For Musquodoboit Harbour’s Genevieve Graham, that publisher was Penguin U.S., which made her one of only seven Canadians currently being published by the industry giant. That was a bit overwhelming, she says, as was the fact that advanced orders resulted in a second printing before the first even hit bookshelves.
Under the Same Sky is a sweeping novel about two people living worlds apart in 1746. Andrew MacDonnell is a Scottish Highlander who survives war with the English but is left to survive in a country deeply scarred. Maggie Johnson is a teenager in South Carolina who goes through her own horrors and ends up living with the Cherokee.
From the time they were children, they had seen each other in their dreams. Growing up together in their visions and gaining strength from each other, they both question what they are really seeing. Once they are convinced of each other’s existence, Andrew sets off across the Atlantic to find her, with both feeling they are meant for each other.
But don’t let the plot and the book’s cover fool you. This is not a sappy romance. Graham shies away from categorizing it as a strict romance, or even historical romance for that matter, preferring to call it an historic adventure.
"It has an underlying romance, but it’s a lot more about the story of the two individuals," she says.
And there certainly is adventure. The book has plenty of action and more than a couple of violent scenes. Writing such disturbing imagery was not easy, Graham said.
"That was hard. Originally I’d written a lot more of it with a lot more graphic scenes until I realized that you don’t really need to write that way, you need to leave it open for the reader to see it themselves. It was really hard to write, and some of my neighbours told me I should probably get therapy for that, but it was something that had to be put in the story."
The violence is true to the era in which the book is set, which is why she included it.
"To disregard (it) as a probable thing that would happen back then is crazy," she said. "It happened all the time."
So how does one go from never having written anything to being picked up by Penguin U.S.?
It’s not exactly the overnight success that it seems.
Graham had read books by Diana Gabaldon, who writes historic adventures set in the same time period as Under the Same Sky.
"I’d read her books about four or five times each, and then I decided I needed to create my own adventure. . . . I sat down and had no idea what I was going to do, so I stared at my computer for a while and then different pictures came into my head and I just went with it."
She said if she tried to argue with what she was seeing it didn’t work, "but if I just let the stories tell themselves, it flowed out really easily."
She said there were two characters in the book that were in the back of her mind while she was writing "and I could see them there and couldn’t figure out who they were, what they did or where they belonged, so I kind of shoved them away and said, ‘No, you guys are not part of this, you have to back off.’
"And then I couldn’t write for two days. So on the day that I finally decided that they could join the party, I couldn’t stop writing for the next two weeks.
"It surprised the heck out of me."
She wrote the book in eight months, but then spent the next four years editing it to about two-thirds its original length.
During the latter part of that process she was trying to find an agent willing to pitch the book for her.
"Occasionally I would get letters back saying, ‘You know what, it was really good, but you might want to consider turning this around, you might want to consider cutting this back,’ so I took every suggestion I was given."
About 70 rejections later, she finally found an agent willing to pitch the book for her.
Penguin was the first publisher it was sent to and the company bought it within 48 hours.
Graham has already finished a second book for Penguin, a companion novel to Under the Same Sky.
Sounds of the Heart is due for release in May. The company is considering a third as well.
By IAN FAIRCLOUGH Staff Reporter