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Friday, October 10, 2014


Mark Stevens is the author of the Allison Coil Mystery series. Today he talks about why he’s glad his earlier mysteries didn’t sell. Learn more about Mark and his books at his website

True Confession

I walked away from a good job in 1989 because, in part, I signed a contract with a good literary agent in Book Deal Central, a.k.a. New York City.  I’d spent six years writing my first mystery and I thought it was pretty good. I had so much hope.

(Nothing happened.)

In 1994, I signed with the literary agency that represented John Freaking Grisham. (Is that his middle name? I think so.) This was for mystery #2. Hope? By the trunk-full.

(Nothing happened.)

In 1999, I worked for a year with a literary agency on mystery #3. This agency is reputable, big time, New-York based. They are still around today. You don’t have to ask how I felt, do you?

(Nothing happened.)

I was three novels down but went ahead and wrote mystery #4 in the early 2000’s—and found it hard to locate a good agent.

Then, in 2007, a small independent publisher offered to publish mystery #3. I thought: why not? Get out there see what happens.

The book did well—local bestseller, etc.

In 2011, mystery #5 (a sequel to the third) was published by a larger independent publisher. 

And next month my third mystery (mystery #6 overall and the third in the same series ) will be published, picked up by another publisher, mid-series. I’m thrilled.

And here’s the confession.  (Cue the drum roll.)

I’m glad it didn’t happen earlier.  I’m glad my “stuff” (that’s the polite term) didn’t reach print way back when.

Some of the writing was okay. There were some moments—a flash here, a pop there.

But overall? Ack!

Even looking back at Antler Dust, the first published Allison Coil Mystery, I can see room for improvement. 

So what am I trying to say?

It’s this: if I could go back to my 1989 self, I would tell that green rookie writer dude to chill, to trust the judgment of others. I think I trusted them at the time—but boy did that rejection sting. How do you not let hope do its thing? How do you not play the “what if” game?

In the end, I think I’ve learned—and improved—just about every aspect of making a story stronger, tighter, clearer, more suspenseful, more interesting. I joined writer groups, networked my butt off, and I learned to listen. If a scene didn’t work, guess what? A scene didn’t work.

Yes, still learning. Always have, always will.

But I’m so glad I don’t have to apologize for some of the earlier junk.   

So glad.

True fact.

True confession.

A badly chewed-up corpse high in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area leaves Colorado hunting guide Allison Coil mystified and wary. Obvious signs suggest the dead man is the victim of a mountain lion attack, but Allison's wilderness-savvy bones scream otherwise. A few miles away and a few thousand feet lower in downtown Glenwood Springs, a controversial candidate for U.S. Senate is shot during a campaign stop as newspaper reporter Duncan Bloom watches from a few feet away, dodging the long-range gunfire. Trapline follows Coil and Bloom as their investigations into the corpse and the shooting expose greed, hatred, and the dark depths of human indifference.


Susan Oleksiw said...

That's a great story for all of us. I've had a few mss turned down, and as I look back I feel as you do. Better to have the poor work rejected and be given time to grow and develop.

Angela Adams said...

My grandmother always said, "everything happens for a reason." Thanks for sharing.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Wise words, Mark. I also have early novels that will never be published. It was worth the time and effort because nothing teaches a person to write better than the simple act of writing.

Thanks to Anastasia and Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers for having one of my favorite writers as your guest today.