By Sandra Parshall
A free download promotion for The Heat of the Moon has gained a lot more readers for my first Rachel Goddard novel, some of whom have already moved on to my second, Disturbing the Dead. And I’ve started hearing That Question again.
“What happened to Rachel between the first book and the second?”
Some readers have asked whether there’s a “missing book” that never got published.
Not exactly. But sort of. It’s complicated, as the process of getting published often is. Let me give you a brief tour of my brilliant writing career.
Poisoned Pen Press published The Heat of the Moon in 2006, but I wrote the book several years earlier. An agent who loved it tried to sell it to the big New York publishers at a time when companies were being sold and consolidated and droves of editors were losing their jobs with little notice. They were all looking for blockbusters that would give them some job security, and my book was not blockbuster material. Even so, two editors loved The Heat of the Moon enough to want to publish it. Each time the possible deal fell through – in one case because the editor lost her job the same day she’d planned to pitch my book at an editorial conference.
A year went by. After twenty rejections, the agent gave up. By then I was writing other things. I still loved Rachel and thought The Heat of the Moon was a good book, but I didn’t believe it would ever be published.
After a couple of years, my friends Judy Clemens and Lorraine Bartlett (aka Lorna Barrett) read the manuscript of The Heat of the Moon and urged me to try to sell it to small presses. By then, Judy had published a book with Poisoned Pen Press and was happy with them. I submitted the book to PPP and it started its long winding way through their vetting process. So much time passed that I almost forgot they had it.
After sixteen months, PPP offered a contract. (I remember the date: August 29, 2005. So today is an anniversary of sorts.) They published the book the next spring without any changes, and a year later it won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel of 2006.
Between the time my agent gave up on The Heat of the Moon and the day PPP offered me a contract, I had written a couple more mysteries. I still wanted to write about Rachel, so I had changed her name, altered her backstory somewhat, and moved her to the mountains of southwestern Virginia. In the book that became Disturbing the Dead, Rachel-with-another-name had fled to the mountains to start over after a nasty incident with a client named Perry Nelson, who stole her prescription pad and used it to write narcotics scripts for himself. When she brought charges, he blamed her for ruining his life. While out on bail, he showed up at the animal hospital with a gun and tried to kill her. Instead of being found guilty of attempted murder, he was found to be mentally ill and sent to a hospital instead of a prison. From the hospital, he continued to harass his victim with threatening letters, and she feared what he would do to her if he was released.
When Poisoned Pen bought The Heat of the Moon, I was given the chance to continue writing about Rachel. I gave her back her name and reworked Disturbing the Dead to make it truly Rachel’s story. I kept the Perry Nelson incident as her reason for leaving Northern Virginia and beginning a new life in the mountains. But no, I have never written a book dealing directly with the three years that passed in Rachel’s life between the first and second books.
Rachel’s past, including both her crazy childhood and her fear of Perry Nelson, haunts her in Disturbing the Dead, Broken Places, and Under the Dog Star without dominating the mystery story. As she falls in love with Deputy Tom Bridger, she struggles with the question of how much to tell him about her family, but Tom knows everything about Perry Nelson.
Most mystery series have story threads that weave through all the books without ever being neatly tied up or even fully explained. So my books aren’t unusual in that respect. Many readers, though, have asked me to fill in the missing time in Rachel’s life. They’ve also asked me to revisit the events of The Heat of the Moon and resolve the question of Rachel’s relationship with her family. When I began writing my new novel, Bleeding Through, I felt the time had come to give readers at least some of what they wanted.
I won’t say too much here because I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but in Bleeding Through, Rachel’s sister Michelle steps onstage again for the first time since The Heat of the Moon. A stalker is hounding Michelle, but the police and her own husband doubt the threat is real. When she flees to Rachel for support and help, her disruptive presence in the home Rachel shares with Tom forces both sisters to face the past again after years of trying to ignore it. At the same time, Perry Nelson once more casts a malevolent shadow over Rachel’s life. Tom, meanwhile, is trying to solve a murder, and he can’t give Rachel’s troubles, or her sister’s, a lot of attention.
Kirkus Reviews calls Bleeding Through “a twisty mystery” filled with “nerve-wracking suspense.” I hope you’ll agree – and I hope you’ll be satisfied with the way things come together at the end of the book.
If you haven’t read The Heat of the Moon, you can download the e-book for free right now from Amazon and Apple iBooks and from B&N.com for the Nook for only 99 cents. Bleeding Through stands on its own, but it will be a richer experience if you’ve read the first book.
Let me know what you think!
Elysabeth Eldering has an interview with me on her blog today at http://elysabethsstories.blogspot.com/. I hope you’ll stop by.