Thank you Last Chance Press for this incredible opportunity to share “Little Victories” with the nation.
Since age 7, I have wanted to see a book I had written published. My parents were (and still are) great storytellers and professional writers, and after they said I could write and tell stories, too, I was hooked. My first attempt at literary glory came in the first grade with my campaign to win the “Young Author’s of America” contest in my school…and then of course the state and nation. Tragically, my epic “The Battle of Franklin School” failed to impress the jury. They lacked vision. Clearly, Confederate soldiers warping through a time portal to attack my school and me leading a stunning defense of and with my classmates in suddenly appeared Union uniforms was too genius for them to appreciate.
Oh, wait. That was my second-grade entry. First grade was all about my pet volcano. Hmm, yes. Those judges didn’t know a good story when it bit them in the ass. Nor have many agents or publishers since. Yet, 6 losing campaigns for the Young Author’s contest only further fueled my desire for success. (I even, very cynically, totally wasted one year by trying to pander to the stupid judges with some sappy story that didn’t involve killing people, epic Civil War battles or volcanoes. Further evidence that you can’t predict what editors want.)
Fast forward 10 years, and I was working in children’s mental health. I was talking down suicidal 6-year-olds, dodging spit and urine and generally de-escalating children who were venting their rage, frustration and other emotions the only ways they knew how while coping with terrible traumas in their lives. I loved those kids and didn’t mind the physical risk to myself. I knew I was helping them and making progress with the treatment team. What I couldn’t take were the completely inadequate and often cynical laws that frequently shielded their abusers … and the taxpayers from having to fund greater laws and programs than what we had.
In speaking with hundreds of other teachers, mental health professionals and social service agencies, it became painfully obvious that these problems were not unique to any one location or community. Nor was I all alone in finding the situation unbearable.
So, I opted to get my master’s degree in journalism to expose all of these injustices. My former coworkers cheered me on, but when it came time to report these issues, they all refused to talk on the record. To tell me what they needed to tell me would break confidentiality laws, expose some kids to more abuse and ruin my former colleagues’ careers. It seemed I was stuck at square one.
I continued on in journalism, but I was stymied along the way in covering children’s mental health. It wasn’t until I heard an essay in the audio book version of Tom Wolfe’s “Hooking Up” that I found renewed inspiration. Wolfe was bemoaning the loss of the novel as a form of journalism depicting real life and struggles via great literary fiction. He listed dozens of great books, including some of my favorites such as Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” and John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” which valiantly showed real life as it was and desperate problems facing society.
From there it was full-steam ahead. “Little Victories” poured out of me. As the publisher mentioned in my introduction, the rejections were extremely frustrating. Nobody said, “Mr. Cerf, you suck.” That would have been easy to cope with. Instead, and maddeningly, various agents and publishers said, “This is great.” Or “This is an incredibly important story that people need to read.”
And then came the body blow: “We just don’t know how to market it.”
Thank goodness, Last Chance Press has figured that out. Now, finally, after 10 years of trying, the voices of abused children will be heard. Thank YOU for reading. Thank you for caring. Please share “Little Victories” with your mayor, governor and other lawmakers. The more we educate them, and the more we put pressure on them, the more we can improve the lives of abuse victims and others suffering from a mental illness.