Thursday, July 25, 2013

Five years, two agents, and twelve hundred pages

My good friend, instructor, and mentor Rick DeMarinis (THE MORTICIAN'S APPRENTICE, THE ART AND CRAFT OF THE SHORT STORY, and others) once told me "to be a writer you need to be crazy enough to think what you're writing is good enough to stick with it." I haven't been in touch with Rick in over a year, but I know two things: 1) I've proven myself to be the crazy writer he describes, and 2) wherever he is, he's smiling.

In 2007, as I finished OUT OF BOUNDS, the fifth Jack Austin PGA Tour mystery, I had an idea for a new series. Actually, it was just a kernel -- I saw a woman in a green border patrol uniform having a difficult conversation with a white-haired woman. Mother and daughter. In a kitchen. A strained conversation.

That was it. But I wrote the scene, liked it, and started a novel that would feature a single mother and U.S. border patrol agent, whose personal and home lives constantly conflict with her professional duties and aspirations. Her name is Peyton Cote and she works along the northern Maine border.

At the time, I was playing hockey Sunday nights with several U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. These men arranged for me to ride with them, hang out in the station, and ask literally thousands of questions.

The result was a novel I felt pretty good about in 2008. I knew -- at least conceptually -- I was onto something because the literary agents who rejected early drafts of the manuscript called to do so, offering encouragement. Eventually, an agent took it and sent it to several houses, all of whom turned it down. What followed is a story of three years of frustration for both the agent, who eventually threw in the towel, and the writer, who was crazy enough to keep writing the series.

In July 2012, representing myself, I sold a stand-alone, THIS ONE DAY, to Five Star/Gale, which I wrote between border patrol efforts. I had revamped one of the two finished border patrol novels and queried several new agents. I was teaching summer school in Exeter, NH., when agent Julia Lord called to say she wanted the series. Over the next 12 months, she proved to be tough, smart, kind, loyal, genuine, and absolutely dogged in her pursuit of a publisher. I never stopped writing the series because I believe in the concept, and Julia (and eventually her partner Ginger Curwen) never stopped pitching because they too believed in it.

On June 24, while Julia was abroad on vacation, Ginger called to say we had a three-book offer on the table (plus an option for a fourth) from Midnight Ink. Days later, two more publishers made bids. Last week -- and five years, two agents, and twelve hundred pages later -- we reached an agreement with Midnight Ink for three novels (plus an option for a fourth) featuring U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent Peyton Cote. The first novel will be published in spring 2014. (Not sure which name the books will be written under or the title of the first book, which is finished.)

During the past five years, I've thought often of Rick's comment, wondering if I was just plain stubborn or would prove to be "crazy" in the way he intended.


Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Congratulations, John! That's a story that should encourage all of us.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Wow!!!! Wonderful, wonderful. That's just fabulous John.

Rick Blechta said...

Ah, the value of perseverance. Good for you!