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a:Friday Speak Out!: The Long Haul

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by Deborah K. Shepherd


“I like it…,” said the (very) young literary agent. I waited, with bated breath, for the “but.” Because it was most definitely coming.

“…but I don’t represent historical fiction.” 

It was my first in-person agent “pitch.” I’d submitted the first 20 pages of my novel, So Happy Together, to three agents. Two had passed. This one was my last best hope for a perfect match.

“But it covers the ’60s to the ’80s. That’s not historical.”

That’s my youth!

“It is in publishing,” she said gently, aware she was labeling me a relic, as well.

In 1987 I started writing a novel that was (very) loosely based on my student years in the ‘60s, and my experiences two decades later as a wife and mother in a troubled marriage. A year later, I submitted it to one publisher, who rejected it.

The End. It went into a cardboard carton which I shoved to the back of my closet. The carton followed me from the Hudson Valley (where my marriage broke up) to New Jersey (where I moved in with a new love) to Maine (where he and I married and found our dream house during the honeymoon). I never opened it. And there it sat, in the back of yet another closet, until I said to my husband:

“I think I’m writing a novel.”

“Why don’t you fish out that piece of juvenilia you wrote and see if there’s anything you can use in this book? Then you wouldn’t have to write so much.”

Exhumed after thirty years: It wasn’t great, but it was salvageable. I wrote another draft and found a developmental editor. She asked probing questions about my characters I often couldn’t answer. And she gave homework—lots of homework.

Nevertheless, I persisted.

Three drafts later: “Ta da! It’s done.”

She read the first chapter.

“Nope, not a novel yet. Where’s your inciting incident?”

“Inciting incident?”

She explained.

I whined.

“Well, I just read a novel without an inciting incident. It’s just this woman going through menopause, so she goes on a road trip.”

“And you don’t think menopause is an inciting incident?”

I went home and wrote a kick-ass inciting incident. Done! For real! Submitted to agents, went to that “pitch,” and then did the math: Even if I could find an interested agent, there was no guarantee she could sell it to a publisher, and it might take years.

I didn’t have the technological savvy to self-publish (I needed the assistance of my 12-year-old grandson to set up my Facebook author page), so I searched somewhere in the middle.

And I found hybrid publishing: a perfect match.

I was signed last year by She Writes Press and found a built-in community of knowledgeable and generous authors. All of them are women, many my age --or even older-- who are also publishing first novels.

I’ve found my happy ending. When So Happy Together is launched in April, I will be 74.

But not a relic.

* * *
photo by Henry Wyatt
DEBORAH K SHEPHERD was born in Cambridge, MA and spent much of her early life in the New York area. Before retiring in 2014, she was a social worker with a primary focus on the prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault, and the provision of services to survivors. During an earlier career as a reporter, she wrote for Show Business in New York City and for the Roe Jan Independent, a weekly newspaper in Columbia County, New York. She also freelanced as a travel writer. She graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, Michigan, and holds a BFA in drama from the University of Arizona and an MSW from the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service. Deborah lives with her husband and two rescue dogs in mid-coast Maine, where she gardens, cooks, swims, reads, entertains her grandsons, volunteers in her community, and tries to speak French. Find her online at deborahshepherdwrites.com

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