Ruth Galm’s road to publication is the kind of story that aspiring writers, whether they’re facing the blank page or dealing with repeat rejections, might look to for encouragement. After writing fiction for a decade, Galm, 44, is finally publishing her first novel, Into the Valley (Soho Press), this August.
Set in 1967, Into the Valley, which received a starred PW review, tells of an unmoored 30-year-old woman, B., who travels to California’s Central Valley hoping to cure herself of what she refers to, cryptically, as “carsickness.”
Galm, who lives in San Francisco, began writing the book in 2009, a few years after graduating from Columbia University’s M.F.A. program. Upon completing the manuscript, in 2012, she sent it out to, by her estimate, 60 agents. The response was discouraging. “One person read it,” she says. “He thought it was a little bleak.” Afterward, she went through a period of severe self-doubt. “I didn’t separate publishing from writing,” she says. “I thought of it as a measure of the worth of the book.”
Undefeated, Galm sent the manuscript to the slush piles of a number of independent presses, including Soho Press, where Mark Doten, who was a fellow student with Galm at Columbia, was an editor. It took eight months, but the response, when it came, was worth the wait. “We loved it,” Doten told her. “Is it still available?” Galm says she “had to suppress a scream.”
Doten says Soho Press accepts a manuscript from its slush pile “every couple of years.” In the case of Into the Valley, he was struck by the protagonist’s “fascinating unknowability.” “I loved how little Ruth felt the need to explain the whys and hows of B.’s psychological states,” he says.
Galm says being published has been “utterly surreal.” It’s also been motivating: she’s currently at work on a series of short stories and is confident that “there will be a next novel.”