And Ten Years Later . . . The Big Book Deal

April 6th 2008

I wrote a short story called “Aria.”
(I had to go back and double-check that date before starting this blog. I found it buried in the deepest recesses of my Gmail, the first draft I’d sent to a friend to read and tear apart. When I saw that the date on the email was, in fact, April 6th, I nearly had a heart attack. You’ll understand why if you stick with me here.)
Here’s proof, with the irrelevant bits blotted out.
“Aria” was the first piece of fiction I’d written since high school. Many of you reading this right now have read it. Many more of you have not. It isn’t particularly important other than to establish the start of a timeline, the one where I began to consider myself an actual writer.
Looking back on on that story now, I think it was pretty silly and amateurish, but hey, you have to start somewhere. Once I had it cleaned up, I sent it off to an anthology I’d had my eye on. When they picked it up a few months later, the boost to my ego was enormous. Sold the first story I’d written in over ten years?! I WAS SHIT-HOT, MAN!
I made $35 off the sale of that story. The husband and I took the kiddos out to dinner that night. My treat, made easier by the fact that they were still little enough to eat off the kids menu.

From there, I would write and publish some more short stories, and then I began taking a stab at writing novels. All the while, I was certain I would very soon get an agent and sell big right away.
This is where the narrator kicks in with something like, “It didn’t quite turn out that way…” I’ve written a lot about my writing career on this blog, so I won’t rehash it, but if you want to get a sense of the long and winding events that ultimately led to me publishing a few novels and signing with my agent, you can look here.
July 2014
Upon signing with Stephanie Rostan with a book that eventually came to be called SECRET THINGS, I was so sure I was on the verge of “making it.” Mind you, I had no idea what “making it” actually meant. And to be frank, even after the events of the past couple weeks, I’m still not quite sure I know. I’m not sure anyone does. “Making it” is a lot like chasing clouds or taking a big bite of cotton candy. No sooner than you think you have The Thing You’re After, the shape of it changes or it disappears altogether. Some people get hung up on this and they spin out and eventually start to waste away. But you have to keep moving, because I think maybe “making it” only means you’ve found the next marker on the road, and there are no parking spaces until the very end. The journey must continue.
So when I nabbed the marker that read “Acquire Literary Agent,” I did what any half-smart writer ought to do and started working on the next book. This one was a little thing called BLIND SPOTS. More on that in a few.
March 2015
Before long, it was early spring of 2015 when SECRET THINGS went out on submission to a list of 20 or so major publishers. And I even had the pleasure of speaking with a few great editors who absolutely loved the book. But after a stressful (though exciting!) couple of weeks, it became clear that love wasn’t enough. Stephanie said to keep working on the next book and we would try again. And so I did.
This is where dates and things start getting a bit fuzzy, because I got lost in a flurry of work. I finished the first draft of BLIND SPOTS in late summer of 2015 and delivered it to Stephanie. She came back to me a few weeks later with some feedback. It was good. The seed of the idea was right, BUT there were some issues. And they were the sorts of issues that warranted a full top-down rewrite of the book. Mind you, she didn’t tell me I had to do this, but rather it was something I knew I needed to do if I wanted to get this right. And I really really wanted to get this right. The story had a hook I couldn’t let go. I wrote about the whole “starting over from page one” experience here. It took me about 6 weeks or so to draft a new version.
And then I immediately got to work on another idea that had been tugging at me a while. My friends know it as the “Ted Bundy book,” and I worked feverishly on that, oh, I wanna say between December 2015 and February 2016. After working on some revisions, I sent that one along to Stephanie as well, giving her the chance to consider now the revamped BLIND SPOTS and the Bundy book. She came back to me not long after and said (and I agreed) that BLIND SPOTS had the most potential for commercial success. We spoke of some of the additional work it needed, because remember, while I had rewritten the book, it was every bit as much in its early stages of development as the first attempt.
So I got to work. But time passed, and I started working on other types of art projects, too. I taught classes at my local arts center. I would say a great deal of 2016 unfolded without me accomplishing much of anything at all in the writing realm. I stopped self-publishing. I didn’t promote much of my existing work at all. Call it recharging the batteries, or maybe just saving myself from total burnout, but I’m glad I took that break, because it helped get me ready for what was to come.
I finished the new draft of the book and sent it back in early 2017. It was better, but still not quite there. Something about it was keeping it from catching, and between spitball sessions with Steph and her assistant Sarah, we finally figured it out, and a light went on in my head. Oh hell, it was more like a Bat-Signal, only it was shining the real shape of this book up into the night sky. And this is when the book went from being BLIND SPOTS to MRS. MILLER AND THE OTHER MRS. MILLER.
With the new shape in place, I was off and running at a feverish pace. Over that time, it bounced back and forth a bit as I made some additional tweaks, refining that shape ever more, bringing out details that gave the book a deeply personal angle it truly needed in order to have my own stamp of approval. In the fall of 2017, it was finally right. The puzzle pieces were all fitting together. I had a pretty spiffy little book, if I did say so.

