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Friday, March 8, 2019


Author Lois Winston sometimes takes a break from creating havoc in my life to turn her attention to a second mystery series, The Empty Nest Mysteries, about wannabe romance writer Gracie Elliott. Even though Gracie has lost her job, Lois is quite a bit kinder to her than she is to me. Dead bodies aside, Gracie’s biggest problem is her inability to sell her romance novel, collecting a stack of rejection letters. And in Literally Dead, the second book in the series, Gracie discovers that writing romance can be murder—literally.

Like many other authors, Lois also received her share of rejection letters before selling her first book, then received more before she sold Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book about me. What she learned from all those rejection letters is that books are often rejected not because of a lack of storytelling skill but because the right book didn’t land on the right editor’s desk on the right day. And because taste is so subjective, what appeals to one editor may be a quick rejection from another.

Take Gone With the Wind, for example, or as I call it, Clueless in Georgia. I have no idea whether or not Margaret Mitchell acquired any rejection letters on her road to publication, but had I been an editor who received that manuscript, I would certainly have rejected it. Why? For one thing, Ashley Wilkes needs to grow a pair. What woman in her right mind would fall for such a wimp? Especially someone like Scarlett O’Hara? The only reason she pursued Ashley was because he and Melanie were betrothed. Scarlett always wanted what someone else had. She’s the classic petulant, spoiled brat from the first page of the book to the last. Fiddle-dee-dee! I envision my half-brother-in-law Ira’s twin daughters Melody and Harmony winding up just like Scarlett if he doesn’t wise up and grow a pair.

However, instead of sending Ms. Mitchell a form rejection letter (because I know from listening to Lois how disheartening they can be), I'd take the time to offer a few suggestions. First, I'd make Melanie Hamilton the heroine of the story. I'd tell the author to rip the rose-colored glasses from her face and get rid of her goody-two-shoes attitude. Have her recognize Scarlett for the "B-Yatch" she is. As for Mammy, instead of taking all that crap from Scarlett and the rest of the O'Hara clan, I'd have her hop on the Underground Railroad and head north to freedom.

So while Gracie and I were talking about rejection letters, Lois told us about Jerzy Kosinski. He won the National Book Award in 1969 for Steps. Between 1975 and 1977, a freelance writer by the name of Chuck Ross decided to test a theory. He set out to prove that novels by unpublished authors have little chance of ever getting published. He retyped Steps under the pseudonym Erik Demos and sent it off to more than two-dozen editors and literary agents. All of them rejected the manuscript, including an editor at Random House, the original publisher of Steps, who not only didn’t recognize the book as their own but sent “Demos” a form rejection letter.

Timing is everything. Luckily for both Margaret Mitchell and Jerzy Kosinski, their books landed on the right editor’s desk on the right day, and the rest is history.

Literally Dead
Book 2 of the Empty Nest Mystery Series

An homage to Dashell Hammet’s Thin Man movies with a modern day spin on Nick and Nora Charles 

After her last disastrous episode as an amateur sleuth, Gracie Elliott is back. The budding romance writer has spent the past year crafting her first novel. Her hard work and determination pay off when her manuscript wins the Cream of the Crop award, a contest for unpublished writers, sponsored by the Society of American Romance Authors. First place entitles her to attend the organization’s annual conference, normally open only to published authors.

With husband Blake in tow, a starry-eyed Gracie experiences the ultimate fan-girl moment upon entering the hotel. Her favorite authors are everywhere. However, within minutes she learns Lovinia Darling, the Queen of Romance, is hardly the embodiment of the sweet heroines she creates. Gracie realizes she’s stepped into a romance vipers’ den of backstabbing, deceit, and plagiarism, but she finds a friend and mentor in bestselling author Paisley Prentiss.

Hours later, when Gracie discovers Lovinia’s body in the hotel stairwell, a victim of an apparent fall, Gracie is not convinced her death was an accident. Too many other authors had reason to want Lovinia dead. Ignoring Blake’s advice to “let the police handle it,” Gracie, aided by Paisley, begins her own investigation into the death. Romance has never been so deadly.

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