FIRST, an apology.
I have a reminder on my calendar to prepare a blog post every month for Western Fictioneers. And this month, I procrastinated. Yes. Page proofs for my historical mystery thunked on my desk, along with a ton of other pending matters. No excuses. I should have prepped this post, with an appropriate western theme, long ago. But such is the life of the writer. I'll do the next best thing - chat about all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into a writing life. You have to be desperate to want that.
SECOND, I was desperate to succeed.
Oh yes. Back in the early 1990s, with my 3-year-old daughter at my feet happily playing, I tapped the keys of a manual typewriter with hopes that one day... You can guess the rest. Like a cat pawing under the door, trying to find that elusive toy... Five stacks of manuscripts later (most with dead bodies, which puzzled the romance editors) and many years followed. I worked part-time as a substitute teacher and tutor, enhanced my brilliant daughter's education (schools were good, but she needed more than what they offered), assisted my husband caring for his elderly mother, published in the children's market (very little money in magazines, trust me), and even set aside my writing throughout my daughter's high school years to help (and lead) the Band Boosters. Once she hit college running, I needed time to recharge my batteries. Oh, and do housework. Housework is always last on my list. As it should be. It will wait for you.
THIRD, I finally took my dream seriously.
No longer would my writing be a hobby. I wanted a real career. I wanted that publishing contract and even an agent. But first, I had to figure out why -- while friends had published (romances) -- why, oh, why the editors praised my writing but pulled the carrot away. So I decided to get an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. My husband supported my decision. Doing the week-long term residencies and the hard, hard, hard work of writing at home between, I identified my strengths and weaknesses. I even found my voice (lo and behold, it wasn't romance!), shored up the weakness in my writing and infused more of my strengths into my work. I graduated, celebrated, and snagged an on-line writing job to help pay bills -- but that's not why I earned the MA. I set aside my "thesis manuscript" (flawed, despite two years of hard work), and revised the manuscript I'd written before I started the MA (just to prove to I could finish one again, after a four-year hiatus, although it was more romance than western).
That book became DOUBLE CROSSING. Nobody wanted it. Not even after winning awards and finalist berths in unpublished writing contests. That's when I realized I had to PUSH HARDER. What would it take to get a foot in the door? I accompanied my daughter to Vienna (in spring!) to recharge my batteries, think, and pray. We had a lovely time. Writing was furthest from my mind. Sometimes you just need to get away, relax, sightsee and eat Sachertorte.
When I returned, I accepted an offer from a small press -- no advance, but it was grand seeing my name in print at last. And I am SO GRATEFUL to the Western Writers of America for choosing Double Crossing as the Best First Novel of 2012. I'd submitted it to many contests, but that win helped me realize this was for real. My dream HAD come true. But the hard work wasn't over. Staying at a small press wasn't the end of the line for me, despite a supportive writing community of friends. My college friend and long time critique partner Sharon Pisacreta helped me write the sequel to Double Crossing, DOUBLE OR NOTHING, which won the Laramie for Best Mystery - Western. It helps, when you're stuck in the middle of a book, to kill off a character -- her words, exactly.
But while driving to her house for that helpful session, I had the brilliant idea (all thanks to God, of course, for pinging my brain) of pairing up Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins as amateur sleuths. Since Shaw's Pygmalion is in the public domain, that gave us license to "take over" the characters while keeping his original intent in mind, plus his witty humor. Together we wrote the first draft and came up with a pseudonym, D.E. Ireland. We also snagged an enthusiastic agent three hours after sending a query. And John Talbot landed a publishing contract within three weeks from Minotaur Books. We were thrilled.
No, our book is not a western. But it is historical, and it is a series. I haven't left the western genre, since I have ideas for future dabbling. But for now, my mind is far, far to the east, in jolly 1913 England. And our first book, WOULDN'T IT BE DEADLY, has been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Historical of 2014! Wow. We are in grand company! Long established mystery authors Charles Todd, Rhys Bowen and Victoria Thompson are in that same category, with the decision to come at Malice Domestic the first weekend in May. We are SO HONORED.
And we are working on page proofs now for the second book, MOVE YOUR BLOOMING CORPSE, which is coming September 22nd, including Royal Ascot and the suffrage movement. We had so much fun writing it, and are enjoying these characters immensely. So while I may not be around much in the western field, I am still posting here... and plotting for the future.
Happy to place my nose back onto the grindstone...
Award-winning mystery author Meg Mims -- also one-half of the writing team of D.E. Ireland for St. Martin's Minotaur mystery series featuring Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins -- lives in Southeastern Michigan with her husband and a sweet Malti-poo. She loves writing novels, novellas and short stories, both contemporary and historical. She earned a Spur Award, a Laramie Award and an M.A. from Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction program. Follow on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest!