My name is Lea Wait, and I’m a writer. That’s the way I sometimes feel I should start the talks I often give at libraries, schools, and organizations. Because, as we all shared on a group blog recently, writers get a lot of personal questions. (“How old are you? What did you have for breakfast?” are two I’m always prepared for at schools.)
But one that’s trickier than most people think is one that sounds very simple: “How many books have you written?”
But today I thought I’d answer both questions. The second one is the easiest. I’ve been very lucky. The very first book I wrote, Shadows at the Fair, sold. It was even a finalist for an Agatha “best first mystery” award. (Julia Spencer Fleming won that year, so the award came to Maine anyway!) However … Shadows at the Fair didn’t find a publisher right away. Nor was it my first book published.
The first book I wrote that was published was an historical novel for children, Stopping to Home, set in 1806 Maine. I was well into the contract for my second historical for children, Seaward Born, before Shadows at the Fair, which by then had been rejected by over 40 agents, been stuffed in the bottom drawer of my desk for several years, and sat in an editor’s stack of manuscripts for another year, was “discovered” by an editor at Scribner.
So, then I had it made, right? A major publishing house (Simon & Schuster) was publishing me in two genres. I was well-reviewed, and well listed. Even won a couple of minor awards. Not bad. And, true, since I left the corporate world and started writing full-time in 1999 I’ve had 9 books published. (The answer to that “how many books published?” question.)
So I’ve written nine books? Oh, no. Let me tell you about the books I’ve written during the past several years that haven’t yet found homes with publishers. My agent and I are optimistic about their futures. Some I wrote a couple of years ago, and several are so new to the market few, if any, editors have seen them. But none of them are, as of this date, under contract.
1) Justice and Mercy. (adult mystery). It’s April of 1865. Lee has surrendered. In rural upstate New York winter snow melt-off has flooded the Erie Canal, leaving farmlands under water. Lawyer Joshua Wheeler, who lost an arm and gained an addiction to opium during the war, paces the countryside in hopes of ending his pain and nightmares. Instead, he finds a body revealed by receding waters. With the horrors of the battlefield all too recent, Joshua determines to find justice for this one unknown man. But small communities protect their own, and this community, especially its women, have more secrets than most. In the absence of their men during the war they turned what was the underground railway into something else. Violence leaves deep stains, and Joshua learns not all wars are fought on battlefields. That that the one woman who might help eradicate his pain has nightmares of her own. And that justice is not always found in the courtroom.
2) Contrary Winds. (ages 8-12) It’s the summer of 1777. Rory and Sarah Campbell, Scots immigrants whose older brother is with the Northern Army at Ticonderoga, live on the Maine coast, where the British are trying to isolate and starve the populace. When General Gage calls for reinforcements, Rory runs away to join the York Militia. Spunky Sarah is dispatched to Wiscasset, a town where there’s more food, to keep house for a British woman. The book alternates between Sarah’s life in Wiscasset, as the British prepare to attack the town, and Rory’s adventure in getting to York, and then to Saratoga, where he is part of battles that changed the course of the war. Through it all, both Sarah and Rory deal with their own personal fears and challenges, based on earlier events in their lives.
3) For Freedom Alone. (for ages 8-12) Note: Between 1780 and 1860 English landowners evicted thousands of Scottish Highlanders and replaced them with sheep. Those who lived through the brutal evictions were sent to populate the English colonies of Canada and Australia, paid for their own passage to the United States, or moved to the Scottish coasts or the industrial cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, where, together with Irish trying to escape the potato famine and those hand crafters who were early victims of the industrial revolution, they lived in some of the most over-populated slums in history. Today 4 Scots live abroad for every one still in the homeland — many of those abroad are descendants of those displaced during the Highland Clearances. It is 1846; Rab Ross is 12, his sister Meggie is 15, and little Kirstie is 3 when they arrive in Edinburgh with their father. Meggie quickly finds a job,but must work long hours and live away from the family; their father, depressed and discouraged, turns to drink. Rab learns the streets too well and falls in with a band of boys who prey on others. They “fear evil, but need luck,” as they struggle to save enough for passage to America. When Kirstie becomes Ill and their father uses the money they have for whiskey, Rab and Meggie realize saving the family is up to them.
4) Uncertain Glory. (ages 8-12) It’s April, 1861 and 14-year-old Joe Wood, who runs a weekly newspaper in Wiscasset, Maine, has only two weeks to pay a debt or he’ll forfeit his press, and lose his lifelong dream of being a newspaperman. His friend Charlie helps him, but Charlie’s more focused on the exciting news coming from South Carolina. Adding to the emotions of war news, townspeople are flocking to spirit sessions conducted by 12-year-old Nell Gramercy, a traveling spiritualist who says she can speak with the dead. Charlie’s sure she’s a fake, and is out to prove it, but she brought Joe’s father a message that helped end his depression, and Joe isn’t convinced she’s conning people. When war breaks out, there are more opportunities for Joe to print editions, but also more chances for conflict in the town. Joe puts aside his work when his young friend Owen disappears. Owen is black, and when his father wasn’t allowed to enlist Owen was humiliated. When no one can find him after two days, in desperation Joe asks Nell for her help. But he’s the one who ends up helping her.
5) Pizza To Die For. (age 8-12 contemporary mystery) Thirteen-year-old Mikki is focused. She knows she wants to be the best chef in the world. She’s also learned a bit about solving mysteries from her mom, an almost-published mystery writer. So when her friend Mr. Baldacci, owner of a local Italian restaurant, is found dead, Mikki’s convinced he hasn’t died of natural causes. But Mikki’s new to New Jersey. Snooping around and asking questions of possible suspects, some of whom have mob connections, when you don’t know the territory, can get a very bright young lady in a lot of hot water, even if she can cook up a fantastic coq au vin. And try staying up-to-date with school work, keeping your family fed, solving a crime – and then having your absentee father announce he’s moving to town – with his new family! Mikki has her hands full as she discovers secrets not only surrounding Mr. Baldacci and his restaurant – but also within her own family.
6) 365 DAYS. (nonfiction aimed at teachers, homeschoolers, or students). Summaries of two significant events in American history that took place on each day of the year. The events chosen represent not only political history, but also milestones in United States culture: the arts, science, business, sports, etc. In addition to succinct descriptions of the events and why they are important, one of the entires for each day includes questions to think about or discuss, and suggestions for further research, investigation or study that could lead a student to find out more about the topic.
So — the answer to the question, “How many books have you written?” would be, “Nine books that have been published; one that will be published next year, and six that haven’t been contracted for. Yet.”
And I can hardly wait to start on the next one. But that’s another blog!