“Hello, this is Ruth Cavin from St. Martin’s Press,” a voice said and I froze. She told me her number and asked me to call her. My mind went blank. She wouldn’t be calling if she didn’t have good news, right? I tried to call my husband but he didn’t pick up his phone. I turned to the sink and started washing the pile of dirty dishes there before telling myself to wake up and call her back. The dishes could wait.
I had won a competition—the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic Best Traditional First Mystery award. The prize? Publication with St. Martin’s Press. I was ecstatic. I had not been able to interest an agent in my manuscript (they didn’t think there was a market for it!), so I entered the competition in October 2006 on a whim. I figured it couldn’t hurt, and it gave me a deadline for finishing my book POSED FOR MURDER.
A few months after I entered the contest, I unknowingly met my judge for the contest, Luci Hanson Zahray, at Crimebake. She is known in mystery circles as the “poison lady.” She certainly didn’t get the name because she has a poisonous personality. She’s actually incredibly sweet and generous, and she is a pharmacist and toxicologist who shares her knowledge in seminars at conferences (you will never look at a peach pit the same way again!). She gave me a few tips for a short story I was writing, “Exercise is Murder,” that was later published by Ellery Queen Mystery magazine in their June 2008 issue. I emailed her thanking her for the advice (see—having good manners does pay off).
A few months later, Luci emailed me to tell me she was reading my manuscript, POSED FOR MURDER, and liked it. Unfortunately, she had just read up to page 163 and the next page was missing! I was horrified, and emailed the rest of the manuscript off to her figuring I was doomed… Here were my thoughts, in rotation, for the next few weeks: I forgot a page. But she liked it. I looked like an idiot. But she liked it. How could I have forgotten a page? But she liked it…
In the end, Luci picked my book to forward on to St. Martin’s Press, and miraculously the editor chose my book as the winner out of all the manuscripts entered. I felt like I had won the lottery, except that I’d done way more than purchase a scratch-off ticket. I’d written a whole book (which is no small feat) and St. Martin’s wanted to publish it.
At the Malice Domestic convention in Virginia where they announced my prize, as well as awards like the Agatha (named for Agatha Christie), I learned more about what a big deal the prize really was and the amazing generousity of the mystery community. I met previous winners like Julia Spencer-Fleming, Vincent O’Neil and Donna Andrews. They were all continuing their careers at St. Martin’s, and had won lots of prizes between them. They all welcomed me into “the club” and I was honored to join them. I hope to also have a long illustrious career at St. Martin’s.
These days I’m even tempted to buy one of those scratch-off lottery tickets. Why not? I sure feel lucky.
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