One thing about blogs is that people will generally read things from newest to oldest. So I’m going to work my way backwards from my decision to submit SUSPECT to Peachtree to how I came up with the original idea for SUSPECT in the first place. It was essentially a ten-year journey from my first scribbles on this YA mstery to its acceptance by Peachtree.
Some brilliant people like Megan Whalen Turner and Clare Dunkle essentially sold their first novel to the first editor who looked at it. I started out with a bit of talent and a mantra that I picked up from Jane Yolen: Bone-headed stubbornness pays. I didn’t really know whether I was any good at writing, but I did know that could be bone-headed. Most people can’t get a B.S. in electrical engineering without that.
So anyway, in the summer of 2005, I asked the publicity people at Peachtree if they’d like me to drive over from Southwest Michigan to the American Library Association national convention in Chicago to sign in their booth. Some writers on the listserv that I belonged to indicated that sometimes publishers are willing to have you come sign books if you’re willing to do it on your own dime. In fact, many writers will use this time to introduce themselves to editors during a quiet moment. I wound up getting the chance to hang out with Peachtree authors Jeanie Franz Ransom and Dori Hillestad Butler. Jeanie and I had been critique partners since at least 1995. We knew Dori through a writers’ listserv and had met a few time.
Dori had written two books for Peachtree at that time, SLIDING INTO HOME and a new one called DO YOU KNOW THE MONKEY MAN. Lisa Mathews, my editor at Peachtree had edited both of them. I knew that the second book was a mystery, but it was great to finally get my hands on a copy of it. MONKEY MAN had humor, suspense and honest emotion. That’s what I wanted my YA mystery to have. Moreover, I had learned that Lisa could be downright evil when it came to tormenting characters. I’ll always remember my reaction to something she came up with for Matteo in Defending Irene: “That’s evil! It’s perfect!”
But I knew that the novel wasn’t ready for Lisa yet. I’d learned a lot of things about writing since I finished the first draft of what became SUSPECT back in 1999. After making the rounds and collecting a load of rejections, it had gone into seclusion on my hard drive. I decided to finish work on a current project before sitting down to revise my mystery. After all, I had a bit of momentum going.
Jeanie read the new version of my mystery before and during one of our writer’s retreats in Missouri before I submitted the story to Peachtree. When she finished, she looked up at me and said, “You know, _____ _____ _____ _____ ___.” And she was right. But I can’t tell you what she said because that would give away just about everything.
Writers who instinctively avoid conflict in their lives need people like Lisa and Jeanie. And that’s why SUSPECT is dedicated to them:
For Lisa Mathews,
my evil-minded editor
and for Jeanie Ransom,
who knew how this story had to end.
Below that, I tucked in thanks to my three kids. The book that I wrote in 1998 and 1999 probably wasn’t fully up-to-date on high school trends and behaviors. This one was. I haven’t been living through high school, but I have had front row seats. That helped me so much with the details needed to give the appearance of reality. How about the pink and blue stuff? Check out the cleaning scene with Jen and Bri. Gretchen became an expert in how, when and where to use them during the time she spent in housekeeping at the Boyne Mountain Resort. My other two kids competed in a variety of sports: volleyball, basketball, track, and cross country. I was able to update my knowledge of those sports that Jen participated in through hours of watching and cheering.