The release of my novel Off-Island in paperback by Matador, part of Troubador Publishing had been long overdue. Originally written in 1982 and entitled Krystal, the then name of the main character, it was shelved after several major publishing houses in New York took a pass. As a young woman, having just finished my MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University in New York City, I was hopeful that this book, Off-Island, would commence my brilliant career, but things took a different turn. This is the story behind that story.
When I finally received what I hoped would be a letter of acceptance rather than rejection from the prominent publishing house that had kept the Off-Island manuscript for some time, I was deeply disappointed. I’m not sure if it was the rejection that rocked me—I was pretty used to that—or if it was the reason for the rejection that for me remains indelible and incredible. Over the years, and I am not sure how this has happened, I saved that letter.
Dated February 3, 1983, the first paragraph reads:
“As you know, an important factor in the decision against KRYSTAL was the question of audience. KRYSTAL couldn’t be marketed as a feminist novel because it is likely to be perceived (note that I’m saying perceived, not is) as anti-abortion. It’s kind of like PMS: there’s a strong impulse to deny its existence because it could be used as a weapon against women. So could this frank admission that abortion can be emotionally painful…”
That is where I stopped reading and put away the letter and my hopes for a literary career. If my altruistic self thought, the writing wasn’t about presenting a truth—fictitious or not—what was it for? So as a young woman, with only the odd backward glance, I turned my hand to other things. While many a writer might have taken such rejection in her stride, I had to earn a living and, frankly, there was no one around then as there is now to say, “Wait. Isn’t this censorship?” As recently as October 2017, Anne Robinson brought the abortion issue to life in a BBC documentary entitled Abortion on Trial. It appears painfulness is still part of the equation, even fifty years after it’s been legalized in England.
Off-Island is finally appearing in a world that has changed radically, in some respects at least, from the way it was in the 1980s. The publishing landscape for one has altered hugely. The fun part of rereading my rejection letter was being reminded of the time before word processing (when was that?) when a dab of a liquid whiteout was still used to mask typing errors. Then, no one would have thought of self-publishing, and yet today according to some authorities it is the way forward, along with an author website, a social media presence, and having “a platform.”
I offer Off-Island to my readers in the spirit in which it was written: as my attempt to capture one young woman’s coming of age. First and foremost, it is about having the right to choose. The book will take you from New York City to Martha’s Vineyard and back again, where a privileged young woman, hoping to escape her pain in self-imposed isolation, discovers that her family history isn’t quite what she’d imagined.
I hope readers enjoy Off-Island as much as I enjoyed writing it and finally bringing it to publication. Working with Troubador has been seamless, liaising with copywriters, Lynn Curtis in particular, and book designer Karin Fremer amazing—mostly sight unseen—over the Internet and my Oxford-based social media guru Soni Speight is a wonder. With a website, a blog, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, I have a “platform.” As for writing, One White Geranium the next novel teeters between traditional and self-publishing; Mine, in rough draft, gets me up, out of bed, and to the page every day. Even if postponed due to Covid-19, the thought of participating in the Oxford Literary Festival brings home the fun and rightness of writing, opting for self-publishing or not. So, after a hiatus of many years, I once again believe that truth is something worth writing for.
Off-Island by Marlene Hauser is published by Troubador Publishing.