It's a remarkable story of perseverance and strength, and Duncan Alderson, who started with Humber in the nineties and came to both the workshop and the correspondence program, has now published a novel which is a "must read" for Harper's Bazaar.
With his permission, here is part of the letter Duncan wrote about his long path to literary success:
Thanks for your interest! Here is my humble Humber story:
I enrolled in the first year of the Humber School for Writers, but didn't have the money for the tuition. I sent the application in anyway. I didn't pay until quite late, July, I think, and the registrar said, "Wow, somebody must really want you in this course, as enrollment was cut off weeks ago." I just smiled. I knew I was destined to be there. I was in Austin Clark's group. He was a wonderful mentor. At the end of the week, I remember going up to him and saying, "I've decided that I want to be a writer." I burst into tears. After that amazing week was over, he kind of adopted us, so we started meeting at his house on McGill Street and called ourselves The McGill Street Group. We had a busy year, starting McGill Street Magazine and publishing ourselves.
Then I met my current wife, Isabel Lark, and moved to Pennsylvania (I'm a dual citizen). I returned to Humber to do the second year and was in Nino Ricci's group. Once the Correspondence Course was started, I enrolled in that under Sarah Sheard. I was working on revising a novel called The Tibetan Magic Show, set in the 1960s. Sarah really like the chapter where the mother has a long flashback remembering her youth in the 1920s in Texas. She said, "I'm going to jump right in here and suggest that you let the mother tell her story." So I took a deep breath and dove. And 10 years later, I had researched and written an epic historical novel called Magnolia City. Sarah nominated it for the Doubleday Discovery Program at one time.
In the meantime, I had founded a creative writing workshop for adults in an Amish barn in my backyard. I called it the Rabbit Hill Writers' Studio, since the original name of the nearby town of Rothsville was Rabbit Hill. After studying with Sarah for 3 or 4 years, I started workshopping my novel in the Writers' Round Table at Rabbit Hill. My students gave me wonderful feedback that really helped to shape and nurture the last half of the book. I still give Sarah credit for starting me on the right path.
I finished the novel in 2005 and closed Rabbit Hill. I tried to find an agent or editor, but was met with deafening silence. The market for historical novels was soft, I was told. The agency connected with Humber also turned down the ms. It gathered dust for a couple of years, and I decided that I would never be published. Then I saw an ad in the classifieds of the New York Times Book Review for "a sensitive editor." I hired Melody Lawrence, whose enthusiasm rekindled my desire to publish the novel. I worked with her for a year, doing further revisions. Then I was able to land an agent, and eventually, a publisher. Now, Kensington wants to publish the sequel, the first novel, The Tibetan Magic Show (after more revisions to mesh to two books into one sequence).
If you look at my website, www.duncanalderson.com, you'll see images of my mother as a flapper. Those pictures inspired my heroine Hetty. See my blog, "The flapper photo that spawned a novel." While working on it, I always felt that I was striking some deep, authentic chord --- and it's nice to know now that I wasn't delusional. Other people are feeling it, too, as they read the published book. I'm so honored that Harper's Bazaar has chosen Magnolia City as their No ! MUST READ for spring. It's thrilling.
I owe so much to Humber, to Austin and Sarah, and all the wonderful work you are doing there to nurture writers. I'm proud to be an alum that has achieved some measure of success out of your program.
Duncan W. Alderson
author Magnolia City
from Kensington Books NYC
now available from your bookseller
Harper’s Bazaar No. 1 MUST-READ
Literary agent: Carolyn Jenks