Death of an Intelligence Gatherer

Kathy Lynn Emerson here. Brace yourselves. This is another one of my long book-origin stories.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I believe in recycling. If an idea doesn’t work for one book or short story, I’m likely to end up using it somewhere else at a later date. More often than not, the first incarnation was just a bad fit and the eventual metamorphosis is what it was meant to be all along.

the daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke

My very first attempt at writing a novel, begun in September 1976 and “finished” in February 1977, was based on the life of one of the daughters of a sixteenth-century courtier, Sir Anthony Cooke. It was titled, not very originally, One of the Daughters. He had five of them, and following the example of Sir Thomas More, educated them as if they were sons. One daughter died as a young woman. The other four were prominent in Elizabethan England, both as the wives of important men and in their own right. My focus was on Katherine, who may or may not have gone into exile on the Continent with her father during the reign of Mary Tudor, the queen who restored Catholicism to England from 1554-1558 and persecuted those Protestants who refused to convert. This tome, written in third person and totaling 562 pages typed on a manual typewriter, followed the tradition of Anya Seton and other writers I admired way back then and took the reader through her entire life. If I were reading it now, I’d rate it as boring . . . if I still had the manuscript. Mercifully, along with most of my earliest efforts, it no longer exists, in part because it morphed, through several stages, into what will be published on August 9 as Death of an Intelligence Gatherer.

That first attempt garnered six rejections (this was back when you could still send manuscripts to publishers’ slush piles) before I moved on to something else, but in 1982, after I’d begun to write for younger readers, I rewrote it, with a shorter time frame, as a young adult mystery titled The Die is Cast. The main characters was a well-educated girl in her late teens, Cordell Shelby, who travels with her father, Sir Anthony Shelby, into exile in Strasbourg, at that time a free city between French and German states. It came in at 49,000 words. I queried twenty-five publishers from 1982-1985 (yes, there really were that many back then) but no one was interested.

In 1987, I tackled the story again, this time thinking of it in terms of a first chronicle in a “Lady Allington” mystery series, since Cordell marries a young man  named Roger Allington in The Die is Cast. I kept that title, but now the characters were older and there was a spy subplot I borrowed from another early novel that had failed to sell. I worked on it on and off until I had a 71,000 word draft in July of 1989. By then I had an agent, but she couldn’t sell it either.

Fast forward to May of the following year at a mystery conference where I was chatting with an editor I’d worked with on my young adult novels. It turned out she’d briefly been an assistant editor at one of the houses where my agent had sent The Die is Cast. She’d wanted to buy it but been overruled. Now she was an acquiring editor for Harper Paperbacks, buying romance novels. She asked me if the book was still available and when I said it was, she suggested that I expand it to 100,000 words and beef up the romance angle between Cordell and Roger, making it possible for her to publish it as historical romance. I did (in fact the version I sent her ran to 117,000 words), and she did, and at 104,750 words it was published as Winter Tapestry in 1991. It was my seventh published book.

Now the story becomes two-tracked. Instead of the Lady Allington Mysteries, I created the Lady Appleton series. Although as well educated as Cordell, Susanna Appleton never went into exile, but she did help Protestants escape Mary Tudor’s England. Her husband, Robert, was vastly different from Cordell’s Roger—a villain, in fact. But yes, there are still a lot of similarities. Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie was published in 1997, the first of ten Face Down novels and numerous short stories.

In 1999, rights to Winter Tapestry reverted to me. E-books were still in their early days but I saw the potential. I retyped the book, adding back some material that had been cut and making a few other changes. In January 2003, the 95,602 word e-book version was released. It is still available at all the usual e-book outlets.

And now we come to the part I’ve written about before. It was just about a year ago that I decided to create an omnibus e-book edition of the three historical romantic suspense novels Harper published back in the 1990s. I started proofreading Winter Tapestry, planning to tweak it a little and eliminate the overuse of words like ’tis and ’twas, but the more I read, the more I realized that I wasn’t happy with it.

As published, Winter Tapestry contained multiple point-of-view characters and jumped back and forth between the romance, the murder of Cordell’s father, and a subplot involving spies. It isn’t a bad book, but I kept thinking of ways it could be better. For one thing, it had started life as a murder mystery. It ended up being published, according to the cover copy, as “a romantic adventure in Tudor England.” I really, really wanted to take it back to its roots. Then, too, there’s the fact that I’m a much better writer now than I was all those years ago. And I’ve developed a preference for using a single narrator. The “new” novel is written entirely in Cordell’s point of view.

On August 9, Death of an Intelligence Gatherer (now 73,933 words) will be released in trade paperback and e-book formats. Cordell Shelby is now Cordell Ingram. Some other character names have been changed as well, for various reasons. Roger’s has not, in part because a much older Roger Allington plays a small but important role in Face Down O’er the Border. He and Cordell are also mentioned in other Face Down novels.

So there you have it, the long tangled origin story. Hypothetical question: if you had read Winter Tapestry years ago, would you still be interested in reading this new version?

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others, including several children’s books. 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. In 2023 she won the Lea Wait Award for “excellence and achievement” as a Maine writer from the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. She is currently working on creating new omnibus e-book editions of her backlist titles. She maintains websites at and

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9 Responses to Death of an Intelligence Gatherer

  1. John Clark says:

    I loves me a good tangle, and you’re so right about later looks at material and nothing being wasted.

  2. jselbo says:

    Wow. Continue to be in awe of your productivity – and now your steadfastness and ability to re-think and go back and your tenacity. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      See reply to John above! Sometimes I think it’s just that I’m obsessive, or stubborn, or one of those other less flattering descriptions, but thanks for seeing it as steadfastness and tenacity. Those sound so much better.

  3. matthewcost says:

    Persistence to perfection. Congrats.

  4. A fascinating story! I admire you for never giving up on a story idea, and the many creative ways you’ve recycled them. Good luck with the new book.


  5. Julianne Spreng says:

    one word…YES!

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