this photo, by the way, gives you a good idea of how incredibly cool Susan is!
I had the initial idea for A Body at Rest way back in the early 1990s. I was working as a volunteer for an international peace organization in the Netherlands, and Don Quixote—the character, not necessarily the book—just kept turning up. I was reading Don Quixote during the three-week orientation for the program. Then I spent a week in New York visiting friends and saw a revival of Man of La Mancha with the late great Raul Julia (and snuck backstage afterwards and got his autograph). After I arrived in my volunteer position, where I would be for the next two years, Don Q. just kept popping up in strange places—in a newspaper article about a Latin American protest artist who used Don Quixote’s image in a series of works on the poor, in a Dutch-subtitled episode of LA Law, in conversations with new people. And, of course, there were all those windmills. (I was in Holland, after all.) In letters back home, I kept joking that I was turning into Don Quixote.
Then I started to think about what it would be like to turn into a fictional character. I wrote a few chapters, but I couldn’t find Martha’a voice (I don’t remember what I initially called her). The whole thing was just too dark, and Nina (who was originally named Justine) came off sounding insane. It wasn’t any fun. I left it alone for years. Then in the early 2000s, long after I had left the Netherlands, moved back home, gotten married, gotten my master’s, gotten divorced, and gotten married again (to the right person this time), I went back to those original chapters. I still liked the idea of two normal people becoming fictional characters and thought it had potential. I started rewriting the opening and somehow found the right blend of sarcasm and wit for Martha’s voice. The characters started to have fun, and I did too. I don’t know that more than a few lines here and there of the original manuscript are in the completed book. What remains is the basic plot of two people stuck in dead end jobs and a rut in their lives who become, in a literal sense, their favorite fictional characters.
I entered the manuscript in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award in 2008 and was a semi-finalist. I received a lot of useful feedback on the manuscript, and discovered that Martha and Nina’s story resonated with a lot of people. I did more rewrites, cut out about 10,000 words, and started sending the manuscript to small presses. I sent it to Drinian Press, a regional publisher in Huron, Ohio, and they accepted it (much to my delight).
Being published by a small press is great because you have a lot more say and contact with the publisher. (I’m fairly certain the CEO of Penguin isn’t going to email back and forth with one of his first-time novelists on the necessity or non-necessity of a couple of exclamation points or other tweaks to the manuscript.) I like that I can have those small but important conversations with my publisher.
Small and independent presses generally have limited distribution, however, due to (among other factors) the returns policies of the big chain bookstores. This is where the Internet helps to level the playing field a bit. It’s still difficult to get the word out about one’s book, but online distribution makes it easy for anyone anywhere to buy a book. Mine is available at some small independent bookstores in the Cleveland area, via Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com, via the publisher’s website at DrinianPress.com, or via special order at your local bookstore. If you’re looking for a read that’s a bit off the beaten path and kind of funny and quirky, why celebrate National Small Press Month (did you know that March is National Small Press Month?) and a new writer by checking out A Body at Rest. (And if you want to try before you buy, you can download an excerpt for free from susanpetrone.com/clips.) Thanks for reading.