While you’re here, listen to a podcast with Josh Steimle, and author we interviwed earlier in this series.
This article by Sharon Hart-Green, author of Come Back For Me, is part of our series with authors who have either self-published or worked with a publishing house.
The earlier interviews in this series are:
Melissa Cisterro – Without My Mother
Josh Steimle – CMOs At Work
Fiona Fenwick – Stand Out & Step Up: A Reputation Tool Kit For Life
Heather Hansen – The Elegant Warrior: How to Win Life’s Trials Without Losing Yourself
By Sharon Hart-Green
As a child I had always been a voracious reader, but I never dared imagine myself an author. That is, not until my eleventh grade English teacher, Miss McEachern, planted a tiny seed in my adolescent brain.
She took me aside one day after reading one of my creative writing assignments, and told me that I had a unique talent for writing. Her words filled me with warmth, though I failed to act upon them at the
time. I merely held them in reserve like an extra coin tucked inside a back pocket.
Academic career came first
In college, I never thought of studying creative writing since I was bent on pursuing an academic career in Hebrew literature. Later, while completing my doctoral dissertation, I began to teach at the University of Toronto and later published two academic books.
But it was only after I took a break from college teaching that everything changed. I felt ready to explore a type of writing that was different from the dry footnoted prose required by academic journals and publishers.
Looking back on it now, I believe that for years I yearned to break free from the constraints of academic writing. I secretly longed to write in a way that was more intuitive–to seek words and images that were drawn from the deepest regions of my unconscious mind.
And so it began. The start of my first novel.
It seemed that as soon as I sat down to write fiction, the words simply poured out of me. It was as if I had finally wrenched open a spigot that had been rusted shut for years.
From one paragraph to a novel
Strangely enough, it was during that initial sitting that I wrote the first
paragraph of what would later become my debut novel Come Back for Me. It was at that time that I conceived a character named Artur Mandelkorn, a young Holocaust survivor in search of his missing sister in the aftermath of WWII.
After that, Artur’s story seemed to miraculously unfold as I wrote. Later, I added a second narrative, told in alternate chapters: the story of Suzy Kohn, a young woman in Canada during the 1960s, whose seemingly tranquil life is shattered by the untimely death of her
beloved uncle Charles, who (like Artur) is a Holocaust survivor.
I knew that the connections between these two narratives could potentially be cumbersome, so I had to find a way to make them smooth and seamless. This required countless hours of editing, rewriting, deleting, and more rewriting.
Finding an agent ‘gruelling’
In the end, finishing the novel took me several years of painstaking labour. But little did I know that the hardest part was just about to begin. This was the gruelling task of finding a literary agent, and after that, a publisher. With tens of thousands of writers competing for attention, I discovered how difficult it is to find that one individual who is willing to take a risk on an unknown writer.
Perhaps even more trying is keeping one’s spirits up when the inevitable stream of rejections begin to accumulate. It can easily lead to lack of faith in one’s own abilities, and even to despair.
Now that I have entered the literary orbit, I realize that all writers must cope with criticism and rejection. The key is to learn how to distinguish between gratuitous comments and helpful criticism.
I eventually had to concede that some of the rejection letters I received offered extremely astute suggestions. Some even roused
me to make major revisions. And even though I may be loath to admit it, I believe that my manuscript benefited from those rejections. By letting down my pride and paying close attention to the criticisms, I ended up reworking and strengthening the novel. And to my shock (and delight), I eventually landed an agent and a publisher.
New novel in the works
Now that my first novel has been published, I am busy writing a new one, with the vague hope that the process will be simpler the second time around. Yet ultimately I cannot fool myself. I know how much hard work and anguish is involved in ushering a manuscript from inspiration to publication.
But no one ever promised it would be easy. Now that I reflect on it, I wonder if it was a tinge of fear that kept me from following up on the encouragement offered by my eleventh grade teacher, telling me I had a talent for writing. Perhaps in some dim way, I could foresee the obstacles that lay ahead. Or perhaps I was simply so awestruck at that age by the books I was reading, that I couldn’t imagine myself actually writing one. Miss McEachern clearly could.
Sharon Hart-Green has taught Hebrew and Yiddish literature at the University of Toronto. Her short stories, poems, translations, and articles have appeared in a number of publications. Come Back for Me is her first novel.
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