March 2022 Newsletter
“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.”
― Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
It’s been an exciting time here in the writing cave. My agent (the amazing Susan Golomb) sent out my new novel early last month to editors. The novel is called The Puzzle Master and it follows an ingenious puzzle constructor who becomes entangled in a mystery. Susan sent it out on a Thursday afternoon, and by the following Friday we had an offer from Andrea Walker at Random House, who also made an offer for the sequel, The Puzzle Box, which features the same puzzle constructor.
Here’s the announcement about the deal:
As those of you who have been here with me these past years as I wrote this novel know, writing is an uncertain, hopeful, optimistic endeavor. I was in the writing cave 7 days a week, and had nothing to hold onto except the belief that this book would find readers one day. What a thrill, then, to be working with an editor like Andrea Walker. We spoke about the novel, and I have never had an editorial conversation like it. Here’s a bit more about her from the Random House site.
Andrea Walker is Vice President and Executive Editor at Random House, where she edits literary fiction, commercial crossover fiction, narrative nonfiction, and crime/suspense. Writers she has worked with include Judy Blundell, Janelle Brown, Eowyn Ivey, Gytha Lodge, Laura McHugh, Maud Newton, Téa Obreht, Emily Rapp Black, and Susie Steiner. Prior to joining Random House, she worked at Penguin Press; Little, Brown; and The New Yorker.
Publishing often seems like a secret chamber, one that few want to open up, but I find the process fascinating and, for aspiring writers, essential to learn about. I will be sure to keep you in the loop as the editorial process continues.
This past weekend, my parents, sister, and daughter Nico came to see me in San Miguel de Allende. It was fun to take them to places that I love here. We ended up in an antique shop in La Fabrica Aurora, and of course, I gravitated to the eerie haunted dolls sitting in a corner.
The Puzzle Master features porcelain dolls as an integral part of the mystery. Porcelain dolls (and haunted dolls) have a storied history.
In other news this month, my 4 year old daughter and I made cupcakes for Valentine’s Day.
Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? I normally don’t like Hallmark holidays, and my husband is French, without any tradition of Valentine’s Day, but this one reminds me of the real Saint Valentine…
Readers and writing students often ask me about what I’m reading. I’m excited to share a few recent articles to check out. Let me know what you think…
Has Agatha Christie inspired you?
For all my fellow researchers:
“How Archivists Uncover the Clues to History”
Keep up with the old as much as the new:
“Discover 21 Dark Tales with These Classic and Contemporary Gothic Novels”
High stakes and vital stories:
“Valerie Wilson Wesley On Crime Fiction’s Pioneering Women Of Color”
Speaking of (and in) puzzles, take a look at the newest MWA awardees:
“Mystery Writers of America Announces Barbara Neely Grant Recipients”
I am part of the incredible low residency writing program at Salve Regina. As such, I’m always on the lookout for submission opportunities for emerging writers. I know many of you are writers, and might be interested in sending out your work. Let me know if you enjoy this new component of the newsletter.
Small press seeking speculative fiction, essays, and poetry for three anthologies
Word Count: 500-5,000 words
Payment: $0.03/word + royalties
Deadline: March 1st for Madam President and Alternative Holidays; May 30th for Scott’s Planet
New magazine seeking cozy fantasy stories
Word Count: 4,000-10,000 words
Reading Period: March 1st through 8th
Highly regarded literary magazine at Bucknell University accepting fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and translations
Word Count: $0.05/word for prose up to $100; $50 for poetry
Payment: $0.05/word for prose up to $100; $50 for poetry
Deadline: April 1st
Popular online horror magazine
Word Count: 2,000 to 10,000 words
Payment: Varies, negotiable
Finally, I opened the floor to my friends on social media again this month to take any questions about my new books or the writing/reading/publishing world at large.
How did you find the right agent, and have you had the same agent your whole career?
In the beginning of my career, I thought that finding the right agent was the most important element of creating a career as a novelist. And while this is important, and the support an agent gives can drastically change a writer’s prospects, I have come to see that the most important thing is not your agent but the work itself. If you write an incredible novel, finding the right agent won’t be difficult. If you work consistently, and prioritize the quality of your writing, the rest will fall into place.
That said, having an ally in the writing world is very important. I have not always had the same agent, and I’ve seen what a truly excited agent– someone who believes in my work, thinks that it deserves the very best publisher, and works to make that happen—can do.
The first agent that was interested in representing me took me on because I won a contest and had graduated from a prestigious MFA program (The Iowa Writers Workshop). Most agents will want to (not only) love your work, but see that you’ve been diligently, earnestly and ambitiously working toward being a writer whose work they can sell. My other agent came to me by referral. That is how many writer-agent matches are made. If you know someone who works with an agent she loves, ask for an introduction. Another way is to find your favorite novel, look at the acknowledgements page, and find the agent that reps that author. Tracking them down isn’t hard to do. But keep in mind, even with the best connections, the work is ultimately what an agent will fall in love with.
Is it worthwhile to “do something different,” and if so, what’s the best way to win buy-in from hesitant publishers and readers?
This is a hard one, because while I have decided to go my own way and explore various genres throughout my career, I have found that it can be confusing for readers. There are some readers who are omnivorous, and enjoy lots of different kinds of books. But then there are those who love one genre, and won’t go outside of it. My first book was a literary memoir called Falling Through the Earth. My second book was a novel, Angelology, that was categorized as a literary thriller. These genres are wildly different, and my readers from the first genre didn’t necessarily follow me to the novel. My second book was a follow up to Angelology, and then I wrote another literary memoir, The Fortress. I’ve always written what I wanted to write, and never paid much attention to genre, but after The Fortress, I saw that many readers were waiting for more novels in the vein of Angelology.
That is a long way to say that one should follow one’s artistic and writerly impulses, write what moves you and what inspires you, but be ready for readers to fall away if you move too far away from the kinds of books they love.
One way to garner support is to bring readers into the process. I found that if I tell readers (and editors) that moving outside of my ‘genre’ because I need to explore an element of my work, they will follow me there. Having a close relationship with readers, answering messages from them and listening to what they enjoy about your work, is a great way to bring them along for the journey.
As always, I want to thank you all for spending time with me here and on social media. My books wouldn’t be possible without you. Stay in touch and let me know what you’re up to!