Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Magic Number Theory

This theory, which I first wrote about in October 2009, is for writers who are submitting, either to agents or small presses. I stole this from someone and can no longer remember who, but if someone wants to take credit, I'll gladly give it. Any if someone else can state it better, that would be good, too. This is a little long winded.

First, I'm assuming your project is as good as you can make it. It's as good or better than what's on the market and it's ready to be published. You're sending out queries and collecting rejections and wondering if you'll EVER reach your goal.

As a querying writer you have your own, individual magic number. You don't know what it is, but it is written in stone somewhere. It's the number of queries you must send out before you land that elusive agent, the one who "falls in love" with your work and then manages to get it sold for you, or the publisher who eagerly accepts you into the fold. (An agent who can't sell your work, necessitating getting another agent, is a pre-agent, and doesn't count. Only your "real" agent, the one who sells for you.) When you send out the query with the magic number on it, you're set, done, reached your goal. (Until you go on to the rest of the stuff, which is just as hard, only different.)

The beauty of this theory is that you can regard each rejection as a step closer to your magic number. Another rejection? Okay, the magic number wasn't 17. A few more? Okay, it wasn't 28, or 52, or 77, or maybe not even 110. Each rejection is PROGRESS. You're getting closer to your magic number. If your number is 455, your 456th query will be The One that gets you published.

You may lose patience and try another route, self-publishing. Keep in mind that it may help to get the big agent and the big publishing house if you publish something with a good small press. That’s what worked for me.

Another writer, Lina Zeldovich, has a similar theory she calls Stairway to Heaven. Every rejection letter builds her stairway and gets her closer.

Either way, don't view rejection letters as marks of failure, but rather as marks of success.

I hung on for 10 years getting closer to my magic number. It turned out to be 468.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Do you like to dip into noir sometimes?

I sure do. Not sure what that says about me, but there it is.

I can go along writing cozy and traditional, I can dial my time machine way back and write about life 28,000 years ago, for a while. But then I have to bust out and write dark.

My dark writing isn’t as inky as some people’s, but it’s liberating for me to cross the lines. To use language that real people use—language that hasn’t been cleaned up for the kids or for publication. Come on, you know what I mean. Language that I learned in the tractor factory and at college. Both places run neck and neck for that sort of thing.

I can also write about the kinds of people I knew when I waited tables in places where you don’t get much in the way of tips. People I knew when I worked as a nurse’s aide. Good, solid, working people, but people without varnish.

Maybe this is because I didn’t grow up very far from the wrong side of the tracks, and had friends on the other side. My cousins and I were the first generation to go to college, so our veneer isn’t always that thick. Most of the sororities at Northwestern, where I went on scholarship, didn’t ask me back after they learned that my dad was an electrician. Blue collar is part of who I am, a big part.

Anyway, my story that is coming out in November from Akashic in MEMPHIS NOIR was very fun to write, and uses that part of me. The story is called “Heartbreak at Graceland” and I’d love to know if you like my murder method as much as I do. The book is available for preorder, so you can find out soon.

(Goodness, I didn’t know this was going to turn into the biography of my early life.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE is being published in hardcover by Untreed Reads. I’m so excited about this! It’s a one-time thing, limited edition of 250 copies, and all copies will be signed by me. The order period is through August, unless the 250 sell out before then.

This book was nominated for an Agatha Award for best historical novel.

They will ship in September, or earlier if they sell out before August 31st.  

You ARE allowed to order multiple copies if you think these would make good gifts (in case you’re thinking ahead to the holidays). Shoot me an email if you want multiple copies and I’ll let the publisher know. I think the page lets you order just one.

I’m VERY excited that my publisher is doing this! Oh, I already said that. It’s true, doubly true, I guess. Here’s the link: