QUIBBLES & BITS
Once upon a long time ago, a Big Pub House editor asked me if I could write a mystery starring a witch. “Hell yes,” I said. “I wait tables in Manitou Springs (Colorado), where you can find ‘Covens’ in the phone book under C.”
“The thing is,” he said, “your witch doesn’t believe she’s a witch.”
“Not Bewitched?” I asked, crinkling my nose. “Or Margaret Hamilton?”
“Not Bewitched,” he echoed. “Or The Wizard of Oz.”
“Magic is my middle name,” I said, bursting with confidence, already thinking: SERIES!
I had used food in my other crime fiction titles – Throw Darts at a Cheesecake, Beat Up a Cookie, Footprints in the Butter. It was my bloody signature for goodness sake (trust me when I say that I was a lot younger then), so I searched my brain for a witchy title with food in it, and came up empty. All I could picture was the candy corn that people (and probably agents, too) ate at Halloween and, for some dumb reason, chocolate bunnies. I clicked an imaginary remote, switched brain channels, and remembered Macbeth…witches cooking stuff in a cauldron…lots of stuff…holy cow…SERIES. (I tend to think stream-of-consciousness -- doesn’t everybody?)
I called my book EYE OF NEWT, while visions of bat wings, frog toes, dog tails and wolf teeth danced in my head. There were so many Macbeth cauldron ingredients, I lost count. Now all I had to do was conjure up 26 plots and I could be another Grafton.
My Big NY Pub House editor liked the title.
I decided Book # One’s plot would revolve around the death of a rock star named Clive Newton (names seem to pop into my head; if they don’t, I use my high school yearbook). The name of my witch-sleuth was important; after all, she had to carry 26 books! At that time, an internet authors loop was talking about naming characters after your first dog and first street. I figured "Bootsie 223rd Street" would never fly. Neither would "Shaft Route 3." But my Colorado Springs address was St. Charles Street and one of my dogs, an Australian Shepherd bitch, had been christened Sydney.
Sydney St. Charles. Cool.
I surrounded Sydney with quirky characters: two brothers—David Copperfield St. Charles and Oliver Twist St. Charles—and Great-Aunt Lillian, who hadn’t successfully cast a spell since the Beatles invaded the USA, and a parrot, dog and cat (Syd’s “familiars”) named for three Salem witches who perched at the top of the family tree. I wrote 4 chapters (50 pages) and a proposal. My editor, as I now thought of him, gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up and touted my witch series at the Big Pub House General Meeting.
It was shot down. “The concept is too dark,” the senior editor said.
“My” editor phoned. He used the F-word. A lot. Shortly thereafter, he left publishing.
I shelved the manuscript. But since I was now totally into the paranormal/ supernatural, I wrote THE LANDLORD’S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER, an historical that includes elements of the paranormal [reincarnation], and FIFTY CENTS FOR YOUR SOUL, about an uptight actress possessed by a promiscuous demon. Landlord was turned down because editors were “uncomfortable” with the paranormal elements. Fifty Cents was published.
Flash forward several years. The supernatural was “in.” Buffy, Charmed, Medium, Charlaine Harris. I dusted off my manuscript, decided the 4 chapters were publishable, and fired up my computer. Before my first cup of caffeine, even, I had an epiphany—a word that’s almost as hard to say [and spell] as “entrepreneur.” Since I loved writing both historical fiction and crime fiction, I’d add a 1692-Salem mystery to EYE OF NEWT. Almost immediately, the naysayers came out of the woodwork. “You can’t do that unless it’s a time-travel,” they said. “Yes, I can,” I said. And did.
Having amicably left my agent of 9 years, I decided to use NEWT to audition new agents. I can write one hell of a query, so the first 4 reps I contacted wanted to see the complete manuscript. Two weren’t “enthusiastic enough” (but that was “only one opinion, and other agents might feel different” – yes, I know it’s ungrammatical, but both agents wrote it that way). One agent liked the contemp mystery but not the historical portion, and one agent, having apparently ignored the cover letter that listed my bibliography, told me I “showed promise.”
Stubborn is my middle name. I submitted my manuscript to 3 presses that didn’t require an agent-submit, and had 3 offers. I chose Five Star Mysteries. While attending a SF/Fantasy con (Fifty Cents For Your Soul is a cross-over book), I strolled through the convention’s art exhibit and saw THE perfect Eye of Newt cover, by artist Mark Ferrari. Mark emailed me a download, I sent it to Five Star, and they purchased the print rights. NEWT came out October, 2004 (nine days before Halloween) to excellent reviews, and within six weeks it had a 90% sell-through. A year later Five Star published a Trade paperback edition [with a new cover].
Last week I was told that the hardcover was being remaindered. There were exactly 209 books left in stock and Five Star offered me as many hardcovers as I wanted at the remaindered price.
Granted, “remaindered” is easier to say than epiphany and entrepreneur, but it’s an awful word. My dictionary has many definitions but, used as a verb, it means “to dispose of.” Ouch!
Surprisingly, this is my first remaindered book. My romances would always hit the stores, then leave the shelves without much farewell-fanfare. My first two diet club mysteries sold out (the verdict’s not in on Chain a Lamb Chop to the Bed, but I suspect it’ll eventually be remaindered too). My saga, The Rainbow’s Foot, sold out. So did Footprints in the Butter and Fifty Cents For Your Soul—although I have copies of all three squirreled away.
So, EYE OF NEWT [in hardcover, but not paperback] is remaindered.
Sydney St. Charles is remaindered.
Mercy the Parrot and Annie the Cat and Chasdick the Dog are remaindered.
In other words, disposed of.
My “baby,” who had such a difficult time being birthed, is disposed of.
Color me sad.
QUITE OF THE WEEK: “There’s nobody in the world like me. I think every decade has an iconic blonde…like Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana…and right now I’m that icon.” Paris Hilton, the famous (for what, exactly?) hotel heiress.
From now on, starting today, Sydney or her brother Davy (a “wizard with a webpage) or her great-aunt Lillian will give my blog readers a spell or charm. Aunt Lillian also likes to give Household Hints, which she says are similar to spells. This weeks spell comes from Davy:
A WART OR PIMPLE CURE
To remove warts or pimples, take a small dried bean and rub it against the imperfection. Dig a hole in the ground and drop the bean into it, while saying, “As this bean decays, so will my wart (pimple) go away.” Like all banishing rituals, this one should be performed during the waning moon. Use a different bean for each blemish.
Over and out,
Deni Magic-Stubborn Dietz