“Jonestown: Thirty Years On,” a substantive chunk of my novel, was published in the fall of 2014 in Best New Writing 2015 (Hopewell Publications), an annual anthology of fiction, long and short. While this piece has a mere seven prior rejections, the entire novel, formerly called Paradise Undone, has received more than 100, putting it in the company of many much-rejected classics, including: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which garnered 121 “no’s” before going on to best sellerdom; Louis L’Amour’s persistence to continue after 200 rejections before a smart person at Bantam said yes; and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. A list of “Brilliant Authors Whose Work Was Initially Rejected” appears at buzzfeed.com.
I fashioned this piece from three separate chunks of the longer narrative, wherein Watts Freeman, a composite character based on two Jonestown survivors who fled the day of the massacre, is interviewed by an ambitious African-American journalist on an East Bay radio station. Her program is broadcast on November 18, 2008, the thirtieth anniversary of Jonestown. Having begun my research in 2004, I had hoped my entire book would be out in the world by that date and had it ready in time for publication. Despite the efforts of a good New York agent, the novel remains in pre-publishing limbo.
This year, 2014, saw the first publication of a Jonestown novel by a major New York press. Fred D’Aguiar, who is Guyanese-born but now an American citizen and professor at Virginia Tech – the site of another kind of massacre – wrote Children of Paradise (Harper), which received much praise on the front page of the New York Times Book Review, every author’s dream location for a great review. In consequence, I returned to a previous title for my book: Resurrection City: A Novel Of Jonestown. It is currently under consideration at a number of literary contests. The story and I remain undaunted.
(Annie Dawid’s review of Children of Paradise appears here. Her complete set of writings for this site appears here. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is http://www.anniedawid.com/.)