BULLETIN: In Spring Hermann’s introduction yesterday I announced that one of her plays is under contract for publication. Today she tells me more good news. A second play is also now under contract to be published. Way to go, Spring!
Today I’m happy to introduce Spring Hermann as my Featured Guest. Spring has a distinguished career that continues to grow as she expands her creative efforts in new directions. You will enjoy getting better acquainted as much I have.
How do we writers identify our best work? How long do we keep revising and reworking before we say yep, this is it, the very best I can do on this book? And just as importantly, how do we know when it is time to gently, sadly bury that manuscript forever in the Trunk of No Return?
I have been writing books since 1982 – the year I turned 40. Since that time I have published one adult novel and two adult contract histories. The rest of my dozen publications have been for young readers. I have been proud of them all. But what about the four manuscripts still in the Trunk? They constitute over a decade of my best writing years. They have wonderful characters, plots, research, themes, vital insights, and moments of inspiration. They should be in the hands of kids of yesterday and day. Let me tell you briefly about them, and then perhaps you can decide. Is it time to close the trunk lid on them, and march bravely into tomorrow’s world of newer, hotter ideas? Or could they still be my best work? Should I take them up one more time – knowing that some of today’s great classics received years of ignorant, insensitive, and let’s say it, incorrect! Rejections?
First, the manuscript that won me a scholarship to Wesleyan University Writers Workshop, plus a stay at Ragdale writer’s colony was a YA novel that can only be described as paranormal. After that, it has no easy label. It is realism/fantasy/horror/murder-mystery/romance. When I started sending it out in the late 1980s, teen lit had not yet found gang violence, physical love, or the Dark Side. It sat on the desk of the now famous editor who compared it to another piece he was considering about some British kids at Hogwarts boarding school – and guess what brilliant decision he made? Let’s fast forward 20 years to our age of overtly sexual YA novels winning the NBA, and vampire lust heating up teen hearts. Should my clairvoyant heroine Cora, plain and powerful, be sent forth to enact her curses on those who raped her and threatened her boyfriend and nearly incinerated her mother? Or shall we close the lid on her forever.
Second, a book that I loved researching and writing: “Lucy’s Heaven.” This novel brings Lucy Price from her scary childhood on her abusive step-father’s farm, into a new world of security as a runaway “orphan” taken in by the Shakers of Pleasant Hill, KY in 1858. Along with her stepbrother Henry, Lucy learns that respect, goodness, order, and productivity DO exist, even in a sect with odd faith precepts. When the Civil War comes to the doorstep of Pleasant Hill, the story covers it from the pacifist viewpoint, finds well-meaning soldiers on both sides, and forces Lucy and Henry to make life-changing decisions about how they will respond. In our modern age in which teens now enlist to fight in the Middle East, there is much food for thought in Lucy and Henry’s tale. Do they have a chance to get published? A slim one, until I just discovered that the Dear America series has revved up this year – and they are doing a Shaker novel – by Lois Lowry. Oh well, at least I get bumped by the best.
Third, a mystery/romance set in a contemporary prep school, in which Giovanna loves Tripp, but is really loved by Tripp’s disabled younger brother and her best friend Toby. Gio and Toby, co-editors of the school newspaper, get a secret assignment: root out every scrap of info still embedded in school files on the death of a student in the 1930s – and her wealthy famous sister will endow the school and get Gio and Toby into Harvard! Well…. This one has everything: love, heartbreak, danger, courage, grim student-teacher relationships, and the impossibility of knowing what really transpires in the young heart. I loved Gio and Toby and their determination to solve this cold case and perhaps find justice for this girl – but no one else seemed to care. What do you think?
Finally, number 4, the biggest book I ever wrote: “The Masters: Slavery in the White House.” You don’t have to tell me to keep revising this one, as I will until I die. But for those of you who wonder what the heck I am talking about – how much do you know about the first 18 presidents, and what they said and did about slavery and race? It will shock and appall you to learn the answers – and every student in school today needs to learn them too. The book was contracted and almost published by two major houses. Both backed off after major changeovers in their upper management questioned whether the book would sell throughout the South. I absolutely know it will. But no author can ever guarantee advance sales – nor should they be expected to do so. Writing is our job. Marketing is theirs. Right??
I hope to hear from all of you with your opinions. In the meantime, the Trunk of No Return’s lid is still open.