I sent one of my rejected novel length manuscripts to a trusted editor and I received a very encouraging reader report. Encouraging, in that the editor enjoyed the book, saw merit in me going forward with working on the manuscript, and she had some concrete suggestions for improving the novel.
Now I’m trying to figure out how and when I should try to work on a new draft. This is one of those stories I’ve tried to tell many times. The current manuscript represents my third completed attempt at a full-length treatment over a period of many years. It’s very difficult for me to go back and resurrect the person I was when I came up with the story, did extensive research, and wrote the first version of the novel. But I recall the general and specific inspirations.
At that point, I’d been dancing Tango for a few years and had begun to fill the gaps in my knowledge of Argentina. After another failed attempt at Spanish lessons, I realized that although I would have to read Borges in translation, nothing should stop me from learning about Argentine history. I’m old enough to remember the existence of the Junta, the Dirty War, The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, and The Disappeared. I also remember the war over the Falklands/Malvenas Islands that finally brought an end to the military dictatorship.
I became friends with a DJ in the New York Tango scene named Richard. In one of those odd series of coincidences, we soon discovered that we grew up at opposite ends of the same town, both came from Eastern European Jewish immigrant families, and both attended NYU at more or less the same time. He was a little older than me and attended law school while I was an undergraduate.
Richard filled in many of the blanks in my knowledge of the history of Jews in Argentina, giving me books to read, and assuring me that a Jewish cartel did indeed run the brothels in Buenos Aires. It wasn’t a myth, or simply the plot of a famous Yiddish play; it was one of many non-too-nice bits of 19th & 20th century Argentine history that formed the backdrop of my novel.
Our conversations were pre-9/11 and pre-news of waterboarding, so I found the tortures perpetrated by the Junta (a government allied with the US because it was rabidly anti-communist) to be almost completely unbelievable. That’s when another friend from Tango, a medical examiner, stepped in and suggested I read a book specifically about the horrific physical, sexual, and psychological torture that also formed part of the backdrop for my purely fictional tale.
As I contemplate trying again, I’m remembering my shock and confusion. I’m also missing Richard. He died a few years ago. He was one of the few people to read the original draft. It was terrible and he was kind. But without that first awful draft, there would not be the more recent and more credible retelling that I may yet turn into a worthy novel!