Overcoming Rejection

Proof that persistence can see you through


Rejection is a hard thing to cope with, as every writer and would-be writer well knows. Persistence in the face of rejection is a profile in courage. Debra Jo Immergut’s new novel, The Captives, is a case study in both persistence and courage.

I first met Immergut in Berlin back in 1992 when she and her husband-to-be, John Marks, both fresh out of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, were embarking on their careers as writers. Her collection of short stories, Private Properties, was published in September of that year, and they were freelancing to make a living while exploring Europe.

When they came back to the States, Immergut spent some time tutoring prisoners in writing. Out of her encounters with the female inmates, she developed the plot for a novel about the things that hold us prisoner. The protagonist was a female prisoner. If this sounds an awful lot like the novel that just came out in June, it is because they are one and the same.

It was a novel written with passion and skill, but the timing was wrong. “Nobody wanted to hear about female prisoners in the 1990s,” Immergut’s husband, Marks, says. “It was all about ‘Sex in the City’ and glamor.”

(Marks himself published two novels, The Wall and Fangland, as well as the nonfiction memoir Reasons to Believe: One Man’s Journey Among the Evangelicals and the Faith He Left Behind, before going into filmmaking.)

Years went by. Immergut went into magazine editing and the novel sat in a drawer. On a floppy disk. But in our brave new century, after “Orange Is the New Black” and other tales of prison life broadened our horizons, she decided to go back to the novel.

There was a problem. She had no hard copy and no one knew how to lift the manuscript off the floppy disk. After consulting with numerous techie friends, Immergut and Marks found one who came up with enough workarounds to rescue the text. An agent, an editor, and some substantive revisions later, The Captives finally saw the light of day with Ecco/HarperCollins.

The book got a favorable notice in the New York Times Book Review as one of three thrillers discussed in their special edition on summer reading. Immergut confessed at her recent reading at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC, that she was surprised to find the novel categorized as a thriller, but what writer complains about column inches the Book Review?

The Independent’s own Michael Causey also gave the book a sympathetic and favorable review. Numerous other reviews praised it as a “taut psychological drama” and an “incisive psychological portrait that morphs into a nail-biting thriller.”

Many good books never get published, and many writers never get over the rejection. The saga of The Captives should encourage all of us to never give up. Immergut’s book was very good in the 1990s, perhaps even better now. And more good news: Immergut is hard at work on a new novel and has rejoined the league of active fiction writers.

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