How many years have I been writing The Divorce Girl? On paper since Forest was a creeping critter (now he's a giant), and in my head for about 37 years, give or take a few months. It's the fictionalized version of the outrageous story I lived in my teens: a household divided in the middle of New Jersey, the 70s and an ethnic hodge-podge of eccentric characters. Basically, I took the outline of my own story, inserted all new characters, and saw what could happen.
How long have I been trying to publish it? I plead disappointment-induced amnesia on this front, but roughly for the last 5-10 years. There have been little mountains of hope and big crashes into the muddy or ice-covered earth repeatedly. I've worked with three agents along the way, all of whom loved the novel (at first, at least), asked me to revise some core element in it (all for the good!), and then eventually -- because the crumbling publishing industry or simply losing interest -- said, "No thanks." I've mailed queries here and yonder. I've sat on bookstore floors, taking notes from various publishing guides to figure out what to do and then did it. And I did incantations, rituals, journal prayers and excessive deep wishing.
What kept me going is this: I knew it was a good story, and that it was written well (particularly after a decade of revisions). I also knew that beyond whatever little accolades there are to be had in getting it published, it is simply part of my life's work to put this story out in the world. Not surprisingly, the novel mirrors my publishing journey: a girl has to find her place in the world against shifting odds and through the power of art and community.
I also discovered something essential along the way: how, to deal my pal Dixie's phrase, to turn a dilemma into dilemonade. Whatever feedback I was given, I evaluated long and hard, diving into what I was being told as well as what the novel itself was telling me it needed. In many cases, I did use the feedback of agents, readers and rejecting publishers to make the main character more vivid, the motives of some of the minor characters more vivid, and the language more lucid and concise. In some cases, I knew I needed to listen to and follow my own critical judgment on what the novel needed and not use the advice I was being given, particularly as to whether a novel about a teenage girl coming of age should be a young adult novel or not. In the end, I realized my readers were more apt to be adults than young adults (although I'm happy to share this story with people of any age).
So now I'm thrilled that the book and my main character -- young Deborah (who is between 15-18, depending on what character you're reading) -- will be stepping out into the world in the summer of 2012, thanks to the superb publishing excellence and magic of Ice Cube Books. May Deborah and the other characters travel to wherever they can do some good and come back with new tales to tell.