“It seemed an act as divine as any parting sea or burning bush. But when I asked her to explain, all she would say was ‘I love you very much, Noah.’”
I am seeking representation for a debut novel, A Greater Nation. Set in New York and Iraq in the aftermath of September 11, A Greater Nation follows two families as they try to make sense of grief, belonging, violence and redemption. Please find an excerpt below.
I have taught fiction writing to hundreds of students from over fifty countries through seminars in Oxford, South America, and India via both Oxford Summer Courses and the Oxford Scholastica Academy.
What They’ve Said
Kind words from agents who have passed on A Greater Nation. I am still seeking representation — please contact me at email@example.com if interested
“A Greater Nation is a treatise on the fallout from the September 11th attacks that feels fresh and urgent and important. This is something we have not seen before.”
– Brandt & Hochman Literary Agency
“Sussman is absurdly talented, with a really complex understanding of how lots of different humans work on the inside.”
– Bresnick Literary Agency
“Love oozes from these pages. This is a novel with ambition, eloquence, and wonderful attention to detail.”
– Conville & Walsh Literary Agency
An Excerpt from A Greater Nation
The smoke pointed me down First Avenue, west across the Village. The shops were closed or closing, the streets alive with unfinished whispers passed between parents clutching children closer to the chest.
The movement came down Broadway, the rhythm of an army trying to keep calm in retreat. Briefcases still jingled at suit sides, reaching for a normalcy vanished in the smoke. A woman cradled a body in her arms, Mary of the Pieta, leaning forward to whisper comfort amidst the terror. The street was caught in the swirl of sirens, honking horns, policemen ushering the hobbled further north. Impromptu doctors practiced makeshift medicine at the sides of those who could not flee. I steered through the crowds, in the opposite direction of the army moving north, bumping shoulders, catching eyes that told me to turn back. I stumbled over briefcases, pocketbooks, suit jackets left behind. Eyes still shaking from the violence turned upward, hoping the flames away. A man with dust-covered glasses and a baby blue business suit tripped over a single sandal in the street. I locked eyes with a man rushing the same direction as me, just the two of us against the wisdom of the crowd, and I felt closer to that man than anyone I have ever known, except her. I ran with the phone against my ear, calling her again and again and again until the battery was dying and all there was to do was to push forward, scan, yell, wave. “Mom! June Tiersen!”
Is that you, Mama? Is it you? I turned, but it was not you. Every face was hers. Again and again and again, until seeing itself became unbearable. The hint of her freckles in the sunken cheeks of an elderly woman, coughing through the crowd, another not you. Her auburn hair on the scalp of a child who did not yet understand. It must be you, you, you, but there was only not you. I could not stop looking for her face and I could not bear the certainty that the next face would not be hers. I kept spinning and running and staring into another set of taunting eyes, another not you. I latched onto every set of screaming pupils that met mine. Not you. I pushed forward, toward her, against the rush of tears —not you, not you— that had to be held back, jaw clenched against the inevitable, heart jabbing harder —not you, not you, not you— knowing she had to be alive —not you— and knowing she was not alive —not you— and knowing I did not know, until finally I was looking at her, my mother the way she had always been—you.
Except it was not you.
The crowds and the smoke thickened at Chambers Street, ash-blind leading the ash-blind through streets strewn with blown cement, chunks of gray glass. A firefighter rushed in my direction, face settled into a negotiated peace with perfect doom. A cop car was painted in dust and debris, a relic from a vintage film. My mother's picture was in my wallet, just like she had mine. I circled Church Street, up and down both sides, then Vesey, then the sidewalk by the West Side Highway, then Liberty Street, then Church again, sliding through the crowds, coats of dust slowly thickening on my sweatshirt, passing people with hair turned gray by ash, gas masks or napkins over their mouths. People running, people helping, people standing still. They were moving north, as far from the wreckage as they could, but I pushed south, circling, scanning, waving the picture, shouting her name ––“Mom! June Tiersen!”–– because she was there somewhere, because she would try to find a quiet place to hide from noise and panic and death.
At the perimeter of the smoking rubble there were cops and firefighters earnestly pushing forward, fearsome faces upholding oaths long since sworn. There were other men as well, brawny men in uniforms with one official emblem or another slapped across chests that deserved the honor. Their husky voices radioed hope into the chaos. Stretchers flashed by, names audible above the din of disaster, names like her name ––“Mom! June Tiersen!”–– hurled helplessly against the silent bricks, some standing, some fallen, echoed by other calls, people just like me, barking names, screaming hopes suffocated by soot, crying orders that, if followed, promised the best prospect for the long limp back to normalcy.
There were too many names, attached to bodies that could not all be found. If she was on the nearby streets she would survive, even if she didn't know what to do, because somebody, somewhere, in a city under attack, would help her. But if she was in there, bent beneath the wrecked steel, there would be nobody looking just for her. There was no time to confirm that the worst was not true. Only Noah Harrison, scrawny and seventeen, alone at the epicenter of a city frantically rearranging itself along the contours of loss, relief, reunion and disaster, loved her enough to heave forward, into the fiery crucible.
The ash pushed me backward, coughing, collapsing, kneeling in the smoke, knowing she had felt this too, desperately gasping for air, overturning blown chunks of steel cylinders, calling her name ––“Mom! June Tiersen!”–– and lifting my hands to block the smoke from my face, feeling the wind steal the cloth out of my mouth; knowing I couldn't dig with my hands holding the shirt over my mouth and couldn't breathe with my hands in the rubble; forward, even as I felt my lungs fill hopelessly with fumes; forward toward life, toward her.