To Cynthia Neale, getting published has been a spiritual journey, having felt a calling from a young age.
“I wanted to be that writer who was always in the attic writing,” she said. “But I had to make a living.”
She earned an English degree but didn’t start working on getting published until she was in her 30s, once she began to understand her Irish heritage.
“I wasn’t raised with the Irish side of the family,” she said. “When I was older, I heard the music. It was like a large room inside me opened up. I started Irish dancing and reading about Irish history. I was drawn to the period of the great hunger. I had a young daughter, and while I was dancing, the story unfolded.”
She learned that people caught up in the Irish potato famine may not have had any more furniture than a dresser (what Americans would call a china cabinet), their symbol of hope.
“I imagined my character (Norah) finding a place to hide amid this disaster and dreaming of a better life and eventually hiding in the dresser on the ship to America.”
A Long and Difficult Publishing Journey
Cynthia wrote two young adult novels about Norah, both published by White Mane Publishing Company: The Irish Dresser: A Story of Hope During the Great Hunger (2003) and Hope In New York City: The Continuing Story of the Irish Dresser (2007).
At some point, she learned about a real girl like Cynthia’s fictional Norah. Her last name was the same as Cynthia’s, she was the age of Norah and she came to America on a ship with the same name as Cynthia’s fictional ship.
Once she finished writing about Norah’s childhood, Cynthia wrote an adult book about Norah becoming a young woman. It was published by Lucky Press in 2011 and was doing well, then the publisher went out of business.
Cynthia was devastated.
“I could plaster my home with the rejections I got while finding a publisher,” she said. “It’s difficult to find balance between your art and the need to shamelessly promote your book. I had gone through so much and worked so hard. Every time I tried to query to find another publisher, I couldn’t do it. I had to get back to my art. I thought I was done with Norah.”
She started work on a story about a Native American in New York during the American Revolution, even having dreams about her. But fans of the adult Norah book consistently asked her to write more books about Norah. She ignored them. Until she couldn’t.
She decided to find a new publisher for the adult novel but not take the expected rejections personally. She found Fireship Press, with a niche of historical fiction. Much to the delight of Cynthia and her fans, the book was re-released February 1.
“It’s been quite a journey,” Cynthia said. “I’ve continued to speak and promote the book, along with the two children’s books. And I’m writing the next Norah novel.” She’s also working on that novel about the Native American woman.
Commit to Your Calling
If, like Cynthia, you feel called to write but find the process of getting published to be debilitating and are tempted to wallow, she has some advice.
“Go with it,” she said. “Sometimes it feels good to wallow. But allow yourself no more than a week. Get back to it. If you’re called to work on something, work on it. If you give up longer than a week, you implode. You have to do this.” She believes it’s a spiritual calling, and you have to be true to that calling.
“You have to be practical,” she said, referring to knowing your audience and what’s selling. “If it doesn’t fit my soul, I feel it.” She says you need to write what feels right to your soul.
A quote by Cyril Connolly, an English intellectual, literary critic and writer, brings comfort to Cynthia: “Better to write for yourself and have no public than write for the public and have no self.”
Easing the Journey
Here are some things that Cynthia knows now that she’s where she is on her publishing journey, but she wishes she knew them when she first started.
- Find your calling. Discover if you’re really cut out to write novels and in what genre. It’s hard work, and some people would enjoy it more if they wrote short stories. But if you’re called to write a novel, write it.
- Hone your craft by going to writer’s conferences, joining writer’s groups and going to classes, but stop after a while. “Getting affirmation can be a form of procrastination that’s fear based,” she said. Focus on writing, rewriting, editing and getting good copy editing. “You’re always going to be developing and growing.”
- Face self-doubt. Cynthia suggests that you avoid comparing your journey with that of someone else’s. Enjoy your own journey. When you get rejection letters, understand that it’s just part of the journey, not a reason for you to give up or think you’re unworthy.
- Read voraciously. That will help you hone your craft, give you ideas and understand where you fit in the market.
- Find joy in everyday life. Cynthia finds joy in her flower garden. She equates it with her writing — there’s work that’s satisfying, and joy comes with the bloom.