Mariah Stewart has penned over nineteen novels, been on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. She’s been a RITA finalist, received the Award of Excellence for contemporary romance and was recently inducted into the New Jersey Romance Writers Hall of Fame. I think I’ve read at least half of Stewart’s books and she does an excellent job of balancing romance with suspense. I’ve enjoyed her FBI books as they’ve all seemed so authentic with smart mysteries. Her latest release, Mercy Street, is no different.
My first sale almost didn’t happen.
I’d written that first book mainly to prove to myself that I could write – and finish – an entire novel. I’d started several that never got past the third chapter, so for me, the challenge was to finish one. Of course, one of the reasons why it took me so long was because I didn’t know how to type, and since a friend had assured me that however lovely my Palmer method handwriting might be, the manuscript would have to be typed if I wanted anyone other than a few close friends to read it. A co-worker dragged me to a computer store – pointed to a machine and said, "Buy it." I did. She even taught me how to use it, for which I will be forever grateful.
So I’d written what I thought was a really dramatic love story with a real pow! of an ending. I’d found an agent, and she’d sent the book out to several editors, and the wait began. Anyone who’s ever had a book out there, making the rounds of editors’ desks, knows exactly the kind of angst I went through waiting while judgment was being passed on my work.
Before too long, the responses starting coming in – and it wasn’t good news. Almost every one of the rejection letters read the same way: "I love this author’s voice, I love her characters, it’s a great story – but we just can’t take a chance on this because of the ending. If she has something else, I’d love to look at it…yada yada yada."
That pow! of an ending? Did I mention that it involved both the hero and the heroine being murdered in the second to the last chapter?
That thud I just heard…was that you falling off your chair?
When I said I’d written a really dramatic love story – well, let’s put it this way: I was channeling Romeo and Juliet. The editors were looking for another Whitney, My Love.
Yeah. What was I thinking?
I’d pretty much given up on selling that book – oh, ya’ think? – but since I’d achieved my goal, I was okay with that. I had finished it, after all, and had not only learned to type, albeit badly, but had learned how to use a computer as well. But there was one more editor we’d yet to hear from, and ironically, it was the very editor who, right from the start, my agent had most wanted to buy the book.
And wonder of wonders, my agent called late one afternoon to tell me that I was going to get a phone call from that last editor because she wanted to talk to me about my book.
After saying several very nice things about my book and my writing, the editor asked if we could talk a little about – you know this is coming, right? – the ending. "Let me tell you why this ending doesn’t work for a romance…" she said, and then she proceeded to explain how upset readers would be if I didn’t let my characters have a happy ending after all they’d gone through together.
The conversation ended with, "If you’d be willing to consider an alternate ending, we’d love to buy your book, and your next one, as well."
I can say in perfect honesty that by the time I hung up the phone, I would have walked through fire for that woman (she’s still my editor and I still feel exactly the same way).
She’d asked me to think about it and give her a call on the following Tuesday to let her know what I’d like to do. Well, Mama didn’t raise no fool. I already had an alternative ending in mind – a happy one, at that. By noon on Tuesday, the new ending was on the editor’s desk. She made an offer that day and the rest, as they say, is history.
That was twenty-three books ago. Every sale, every book, has been special to me – though I have to admit, that first sale was especially sweet because I’d pretty much given up on selling that book, which was Moments in Time. It was published on Valentine’s Day, 1995, and is still in print from Pocket Books. Thirteen years later, I still get mail from readers telling me how much they loved J.D. and Maggie’s love story, and how they just knew that the two of them were meant for each other and would live happily ever after.
And thanks to my wonderful editor, they will.