A Novel Change

by Candace Hammond

Fifteen years ago my life as I knew it ended. My marriage of almost twenty years came to an abrupt end, and suddenly I was single. I had three children, but despite their presence I was alone for the first time since I was a teen.

Having been a stay-at-home mom my world had become so small, so insular I was like a bird whose cage door was suddenly sprung open.

Gradually I began to embrace this adult do-over. As I shed weight and angst, I gained confidence and a new identity. I worked at the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School, I became a life coach, and I wrote. And wrote.

I wrote a first terrible novel, never to see the light of day, filled with the bitterness of the newly divorced, and became a vegetarian, the latter being apropos of nothing other than trying on a new life. It was a life that over time I felt comfortable with.

Despite my comfort with being single, when my youngest child and only daughter left to begin her freshman year at Wellesley College, I was terrified. I had never lived alone. So I did what anyone scared of being by alone would do – I designed my life to be home as rarely as possible.

I went back to school, I started an internship at the paper I write for, I worked out like a lunatic, and I joined a writer's group and began a novel.

Never one to take a traditional secure path, I patch-worked together a living as a writer, buoyed a bit by some benefit of a long-term marriage, and worked as hard as I could to develop my journalism and fiction writing skills.

I went from not having a clue as to how to structure a feature or a column to being a sought-after freelance writer. I was studying journalism and selling my homework assignments to the paper and writing all I could.

Learning to live alone and be by myself after having raised three kids wasn't easy. But I slowly got better at it and found my rhythm. I began to actually enjoy my solitude.

Out of this journey a story began to evolve, the story of Cassie Keaton, the protagonist in my novel, "The Best Worst Year." In many ways Cassie was me, but a prettier, thinner and more accomplished version of me.

In this fictional world I could control everything, and while I placed many a pebble in her shoe for her to overcome, I knew she would prevail, because I could make it so. In my life the challenges weren't quite so easy to resolve.

In Cassie's world she has to deal with what many of us do – our ex marrying someone who if not married to the man we were once married to, might actually be a friend, a boyfriend who can't commit, a daughter who is ungraciously pushing her away and big trouble on the job front.

Writing a book is one of the hardest things I've ever done. Rewriting it seven times was even harder. There were many times I wanted to give up. But something kept me going, a drive to prove to myself I could do this, and not really having a Plan B.

After having gone through many rejections, I put it away for a good year. But then one day I pulled it out and began to read it. I liked it! Actually, I loved it. It was light, funny and entertaining. On a whim I queried three agents, and one called me. They never call you.

But she did call and asked for fifty pages. She then emailed and asked for the whole book. After she read the book we had an hour-long phone conversation culminating in a pile of barely legible notes scribbled on a pile of yellow Post-Its. After hearing her say, "This is the kind of book I'd like to crawl under a quilt and eat a cupcake and read," I assumed my work was almost done. It was not.

Three major (and tear-soaked) rewrites later, I was signed to Trident Media, and began another waiting process. The one where editors from various publishing houses have a chance to read your book, and in all likelihood, reject it. I accrued a pile of lovely rejections.

They loved the story, the characters, the setting of the off-season on Cape Cod. They loved Cassie, who, like me had to overcome a lot to get to some semblance of a happy ending. But they didn't know how to market me. I was not the star of a reality show, I was short a scandal that would give me some notoriety, and I didn't have a blog that got thousands of hits a day.

My agent then proposed something I hadn't planned on. She offered that we use the new e-book division Trident had begun and put my book out that way. "Women are going to love your book," she said. "We just need to get it in their hands."

So now "The Best Worst Year" is out there – on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, waiting for women to love it. I hope. I am taking a big leap of faith, and am in that uncomfortable spot where I've leapt off the cliff and am praying the next step will appear.

There are times I am wracked with self-doubt and fear. Risking everything to do what you love is either crazy or inspired, or perhaps a bit of both. But I don't see any alternative. To do anything less than live your dream seems like living half a life, and none of us should ever accept that.

Photograph by Julia Cumes

Candace Hammond moved to Cape Cod as a teen and except for time away for college, has lived here since.

She is a freelance journalist with regular fashion and pop culture columns on the Cape Cod Times, and frequently writes features for them, the Cape Codder and other publications as well.

She is the mother of three amazing young adult children, and when not writing loves to go to movies.

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