This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The History Behind a Mystery

            In 1994, having wanted to try it for the past 20 years or so, I decided to write a mystery novel. Little did I know that it would take nearly 20 more years to be published.
The germ of an idea had come to me on a fishing trip a few years earlier, when I’d had an unsettling experience with some gun-toting campers in an isolated meadow in California’s High Sierra As often happens in creative matters, other elements were added over time. I can’t even say at this point when and where the idea of a challenged will came into the story. On the other hand, the inclusion of a citizens militia and rabid radio talk-show host were added in the early 1990s, when such things were much in the news.
A first draft of The McHenry Inheritance was written in spurts over a period of five months, from late July to Christmas Eve. My public relations consulting business was taking off then. Sometimes the book had to be put aside for a couple of weeks while I focused exclusively on my clients’ work, and sometimes I pushed forward feverishly on the manuscript between assignments, or during lulls.
The McHenry Inheritance, Cover by Deborah Karas
 After doing a rewrite, I began hawking the book in the spring of 1995. I first approached an agent I had spoken to about a business book a couple of years earlier; he said he didn’t do fiction but gave me a referral to an agent who did. She sat on it for a couple of months without responding, something I came to learn is fairly typical in the business.
            When she finally passed on the book, I began sending queries to other agents I came across in a directory. Late in 1995 or early in 1996, I got a nibble. An agent in New York asked to see the manuscript, read it, said she liked it (and that she was surprised by the ending), but she wanted me to do a rewrite.
            At that point I was embarking on one of the most ambitious consulting jobs I’ve ever done, and the rewrite had to be put on hold for about nine months. I finally got to it, and felt, when done, that her suggestions had made the book considerably better. Back to her it went, and after a reasonable time she sent a polite rejection. She still liked it, she said, but she didn’t love it and didn’t feel that at this point she could represent a book she didn’t love.
            She encouraged me to try other agents and wished me well. I was optimistic. Her initial response convinced me I hadn’t produced a complete pig’s breakfast, and I was sure someone else would represent the book and get it published. Five years and more than a hundred agents later, there was nothing to show for my efforts but a drawer full of form rejections and some business deductions for postage.
            So I put the book aside and worked on other things, but I never stopped believing in it. Every time I upgraded my computer, I converted the text of the book to the new version of Word, just in case. And now, just in case has happened; Amazon has made it possible for The McHenry Inheritance to be published.
            In re-editing the book for publication, I saw once again its strengths and flaws, but on the whole felt pretty good about it. It will never be required reading in an English class, but if it helps someone get through a rainy Sunday or a flight to Chicago more pleasantly, that will be satisfaction enough for me. In a couple of weeks it will be in the hands of the readers.