Roberta Rich joins us on the Ebury Blog on the last day of her UK blog tour. Follow the rest of the tour at the websites below:
I remember being at a writers’ conference one year, practically in tears as an editor from California talked about how difficult, nay impossible, it was to get published.
I stumbled tearfully from the lecture room with the distinct impression that there was not a publisher left standing either in Europe or North America. Moreover no one was reading anymore, never mind actually buying books. And if, on the off chance that a few lonely souls were- maybe 5 wheat farmers in Manitoba, this select group certainly wouldn’t want to read anything I had written.
It reminded me of the statistic I used to read years ago which stated that a divorced woman over forty years old had as much chance of re-marrying as she did of being hijacked by Islamic fundamentalists wearing kilts.
I kept on plugging because I like to write. I have been writing my whole life. I wrote 1.5 mysteries, and 1/8 of a romance. The mysteries were about a quirky divorce lawyer who practiced law in Vancouver, Canada and ran off to Mexico to pursue a client. As it happened I was at that time a quirky divorce lawyer practicing in Vancouver. I thought it would sell. It was funny and had a good protagonist. Even though it had a great title―a gift from my husband an excellent title ―Tequila Moon, it didn’t sell.
I thought you were supposed to write what you know. All my writing teachers said so. I was mightily disheartened. And then I found my genre.
In June of 2007 my husband and I were in Venice, on a walking tour from the Rialto Bridge. We ended up in the Jewish Ghetto which I confess I had never heard of. Our wonderful guide explained that the ghetto was established in 1516. I looked around the rather spartan campo, and the tall, dark, knife sharp buildings, holding each other up. and something clicked in my head.
The only way I can think of to explain what happened is to digress for a moment and tell the following story:
Years ago I was at a Border collie/sheep herding event on Saltspring Island, B.C. After the event I was talking to a shepherdess about her her Border collie. The shepherd told me she found Mitzi, at the local pound- the dog had been through several homes and was surrendered because she was too unruly, too wild, had too much energy. The shepherdess said to me, “I put Mitzi in a pasture with a couple of sheep to try her out. Mitzi had never seen a sheep before as far as I knew, never been in a pasture, had never even been in the country before. I watched her drop into a crouch, give those sheep that long spooky collie stare. I could see the wheels turn in Mitzi’s head and the tumblers click into place. Mitzi was thinking, ‘ Now I get it. This is what I am destined to do in this world. I will be good at it. ‘
That’s the way I felt standing in the campo, vast open space, surrounded by tall rickety buildings, wondering how people had been born and died and had sex, and cooked and went to the bathroom. I, who had not cracked a history book since high school, thought ‘I can write about this’.
I started and the more I read about the history of the Venetian ghetto the more I fascinated I became. If I was intrigued readers would be as well. I talked to a friend of mine who teaches Early Modern history about my idea for birthing spoons, I talked to a another woman who was a midwife. And little by little, The Midwife of Venice was born.
I wrote the first draft in seven months and sent it to my agent, in November of 2008. She wrote back saying, ‘don’t you read the news? Publishing companies are folding, editors being laid off. Nobody reads anything anymore.’
Of course, her message was couched in more polite language. She added, ‘I am busy. If you don’t hear from me, email me in six weeks and maybe I will have read your manuscript.’
So I went into the 2009 new year, crestfallen. Stumbled through a new years party, I was giving in Mexico, trying to keep my spirits up in the time honoured ways, drinking too much and persecuting my husband and friends. Then a few days later, January 3rd, 2009 my agent wrote, to say she loved the manuscript, loved the story and was going to send it out even though the market was lousy. I crossed my fingers and waited. Three weeks later, her email arrived― ‘Bingo’ read the caption. She had sold it to Random House Canada and my future as an historical novelist was born.
The Midwife of Venice jumped onto the Globe & Mail best seller list the week after it came out. Unheard of. Overwhelmingly, wonderful. I heard from all my friends and family and there were parties, and events, and book signings and I was suddenly famous. Not famous like Phillipa Gregory, J.K. Rowling or Lady Gaga but famous, at least in my little neck of the woods.
Oh, and by the way, I was a divorced woman over forty and I did re-marry.
The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich is out now.