If At First You Don’t Succeed . . .

Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today writing about the circuitous route my new book took to publication. I’m also giving away a print copy to one lucky person who comments on this blog. See the end of the post for details.

Most of my story ideas have a long and twisted history, and the new single title historical, The Finder of Lost Things, is no exception. What came to fruition just over a week ago began as the germ of an idea back on May 18, 2012. I know the exact date, because I was at that year’s Maine Romance Writers’ retreat as a presenter on a panel with my agent, Meg Ruley. It was Meg who suggested that I might try writing what she called a “forensic sixteenth-century standalone.”

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what she meant by that. I’m still not certain, but what popped into my head was as close as I’ve been able to come. In Elizabethan times, if you thought someone was stealing from you, you’d be more likely to consult the village wise woman than the local constable. Also called cunning women, blessing witches, and finders of lost things, they were often herbalists, and sometimes con artists, but they were almost always shrewd judges of character, good at figuring out where an absentminded neighbor might have left her sewing and which serving maid was most likely to have run off with her master’s silver. I had an idea when and where I would set it: in the 1580s in Bermondsey, across the Thames from London, where a contemporary artist just happened to have painted this scene.

By mid-October I had written ninety-eight pages of The Blessing Witch, told from the first person viewpoint of the granddaughter of one of those cunning women. Since I had been writing non-mystery historical novels as Kate Emerson, we showed the opening pages to the editor I’d been working with. Her feedback was that the entire novel needed to be bigger in scope and that writing in third person pov would help with that.

Stymied, I temporarily abandoned the project. I had other things I wanted to write, including what turned into my Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries, but I didn’t forget The Blessing Witch. Since I couldn’t figure out how to make it work as a novel, and since I’m a champion recycler, I pulled two short stories about Old Mother Malyn and her granddaughter Joan—”The Cunning Woman” and “The Blessing Witch”—out of the proposal for the novel. Both were published. “The Blessing Witch” went on to become a finalist for the Agatha Award.

popular concept of a witch

That still left lots of unused material. A few years later. when it came time to submit a proposal for the third book in the Mistress Jaffrey series, I decided to incorporate some of it into a story about the death in prison of one my of series protagonist’s acquaintances, a death for which she felt partially responsible. I sent in the proposal and had written about 16,000 words when my publisher informed me that they’d rather have the book I’d intended as book four, one I’d described in a throwaway paragraph at the end of the proposal for what I’d now titled Murder in Colchester Gaol. I’m pretty agreeable when someone’s offering me an advance. Once again, I put the idea aside and got to work on Murder in a Cornish Alehouse.

In September 2016, I began “recycling” again. I added material from The Blessing Witch (now switched to third person) to what I’d started with for Colchester Gaol and ended up with a respectable 130 pages, or about 1/3 of a novel. In between working on the “Deadly Edits” series I’d started writing as Kaitlyn Dunnett, I completed a very rough draft of 306 pages (80,399 words) by mid-February 2017. I don’t know why I went ahead and wrote the whole book instead of just resubmitting the proposal, but sometimes I just have to do it that way. Unfortunately, when my agent submitted the revised proposal, the publisher still wasn’t enthusiastic. The Mistress Jaffrey series ended at three books. I was okay with that. The third one ends at a good place for all the major characters.

By the spring of 2017, I had a new game plan: change the novel back into a single title. After all, that’s what it had been to begin with. Instead of using Rosamond Jaffrey as the protagonist, or even the blessing witch’s granddaughter, my idea was to create an entirely new set of characters and find a different motivation for my protagonist to get involved in solving the crime, but keep the settings in Colchester gaol and an Essex manor house, the circumstances of the murder itself, and the details on prisons, murder, witchcraft, exorcisms, and religious intolerance in Tudor England pretty much the same.

When I finished revising my chapter outline (the one I make after I write the chapters) and went through the pages I’d written with Rosamond, making changes with a heavy hand, I still had lots of reuseable material: 69,715 words in 266 pages.

Obviously, there was a lot of work left to be done, but by now this had become a “book of the heart” and a “labor of love”—in other words, I couldn’t not write it. I moved my new sleuth’s home from Bermondsey to an area north of London, shifted the year to about a decade later, and changed the victim to the youngest of my protagonist’s three sisters. By the spring of 2018, I had written and polished a 316 page novel of  85,443 words. The new title was The Finder of Lost Things.

The submission process is always a crap shoot. Acquiring editors didn’t love my new baby as much as I did, although at least one passed on it “regretfully.” It took over a year for the manuscript to find a home, but when it did, it was the right one. Level Best Books bought The Finder of Lost Things for their Historia imprint and has now launched it into the world in trade paperback and e-book formats.

GIVEAWAY DIRECTIONS: For a chance be entered in a drawing to win a copy of the trade paperback edition of The Finder of Lost Things, simply leave a comment about this post below, or on Facebook, and Shadow will pick a winner on Tuesday, October 20. If you would like to buy a copy, here the links for Amazon and B&N. You can also ask your local independent bookstore or your local library (or both!) to order a copy. As of today, I don’t yet have my author copies, so I’m not sure how long it will take for the winner to receive his or her copy, but it will be sent as soon as possible.

With the October 6, 2020 publication of The Finder of Lost Things, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-three books traditionally published. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary “Deadly Edits” series (A Fatal Fiction) as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things. She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2000 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.

 

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14 Responses to If At First You Don’t Succeed . . .

  1. Cheryl says:

    I’m very interested in reading your book.

    Like

  2. bereksennebec says:

    I admire your tenacity. My inner lazy person gets in my way almost daily.

    Like

  3. Carol Alden says:

    I would love to win. I never read a historical mystery and really look forward to read this book.

    Like

  4. kaitcarson says:

    The road to the publication of this book is worthy of a book on its own! Congratulations on perseverance and thank you for a glimpse into your process.

    Like

  5. Jean says:

    What an interesting process. Thanks.

    Like

  6. Julianne Spreng says:

    Historical novels are an entertaining way to expand your familiarity with periods you will never experience. One picks up so much detail about daily life, language, customs, and sometimes even vocabulary in well written stories. Thanks for all the research and attention to detail. We appreciate your hard work.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Alice says:

    You have illustrated why writers should never throw away any of their work.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sally Fortney says:

    This sounds interesting. I’m sorry that your other series ended. I like Susanna and Rosamund and their world. Stay safe and well.

    Like

  9. I started something years ago that my agent was not wildly enthusiastic about, mostly because it was so…serious. I’m usually sort of light and funny, and this just wasn’t. I still think about it and wonder if I should poke at it anyhow. Can’t wait to read your new one!

    Like

  10. Jane Nelson says:

    Kathy, I cannot wait to read this book, since I’ve enjoyed every one of your books that I’ve read. And knowing the backstory to its difficult birth makes it even more special. Congratulations on finally getting it published!

    Like

  11. itslorrie says:

    Hi Kathy, I have just finished reading the e-book of The Finder of Lost Things and I am so glad that you finally were able to get it published. I really enjoyed this story and I hope you will consider writing more stories with these characters. I would be very happy if I won a copy of this book!

    Like

  12. Lois Bartholomew says:

    Hi, Kathy, Thanks for sharing your writing process and success. I’m going to call our library today and have them order this book.

    Like

  13. kaitlynkathy says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments. Shadow the cat has picked Lois to win the print copy of The Finder of Lost Things.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. itslorrie says:

    Congratulations Lois!

    Like

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