With gratitude to Hashem, I proudly announce the release of my contemporary historical Bildungsroman Little Ragdoll, a family saga spanning 1959-74 and a blend of the Five Little Peppers series, The Divine Comedy, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, The Velveteen Rabbit, and the lyrics of “Rag Doll.” (I definitely see similarities to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn too, but I hadn’t yet read that book at the time.)
In May of 1993, at age thirteen, I first heard the story behind The Four Seasons’ famous song “Rag Doll,” and in true Aspie nature, proceeded to become obsessed with not only that unknown girl who inspired the song, but also with the idea of writing an entire novel about her childhood and eventual happy ending.
I had no idea at the time that the story I began that July would end up as a discontinued first draft, and of course, being only thirteen, had no idea just how appallingly awful it was. Most of all, I had no idea how very, very long it would take to finally finish the story and then get it out into the world.
I really see hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) at work in this book, since not only did the story stay with me for so many years after last working on it, but events and characters came back to me in dreams in the weeks leading up to starting over. The brain is such as amazing, special thing, able to hold in memories that are long-forgotten but then reawakened under certain circumstances.
I had to lose that awful first attempt so I could go back as an adult and properly write the story that needed told. As you’ll read in “The Story Behind the Story” in the back matter, there was no way I could’ve salvaged a decent story by simply writing around that hot mess. Seriously, it was like a Grimms’ fairytale on acid, with no real storylines carrying it along. There was also no sense that this takes place in Manhattan, nor that it was set in the late Fifties and early Sixties. (I only got up to 1961.)
The most hashgacha pratit-like thing about this story is the release date that worked out once I decided to go indie. On 20 June 1964, the song “Rag Doll” was released. What better date to release the book than on the 50th anniversary of the release of the song which inspired it all?
I naïvely thought agents would be eager to request it, but I only ever got two requests (fulls). I’d thought they’d love it because it’s such an original concept, and also because the popularity of the musical Jersey Boys would make them interested in something Four Seasons-inspired. It wasn’t commercial or trendy enough, I came to discover, along with realising that what constitutes YA these days is a lot different than when I was a young person.
But people liked the long excerpts I posted when Sweet Saturday Samples was still running, and in other posts. I found out that what readers like can be much different from what agents and publishers want nowadays. A long family saga that doesn’t neatly pigeonhole into one age-based category appealed to ordinary readers, even if we no longer see many traditionally-published books that are 800-something pages long, ensemble casts, books spanning many years, or characters drastically aging over entire books.
I made my own fate and happy ending, just as Ernestine does when she runs away to live with her new friends the Ryans at age ten. She didn’t want to wait around for anyone to decide her fate or give her permission to do what she wanted, and the move enabled her to have a very happy rest of her childhood.
I’ve hoarded these people long enough, with my shared excerpts constituting a mere drop in the bucket. Now you too can go on the journey of growing up with the Troys, the Ryans, and their friends, in this modern-day Grimms’ fairytale. And you can finally find out what does or doesn’t happen to Ricky in Vietnam.