Today is the day. THE DARKEST FLOWER arrives in the world. People can hold it in their hands (or read it on their devices, or listen in their cars, or...). This day was a long time in coming. In the hopes that it helps other authors struggling to get a book published, or helps readers to understand the backstory behind just one book in a huge world full of books, I'm going to get really honest here.
I started writing in 2013, for real. I assure you that first effort wasn't much to write home about, but I kept at it. In early 2015, I got my first agent with my second manuscript. She was wonderful and amazing and a spectacular cheerleader. That second manuscript was a romance and she was a romance agent with a talent for spotting likable heroines people could root for. She put it on sub. It didn't sell. Neither did the next one, or the next one, or the next one, or the next one. The one after that did sell, but to a small press with a tiny readership, and only after I added some murder. For me, romance alone apparently doesn't cut it.
All that failure took some time. In 2017, I was getting depressed about whether I really had enough talent to do this. Difficult questions had to be asked: did I love writing enough to do it even if it never sold and no one ever got to read it? Maybe. I kept writing, but in a much bleaker frame of mind. My youngest child had just finished fifth grade. I had been a PTA officer at his school. I was distracting myself with a binge-watch of Game of Thrones. I took all of those things: dark mood, milestones, my favorite character traits from my then-favorite show, and mixed them into a, well, kind of disturbing stew.
I had written my first anti-heroine, Kira. She was the opposite of likable, so I added a second point of view character, Allison, to be the moral counterweight (and let her have the romantic subplot so as not to get too far from my roots). I revised it over that fall and sent it to my agent. For the first time, I really thought I had something good.
My agent didn't love it. She really didn't like the unlikable "heroine." She wanted revisions before she would agree to send it out to publishing houses for consideration. I agreed, since I had just sold the small-press book (LYING BENEATH THE OAKS) and had all the pre-launch edits and activities to do for that one.
In January 2019, LYING BENEATH THE OAKS came out. It sold decently well for a small-press book and got pretty good feedback on Amazon and Goodreads. I was, and am, proud of it. I asked my agent if it was time to send out this next manuscript.
She didn't want to. She just didn't like it. Keep in mind, this book with the unlikable antiheroine was very, very far from the tone of the book she'd originally signed me for, and also it was not then in its current state. It did need improvement, but it was clear that I'd moved away from the type of book my agent was a superstar at representing. I couldn't give up on it. We parted ways.
I started over looking for an agent with this new manuscript. I got plenty of rejection for it, but one agent saw the merit in it early. She said she'd look at it again if I let Kira's hateful flag fly even more. Up to that point, I'd been toning her down. This agent gave me the courage to go the other direction. I went, and it was absolutely the right way. Within three months after sending the first query, I had a new agent (not the one who suggested the revision--though all the thanks to her!). Sharon got the book right down to the push and pull of the two POVs. She understood right away that the book was a legal thriller and a whodunit, but most of all it was about privilege and motherhood and the way they can warp who we are.
THE DARKEST FLOWER went on sub. I got rejected a lot. A whole lot. Editors hated the ending. They didn't feel satisfied by the outcome. I began to lose hope, but all in all, it only took four months for the amazing Liz Pearsons at Thomas & Mercer to see what it could be if I changed that ending. She bought it (I got the news on Friday the 13th, a day that will never again be unlucky for me) and gave the chance to do it.
So here it is. Today I hold in my hands the proof that my instincts were right. That it was worth having to search for a new agent, worth all those years of revising, worth completely re-writing the ending. If you are an author still waiting for that break, trust your instincts. Know that it can happen after you--and others--almost give up. If you're a reader, go stand in a bookstore. Turn in a slow circle. I promise you that almost every book you see has a story like this one. Every one of them represents someone's dreams coming true.
THE DARKEST FLOWER:
LYING BENEATH THE OAKS: