

SOURCES:

Arkansas.com

Bluegrasstoday.com

Grooveshark.com

Ibluegrass.com

Cedarwoodslodge.com

Encyclopedia Britannica

CHAPTER 28

An excerpt from an unpublished novel of our civil war
SUBJECT TO SOME MAJOR EDITING

 

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

          July 1, 1863

             10:30 am

 

 They’d been ordered to lie down in the field by Lt. Colonel Dawes, who was in command of the regiment, as Colonel Bragg had been kicked in the foot by a horse a few weeks back and was recuperating in Washington.  The regiment was being held in reserve as the rest of the brigade went into action against the Rebel line in the woods ahead of them.  The brigade had hurried forward on the run, the Sixth Wisconsin being the last regiment in the order of march for the day, rushing to gain a position on the left flank of the brigade, which was hastily moving en echelon into the woods to the west.  They ran into the trees and disappeared into the undergrowth, no longer visible to the men of the Sixth.

Suddenly, an aide galloped up to Dawes and had spoken hurriedly to him, causing the commander to order the regiment to lie down in the field as they were now.  Gunfire erupted in a tremendous crash from the woods as the rest of the brigade ran headlong into the rebel line.

“Something’s wrong.” Arlis said, lying prone in the field.

Bath, who lay to the immediate right of Arlis, said, “Why?”  His head flailed from side to side, franticly scanning the scene before them.  He was wide-eyed.  “What’s going on?”

“That aide that rode up to the colonel is Lieutenant Marten, one of Doubleday’s aides,” Arlis said, loud enough for most of the men around him to hear.  “Something must have happened to Reynolds if Doubleday is giving the orders.”  Reynolds, a very competent Pennsylvanian, commanded the First Corp.  He was in command of three divisions, containing seven infantry brigades and a brigade of artillery.

  Arlis watched as the commander of the brigade guard, which consisted of about one hundred men, briefly met with Lt. Colonel Dawes and then split the guard into two, fifty man companies, ordering each to lie down on the flanks of the Sixth, one company per side.  This strengthened the regiment to 340 men and officers, which was less than thirty-five percent of the strength that they’d mustered in at Camp Randall two years prior.  The Sixth Wisconsin was now the only regiment that was not yet engaged in all of Wadsworth’s division, consisting of the Iron Brigade and Cutler’s Brigade, which was made up of four New York regiments, a Pennsylvania regiment, and an Indiana regiment.  Cutler’s Brigade was already in action on the right flank of the Iron Brigade.

“We’re in reserve?” Bath asked, irritation in his voice.  “Why the hell don’t they let us in on the left of the twenty-fourth?”

“Relax, Tubber,” Arlis said, using the nickname that the company had bestowed on Bath.  Bath… Bathtub… Tub… Tubber.  He looked sideways at Bath, “Usually they use the regiment that’s in reserve to plug the line where the action is hottest.  Be careful what you wish for, Private.  You’re gonna see action today.  The whole damn Rebel army is out there somewhere.”

Another aide approached the mounted Dawes on horseback.

“That’s Lieutenant Jones,” Arlis said.  “He belongs to Doubleday, too.”

“How do ya know,” Bath bellowed, attempting to be heard over the gunfire.

Arlis spun his head wildly toward Bath and yelled angrily, “Because I pay attention, Bath.  Open your eyes and shut your mouth now!”

Dawes turned and passed the order down the chain of command.  Captain Ticknor, now the commander of Company K, passed it to his men.

“On your feet, men…”

 

An excerpt from chapter nine of my manuscript, “Black Iron Mercy,” a novel of the Civil War.

 

Manuscript is subject to editing.

Mineral Point, Wisconsin

March 4, 1857

Afternoon

Arlis stood still, listening to the silence.  He held his breath and concentrated.  The loudness of the dormancy seemed deafening.  He had often done this, especially in the winter, when the inactivity of everything was total.  The calming affectation was profound and immediate, and he relaxed, his pulse returning to normal.  He closed his eyes and raised his face to the sky, absorbing what little heat the sun offered and breathed again, auscultating the din of his own respiration.

“Hiya, Arlis.”

He nearly jumped out of his skin, and then whirled around.  There she was, standing in a pair of well defined foot prints he hadn’t noticed near the edge of the woods.  She was carrying a book and her slate.

