[SWP: BEHIND THE BOOK] Winning a War through Self-Publishing

When I first launched into the idea of writing a book, it was with the intentions of creating a travel/food journal with recipes gleaned from my interviews with families in both Italy and France. But my life changed with my first interview, an interview with Marcelle, an eighty-three year old French woman. Nonchalantly, I had asked her about the recipes she used as a young wife. “Well,” she said, throwing her head back and filling the room with her resonant laugh, “it was during World War II. My husband was part of the Maquis—that arm of the French Résistance which forced me and my children into hiding. We were lucky to sneak out at night to gather a potato or two from the nearby fields. Recipes?  I had recipes, but they were the ones from my childhood which played like butterflies in my head—until we were safe at last from our Oppresseurs.”

From that moment on Marcelle’s life story filled me with drive and a passion to understand more fully the lives of the women of war—those who were callously considered ‘collateral damage.’

Recipes?  Yes, I gathered recipes, but my focus now was on the women and children who survived a war fought on their doorsteps.    

Six months after my first interview, and in preparation for traveling throughout France with Marcelle and her daughter, the Twin Towers were brought down in NYC and our trip was cancelled. A month later, Marcelle died. Along with her death, my creative non-fiction book was halted. Instead, I was forced to follow my passion by writing an historical novel, A Cup of Redemption, based on the life and loves of Marcelle Pourrette. (Names and places are fictitious.)

Throughout the many years of researching and writing this book, I flew back and forth to France to gather stories and facts as I traveled throughout the French countryside. I attended a plethora of college writing classes, workshops and writers’ conferences. I hired translators, transcriptionists, editors, copy editors and worked within my writing group to complete my tome. I traveled as a ‘WWII war correspondent’ with the U.S. Army, 3rd Infantry Division, blogging to the U.S. about the celebrations held for our veterans in recognition of the 65th anniversary of the landing on the southern beaches of France (St. Tropez) and in following their liberation trail, I interviewed veterans, both U.S. and French, the Maquis, and the French families who had experienced war. I wrote columns and Veteran’s Day accounts about the forty celebrations held for our Allies in both U.S. and French newspapers.       

And, once I returned I approached many an agent. But, the answer was always the same:  “Go back to the drawing board,” I would hear. “Shorten it, slash it; use a machete if you have to, but take out the food, recipes, and travel and stick to one story. So, cut I did.    

Then, at the 2012 San Francisco Writers Conference, I was jolted awake by an incredible keynote speech given by a dynamic gentleman who was celebrating forty years as an editor in New York traditional publishing. He said, “Anyone who wants to be published can do so now!  The day of traditional publishing is on the wane; e-publishing is on the rise and the day of self-publishing is at hand.” An audible gasp went up throughout the five hundred attendees, including many of the two hundred agents, editors, and publishers who graced this conference from traditional publishing. No longer could traditional publishing keep up with the onslaught of those authors clamoring to have their words read.    

Following this speech, one agent bravely stood to speak, the same one I had pitched often over the course of years, and announced that she was now handling authors in both traditional and self-publishing arenas. I took her at her word and within weeks, she directed me to She Writes Press.    

After having been dissuaded and blocked for so many years to publish my passion, opportunity opened its doors through Brooke Warner and her staff at She Writes Press. Yes, I needed to have (and pay for) a massive edit, but this came with the promise that once the edit was completed, I would be published. A promise! In writing! No longer would I spend my life in rewrite purgatory. No longer would I carry a machete. No longer would my voice be sidelined. In this year of the 70th anniversary of liberating France from the Nazis, I will return to France to join with the veterans as they are honored for their bravery—maybe one last time. And, I will celebrate through my book and with my book, A Cup of Redemption, the women and children who bravely shared their stories of love, life and war in France.    

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Comment by Carole Bumpus on March 24, 2014 at 5:15pm
Dear Susan Slack, I apologize for not responding back. (I'm just learning about these back and forth comment things-blogs.) The reason I went with She Wrires is because they began accepting novels as opposed to how-tos and memoir. It was the only place I felt strong enough to put my foot in the doorway and announce my presence. And what is memoir without history?
Comment by Karen Szklany Gault on March 19, 2014 at 11:12am

Wow. Great, inspiring story!

Comment by Susan J Slack on March 18, 2014 at 1:48pm

Thanks for this encouragement. I am in the process of handing over my way-too-long historical murder mystery to a paid editor, after nearly five years of research and rewrites. So She Writes likes historically-based books? I had crossed this press off my list of possibilities because I saw nothing even close to what I have until now. Good luck, Carole!



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