The obligatory origin story

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I started writing novels with serious intent in 2003, after getting settled in a job in a university archive with regular hours. No papers to grade or stacks of articles that must be read, no corporate rivals to beat to the great software launch. You leave the office and your time is your own. Time in which you can do a whole other thing, like write books.

My first effort was an historical romance, Minstrels and Miracles, set in 1101. This is the under-the-bed book, although I still like it. I had the false notion that writing a romance would be easier. It isn’t. It’s easiest — a very relative term — to write the kind of book you most like to read. That’s a good topic for the CCW blog. Four books later, I have learned that no book will ever be easy for me to write. I sweat every page. But if it were easy, I’d be bored with it by now. Let it never be easy, say I!

Some wise person said, “Write what you read.” So book 2 was a mystery, what I call a cozy: small town, amateur sleuth, light in tone. No recipes or crafty how-tos. Mine is set is Lost Hat, Texas. My sleuth is Penelope Trigg, a photographer. I wrote Flash Memory and then thought of a better way to start the series and wrote Black & White &Dead All Over.

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B&W is on its way to my agent this morning, off to seek its destiny. Fingers crossed, y’all.

I racked up about 30 rejection letters from agents on each of these books before giving up. Faint-hearted, I know. Somewhere in there I discovered the Sisters in Crime Guppies and learned about small presses and got plugged into that great support system.

B&W wasn’t doing well. A few requests for full manuscripts, but no sale. At that time (2008-ish), it seemed that the cozy sub-genre had been completely overgrown by the gardening/cooking/crafts sub-sub-genre. I rarely read those and don’t want to write them, so I decided to go back to the past, where I can be happy. The 12th century was a great century and I had read a lot about it, but now I wanted a period with a vernacular literature I could read without a dictionary. I grazed my way up through the ages until I landed in the late sixteenth century: the Elizabethan era.

And a hey, nonny, nonny! I slapped myself on the forehead. “If it’s literature you want, you great woolly-pated ninny, look no further!” So I happily began reading biographies and overviews of the period. By this time I have an office in the UT-Austin library, on the same floor as the British history section. Serendipity? Synchronicity? Whatever it was, I was happy as a hog in a holler. I started looking for an historical personage to play my protagonist, hoping that would help sell my book.

I don’t remember the day I decided on Francis Bacon as my protagonist. No lightning struck. No choirs of angels manifested in my tiny office. But who could be a more a logical choice for a detective?  Once I stumbled onto him, I knew I’d found my protagonist. I have grown very fond of Francis over the years of study and writing. He was most decidedly not an action figure, however, so I needed a sidekick. I had my Nero Wolfe; I needed an Archie Goodwin. And thus Thomas Clarady was born.

Murder by Misrule landed me an agent, rock star Pamela Ahearn. We couldn’t sell it to the Bigs, though, nor even the Middles. Not commercial enough. I believe my take on history is too light-hearted for the conventional view. Editors seem to be stuck on the Tudors TV version of history, forgetting about the delightful Shakespeare in Love, one of my inspirations. 

I can’t let twelve harried purchasing agents decide the fate of my Francis Bacon mystery series, so I’m bringing it out myself on May Day, this year. That will be a day of celebration and feasting throughout the land of Anna Castle! I hope you all will join me.

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Pam De Voe
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Your historical fiction sounds terrific! I am looking forward to your bringing it out yourself. Sometimes we just can’t wait for others to decide for us about what we should do and when!

Best of luck.

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