Sunday, March 18, 2012

You Have The Best Luck


“Wow, you have the best of luck.”

I hear this more than I care to nowadays. My first novel, Ghost On Black Mountain, was published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, in September of 2011 and my second book, Barren Soul, will be published by Gallery in the summer of 2013.

“What a dream come true!”

Now I don’t mind hearing this so much because yes this is the stuff of dreams, but in no way should this ‘living a dream’ idea be associated with the word easy. Ghost On Black Mountain is not my first novel. I spent five years writing a four hundred page epic story only to discover it to be dry as overdone roast beef and lacking voice so I shoved it in a drawer to collect dust. Wasted time? No, I had to write this first book to find my way to the fictional community of Black Mountain.

So, luck? I don’t think so.

My journey to book publication began on a spring day in 2004. I was cooking supper when a character calling herself Nellie Pritchard began to speak to me. “Mama warned me against marrying Hobbs Pritchard. She saw my future in her tealeaves, death.”   I wondered if somehow I had finally gone around the fictional bend and was hearing voices. I brushed the thought away but not before writing down Miss Nellie’s words. Those two lines would evolve into first a short story and then the beginning of my novel. Ah, but that was so far away.

The year I heard from Nellie Pritchard I had only begun to publish short stories, owned a dull novel—like I said shoved in the drawer—had no agent, and believed writing in my southern voice was uninteresting.  There was a time in my life when I was ashamed of my southernness—if there is such a word. I would have rather died than admitted my family came from the North Georgia Mountains. These were what I now call my smart years; the years I spent trying to outrun my roots. I wanted no part of tall tales, superstitions, and folklore. I think some of my attitude came from my grandmother, who was the first in her family to move from a rural farm to the big city of Atlanta. I stripped all traces of an accent from my words. I spoke only proper English. (I don’t do that now.) When I wrote stores, I never allowed my characters to speak as true southerners. Nope, these stories were the most intelligent pieces a person could read. But dry, Lord they were as dry as three day old bread. But Nellie wouldn’t leave me alone. She sprang in my head anytime she felt the urge. Finally I sat down at my desk and wrote a short story I promptly called Ghost On Black Mountain. Little did I know it would become the skin for my novel.

One Black Mountain story after another came through me, as if I were channeling these strange characters. I mean really where did names like Oshie Connor and Hobbs Pritchard come from? A little over a year later I had a story collection that I packed away under my bed. No one would be interested in such hick town characters.

Then in the fall of 2006, during a moment of insanity or maybe inspiration, I registered for a local writing workshop. For an extra five dollars, I could submit the first five pages of my book to an agent. She would then give me her opinion. I turned in the first five pages of the short story, Ghost On Black Mountain. I think I must have been possessed by Nellie at the time. The agent requested my whole manuscript. Within a month she made a trip to Atlanta to deliver a contract. At the time I was too naïve in the ways of publishing to know this was highly unusual.

“Now you have to write a novel. You must write about Nellie and Hobbs.” She said to me over a cup of coffee.

Write another novel? Was she kidding? But I took the challenge and signed up for Nanowrimo—a website that dares writers to produce 50,000 words in the thirty days of November. I did. By early 2007 I had a rough draft. In late spring of the same year my agent began shopping Ghost On Black Mountain.

Luck? I don’t think so. I must stop here and tell of pure divine intervention though. Because had I succeeded in my wants, this novel would have been sold for what amounted to nothing.

My agent received a bite from a small publishing house here in the south. The acquisition editor had to discuss it with the press owner, but he wanted my book. They were looking for a new voice to put them on the map. There would be no advance only royalties.

Dear writers please beware of that awful need to publish your book. This desire is blinding at times.

Even though the whole proposition felt wrong—I mean I did deserve some money—I jumped in with both feet. I waited a month while the discussion at the small press took place. Exactly thirty days later, the editor phoned my agent and turned down the book. It seemed he couldn’t sell it to the press owner.

Devastation turned me inside out.

I swore off those silly characters and went back to the dull book in the drawer. Of course Black Mountain had taught me much about voice and writing. I began to rewrite the dull novel, breathing fresh air into its lungs. A deadly quiet year later I submitted it to Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. In my complete shock, the new version pushed me into the semi-finials. This was the equivalent of making it to the last five couples on Dancing With The Stars before being voted out.

In the meantime my literary agency had signed on a new agent. My work was shifted to her. She was good with mainstream and literary books. Her enthusiasm couldn’t be denied. Dull book was shopped to all the major publishers.

“What ever happened to that novel about mountain people?” She asked me in an email.

“The deal fell through.” I didn’t want to think about it.

“Send the latest version over.” The new agent promptly ordered.

Within two months said agent had three bites on Ghost On Black Mountain. All major publishers.

On March 4, 2010 I received the call. “Simon & Schuster wants to offer you a deal.”

Luck. No. Six years of hard work is more like it.

In the years it took to sell my novel, I used marketing skills I learned from working at BP Oil. I published as many short stories as I could. I wrote book reviews and developed a relationship with a medium size press. The owner edited Ghost On Black Mountain in return for all the wonderful reviews I’d written for his books. I taught classes on voice. I put my writing and myself in front of anyone that might help make my dream come true. In short I never gave up. It was not an option for me. I took each and every opportunity that came my way.

So to borrow a terrible cliché: I made my own luck, sweetie.


Ann Hite
Author of Ghost On Black Mountain (Simon & Schuster)
Barren Soul will be release summer of 2013 by Simon & Schuster
www.annhite.com  

8 comments:

  1. Ann, your story shows that perseverance and hard work (plus talent!) is what sells novels:)

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  2. Great story! I love the title Barren Soul.

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  3. Don't you love when names pop into your head like that? You're right - yours are very unusual, too. I love the Oprah quote, luck is preparation meeting opportunity.

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  4. Ha! Luck! I love this post, because it's true what they say: behind every "overnight success" story is a 5-10 year struggle!

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  5. Great post, Ann - here's to making lots and lots of luck!

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  6. Great cover...that alone makes me want to grab your book. I've often told others that I'm certain there are people in the world who are better writers than I. The difference is, I didn't give up.

    Reminds me of Emily Dickinson's, "Success is counted sweetest..." Your story resonates on so many levels, and I am glad you persevered and didn't let Nellie's voice die.

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  7. Oh, yeah. I hear ya. I was once sitting with an employee who I had to speak to about continued tardiness. As I wrapped up, I tried to soften it, saying as her supervisor I had to tell her this, she said, "No problem! I figure, it's just fate that you're there and I'm here." And I thought, yeah, honey, fate and about 30 years of hard work.

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  8. Love all your comments, especially Christa and Lynne's. ;)

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