March 17, 2021
Publishing debut novel opens doors to new opportunities – passion, promotion and pushing ahead
by Dione Martin
Hello! So many thanks are in order before I begin, so I’ll start with a few and end with more. First, thank you Blake Kimzey and Writing Workshops Dallas for offering courses that bring us along the writing journey, helping us to refine our craft and realize our dreams. The Intermediate Fiction Course not only exposed me to other writers and their work but also allowed me to give and receive valuable feedback – feedback that I’ve incorporated into my debut novel – The Wool Over Their Eyes.
Like Lisa Simonds, fellow writers in that course were the first people to read pages from my novel. Allowing others to read your draft copy is such a vulnerable but necessary process. For me, it was easier to take feedback from a group of people I just met. The environment was welcoming, non-judgmental, and we all shared the common goal of improving our craft.
I started writing The Wool Over Their Eyes nearly seven years ago. Talk about staying the course. Growing up in New Orleans in a conservative, Christian home, I spent most of my childhood and teen years reading. I found myself transported into other worlds living with other characters, feeling their pain and celebrating their joy. In high school, I was inspired and in awe of writers like Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston. Their characters and experiences stayed with me long after I read the final pages. I soon found myself at the University of Minnesota-Morris where I majored in English and discovered the world of storytelling and went on to earn my master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.
While I would have loved to become a writer after graduating, I had bills to pay. I began my career in corporate communications which allowed me to use my writing skills and pursue a career I was and still am passionate about. After a marriage, two children and a divorce, I finally committed to writing my novel. I was tired of telling people I wanted to write a novel and finally sat down and started doing it. The discipline was difficult. I started out with a schedule – Saturdays and Sundays at 8 a.m. until. I created an outline along with character profiles; however, I didn’t let the outline restrict me. I let my imagination run wild and enjoyed seeing where my characters were taking me.
Personal Inspiration. The Wool Over Their Eyes is very loosely based on my own life and personal experience of not growing up with or knowing my biological father who is Italian (my mother is Black).
The novel is about a bi-racial woman, Natalia Foster, who has been the family secret that was meant to go to her father’s grave. Her life changes when she learns her biological father, Joe Russo – an Italian man she’s never met – is dying of a terminal illness. His immediate family, including his devoted wife, Rosa, know nothing of her existence. With her gray eyes – exactly like Joe’s – she’s living proof of his infidelity, making a mockery of Rosa’s marriage. If his family discovered the truth – that she is not only illegitimate but also Black – family bonds would be shattered. She must decide if she will remain the secret or make herself known. I wasn’t sure what Natalia was going to decide until I reached these turning points while writing.
In the midst of the drama and pain is also a love story. Natalia must choose between two loves – a long-lost one and a new one. Her ex-boyfriend, Tyler Davis, who captured her heart and connected with her soul, resurfaces. But she meets a handsome doctor, David Duplessis, who’d cared for her father. Just as the relationship begins to blossom, he commits an act that severs her trust and sends her spiraling further into her dark abyss.
Once I finally had a draft – that I thought was a book by the way – I took the WWD’s Self-Editing Seminar where l learned about developmental editors. After researching and interviewing my top picks, I chose John Paine. His insight and critiques were so instrumental. My novel wouldn’t be what it is today without his feedback and guidance. He provided structure, pushed me to rewrite existing chapters and write new ones, and further developed my characters and plot lines.
No agent, no problem. Then began the tall order of finding an agent. I tried for eight months while my novel sat patiently waiting to be published. A few expressed interest but, ultimately, decided not to move forward. Please don’t let the rejection discourage you. Feedback is subjective and you have to have confidence in yourself and your abilities. My editor convinced me to keep moving forward. He believed in the story and he believed in me. Determination is everything. So, don’t let fear hold you back.
Once I decided to self-publish, I knew I needed someone to proof and copy edit my manuscript after the rounds of changes with John. I found Susannah Noel on Reedsy. Her thorough proofing and fact-checking increased my confidence as I began searching for publishers. Some were just too expensive. Others didn’t have that personal touch. Fortunately, a friend recommended Inspire on Purpose. They made the process so smooth and seamless, designing the cover, taking care of the layout and setting everything up on Amazon. I realize we could technically do this ourselves, but with work and everything else, I didn’t have time. The process took about six weeks since I’d already gone through the proofing and copy-editing stage.
Last week, my novel was released on Amazon.com! I’m so excited to see my dream come to fruition. What I realize, however, is that this isn’t the finish line but rather another beginning. In my spare time, I’m now promoting my debut novel working with Ascot Media Group, and starting on my next one.
In addition to John and Susannah, I would also like to thank my publisher, Inspire on Purpose, and Ascot Media Group. And, I thank all of the influential writers who came before me and currently contribute to the literary world from Maya Angelou and Brit Bennett to Anthony Doerr and Beverly Swirling. I wish I could name them all. May we all continue to leave our marks, inspire others and live our dreams.
Dione Martin is Sr. Director of Communication and PR at Brinker International. She lives in Richardson, Texas with her two daughters and their beloved blue heeler. The Wool Over Their Eyes is her debut novel.