There’s nothing unique about this story. Nearly every writer has a similar one, or several. I lived through the intense disappointment of that process, and even I didn’t find it that interesting.
What I do find interesting is what’s happened since.
My favorite character in The Tear Master wasn’t the protagonist, or even any of the three or four other main characters. It was Zhenya, a Russian teenage girl whose story–separate from the main plot threads–was told in a series of chapters that at first left readers wondering how they were relevant. Near the end of the novel, Zhenya’s story finally collided with the main plot, leading to the book’s (I hoped) unexpected climax.
I loved Zhenya, loved her story, loved how I used it almost contrapuntally to the main thread. Nothing disappointed me more about the book’s failure to sell than the fact that Zhenya didn’t get the chance to “live.”
So, years later, I made it up to her. I wrote ”Custom Sets,” a short story that I submitted to The Prosecution Rests, an anthology put out by the Mystery Writers of America. The story was accepted and published. Thrillingly, Otto Penzler and Lee Child subsequently selected it for The Best American Mystery Stories 2010.
“Custom Sets” is Zhenya’s story. No one knew it till now, but by the end of that short story I gave my precious character the conclusion, the freedom, I’d always thought she deserved. I’d put her through a lot in The Tear Master, and this was the least I could do for her.
But I wasn’t done. When I began to write Invasive Species, my forthcoming novel for Berkley Books, I found myself creating a secondary plot thread involving Mariama, a young Senegalese woman. Her story, told in a series of chapters, is discrete from the main plot thread until late in the novel, when the two collide.
Sound familiar? To me, too…but I had no idea until I was done that I’d reclaimed the structural aspect I’d loved most from The Tear Master. Reclaimed it and helped it reach the light, just as I’d done with Zhenya’s story.
It’s hard to express how much these rescue missions have fulfilled me. In a way, it feels like my writing world has, after the crushing disappointment of a decade ago, finally come back into balance.