Like a sailboat tacking obliquely through opaque mists with little to guide the course beyond hope and blind faith, my third novel,Mourning Dove, will be released at the end of June. It has been unequivocally the most roundabout way to publication I’ve ever heard of, and therefore I want to share my story. Let this serve as a case in point for keeping the faith on the road to publication.
To begin my story, I must digress.
Because I made no leeway as I shopped my first completed manuscript, with no joy from agents after nine months of querying, I decided to cease all effort and write another book I thought might be an easier sell. My thinking was if I could get one novel published, it would recommend the other.
The one I had completed was a first-person account of a single, American female who leaves the Los Angeles record business and moves to the west coast of Ireland without much of a plan. My working title for the book was The Spiddal Pier, and, as I searched the internet and bookstores for a general idea of what was being published, I parked The Spiddal Pier and focused on an idea for a book that was a little far-fetched, yet I liked the premise of the story because it happened to me.
Further digression here into the lobby of an historic hotel in the coastal village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. While in the lobby of The La Playa Hotel, whose origin was once a private residence, my husband and I checked in for the weekend of our one-year anniversary. As I scanned the sprawling lobby, my imagination got the best of me. I thought of what it would be like to own a house such as this, to belong to it proprietarily in a way that served as a backdrop for a specific story. It was then I divined the idea for a paranormal story set in two time periods about a woman who realizes she has lived before. I took a few notes in my journal that weekend but set it aside.
Frustrated, yet undeterred by my lack of reception for my first novel, I located to my notes from the La Playa Hotel and wrote a novel called A Portal in Time.
Without an agent, I submitted the manuscript to an independent press named Vinspire Publishing, who wrote me to request ninety days exclusivity.
With little to lose, I complied.
With time on my hands, I noticed a call for submissions to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference’s contest. From the premise of a poem I wrote years prior, I tried my hand at writing a short story and entered, telling myself that if anything ever happened to the entry, I’d take that short story and turn it into a novel.
All of this digression is to say that the short story I entered into the contest came in as the contest’s runner-up, and I did turn the short story into a novel, and that novel’s name is Mourning Dove.
Four years transpired after the San Francisco Writer’s Conferences’ entry. During then, A Portal in Timewas published, followed by the renamed Spiddal Pieras Dancing to an Irish Reel.
And as the adage, “An author’s career is a marathon, not a sprint,” is true, after two novels, I decided to expand my horizons, even though I still didn’t have an agent.
To reach for a wider net, I researched which agents would be interested in the story of siblings in a Southern family saga set in 1970’s and 1980’s Memphis. Mourning Doveis a coming-of-age story set in the Deep South—not the rural South, where people drive pick-up trucks and scratch around through a region down-on-its luck, but the opulent, manicured South, where the characters hold fast to a dying way of life in a nuanced region where all that glitters is not gold.
For months I sent query letters to agents I deemed a good fit and received passes from those nice enough to write back. At one exhausted juncture, I didn’t read the fine print on the website of one of the two publishers I chose to query. I pasted my query and first three chapters of Mourning Dove in the body of my email, and here’s what happened next.
My phone rang at ten o’clock on a Saturday morning. On the line was a woman with a sparkling Southern accent, and she was laughing.
“You did everything wrong with your submission,” she said, “nobody should paste a query in the body of an email.” She went on to tell me her intention had been to write me politely, suggesting I resubmit when I have an agent. But first she wanted to get a handle on Mourning Dove’s subject. As the acquisition editor of Firefly Southern Fictiontells the story, she read a few lines and couldn’t stop reading until she finished all three chapters. Then she picked up the phone, offered me a contract, and brought me to the attention of the woman who is now my agent.
Mourning Dove will be released on June 29 by Firefly Southern Fiction, and here is the book’s description:
The heart has a home when it has an ally. If Millie Crossan doesn’t know anything else, she knows this one truth simply because her brother Finley grew up beside her. Charismatic Finley, eighteen months her senior, becomes Millie’s guide when their mother Posey leaves their father and moves her children from Minnesota to Memphis shortly after Millie’s tenth birthday.
Memphis is a world foreign to Millie and Finley. This is the 1970s Memphis, the genteel world of their mother’s upbringing and vastly different from anything they’ve ever known. Here they are the outsiders. Here, they only have each other. And here, as the years fold over themselves, they mature in a manicured Southern culture where they learn firsthand that much of what glitters isn’t gold. Nuance, tradition, and Southern eccentrics flavor Millie and Finley’s world as they find their way to belonging.
But what hidden variables take their shared history to leave both brother and sister at such disparate ends?
Mourning Dove will be released in print, e-book, and audiobook, which I narrated.
And all of this is to say the path to publication is often roundabout.
The moral of this story is to stay the course.