Old is New

Last night it got down to freezing in Bellevue for the first time this winter. Today while I was out walking, there was still one bright blue hydrangea up on the bank. All the others have turned a rather depressing shade of purple. Reminds me of the poem our father used to read to us out of the Treasury of the Familiar—

Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone
While all its companions
Are faded and gone

But it was a good walk—sunny and brisk—7500 steps in 72 minutes. Picking ‘em up and putting ‘em down.

Getting my steps wasn’t all I did today. I also did a Zoom presentation to a senior citizen book club from Sammamish, Washington. Interestingly enough, the book under discussion was an old one rather than a new one—old as in forty years, because they had all just read Until Proven Guilty, Beaumont # 1, which was written in the fall and spring of 1982 and 1983. It wasn’t actually published until 1985, and it came out as an original paperback, and was the first book in several two book contracts.

Going the paperback route was a deliberate choice, by the way. At the time, my agent asked me if I wanted to go after a hardback house where my initial print run would probably be in the neighborhood of 5000 copies, or would I prefer a paperback house with an initial print run of 30,000. Hardbacks are the books that garner the most reviewing attention while original paperbacks are generally ignored by the literati. While earning my CLU designation in the insurance business, I was exposed to the law of large numbers, and 30,000 potential readers seemed like a better bet to me than 5000. So original paperback it was, despite the fact that the initial advances were pitiful.

By the way, back when my daughter was selling 1000 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies a year, we applied the law of large numbers to that, and figured out that Thin Mints were the most popular and Short Breads and Lemon Creams close to the bottom. After adjusting our order accordingly, she would arrive at the last day of the cookie sale with a full assortment for people to choose from. But, as per usual, I digress.

Several years and two more two book contracts down the road after UPG was published, several of the Good Old Boys in the world of Seattle’s writing establishment took me to task and told me I needed to wise up. “Original paperback mysteries have a ninety day-shelf life,” they told me. “What you need to do is get away from those two book contracts and go to a publisher who’ll pay you some real advance money.”

They all followed their own advice, and as soon as they jumped ship from their original publisher to someone else, their backlist titles simply vanished. I disregarded their advice, sticking to my original house through thick and thin. That’s why, forty years later, as opposed to ninety days, that first book and all my others remain in print. And that’s why members of that senior citizen book club were all able to lay hands—and ears (one Audible reader) on Until Proven Guilty.

What surprised me was how many of the details of that book are indelibly imprinted in my brain: Anne Corley, clad in her red dress, striding down the hill in the cemetery on Queen Anne Hill. Beau punching Maxwell Cole’s lights out. Ron Peters stuffing the remains of the wedding cake down the garbage disposal. That was the scene that told me for sure that Ron Peters was a good guy.

There were any number of gratifying comments. Someone mentioned staying up late at night reading the book. Someone else said that it could have been written yesterday. As an aside, this week I heard from someone who emailed me about having just read both Until Proven Guilty and Nothing to Lose. She said that she felt like every word in UPG was deliberately crafted while in NTL the story simply flowed. I guess that’s what writing several million words in between will do for you.

They asked about how I go about laying in the clues and red herrings. My answer? “I have no idea.” As I write, I’m not thinking about clues. I’m thinking about the story—about what the characters are thinking and doing and how they interact with one another.

They wanted to know, if UPG was ever made into a movie, who would I want to play Beau’s part? My answer? “I have no idea.” There have been some queries about movies over the years but nothing substantial. Furthermore, I’m blissfully unaware of most of the current crop of movie stars, so I don’t really have an opinion. Tom Skerritt, the guy I originally thought would make a good Beaumont, has obviously aged out of the role. So all of you movie buffs, don’t hold your breaths for a movie deal. Someday maybe someone will film J.P. Beaumont, the Musical, but my grandkids will be the ones selling the rights to that one.

I talked about how events in my life intersected in UPG without my being consciously aware of it. Some of those turned up in a previous blog, My Life as an Open Book, part 2. But I failed to mention something else, and I meant to. In that previous blog post, I talked about doing a high school assembly in honor of my 50th birthday. When I was invited to the Ballard High School reunion as J.P.’s stand-in, someone there told me that he attended that assembly as a teacher, and he counted that event as the high point of his teaching career. Talk about high praise.

If you’ve read the above, you may be shaking your head and wondering, “So how the hell does she do it?” And my answer to that is, once again, “I don’t know.” I understand that in the world of physics, bumble bees aren’t supposed to be able to fly. I’m not sure how I go about putting books together—it sure as hell isn’t by outlining!

Next year I’ll be talking about two new books, but it was fun to spend some time this morning talking about that old one. It reminds me of that old Virginia Slims commercial—“You’ve come a long way, baby.”

And I have. It’s a lot of years later, and Until Proven Guilty is still alive and kicking. By my estimation that accounts for about 160 sets of ninety-day shelf lives.

Not bad for a girl who was told by a Creative Writing professor, “Girls become teachers or nurses. Boys become writers.”

I think it’s safe to say, “She who laughs last laughs best.”