A funny thing happened on my way to publishing a best-selling crime novel: My agent said it stunk.
Well, not in so many words. But that was the message that came through. The way he all but held his nose when he talked about it with me was one clue, and, sadly, that wasn’t the only one. (I’m good at picking up on clues. I write mysteries.) His refusal to even consider sending it around was another, as was the unceremonious way he dumped me less than a year later. (To unceremonious I might add rude and unprofessional, considering he was not working out of his garage—I don’t think—but, rather, was an agent with an established and venerable New York City literary agency.)
[Sidebar: I know you’re curious as to how an agent in an established and venerable agency rudely and unprofessionally dumps his client. He quit answering my emails is how. That was it. The old silent treatment. No explanations, no I’m-sorry-buts, no letting me down gently. Just the silence that follows after you drop your email down an empty well. After about a year or so, I finally took the hint (I’m better at picking up clues than hints).]
So there I was, with no agent, and a spanking new crime novel.
Well, I figured I’d show him. What did he know? Here I was, an established crime writer, having had a goodly number of stories published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and in The Best American Mystery Story series. Not to mention national literary journals galore. I waited a couple of months to let it settle, worked on other things, cleared my mind. Then I got out the novel, dusted it off, and dived back in.
That’s when another funny thing happened. I found myself agreeing with my agent. My ex-agent. The book actually did kind of stink a little. I might have stopped answering my emails too.
Maybe I could have salvaged it. Maybe I could have made it . . . if not best-selling, then at least publishable. But it would have taken a lot of work, and I’m getting old. Old enough to avoid buying ripe bananas. Too old to be diving back into lengthy projects.
In desperate times such as those, you tend to remember the words of your grandmother. Or, if not your own grandmother, the words of some grandmother somewhere. Now, I know a lot of grandmothers tend to speak in cliches such as waste not, want not, or when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Or when the going gets tough, the tough get going, or use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. That sort of thing.
Not my grandmother. What my grandmother once told me was, Denny, when you write a novel that’s not very good, and you’re not inclined to invest the time and effort to try and make it better, you should see if you can’t at least glean a good short story or two out of it.
Well, not in so many words. But that was the message that came through.
To make a long story short, I made a long story short.
As a matter of fact, I made a long story two shorts. I put on my gleaning hat and sat down and picked out a couple of plot lines, a few good scenes, some dialogue and characters, and carefully excised them from the novel that stunk, harvesting two short stories that apparently did not. One was already published, and the other is “The Poet Laureate of Dagus Mines,” included in the March/April issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.
Don’t miss it. You’ll enjoy it more than you would a bad crime novel.