Hackettstown Author Took Gutsy Trail to Success

By Steve Sears

Maryann McFadden refused to give up on her dream to become a published author.

“Let’s face it,” she says, “it’s much easier to give up than it is to push on in the face of rejection and obstacle. I think this is a two-pronged effort. You have to put the hard work into your craft, and it is hard. You can have a bit of a gift for writing, but you need to have the discipline to put the words on pages, to push through when you’re not feeling it, and to critique. And when you feel the work is good enough, you have to be your own best advocate and make believe this is your baby and you would do anything for it.”

McFadden (www.maryannmcfadden.com) has seen four books through to publication: The Richest Season (2008), So Happy Together (2010), The Book Lover (2012), and her latest, The Cemetery Keeper’s Wife, set in Hackettstown at Centenary University, in 2018. She is currently at work on a fifth novel and screenplay. Stay tuned.

She talks about The Cemetery Keeper’s Wife – why the story interested her and why she had to write it. “My family moved to Hackettstown in 1964 from Brooklyn, New York. I was just 10 years old. One day when I was out exploring. I found myself on the banks of the Musconetcong River and saw that little wooden bridge and decided to cross it. I thought I was going to a park. I did not realize it was the cemetery.” She wandered around and eventually found herself at the highest point, standing in front of an incredible monument. “I read the words, ‘she died in defense of her honor…erected by an appreciative public’ and I had no idea what it meant.” She had found the gravesite of Tillie Smith, an 1886 murder victim whose body had been left in a field behind then Centenary College. Throughout her life there were many coincidences with Tillie Smith and her story. McFadden, who also works as a real estate agent, in 1990 sold the home of James Titus, the college maintenance man accused of the murder, which further intrigued McFadden. “Many of these coincidences are in the story,” she adds. 

McFadden has been writing since she was a little girl. “In high school it became more serious and I began to dabble in poetry, short stories, essays,” she says. “When I was in college, I began writing for the local Hackettstown Gazette and also doing photography in black-and-white and learning how to develop my own photos in the darkroom. I actually continued writing for newspapers and magazines after college. I taught at Centenary in their journalism department and I even did corporate writing for Crayola.” She then became a realtor and didn’t write for 10 years until penning what she calls an “absolutely wretched” romance novel. That books whereabouts are now unknown to her, but it – and a Creative Writing course at William Paterson University where she started to write a new short story that became her eventual thesis project for her Masters in English and first published book – paved the way for and became The Richest Season, which took 5 years to get published.

McFadden reflects on the gutsy trail she’s taken. “Sometimes I look back and I’m amazed at the chutzpah I had sometimes. Walking into a bookstore and asking them to read my originally self-published first novel and getting the eye rolls and the sighs from book sellers who figured it wasn’t good because I couldn’t get it published, that took some nerve. But when they’d called me and told me how much they loved it; it was all worth it. I originally self-published my book because it was my intent to prove it was good enough, that I had an audience, and that an agent would take me on and sell it to a traditional publisher.” It almost didn’t happen, the manuscript sitting in her closet for a long time. “But I believed in that book! And it went on to be translated into multiple languages, to sit on the front tables of Barnes & Noble, to become a target breakout novel — an American Bookseller Association ‘must read.’”

“And so, my career as a ‘real’ author began! I have won awards and get letters from readers all over the world who love my stories, my characters, and my writing. That is the greatest reward of all!”

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