Did you ever get a telephone call so surprising that your mind went blank? I mean really blank; so shocked that you’re not even sure the person who called you is speaking English?
Before I come back to that, it’s worth a reminder that writers face a labyrinth trying to get published. Writing is difficult, but it pales when compared to the the dead ends, the wrong turns, the retracing of steps taken earlier, the lost sense of direction and general feelings of discouragement that follow. It’s a long journey; you must first write the book, then find an agent who believes in your work, which if you are lucky will result in a sale to the right publisher, followed by the terrifying and possibly mortifying editing process.
But there are occasional shortcuts, springboards which help you leap to the center of the labyrinth (or the Exit sign–depends which way you want to go). Probably the best for those of us in the mystery field is the annual First Crime Novel contest co-sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America and Minotaur Books (the mystery imprint of St. Martin’s Press). Several hundred crime novels of every sub-genre are submitted. MWA judges read, evaluate and choose the finalists, which are sent on to the editorial staff at Minotaur Books for the final decision.
And yes, I won it.
And no, I didn’t have even the slightest expectation that I would–hence the blankness and the Lithuanian dialect that seemed to come from my ‘phone on the day I received the call from Minotaur’s Editorial Director, Kelley Ragland. Honestly I entered the contest last fall as a way of keeping my spirits up and giving me something author-ish to do. No novel was chosen in 2013, but in a more typical year the winner is contacted in March. When March 31st arrived, I shrugged and thought better luck next year, which was just about the time my phone rang.
The win comes with a St. Martin’s Minotaur publishing contract and a trip to New York to attend the MWA Edgar Awards Dinner, which happened a week ago. I was asked to keep the secret for nearly a month, until the announcement could be made at the Edgars Dinner. I tried. I really did. But within hours I had sworn all my family and friends to secrecy and before long I was blurting it out to waiters and people who telephoned to sell me vinyl siding. In the end, it didn’t seem to matter. The announcement was made by Minotaur publisher Andrew Martin. I stepped on the stage to good-hearted applause from the hundreds of mystery writers, publishers, agents, editors and other guests present, and took possession of the most attractive chunk of acrylic I have ever seen.
So doors have been opened. I’m speaking to agents. I’m anticipating receiving editorial notes from my editor. And in a little more than a year, I will be able to hold my published book in my hand.
Enter the contest.
You might win.