Tuesday, February 19, 2008

And You Thought You Had Trouble Getting Published

Have you ever worried that you're too old to publish your first novel? That time and opportunity are slipping away from you, while snot-nosed twenty-somethings get six figure advances as much for their pretty faces as for their writing?

Well, I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Age doesn't matter to the page. And if you think you've had to go through hell to get published, just look at what Martha Blum had to endure before she was published.

Mrs. Blum was born in 1913 in Czernowitz, Austria (now Chernivtsi, Ukraine). With the defeat of Germany and Austria at the end of the First World War, the city became part of Romania and remained so while Mrs. Blum was growing up....

Mrs. Blum wanted to be a doctor, but her father pressured her to study pharmacy and sent her to be schooled in Prague and later Paris. It was while she was in university in 1935 that she married a young mathematician named Richard Blum, who was also from Czernowitz.

They would have only a few happy years together before the outbreak of the Second World War. By that time, the couple had returned to Czernowitz and, being Jewish, it wasn't long before they were rounded up by the Nazis and isolated in a ghetto. Life was miserable. Sanitation was poor and many people died of disease. Those not fit for work did not receive food coupons and were left to starve.

The Blums were luckier than most. As pharmacologists, their profession was considered an essential service and they were made to work as slaves, filling the prescriptions of German soldiers.

It was this work that kept them out of the concentration camps. Even so, Mrs. Blum couldn't tolerate life in the ghetto. She and her family shared a room with 17 other families. Fed up, she marched over to the SS officer in command and refused to work unless her family was allowed to return home to Czernowitz.

Although she won the concession, they still were not safe. One day, while out walking, her husband was picked up by soldiers and sent to a work camp.

In 1944, fighting between the Soviet Union and the Germans intensified around Czernowitz and she decided to move to Bucharest, the capital of Romania. She hid aboard a train, but not before sending her husband a message. She wrote a note in the margin of a newspaper. "I'll be waiting for you," it said.

The newspaper got passed from person to person until it finally reached him at the work camp. Not long after that, the work camp was ordered closed and the officer in charge was told to shoot all the inmates. Fortunately, the officer could not bring himself to do it. Instead, he opened the gates in the middle of the night and set the men free.

Months later, after travelling all the way on foot, her husband arrived in Bucharest. It was there that Mrs. Blum started life over. She opened her own pharmacy and later gave birth to the only child she would have, Irene.

After the war, Romania was absorbed into the Soviet sphere of Communist countries. Mrs. Blum, coming from an entrepreneurial family, opposed the values of communism. In 1950, her pharmacy was confiscated and her husband made some anti-Communist statements that placed the couple on a list of undesirables. At that point, they knew they must leave the country.

She and her family escaped to Israel, where she wrote in secret. "Mrs. Blum wrote all three of her books long-hand in bed. As a result, her duvet cover was stained with ink." She didn't publish her first novel until she was 86! "The novel went on to be a finalist for the Canadian Booksellers Association's Ex Libris Award but lost to Alistair Macleod's masterpiece, No Great Mischief."

It's never too late to launch your first novel. It's really not.

If you have any questions, or think you would like to apply to the Misque Writer's Retreat, email the Misque coordinator at misque-writer@misque-writer.com

For scheduling information and specific submission guidelines, check out the website: http://misque-writer.com

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