Just before I turned 53, I decided to give myself a special birthday present—I was determined to get my first novel published. I’d written “The El” in a creative frenzy in 2005, taking time off to bring the book I’d been wanting to write for years to light. Well, “The El” took me six months to write and six years to see published! But I finally did it.
The novel is set in 1936 Brooklyn and chronicles two seasons in the lives of a loud, lusty Italian-American clan, loosely based upon my own. At times, I felt I was channeling the spirit of my grandmother, who inspired the female heroine “Rosanna.”
In the end, I created a family saga with a colorful array of characters who weather joy, loss and desire, and experience simple delights in the midst of the Depression. In “The El,” the ordinary becomes extraordinary. It is a place of unconditional and unrequited love, where the unimaginable is indeed possible, and the whims of a violent alcoholic threaten to destroy the idyllic applecart of the entire family’s existence.
Everyone who read my book loved it. Then came time to send it out to publishers. Without an agent, very few would even look at the manuscript. Without a track record, I couldn’t get an agent. Finally, one editor from Dutton rescued it from the slush pile and tried to convince his colleagues to get onboard, but he was overruled. Years passed.
Some publishers commented that readers didn’t care about things that happened 50 years in the past. But I knew otherwise. I knew that the past keeps reinventing itself; we keep making the same mistakes and the same tiny triumphs. They define who we are.
Undaunted, I was determined to find a home for “The El.” I kept sending it around and it kept getting rejected. I continued writing, helping others bring their own projects to fruition as a freelance journalist. But in the back of my mind was my project, my baby, sitting dormant on my computer. I didn’t give up.
Then I took on a new client. I happily proofread and copy-edited ebooks for a quirky publisher with an eclectic stable of authors. At my husband’s urging, I asked Vincent Corbo, the owner, if he might consider publishing my novel. Knowing my writing firsthand, Vinnie’s response was a resounding: “Hell, yes.”
And just like that, “The El” found a home. Vinnie held my hand as I gently let go of my characters, my literary family, and prepared to release them into cyberspace. His designer produced the perfect cover: a sepia masterpiece of elevated train tracks and antique buildings. So, five days before my 53rd birthday, I became a first-time novelist. And I haven’t looked back since.
Delighted, I’ve made appearances at bookstores, shared spicier passages at a literary event called “Between the Sheets,” did an interview for the public access show “Italian American Writers” and read at the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard where a pivotal chapter takes place. I even set up “The El’s” own Facebook page, complete with mouthwatering recipes from its pages.
Even if I don’t sell more than 100 copies, it doesn’t matter. Through perseverance—and a little bit of luck—I still did it.