On Agents, Editors……And a New Cover!

coverWhen I completed my PhD in 1987 I thought I would never attempt another project that required as much attention to detail, hard work, and commitment. I was wrong. Writing My Heart Is Not My Own has required all of the above.
I’ve done my homework–four trips to Sierra Leone, phone calls and lengthy email conversations with anthropologists, experts on masks, experts on Mende dialect, road trips across the country, lengthy chats on the verandahs of African homes over poyo (palm wine) and beer–conversations about women, and men, and life and civil war. Hushed discussions about secret societies and yes, even clitoral circumcision–and that was just the ‘research’.
I’ve enjoyed two writing places–my desk overlooking the ocean off Victoria, British Columbia and my desk in ‘Room number 1’ at Florence’s and Franco’s Resort and

My Hemingway place in Sussex, Sierra Leone. Room no. 1 is behind the top three windows.

My Hemingway place in Sussex, Sierra Leone. Room no. 1 is behind the top three windows.

Restaurant on the beach in Sussex, Sierra Leone. I’m no Hemingway but ‘Room number 1’ is truly a Hemingway kind of place–beautiful view, a little fridge with wine and beer, paint peeling from plaster walls, a mosquito net and ceiling fan, shower that runs cold, fresh barracuda and lobster grilled over a charcoal flame. The property was ransacked by the rebels twice during the war and to this day the night time guard sits at the metal gate with an AK-47 across his lap. I love the place.

2012 visit, desk was in the middle of the room

2012 visit, desk was in the middle of the room

I didn’t have an ending in mind when I started writing MHINMO. What I thought was the beginning  became a series of scenes in the last chapters of Part One (more on that in a minute). I write best when I let my characters wander a bit–one day they’re taking me forward in time, and the next day they insist on taking me into backstory.view2

As I see it, my job is to stay out of the way and let the characters speak for themselves. They live in my head and are formed in my experience so they are never far away.
After four or five years I thought I had a novel so I pitched to agents in Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain. Most didn’t respond and those who did provided the ‘thanks but this doesn’t really suit my list’ response. Fair enough, agents receive hundreds of pitches, but pitching is the pits.

View from my desk in Victoria

View from my desk in Victoria


View of the lagoon from just below my writing window…

I was on the island of Kauai when I sent a pitch to Drea Cohane of The Rights Factory. She responded immediately, asking for two chapters. My Heart Is Not My Own is written in first person with two point of view (POV) characters–a  Canadian doctor, John Rourke, and an African nurse/midwife, Mariama Lahai. I wanted Drea to read the beginning (Rourke’s POV) but I also wanted her to hear Mariama’s voice, so I sent a representative chapter of each. Drea responded the next day—“Please forward the entire manuscript at your earliest convenience.”

I knew Drea was different when she soon emailed to say she was almost finished the manuscript and would contact me in the coming week with her feedback. Feedback? This was new territory indeed and she didn’t disappoint. Drea thinks like an editor–she suggested I had an extra character or two and she thought the real beginning to my novel was a few chapters in. She politely asked if I was I open to edits? Yes Drea, I’m a blank page, an agent’s / editor’s dream–edits are no problem. Her suggestions were brilliant and she said she would be thrilled to represent the novel.

Writing desk in Victoria

Writing desk in Victoria

Within three months Drea had my novel in the hands of Penguin’s Adrienne Kerr, who was named by the Canadian Bookseller’s Association as Canadian Editor of the Year in 2011. One of Adrienne’s first comments to me was, “I couldn’t believe a man, let alone a white man, wrote this book!” Adrienne has been fabulous. She helped me to make sure that each character was fully formed and driving the narrative forward. Adrienne was also concerned that my working title was, in a word, forgettable. Adrienne, Drea, my wife Shelley (who has laboured through four years of drafts) and I had a conference call to discuss alternative titles. Shelley read a line from Mariama’s diary which described how Mariama would sometimes depersonalize to cope with her experience as a captive to rebel soldiers, “My heart is beating, but it is not my own.”

My Heart Is Not My Own, was the unanimous choice. Thank you Shelley, Drea and Adrienne!


Coming to a bookstore near you, August 6, 2013

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10 Responses to On Agents, Editors……And a New Cover!

  1. Daniel says:

    Looks great, very cool!

  2. Kathryn Weese says:

    I like it…it’s subtle and bold at the same time! Congrats Michael, you must be thrilled!

  3. Stevie Howell says:

    Looks absolutely fascinating. And a perfect title. Looking forward to this book.

  4. Llan says:

    Congrats Michael! The cover looks fantastic!!! How awesome to see your name on the cover of a book: you must be thrilled. Sean and I are looking foward to August 8!

  5. Neil Carey says:

    This is so exciting! I’m sure that you’re thrilled and Shelly is relieved. Can’t wait to read it.

  6. Kristina says:

    Congratulations Michael!! Looking forward to the read…. and of course, the celebrations 🙂

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