This week’s question: How did your first novel come about and how long did it take to get published?
My first novel never did get published. It never got finished. Right now, I can’t remember if it even had a title. I’d forgotten about it until this week’s topic got me thinking. I have it somewhere. It was typed on an IBM Selectric, which goes a long way to explaining why it never got finished. I’m a terrible typist and helped make Liquid Paper profitable in its day, which would have been the early 80s, I think, before I got my first computer. The ‘muddle in the middle’ was bad enough, but I distinctly recall the moment I realized I had to change the protagonist’s rank in the SFPD for the story to work. It was around page 150 and there was no way in hell I was going to re-type 150 pages! Into the drawer it went and I figured writing anything longer than four pages was not part of my future. I’d stick to reading crime fiction.
Fast forward to about 2003. My partner was a sculptor and we hung out with artists, collectors, gallerists, and museum staff. Many of them had outsized personalities and one in particular was nasty to my guy. “Honey, I’ll kill him,” I blurted out one day, and realized immediately that I had the makings of a great story I was itching to tell. I got more active in MWA to get inspired, signed up for a serious mystery conference and hammered out five chapters. Over the next couple of years, having gotten some useful feedback, I re-wrote the five chapters more than once. I couldn’t seem to get past them, though. My work life called for much writing, but in academ-ese and bureaucrat-ese and, frequently, in the voice of a 65-year old Jesuit priest (the president of the university). Finding the energy and focus to switch gears at night and write like a breezy young divorcee who stumbles over dead bodies was not working well for me.
Tempis fugit. Finishing a credible novel, finding an agent, and getting it published quickly rose to the top of my bucket list. So I figured out how to quit the day job, and finished the first draft in five months. Found a critique group, rewrote, polished, and after a stumble or two, found an agent. She took my manuscript to market in August 2008 – yes, the very moment the publishing industry began to deflate like a defective balloon. When we got a decent offer, we grabbed it, and counted our blessings. MURDER IN THE ABSTRACT came out in May 2010. It went on to sell into large print, mass paper, book club, and e-book editions, not bad for a first book.
Every published author’s story is different, but we all hit a wall somewhere, maybe more than one, on the way to writing the best first book we’re capable of. The trick is to respect your goals, speak them out loud, and then pay attention to the ways the universe – in the form of your family and friends, job situation, network of other writers – points you to a way through the wall.