Actually, let me back that up. It wasn’t just a spiffy little book. That makes it sound too simple. I can’t recall a time I’d ever felt prouder of something I’d written. I’d learned SO much about writing over the nearly four years I’d spent on this book. I finally understood how some people could spend years working on a novel. I finally understood that you’re never as done as you think you are, that if you have the patience and wherewithal to dig deep (and if you have, as I do, an agent who is willing to walk those steps with you like a steady blessing), you will uncover treasures you never dreamed were there. I learned that sometimes a story comes to you whole, but many times, it’s a careful sort of archaeological dig on a massive beast whose bones are scattered and lodged in bedrock, and you’ll have to find stores of tenacity you didn’t know existed to unearth that fucker. I’d been calling myself a writer for a long time up to this point, but it finally felt earned in a way that hummed deep.

The Day of the Deal
I’m not a publisher, but something tells me that spring is a great time to sell books. The weather is improving. People aren’t all dropping from the flu. Trade events are gearing up, giving people in the industry something to talk about. We’re looking toward summer and fun and rebirth. And wouldn’t you know it, there was a shiny new book about to hit editors’ desks that seemed to exemplify all those things. But I was bracing myself. SECRET THINGS was a whirlwind that ended in disappointment. However, I also knew that MRS MILLER was a different type of book. I had all the right elements in place, carefully shaped over time the way water shapes rock, and I had a badass agent out there peddling it. I felt about as good as I had any right to expect.
Of course, expectations of a sale notwithstanding, things didn’t go how I expected them to go. In fact, they got . . . big.

I didn’t expect the level of sheer excitement I ultimately encountered once editors started reading it. I also didn’t expect in a million years that the book would to go to auction, a long-held dream of many aspiring writers that is even more exhilarating and crazy-making than you might expect it to be. Much much more. I thought I would entice a single editor and that would be that, the nobody kid with a pretty okay book, but still a nobody kid, at least in this particular landscape. I didn’t think I would end up having a choice between an array of editors who were ALL fantastic. It was like someone presenting me with a silver tray on which there were keys to an Audi, a Lexus, a Mercedes, and a Tesla and being told I had to pick one.

And finally, I didn’t expect that we would be closing on a life-changing book deal with Putnam on April 6th, 2018, ten years to the day that I wrote my first piece of fiction as an adult, a coincidence that I think will both startle and amuse me long into old age.
But that’s where we are now. I somehow managed to write my way through those hallowed publishing gates. And I have an editor!! Her name is Margo Lipschultz, and she is beyond fantastic, with a passion for MRS MILLER that will no doubt ensure its success once it goes out into the world. Our connection was immediate, and I hope I get to work with her for a long time to come. You know how exciting it is to say the words “my editor?” Every bit as exciting as it still is to say “my agent.”
Ten years. Ten goddamn years. Millions of words written and erased and rewritten, shaped into stories both good and not-so-good, fed by some steady supply of hope–a supply not always so abundant, but always there, nonetheless–that they would bring me here. Countless rejections and late nights, obsessive thoughts about people who only live inside my head but feel like friends, enemies, and sometimes intimate partners. And oh boy, the doubt constantly chasing me down, even until the second I glimpsed this morning’s latest milestone, the Publishers Marketplace listing with my name on it.
There are other things happening with this book right now (exciting international things!!) that I don’t think I’m cleared to announce widely yet, but suffice it to say, it only begins here. World domination is in progress as we speak.

On Nearly Giving Up

The thing is, I was very VERY close to quitting this whole thing not so long ago. In fact, it was only in recent weeks I’d started having a serious conversation with myself, where I allowed that it was okay to quit if MRS MILLER didn’t sell, that I’d given this whole author thing ten years to bear fruit, and if I was tired, I had permission to move on. I have, after all, found success in my little crochet business. I also started a job with Pepsi back in January. I’m still developing a podcast that I hope to start up later this year. I still have my teaching gigs at the arts center. I’ve spent the last 18 months getting on top of my health, losing weight, exercising, defeating type 2 diabetes. My husband and I have started learning how to save a little money and think more seriously about the next part of our lives together, with our kids being nearly grownups themselves now. Essentially, I’d reached age thirty-eight with a pretty nice and full life, and for the first time in a very long time, I was at peace with myself. My whole life’s meaning was no longer wrapped up in becoming a successful author; it was no longer revolving around Getting The Deal. I decided I wouldn’t feel like a failure if it didn’t work out. You simply CAN’T feel like a failure if you try this hard at something for this long.
And it seems like the moment I’d finally come to this realization, when I finally closed my eyes, let loose my breath, and slackened my grip, it happened. Ten years to the day, full circle in in the most literal way.

I can’t say for sure I actually would have quit, at least forever. I only knew that I had to feel like it was okay to do it. I had to remind myself that there was room in one life for more than one dream. Sometimes, just the permission to let go is all the heart really needs, even if you decide to keep holding on.

The writing fire is now lit in me anew, forged by a different kind of purpose, to build on this newfound success. I have the next book in front of me to polish up while I wait for notes on MRS MILLER (from my editor!!!!), and there are more ideas ticking away in the back of my mind, waiting for their turn.
Finally, I am so elated to be part of the Putnam team. Putnam. FREAKING PUTNAM. Is this even real?! Will the fireworks in my brain ever stop? I’m so grateful to my amazing agent not only for making it happen, but for putting up with all my jitters along the way, to my family and friends for holding me up and believing well after I’d begun to wane. You absolutely can’t do something like this alone.
Watch this space for more news on the book as it develops! Cover art and more! Then watch your local bookstores. I’ll tell you when.

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