As I've said here before, I think Brendan DuBois is one of the three or four best short story writers of my generation. He's also an exceptionally fine novelist. After I read his new novel Twlight I wrote to tell him how much I enjoyed it, admired it and honestly envied it. It's a powerful and intense but written with all of Brendan's supple and subtle skill. He wrote back and told me a story about its history that shows how strange the world of writing and publishing can sometimes be.
Back in late 1999 I had an idea for a novel that eventually became
TWILIGHT, published this past November by St. Martin’s Press. The
basis of the idea came after watching a television report of UN
peacekeepers and war crimes investigators at work in the former
Yugoslavia. And that’s how it happens, the “what if” that allows us
writers to grab an idea and work with it.
And the idea was something I loved: what kind of catastrophe could
happen in the United States that would result in the same UN forces
being dispatched here? How would ordinary Americans react in a time of
chaos to seeing the famed “blue helmets” in our streets, and not the
streets of Bosnia, Serbia or Rwanda? Would they see the UN as saviors
From that idea came TWILIGHT. The book was a gamble in a number of
ways. The main character was a former Canadian journalist, it was the
only novel outside of my Lewis Cole series written in the first person,
and my outline consisted of just a few sentences. But it was a tale
that I wanted to tell.
The book was finished in early 2001. I sent it off to my agent,
confident that I had tried something different, confident that this
book would quickly sell, confident that it would make a mark.
Alas, my agent and his associate didn’t share the same confidence.
Long story short, they thought the book was a failure, and I put it
that legendary desk drawer where manuscripts go to die… or hibernate.
It was sobering, the first novel I had written that my agent had
disliked so entirely.
Flash forward a few years later, when I was struggling to complete
another thriller, FINAL WINTER. Ah, that book, with multiple
viewpoints and a complicated plot, hurt my mind to write. And to have
a bit of fun during the day, I took TWILIGHT out of the dusty drawer,
rewrote it a bit, updated it to reflect the turbulent times after 9/11,
and I sent it off to my new agent.
She loved it.
She suggested a couple of changes, which I embraced, and in the space
of a few months, it was sold to St. Martin’s Press, as well as
publishers in Great Britain, Italy and Spain, and there is still some
interest from other foreign publishers as well. Publisher’s Weekly
gave it a starred review, saying that, “The balance between action and
introspection is superb, and DuBois is confident enough of his
readership and his premise to avoid a pat, upbeat unending.” I’ve had a
host of other positive reviews, including one from the proprietor of
The upshot, the lesson learned?
Damned if I know, except for two things: don’t ever give up, and
don’t ever think you know how publishing works. More than twenty years
after my first novel was published, it’s still a mystery to me.
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So, how frequently does one's agent mistake themselves for an editor?
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