The International Thriller Writers association runs a great series, called “How It Happened,” in its The Big Thrill, letting established authors share their pathway to publication. These are usually great fun, if for no other reason than to learn about all the troubles most of us ran into along the way. This week, I got to share mine.
How It Happened by Clea Simon
Until her death, my mom kept the evidence. The yellow paper, with its green lines covered front and back with my awkward pencil scrawl. First grade, maybe, or second, and we’d been told to write the story of the frog prince. I remember the picture that served as a prompt. Green frog, yellow crown. Lily pad. All well and good, except to me the familiar fairy tale was old hat by that point, and so I filled both sides of the paper, laboriously formed letter by laborious letter, telling of how the prince failed in his quest to reach the end of the world and thus had to make peace with being a frog. I had the fiction bug. That story wanted to be written.
Along the way, it was nearly crushed out of me. Creative writing classes. The reality of earning a living. Fast forward a few decades, and I was a journalist. After a decade of that, I started writing nonfiction books, but the underlying insecurity was the same: Nobody was paying for my writing. That existed only to convey the information I had found. My research.
I was still reading, of course. That’s what we do, and I was enough of a crime fiction junkie to become friends with Kate Mattes, who was then-owner of a wonderful indie bookstore in Cambridge, Mass., called, fittingly enough, Kate’s Mystery Books. Kate’s was the kind of place that had signed first editions but would also let you sell back what you’d read for credit. Her “used” shelves gave me my genre education. Of course, I was a regular at her holiday parties – mad open houses, where local greats like Robert Parker and Linda Barnes would crowd in besides fledgling authors and fans, often spilling onto the store’s front yard, even in the worst New England winter weather. And as the 2002 party rolled around, Kate asked if I wanted to sign my latest nonfiction book at her party. That was The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats, a collection of lore and my usual research, with some personal stories and interviews woven in. Despite that word in its subtitle, it was not, by any stretch, a mystery.
I was flattered, but I pushed back. “It’s not a mystery, Kate. It’s not even fiction.”
“Believe it or not, Clea,” she responded. “There’s a huge overlap between women who love cats and mystery readers.”
Who was I to argue? She got a shipment of the books, and I attended as an author for the first time. As I recall, the party was so crowded that year that I never made it far enough into the shop to stand next to my book. It didn’t matter, a good time was had by all. Much wine was consumed as well. As the party wound down, I stayed to help clean up, grateful and a bit stunned. There may have been more wine involved.
At the end of the night, Kate turned to me. “Clea,” she said. “You should write a mystery.” She was giving me permission, her words a magic spell that revealed my true self, warts and all. And the very next day I started what would become my first mystery, Mew is for Murder. What followed was the usual saga of revising and submitting and rejections and resubmitting (Poisoned Pen published it in 2005). But by that point, I wasn’t going to stop. Like that frog, I’ve accepted who I am, crown, lily pad, and all. Thanks, Kate.
The author of more than two dozen cozy/amateur sleuth mysteries featuring cats, three nonfiction books, and one punk rock urban noir, World Enough (Severn House) (a Mass Book Awards “must read”), Clea Simon likes to keep busy. The Boston Globe best-selling author’s latest is An Incantation of Cats, the second “Witch Cats of Cambridge” cozy mystery series from Polis Books. Clea lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, with her husband and one (1) cat. She can be reached at www.cleasimon.com and on Twitter @Clea_Simon
To learn more about Clea Simon’s newest novel, click on the cover below: