It was written in the wee hours before dawn before the writer’s family awakened and needed to be herded off to school. Before the work of the day began, before the brain was sullied by the noise of news and commerce and obligations.
And when it was finished, she sent it to her agent, who loved it. Declared it one of the best romances she had ever read. Ever. She took it to market with great energy—but the book was rejected over and over with the kind of crushing rejections that say, “we love this book, but can’t imagine that it will sell very well.” The setting was wrong. The love story was too unusual.
After nearly a year, the writer admitted defeat and put the book away.
The writer was me, of course. I was divorced and dating when the book arrived in my consciousness again, when Christopher Robin and I discovered we both knew the facts of the English arm of WWII backwards and forwards. On one of our first dates, we eagerly exchanged facts about the landings at Normandy and Battle of the Bulge—but I one-upped him: I knew the history of the African American soldier in that war; knew that it was the bloody, bloody toll of Normandy, then the push across France that led to the Army finally dropping its policy of segregation, so black troops were armed and pressed into service, to fight against Hitler’s army in that harsh, terrible winter of 1944-45. It was that year that led to the desegregation of the Army, and in my opinion, the eventual desegregation of the country.
I knew it because that was part of the story I told in that book I woke up early to write. Isaiah High joins the Army to flee his hometown. Through his letters home, we see his journey, in England and through France, at last at Dachau, where he is part of the forces of liberation. It’s also a love story, of course, but the WWII aspect is very important.
CR was entranced. It had been a long time since I’d read it, but I pulled it out and discovered that I had grown quite a lot as a writer and wanted to rewrite it, but the bones were good, and I still loved the characters madly. The trouble was, I only had a hard copy, and scanning technology—which has taken off insanely the past couple of years, was extremely primitive. The scan was a mess. An absolute, practically unreadable mess. I had deadlines and side projects and just didn’t have time to fix it.
And perhaps I was wary of getting my heart broken all over again. As long as the book sat safely in my heart and drawer, it would never be rejected again.
But CR did not give up. We visited the British War Museum. We traveled to the beaches of Normandy. He sometimes had a book on black soldiers sent to me, or linked me to a story online.
Two years ago, feeling the urge to maybe make some time to clean up the draft to see what I actually had there, I stumbled over a website devoted to the letters of a young WWII soldier home to his family. He was stationed in England, just like Isaiah, and he was headed for Normandy. I read, engrossed, one night, thinking of the letters Angel and Isaiah had exchanged. I read to the very end of that soldier’s letters. Powerfully moved, I decided that I would at least give The Book a chance. Tucked between deadlines was a six week window that I could spare. I booked a hotel room in a retreat center, and before I went, I cleaned up the worst of the typos and strange words in the scanned file. By the time I arrived at the retreat center, I was ready to dig in.
I rewrote it, and then came home and rewrote again. I knew my main publisher and agent would be wary, because it is a very different story than the books I am publishing now as Barbara O’Neal, and we’ve all put a tremendous amount of energy into branding those books. I knew who I wanted to publish it—Belle Bridge Books.
But again, I was terrified. What if they didn’t like it, either, and my baby, this book of my heart, was orphaned again? I sent it to a writer friend to read, and she emphatically pronounced it beautiful and moving, so with some trepidation, I sent a note to Deb Smith at Belle Bridge, and she responded in about two hours: SEND IT.
She loved it. She made an offer in one of the shortest negotiations I’ve ever participated in. I needed the time to go through it one more time. One year later I am pleased to announce:
The Sleeping Night is now on sale!
at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony, and soon will be in all outlets.
The reviews are amazing. Read a few here:
Romance Reviews by Sallie: “The Sleeping Night is a refined, romantic tale. I imagine if Jane Austen wrote novels today, her stories would read a lot like Barbara Samuel’s.” Read More >>>
From Karen Knows Best: “Told partially in the present day, partially in Angel and Isaiah’s past after the war, and partially through their wartime letters, this is not just a suspenseful forbidden love romance, but a powerful story about spiritual and emotional needs. The letters give rich historical detail about everyday life while showing the closeness of their connection, the depth of their sorrow over the ugliness of the world, and their need to understand how such awful things could happen.” Read More >>>
From Angela Booth’s Writing Blog: “I’m not sentimental; I can’t remember the last time a book made me break down in tears, but this book did it. Several times I had to resist the urge to stop reading because it was too painful. I’m glad I kept on, because it was worth it. The Sleeping Night is wonderful, precisely because the characters’ struggle is so agonizing.
(That said, if you hate books with unhappy endings be relieved — there’s a happy ending. :-))” Read More>>>
There will be some giveaways for this book. Check back soon. Oh, and check out the dedication. Can you guess who got it?
10 thoughts on “How One Writer Persisted”
As a WW2 historian and a writer of WW2 fiction, I am SO EXCITED for you! Many, many congratulations!!!
Can’t wait to read it.
I too love WWII and the 40’s, The Greatest Generation and I am getting a copy of this wonderful sounding book. Cannot wait to dig in. Thanks Barbara!
Ps. Just purchased for my Fire!
And thank you, my friends.
This is the most stunning book I’ve read all year.
Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment! NYC does have a nice population of adult American Oystercatchers! You should be seeing oystercatcher chicks now. Just keep in mind because of the high rate of human disturbance and predator access, there is a low rate of nest success. So….all those pairs and nests you see will not produce chicks.
This place is amazing on Friday! Playing house music downstairs and hip hop upstairs is great when you want to switch it up a bit.
Loving the blog – when are you doing more?
Just got this one today and plan to read the heck out of it soon.