Last year I was approached by a New York literary agent regarding possible representation. We spoke on the phone. He seemed a nice enough fella. A bit young, a touch insecure, but hungry for business and hungry is a good thing when it comes to an agent. I told him I had a manuscript I was working on that would be finished up in a few months. It was to be a standalone novel but linked in location to a book that continues to do well for me titled, The Irish Cowboy. (Thank you to all the readers who have and continue to message me regarding how much you enjoyed Irish.) He urged me to let him have first look at the manuscript when it was completed. By early summer I was ready to hand SAVAGE off to him. Mr. Agent read it and got back to me quickly, saying how much he enjoyed it and that he thought he could “work with this.”
In agent-speak that meant he believed he could find a publisher willing to take it on so he gets paid. I don’t mind people making money off me. That’s the nature of this writing business and I’ve had other authors tell me that a good agent can open doors that might otherwise remain closed. Fair enough. Mr. Agent had SAVAGE as I worked on other projects and waited to hear back.
Two months turned into three. I messaged the agent asking for an update. He messaged back and said to give him more time. I detected a hint of a tone in the reply and began to ask around among other authors regarding this particular agent’s working demeanor. Those who secured publishing contracts were very supportive of his work. (makes sense!) Ah, but those who did not were less than supportive while a few were downright hostile. Those few claimed that if any real work was involved this agent quickly moved on to other potential clients/projects. His was a “churn and burn” approach. One former client of his went so far as to call him a “lazy, talentless piece of sh*t cashing in on Daddy’s legacy.” (The agent’s father is something of a legend in the publishing world – a legit big-timer.)
My own feelings didn’t run nearly so negative. Frustrated? Sure. Personally angry? No. Again, he seems like a decent enough guy working in what is a highly competitive business that very rarely hands out guaranteed success.
After nearly four months of waiting to hear back I messaged Mr. Agent again. He said he was having no luck – that there didn’t seem to be a market for SAVAGE.
No market? OK, at this point I should share with all of you a bit of what the story is about.
The main character is a strong-willed college student named Morning McGreevy who attends university in Moscow, Idaho. While helping her grandmother to clean the attic during a spring-break visit, Morning discovers her long-dead great-grandfather Cy’s journal and reads the introduction:
I wasn’t born a savage. Rather, I was born IN Savage. Yes, it’s a real place on the easternmost ledge of Montana right alongside the whispering waters of the Yellowstone River. Isolated, hot, cold, dry, and wet, Savage will test your best, sometimes bring out the worst, and if you’re not careful, it can kill you, too.
There’s something special about a place like that. Some folks can’t see it. Others choose not to. And then there are those who just don’t have it in them to try.
Even as a boy, I more than saw it. I felt it.
That red Savage earth that so often took up residence in the space between my boot heels and underneath my nails was a constant reminder of my connection to the land. Those years growing up in the wide expanse and open skies of Eastern Montana were as essential to me as the heartbeat in my chest. The rhythm of that time gave me cause and purpose, the kind of purpose that connects and extends from one generation to the next.
My father, Temple McGreevy, and his bride Branna came to Savage in 1894 by way of Ireland and the Five Points neighborhood of New York City. They had in their possession a tired old horse, a rickety wagon, forty-six dollars, the clothes on their backs, and a cowhide chair that had crossed the Atlantic with them all the way from Waterford County in the Old World.
That chair was given a prominent place in front of the woodstove inside the cabin Father and Mother built from the pine trees that grew in clusters on our one-hundred-and-sixty-acre homestead, land acquired by my parents, courtesy of Montana’s 1862 Free Homestead Act. It was property the Savage locals would soon after take to calling the McGreevy Ranch. Mother explained to me how Father felled the trees, cut the planks, and then they nailed up the structure. It’s remarkable what two people with a bit of determination can accomplish together. As for love and freedom, my parents were grateful to have plenty of both even during those times when food and water were in short supply.
Theirs was a uniquely American story, one my mother was happy to share with me many times as I transitioned from a child to a young man. And so, it became my story as well.
To the one reading this, you’ll discover that soon enough – and then some. There’ll be happiness and far more heartache than I would wish to recall, love and loss, and even a bit of blood. We all have secrets. You now hold mine in your hands.
Welcome to my Savage. Stick with it. Keep reading. Don’t give up on me and our story just yet.
-Cy McGreevy: 1971
Morning asks her grandmother Candace if she can take Cy’s journal back with her to college so she can finish reading it. After a bit of uncertainty Candace agrees, but warns her granddaughter that there is some darkness in their family’s history and that Cy’s journal likely includes some of that. Morning is soon learning for herself just how true that warning was. She finds herself immersed in a mystery where the sins of the past now haunt her present and future and the lines between life and death and great-grandfather and great-granddaughter, are forever blurred.
SAVAGE is a bit of the Old West meets The Sixth Sense – a cowboy ghost story that tips the hat toward traditional Americana with a determined and proud young woman as its primary protagonist.
Please note the use of “traditional” in my description of the story. That same word was used as a negative by a publisher who rejected the manuscript. Again, rejection is part of this writing gig I so happily work at. Yet, to have someone call SAVAGE “too traditional” as justification for not publishing it doesn’t sit well with me.
Too traditional? What does that even mean? Do they feel SAVAGE has too much emphasis on family history – the bonds between parents and children and their offspring? Were the repeated references to personal freedom and opportunity that were so prevalent during America’s early 20th century deemed outdated and no longer applicable to modern readers? Or perhaps it was its anti-conformity and anti-establishment message that had Morning leaving college in favor of a classroom of Montana earth and open sky that turned publishers sour?
I don’t really know, but I hope that’s not the case. The ongoing success of The Irish Cowboy tells me there still remains a market for stories like SAVAGE.
It’s not all bad news for SAVAGE, though. The publisher I have worked with three times already for my San Juan Islands Mystery series, Kindle Press, has expressed interest in having me enter SAVAGE in their Kindle Scout competition. I plan to do so soon in the coming days/weeks. (I’ll let you all know when I have a specific date.)
Are there still enough readers out there who don’t see the word “traditional” as a negative? I sure hope so. At this point in my writing career I would like nothing more than to prove the gatekeepers of the publishing world wrong by building SAVAGE a successful home. If I am to succeed in doing so, though, I’m going to need your help.
We shall see.
Talk again soon.
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