Bewitched, Bothered & Remaindered

Denise Dietz

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.

**********NEW**********

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.

**********NEW**********

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

10 thoughts on “Bewitched, Bothered & Remaindered

  1. Sue

    Please tell me you haven’t given up!! (What about bellarosabooks.com?) And please let me know how to order a hard cover copy of EYE OF NEWT. It sounds like a fantastic series.

    Reply
  2. Pari

    Aughhhhhh, Deni, how heart-wrenching.

    I guess perserverance pays . . . sort of.

    What are you going to do? Are you going to buy those 209 books and sell them yourself? You could, you know — and you’d probably make more than the meager royalties one usually sees.

    Do you have a big garage?

    I’m not making light of this at all. I’ve wondered what I’d do. I know I’ve sold at least 200+ of each of my books — me — at book clubs and rotary meetings. So, that’s doable if you have the heart.

    What distresses me about your post is the publisher’s lack of vision (though it doesn’t surprise me). You’re continuing to build your career which means people will be interested in your backlist. And, frankly, 209 books don’t take up much room.

    What also distressed me . . . is that quote from Paris Hilton. While I’m not fond of “iconic blondes,” she certainly isn’t one. What a great job, famous for being famous. Wow. What a resume brightener.

    Reply
  3. Beatrice Brooks

    The “comments counter” is down, so I hope that – despite the 0 – you’re checking, anyway, for my comments to your comments.

    Pari, I don’t have a garage 🙂 But I am ordering some remaindered hardcovers (25 to be exact). If I were living in the States, I’d buy them all. But here on Vancouver Island, book clubs and rotary meetings are not an option, and I have a devil of a time toting books to conferences.

    Also, although I hate to say it, one can probably pick up a used copy on Amazon – wince.

    But…on the bright side, the EYE OF NEWT Trade paperback is still available and can be ordered from any bookstore, and it costs MUCH less than the hardcover.

    Sue, you’re a sweetheart. But unless you collect first editions, buy the paperback 🙂

    For those attending Bouchercon, I’ll have some NEWT hardcovers with me.

    Hugs,Deni

    Reply
  4. Julia Buckley

    Denise,I’m not surprised by the agents’ rhetoric or the fact that the publisher didn’t ‘get it’. But I am impressed with your determination. This is why you have so many published books. 🙂

    Reply
  5. Elaine

    I’d color you *wonderful* for being so optimistic and still maintaining a sense of humor. Buy the books! And I love the ‘bean/wart’ thing! My father used a similar method-only instead of a bean, he buried a piece of raw veal. Go figure.

    Reply
  6. Beatrice Brooks

    LOL veal, Elaine. Wait until I blog Sydney’s recipe for “Love Oil.” And Aunt Lillian’s “Household Hints.” I don’t know about veal vs. beans, but the household hints really work!Hugs,Deni

    Reply
  7. Beatrice Brooks

    As far as being optimistic – grin – here are the opening paragraphs to TOE OF FROG [Newt’s sequel]:

    The kitchen smelled of pig.

    As Anne Kittridge cut the boiled, tender pigs ears in pieces the size of her fingers, she smiled fondly at her sister Chastity, who sat with her elbows atop the kitchen table.

    Standing next to Anne, Mercy cut boiled pigs feet in two, then removed the large bones.

    Anne tossed the pigs ears into a fry pan and added butter.

    Mercy dipped the pigs feet in eggs, strew them over a few bread crumbs, and seasoned them with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg. Then, at a nod from her sister Anne, Mercy added the seasoned feet to the fry pan. When done, they would lie in the middle of the dish, along with the fricasseed ears.

    “Are the witch hunts truly over?” Chastity asked, her deep voice little more than a whisper.

    Although I’m considered a “culinary author,” that’s the very first recipe I’ve ever used in one of my books 🙂

    Hugs,Deni

    Reply
  8. Mary S.

    Don’t be sad, Deni. Being remaindered is kinda cool in a way. It means you’ve hit the big time. 🙂 All the big guys have been remaindered, and they probably didn’t have as good a sell-through as you did. The covers – I absolutely love both of them. The hardback is one of the most gorgeous ones I’ve seen (so you found the artwork yourself – wow) and the tradepaper is great in a completely different way.

    Reply

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