My editor at St. Martin's Minotaur passed away January 10, 2011 at the age of 92. She was 90 years of age when she chose my novel, THE END GAME, to win the St. Martin's/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery.
This essay is a reprint I wrote for Julie Lomoe's Blog.
I wrote my first novel before I began my newspaper career, right after I got out of college, while I was babysitting my two children. It was a war novel – hey, why not start with something you know everything about, right? It's a good thing I love to research.
I sent it off to an agent friend, a classmate in college. He told me it was hard to believe a woman wrote the book, and that if he sold it, I should use initials so buyers would think I was a man. Then he gave me friendly advice. He said I should write women's non-fiction like the stuff in "Cosmopolitan". Sex positions was going to propel me to the top of the Best Seller List.
I went to work for a newspaper instead. After twenty years as a writer, editor and columnist, I retired to write novels in earnest. Like most journalists, I had a few manuscript starts, but never finished them. My first effort was a mystery overlaid with romance. I didn't consider genre when writing the manuscript. I just wanted to tell a story, sell it to a publisher and have a large reading audience. I hired an agent and wrote four books in what she called the romantic suspense genre, before she told me romantic suspense wasn't selling well.
So okay, let's do something else. I created Moriah Dru, a former cop turned child finder. Already in love with a detective, Dru wouldn't be drifting into romance. My agent didn't like The End Game, because she didn't like the heroine. Dru had too much angst. After three years, my agent and I parted, and I sent The End Game to large independent publishers (of which there are few) and got requests for the "full" manuscript from all. I wrote the second book while waiting for offers that didn't come.
I entered The End Game into the Malice Domestic/St. Martin's Minotaur competition for Best First Traditional Mystery novel and started another mystery series. I'd forgotten about the Minotaur contest. Who wins contests anyway? Then my contest reader called to tell me she'd sent the novel on to St. Martin's. The process starts with readers who receive manuscripts from all over the country. They chooses the best in their estimation and send them to St. Martin's.
A couple months went by, and I "got the call" from Ruth Cavin. I was working on a straight romance and almost let the phone ring. Instead, I said "Hello".
I swear my heart stopped beating as I listened to her words that went something like: "This is Ruth Cavin with St. Martin's. I'm calling to tell you that your novel won the St. Martin's contest. Congratulations."
It couldn't be any of my joker friends. They didn't know I'd entered the contest. My husband didn't know.
My mouth was open and dried-out when I stuttered, "You're kidding?"
She laughed and said, "I had some wonderful manuscripts to choose from, but I thought yours was just the best." Just the best. Her wonderful voice still resounds in my head.
When I told my husband I was going to be published by a big New York house, he said, "At last!"
Thank you Julie for letting me relive that call on your wonderful blog.
Gerrie Ferris Finger