The Making of Harvest Dreams

FEBRUARY drama and update: all my proofreading is DONE! It took days of concentrated reading to go over every page, looking to make sure all the formatting is correct, my name is spelled correctly on the cover, no unnecessary commas or spaces and a myriad of other things. This was it, really. Last chance to correct anything. Lucky for me, my wife is professionally trained “to find small things that don’t belong.” Thank you, Valerie. Together we read the story three times. I emailed it to the typesetter, ahead of the deadline. I asked Stacia to email me that she received the proofs. A day went by, then another. There was a strict deadline and if I didn’t meet it, my novel would go to the printer as is, mistakes and all.  Hello, Stacia, where are you??

Two days later, I received an email from Cindy, who oversees all copy on the production end, telling me that “Stacie lives in Texas where there is a HUGE COLD SNAP happening and she’s lost power and … her Internet!!”  Aieeeee.

I do love happy endings and this time I got a good one. Cindy recommended I resend it to her (I did, of course, immediately) so she’d have a copy. She would take care of things until Stacia came back online.

February 10th, it goes to the printer!!!!!!!!

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Hey, everyone! It’s JANUARY. For me, it’s an exciting but difficult month of waiting. My final manuscript was sent to the typesetter on January 10th and now I am eager to receive the PROOFS. This will be my last opportunity to find and correct any typos before the novel goes to the printer!!! I am on my way to fulfilling my dream of becoming an author.

Meanwhile at the vineyard, the vines are dormant. I like to think they are waiting along with me for warm weather, at which time their buds will emerge and flower. Next comes the leaves and eventually, of course, the grapes. This all-important budbreak should begin in April, about the same time as my debut novel is released!

This time last year I was in the throes of submitting my manuscript to mainstream publishers, a frustrating process that I actually began in April, 2021. I learned how to write the QUERY letter to convince these publishing houses that my novel would fit into their wants and needs. I was pretty sure they were not looking for a love story about two strong and independent lesbians.

Then I remembered meeting the author, Radclyffe, at a Women in Medicine Conference (affectionately known as Dyke Doctors). She was a practicing surgeon at the time, writing steamy lesbian romances on the weekend, bold stories with powerful lesbian protagonists. Later, she stopped practicing medicine and founded her own publishing company, Bold Strokes Books. Perfect!

I submitted my manuscript. On January 19th I received an email that my novel was accepted to be read and reviewed. Hooray! And then on the 24th, I received another email saying that they’d like to seriously consider my manuscript for publication, but only if I would withdraw any outstanding submissions. I agreed. I waited out FEBRUARY, wondering, wishing, and hoping. I tried to stay optimistic. Then on MARCH 21st I received a call from Radclyffe herself! She wanted to publish my novel. Was I still interested? OMG!

YES!!!

Lucky for me, I have a fabulous brother who happens to be an Intellectual Property lawyer. He helped me make a couple of changes to the contract. On March 29th, I electronically signed on the dotted line. I was on my way!

At the vineyard, budbreak was happening. Without a proper budbreak, there can be no vintage. Rain, wind or frost can stop this crucial process … and break a winemaker’s heart.

APRIL for me, meant submitting a web BIO (yikes, what to include?), a PHOTO (eek!) and a story BLURB. And most importantly, choosing the NAME for my novel and designing a COVER! As hard as these decisions were, I can tell you that it was a very collaborative effort and Senior Editor, Sandy Lowe, walked me gently through the process. Here’s the cover!

In JUNE the grapes are baby pea-sized, and I was waiting once again. My editor had been chosen, but she couldn’t begin work with me until July. I continued to take more photos at Truro Vineyards. I worked there for six summers, helping with field work, leading tours and giving wine tastings. One winter season, I even sold and distributed their wine in shops off Cape and around Boston.

In JULY, my editor, Jenny Harmon, was ready to get to work. I sent my manuscript to her. She read it and returned it to me on the 24th with her comments. I would have until the end of October to do all my revisions. As SYDNEY BARRETT (one of my main protagonists) said to KATE BAUER (the other one): People have no idea how physically demanding vineyard work is. They only see the grapes. Likewise, editing a novel was more mentally and psychologically challenging than I ever could have imagined. Writing the novel had been fun. I spent years writing draft after draft, getting help from writing coaches and friends. There was no risk. No one was going to see it but me.

Suddenly, the character arcs, the timeline, even the spelling—the French words plus the wine-related terms—all had to be correct, and the story seamless. The novel takes place in the 80’s in San Francisco and Paris, just to mention two locales. Everything had to be culturally authentic and historically accurate. I put myself on a very strict work schedule to finish on time.

Meanwhile, the grapes at Truro Vineyards were doing just fine. By AUGUST they were almost fully formed. Here’s a photo of the chardonnay.

Then in SEPTEMBER, right in the middle of my revisions, came VERAISON, the French term for the onset of grape ripening, when the grapes change colors. As much as I’ve experienced it, it always amazes me.

In OCTOBER the folks at the vineyard asked me if I wanted to participate in the HARVEST. Yikes, my deadline was looming but how could I resist? I worked two glorious mornings then rushed back to my computer.

At harvest time in any vineyard, there are two essential pieces of equipment: the CRUSHER/DESTEMMER and the PRESS. The CRUSHER splits the grapes open and gets the juices flowing while casting off the unwanted stems (which would give a harsh taste to the wine). After they are crushed, the red grapes (cabernet sauvignon, merlot) need to be fermented. The best grapes are fermented slowly and in open vats. The white grapes (chardonnay, riesling) go directly into the PRESS, a giant cylindrical machine that squeezes out every last drop of juice.

There are so many steps to making wine but I particularly love to watch the PUNCHING DOWN of the red grapes during their initial fermentation. In this 46 second video, Milan Vujnic, the winemaker, is doing this important chore.

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On NOVEMBER 18th, Jenny returned my manuscript with her comments and edits. I had one last chance to do any changes before she did the final COPY EDIT. My revisions were due on DECEMBER 14th. At this point we were working on the nitty-gritty, making absolutely sure it was clear what motivated each character’s decisions and actions. This was the last time I could edit the manuscript before it went to the typesetter. Jenny advised me to “let my baby go.” Jenny accepted my edits and did the last of her editorial magic, not the least of which was correcting all my formatting issues. I had a hard time letting go.

I had another deadline in DECEMBER which was to write the ACKNOWLEDGMENTS and DEDICATION that go in the front of the book, and the BIO in the back. Together, these are called the “front and back matter.” Oh, how I perseverated over the wording of these.

Everything was now in the capable hands of CINDY CRESAP, Managing Editor and the person in charge of PRODUCTION: getting the books printed. After I do my proofs, I have to sit back and again wait—along with the grapes—until April 11th, my PUBLICATION DATE!

I’ve come to understand that writing a work of fiction is about having the desire to tell a story and honing one’s writing skills. But publishing a novel is a lot about patience. Not one of my best skills, so I’m working to be more mindful and patient. The grapes have taught me a lot: everything happens in due time.