“Darn it all, girl!  You scared me out of my wits,” he said, his heart rate elevating right back to the level it had been before.

“Didn’t mean ta, surely,” Violet said, sounding concerned but looking amused.  “You scare easy is all.  It’s not like I’m out here sneakin’ ‘round.  You’re the one outta place. I come home this way every day.”  She walked over and stood near him, eyes on the sled.

Arlis smiled.  She looked beautiful.  Her eyes as green as ever against this colorless backdrop, she had her hair all tucked up under her bonnet and her red scarf tight around her neck.  Her cheeks matched her scarf in rosiness.

“Whatcha doin’ out here all by yourself, fisherman?” she asked, eyeing the fishing pole.  “Can’t wait for spring to try out your new tackle?

Arlis glanced at the sled and felt the panic coming back again.  “Oh nuts, Violet.  You had to go and… and…  You ain’t supposed to see this yet.  Aren’t.  You aren’t supposed to see it, yet.”

“Well, that’s a terrible way to talk to a girl on her birthday,” she said, scolding him and smiling.  She seemed to be enjoying his discomfort.

“Oh, heck,” Arlis said, surrendering to the hopelessness of this encounter going anything like he’d imagined it.  “Happy birthday, Violet.  These gifts are for you.  The wrapped box and the fishing gear, too.”

She went to the sled and set her school things on it.  Then, untying the rod and holding it in her hands, she examined the reel.

“I’ve never seen one of these before, Arlis.  I reckon it’s right nice.  I’m not sure I’d know how ta use it.”  She ran her hand down the pole.  “One problem.”

Arlis gaped at her.  Oh, oh, he thought.  “What?” he asked, his head tilted like a dog trying to comprehend.

“I can’t accept it,” she said, setting it back on the sled and standing up straight.

“What?” he asked, dumbfounded.  “Whatta you mean, ‘can’t accept it?’”  His heart was breaking.  “You have any idea what I had to go through to get that reel?”

Violet smiled, looked around, and then stepped forward and kissed him, firm and long, surely longer than the five second rule allowed. After a short while she backed off a little, and he felt the softness of her lush lips on his.  Their tongues touched briefly, light and exquisite, another new experience, and then she withdrew, keeping her face just inches from his, the smile returning to her face.  Her mittened hand found his and held it gently.  “You gotta come to the house and give it to me, Arlis, or my Pa will ask me a lot of questions.  He’ll probably wonder who I been sneakin’ off with ta get such a gift.  Wait five minutes and then follow me home.  I’ll say ‘thank you’ to you proper like then.”  She picked up her book and slate and turned, walking toward her house.

Tasting her on his lips, he mumbled, “I thought you just did…”

Black Iron Mercy.  My first manuscript... a 99,000 word work of historical fiction.

The Rebel found Arlis’ eyes with his own, dulled and gray from blood loss. “Kill me, Yank!” he said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
Arlis was utterly sick of killing, having just charged with the rest of the Sixth Wisconsin on an unfinished railroad cut outside Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He looked at the Rebel, who lay wounded and bleeding beneath a bramble next to the cut. The Reb’s right leg was stuck beneath him, the foot pinned under his backside, and it was this image more than the gruesome wounds in the man’s gullet which alarmed Arlis, the position obviously uncomfortable even under the best of circumstances.
“Matthew: Five, seven,” Arlis said, acknowledging the man’s words. He knelt down and lifted the Rebel’s right hip slightly, pulling the trapped foot from beneath him, straightening the man’s leg into a position of comfort…

By the time Arlis Jenkins had gone to war, he’d become all too familiar with death. At the age of ten he’d already lost a sister to disease and a brother to a storm… and while he struggled with his own agony and that of his surviving sister, Rachel, he watched helplessly as his parents wallowed in their despair, forever changed, forever distant, forever lost. Now, nearly ten years later, as death and destruction rages all around him, he’s lost the only girl he’s ever loved and Rachel too, while his mother sits in a rocker at a hospital for the insane in Milwaukee, choosing to starve herself to death rather than allow God to force her to bury her last remaining child.

“Black Iron Mercy” is a 99,000 word historical novel about hardship, love, loss, war, coping, and the strength of spirit. A lifetime of passion and ten months of research went into the manuscript before a word was put to paper. Although Arlis is fictional, many of the principals were real people, and when a writer takes liberties with the lives of real people then that writer has a dire responsibility to get it right.