Bett Dorion Fitzpatrick grew up in Newfoundland when there wasn’t a child alive who didn’t know the story about the tragic shipwrecks of the USS Truxton and USS Pollux. In this small mining town along Canada’s craggy shores, local villagers mounted a rescue operation and carried up the cliffs the 186 U.S. servicemen who survived the shipwrecks in the midst of a blizzard in February of 1942. This history of her hometown left an indelible impression on Bett, and she returned to it as an author when she retired from teaching. She conducted interviews with eyewitnesses, dug into the historical archives, and read every published account. She came to know the story inside and out.
When Bett first contacted me in 2017, she had written her manuscript in verse. Yes, verse. I loved it. Like the ballad about the shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior, the poetic form suited the subject matter. But I recognized how challenging it might be to sell it to a commercial or trade publisher. This was hard news to deliver to such a talented author. A bit of a unicorn, the manuscript didn’t fit easily into an identifiable niche in the market. Several memoirs in verse had done well, but there didn’t appear any recent releases based on historical events. Bett bounced back like one of those cute yellow rubber ducky bathtub toys!
She had hopes that this amazing history would be kept alive in a new book for the next generation, so she decided to rewrite the manuscript in narrative style for young adult readers. The main characters are young men and women in their teens and early twenties. And Bett had previously written and published several award-wining books for young readers, including Melanie Bluelake’s Dream (1995), Bay Girl (1998), and Whose Side Are You On (2001). After spending months creating a new version in prose, she spent a few more months preparing a book proposal. While I found some interest from children’s book publishers to my queries for this new version, it did not find a home. So many authors might sink, but not Bett.
Bett knew it, and I knew it. She had an incredible story. And it is always about the story. So with another revision and repackaging the proposal as creative historical nonfiction, I found interest from several publishers to consider her proposal. But a year later, by spring of 2021, she had yet to receive any offers. Discouraging, I know. Keep in mind the larger context of a global pandemic throwing supply chains into disarray, employees out of office, and uncertainties forefront in the world of publishing.
Bett and I refused to give up hope, and I continued to look for suitable publishing homes. Then, more than a year after receiving her proposal with sample chapters, the ideal publisher offered Bett Fitzpatrick a contract. The book, Hard Aground, was released last fall and has been received to critical acclaim. In Canada, it’s been a bestseller at Costco!
Bett Fitzpatrick is a wonderful example of an author who did not give up her dream. Lesser writers might have jumped ship. Bett remained at all times buoyant, confident in her ability to share this history with readers everywhere.
To celebrate the success of Bett’s book, I have two copies to give away. If you would like to be entered into the drawing for one of the free copies, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and put in the subject line HARD AGROUND and in the message provide your name and postal address.
Congratulations to Bett Fitzpatrick!
One thought on “Bett Fitzpatrick: a writer with buoyancy”
Thanks to Bett Fitzpatrick and Jill Swenson. You inspire me to keep trying with a project that doesn’t quite work and feels stuck. You remind how my love for my subject can fuel powerful persistence if I don’t get discouraged. I love Bett’s bounce. Thank you for this helpful interview.