Author On the Bookcase: Gabrielle Burton, author of Impatient With Desire

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Author On the Bookcase
Gabrielle Burton

Gabrielle BurtonI'm so excited to welcome Gabrielle Burton, author of Impatient With Desire, to On the Bookcase. Gabrielle's novel tells the story of Tamsen Donner, a real-life pioneer woman. In 1846, after months of research and preparation, she and her husband George, along with their five daughters and eighty other pioneers, headed west on the California-Oregon Trail in eager anticipation of new lives in California. But everything that could go wrong did... and an American legend was born.

The Donner Party. We may think we know their story—a cautionary tale of starving pioneers trapped in the mountains performing an unspeakable act to survive—but Impatient with Desire brings to stunning life a woman—and a love story—behind the myth.

Gabrielle shares with us her "tortoise's handbook to success."

On your mark, get set, go!

The Long and Winding Road 
After writing off and on about Tamsen Donner, the pioneer heroine of the ill-fated Donner Party of 1846, for over 37 years, I won the writer's lottery--publishing TWO books about her in one year, a memoir, Searching for Tamsen Donner, and a novel, Impatient with Desire.

I started writing in 1971, dreaming of being a literary sensation at any moment. But life and years have a way of sneaking up on you and lobbing a few water balloons.

My publishing history reads like a tortoise's handbook to success.

In 1972, I published my first book, I'm Running Away From Home But I'm Not Allowed To Cross The Street.

For the next six years, a short story that turned into a novel consumed me, until I decided that the raised and dashed hopes were taking too large a toll on me and on my family. (Every rejection, I took to my bed and, like an Irish warrior, bled for a while, then rose to fight again.)

In 1979, I put away that 550 page novel--30 pages of it about Tamsen Donner and her lost journal--and started a new novel. I finished the first draft in two years and thought, Hey, I'm getting good at this stuff.

Well, not that good. It took until 1987 and twenty-eight rejections to get Heartbreak Hotel published.

In 1988, I transcribed my tapes from my family's retracing the CA/Donner Trail ten years before and wrote a non-fiction book. My editor wanted more personal revelations than I was willing to write, so that one went in the attic too.

In the mid 90's, I was in film school in Los Angeles and, after my family badgered me to attend the Donner Party Sesquicentennial in Donner Pass, I wrote a screenplay about the Donner Party. Now there are 87 characters in the Donner Party and, countless drafts and some years later, I realized that I didn't want to write about the Donner Party, but about Tamsen Donner, and not in a historical way, but to be true to her spirit. Easier said than done. I kept at it, and also wrote other screenplays, articles and reviews.

In 2002, my daughters' film production company, Five Sisters Productions, made my screenplay, Manna From Heaven, and I was heavily involved in the filming, editing, and distributing.

In 2006, feeling the pressure of age and time, I got out that nonfiction draft of our family's Donner Trail trip, horrified to see that my editor had given me notes in 1988! I was sick that so much time had passed and felt sorry for myself and quite despairing. Then I talked sternly to myself--you are the only one who can do something about this, G--and made a plan, working like crazy with a laser focus on rewriting that book. After 19 rave rejections by agents--"love it, but who's the niche?"--the part history/part memoir, Searching for Tamsen Donner, was published by U. of Nebraska Press in 2009. While that manuscript had been going through the rigorous screening process of a university press -- outside readers, committees, boards, a rewrite -- Impatient With DesireI wrote the novel, Impatient with Desire: The Lost Journal of Tamsen Donner, which Hyperion bought in 2010. So ultimately, my writing about Tamsen Donner went through as many metamorphoses as I did and, of course, they all informed the book. Probably a half dozen women wrote those two books, and I'm glad I'm alive to see them come to fruition.

The long and winding road. I never stopped running, but it turned out I wasn't on the fast track to success.

Of course a lot of life intervened.  I can look back and tick off events, Well, that was the year we lived in Kuala Lumpur, that year was my husband's open heart surgery, those two years I went to film school, my mother, sister, and dog died that year, that year my five daughters, husband, and I traveled from Branson, MO to Juneau, AK with our movie, Manna from Heaven...  I can add it all up, but it doesn't compute in the same way that you can know your age but not recognize that older person in the mirror.

I never intended nor wanted to be the poster child of persistence.  Whenever I got rejections, which was all the time because I constantly sent things out, some cheery soul would invariably chirp, "Remember that woman who published her book at 82."


Great, I'd think.  I'll hand out lemon drops at the home.

Luckily, when success finally came, I was still in my own home and able to hand out champagne instead.  And I was old enough to know that that 82-year-old author was probably drinking champagne too.

Thanks so much, Gabrielle, for chatting about your success. You are the epitome of the classic children's book and female empowerment story, The Little Engine That Could. Impatient With Desire is a great book club pick -- plenty of conversation about marriage, family, Amercian history, parenthood, survival, adventure.

"Burton's writing tears out the reader's heart as it brings closure to her quest to understand a woman lost to time. Impatient With Desire finally rescues Tamsen Donner from ignominy, bringing her back to us a robust and very alive woman."—Erika Schikel, Los Angeles Times

"Gabrielle Burton brings us
a moving story of human courage and frailty. Tamsen Donner's tale will stay with you long after you've read the last page
." Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank

Gabrielle Burton is the author of the award-winning novels, Impatient with Desire: The Lost Journal of Tamsen Donner, and Heartbreak Hotel. Her nonfiction books are Searching for Tamsen Donner and I'm Running Away From Home But I'm Not Allowed To Cross The Street. Burton's articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Family Circle, Ms. Magazine. She blogs for the Huffington Post and the Nervous Breakdown. She lives with her husband in Venice, CA.

Learn more about Gabrielle.

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