Reflections on The Saint’s Mistress (part two)

Part two of a story wherein a very amateur writer who is already too busy feels compelled to write a novel about Saint Augustine and his mistress…. (Read part one HERE)

The Writing Process for The Saint’s Mistress

I had an opening scene in a pear orchard, based on an experience Augustine describes in the Confessions. Other than that, all I had was an irrational passion to tell this ghost-woman’s story.  I borrowed more books from the library, and stayed up late doing internet research.  In our crowded household, there was no quiet place to write. So, I got up at 5 a.m., was in Bruegger’s or Au Bon Pain with my laptop the minute they opened, and wrote for an hour in coffee shops before work.  Every day.  For two years. I did eventually tackle the Confessions, and had to read it twice to understand it.  My husband and I travelled to Milan, where Augustine and Leona lived for several years, and to Ostia, where his mother, Saint Monnica, died.

Then came a year of editing, rewriting, and harsh-but-loving criticism from my two beloved writing groups.  I slashed whole chapters that led nowhere, and changed confusing character names.  Hundreds of dead-weight adverbs and adjectives lost their lives.  Characters disappeared.

The Search for a Publisher for The Saint’s Mistress

And that was easy compared to the five years that it took to find an agent or publisher. 

Try being a first-time novelist with zero contacts, trying to sell a novel in the middle of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, and while the publishing industry is in the process of the biggest transformation since the printing press.  Or, on second thought, don’t try it.  It isn’t fun.

The Saint’s Mistress was finally accepted by a very small publisher, SynergeBooks. It came out in 2014 as an e-book, and then in print in 2016. When your publisher is small, you do most of your own marketing, similar to self-publishing. I bought Goodreads ads, and offered author talks at local libraries. I ended up making a little money on the book, but not much. In 2019, Synerge was bought by CamCat, larger publisher with more resources. They asked me to revise my first chapter, gave the book a re-edit and a new cover, and re-released it in September 2020. The staff and other authors at CamCat have been helpful and generous, and I’m very excited about the re-release.

Worth It?

My book project has certainly been a long journey, and a hard, discouraging one at times. But, overall, I have loved it.  With every page I wrote, both Saint Augustine, whom the world knows, and Leona, a mere ghost, felt more real to me.  Sometimes I forgot that I was making it all up, and felt like I was telling the story the way I knew, absolutely knew somehow, that it had really happened.  I loved them.  I still do. A trail of books led me to them, and I hope that my own finished book accurately expresses their time, their love and their spirits.

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