Guest Post: Bernice McFadden on the Writing Life

Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much for awhile. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.

I do not know Bernice McFadden, but when she wrote to me about possibly doing an exchange of blog posts, I decided to invite her to guest post here because I have been hearing wonderful things about Sugar for years, and because her story is both unique and very common. Many starry-eyed wannabe and debut authors seem to imagine that all you have to do is get your first novel published and then rose petals will descend from on high and you will llive the glorious life of an author forever. Sadly, not so much. Even if you manage to write and publish a second novel (which most first novelists don’t) there’s no guarantee of a career. Even if your books receive great critical acclaim and are bestsellers—nothing is guaranteed. Publishing is a fickle, cruel and deeply unfair business as the wonderful post below amply illustrates. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.

– – –

Bernice L. McFadden is the national bestselling author of six award wining, and critically acclaimed novels. The classic Sugar is celebrating its 10th anniversary in print. When it was first published in 2000, Sugar was hailed by Terry McMillan as “One of the most thought provoking novels I’ve read in years.” Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison, called her sophomore release, The Warmest December, “Searing and expertly imagined.” Her sixth novel, Nowhere is a Place, was chosen by The Washington Post as one of The Best Books of 2006. McFadden has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, twice short-listed for the Hurston/Wright Literary Award and is a two-time recipient of the Fiction Honor Award from the BCALA. She lives in Brooklyn with her daughter R’yane Azsa where she is at work on her next novel.

Bernice says:

This mystical, magical life of mine began on September 26th, 1965 in Brooklyn, New York and then it began again exactly two years later to the day on a stretch of highway between Michigan and Ohio. It was there in that I was involved in a near fatal car accident. I always cite the day as a turning point in my life. I was on the brink of death, teetering on that invisible line that separates the here and the hereafter, floating in that white light our ancestors inhabit. I believe that during that ethereal moment I was given an assignment, a purpose—a gift—and then sent back.

For me the process of writing is similar to channeling—I am not only of the story, but often find myself in the story experiencing it—even if only from the sidelines.

I won’t deny that some part of what I write comes from my own imagination, but I do feel that at least 80 percent of what I pen is being shared with me by people who have been dead and buried for years.

Many of my previous novels have historical references, but Glorious is the first, purely authentic historical novel I’ve written. I so enjoyed the feeling of fulfillment that I experienced creating a story that bore witness to history, that I have started another one, entitled Gathering of Waters.

For me, a great story provokes the heart of the reader, causing them to question what they thought they knew, and/or how they thought they felt about a certain place and/or people. I believe that Glorious does just that.

While all of my books hold a special place in my heart, I have a special relationship with this, my newest novel, for on reason in particular. The road Glorious traveled was almost identical to the journey my debut novel, Sugar, took a decade earlier. A book that naysayer’s claimed had no audience, Sugar received 73 rejections letters—Glorious received about forty and with that, publishing declared my career to be dead, but I knew different.

Back in 1999 I told myself that If I did not have a publisher for Sugar by the time my birthday rolled around, I would self-publish. But the universe stepped in and in February of that year, a literary agent took the project on and within a week I had a two-book deal.

Between 2000 to 2008 I wrote and published a number of books to critical acclaim, but because the books were marginalized, my sales numbers began to slip and I soon found myself without a publishing deal.

I had to begin from scratch.

In January 2009 I repeated the promise I made to myself in 1999—“If I do not have a publisher by the time my birthday rolls around, I will self-publish this book.” And once again the universe stepped in. But this time the experience was mystical in a way that not even I could have conjured up.

A significant portion of Glorious takes place during the Harlem Renaissance. In the book I mention literary icon Nella Larsen, I also thank her, along with Zora Neale Hurston, in the acknowledgements section of the book. It was Nella Larsen’s grave I went to visit just days before I received the email from Akashic Books, stating that they would be more than happy to publish Glorious.

You see . . . everything that should be, will be.

Like I said, my life is a mystical, magical one . . .


  1. Shelia Goss on #

    Bernice, I’ve been a fan of yours since I read Sugar. I recall meeting you on the AA Book Club Summit cruise years ago and the advice you and the other writers gave me helped jumpstart my writing career.

  2. The Voice on #

    Thanks for the post. It is encouraging.

  3. Anonymous on #

    Thank you, Ms. McFadden. I mean that with all my heart. I have had three novels published and despite acclaim the sales have dipped. I now have two novels that have been rejected everywhere. I was on the verge of calling the whole thing off. Thank you. I needed this.

  4. Lovenia on #

    Thank you for this post! So VERY inspiring.

  5. Lauren on #

    Yes I agree, very inspiring. I’ve enjoyed reading your work, and as Shelia has, I hope to meet you.

Comments are closed.