With my current publicity photo as proof, you can see that while some authors get writer’s block, I get stumped!
Hurricane Ike was due to hit the Louisiana coast near Lake Charles on September 12, 2008. I boarded up the windows and delivered my wife Raejean and our dog to my mother’s house on higher ground. Forecasters predicted the storm surge would put River Road under three feet of water (and two feet under our house, which sits on eight-foot pilings on the Calcasieu River near the I-10 bridge). Throughout the night, I watched the water rise, rip our dock apart, and slosh past the predicted mark under our house to engulf equipment I had placed on sawhorses. Then the churning water lurched up the stairs until there was six feet of water under our house. At daybreak, I remembered promising my neighbors to feed their cat, so I waded through rushing, neck-deep water with wind-driven rain stinging my face.
Ike, the third most destructive hurricane ever to make landfall in the United States, left us with thousands of dollars worth of damage and one magnificent gift, a two-ton cypress stump that drifted over our “hurricane” fence from the swamp that had been clearcut in the 1920s. Five days later, a neighbor boated me to the head of River Road, where Raejean picked me up.
That meeting was its own miracle, because Raejean and I had dated for two months in 1983, when I was teaching at Lamar University, then didn’t hear from each other for twenty-two years. One morning, I opened my e-mail and there she was again. After a whirlwind romance, we married on January 4, 2008.
The birth of A Savage Wisdom has its own drama. By 1992 I had published two small-press novels and thought I could interest a major press in the story of the only woman executed in Louisiana’s electric chair. After researching the Valentine’s Day crime of Toni Jo Henry—a drug addict and prostitute by 14—I realized that she was not a sympathetic character.
Instead, I became interested in how an innocent person could transform into a cold-blooded murderer, so, in my “imaginative reconstruction,” I reversed much of her story, making her an ingénue and the novel a study in deception. After four years of work, I knew it was the best novel I would ever write.
I submitted it again and again to agents and editors who all said the same thing: the writing is brilliant, but we don’t think we could sell this because it’s not really true crime, nor is it a murder mystery or any other sub-genre we know of.
After seven years, I decided that my next best chance would be to secure a major-house publication through one of their contests, so I packed it off to a competition sponsored by two well-known New York publishers.
I was thrilled when I heard that Savage was one of five finalists. After another wait, I was dejected by the news of its second-place finish. But here’s the shocker: the first-place novel was not even listed among the original five. What happened? I believe the final editors saw that a friend’s manuscript was not among the finalists and overrode the initial screeners’ decisions.
Two years later, I saw that a movie based on Toni Jo’s life would be released in
2008. Thinking that interest generated by the movie would increase sales, I luckily found a small press, Thunder Rain, willing to publish Savage quickly.
The novel has done exceedingly well in Louisiana, and in May of 2009 it launched as a Kindle book on Amazon.com, climbing three times to #5 in the competitive True Crime/Murder & Mayhem category.
Dr. Norman German
Winner of the Deep South Writers' Contest, and author of A Savage Wisdom (Thunder Rain Publishing.