July 20, 2016
Welcome to our Tour Stop for
The Killer in Me by Margot Harrison
hosted by The Fantastic Flying Book Club!
We have Margot on the blog today sharing her Road to Publication.
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Hasn't he lived long enough? Why not? I could take him like a thief in the night.
This is how the Thief thinks. He serves death, the vacuum, the unknown. He’s always waiting. Always there.
Seventeen-year-old Nina Barrows knows all about the Thief. She’s intimately familiar with his hunting methods: how he stalks and kills at random, how he disposes of his victims’ bodies in an abandoned mine in the deepest, most desolate part of a desert.
Now, for the first time, Nina has the chance to do something about the serial killer that no one else knows exists. With the help of her former best friend, Warren, she tracks the Thief two thousand miles, to his home turf—the deserts of New Mexico.
But the man she meets there seems nothing like the brutal sociopath with whom she’s had a disturbing connection her whole life. To anyone else, Dylan Shadwell is exactly what he appears to be: a young veteran committed to his girlfriend and her young daughter. As Nina spends more time with him, she begins to doubt the truth she once held as certain: Dylan Shadwell is the Thief. She even starts to wonder . . . what if there is no Thief?
Road to Publication
I started drafting The Killer in Me two days after one of the worst days of my writing life. The book came from a place of pure stubbornness.
I’d already had one book on submission to editors, and I’d been revising a second book that I had high hopes for. On that day, I received a rejection that was detailed and devastating. It took me to task for being too ambitious and writing a bigger story than I knew how to tell.
I thought I’d blown my one chance at a writing career. Worst of all, parts of that devastating rejection rang true. Maybe I had tried to do too much.
But I felt something else in that moment—defiance. I was not going to be beaten. If the story I loved was too big, well, fine—I’d write a new story. A smaller story. I would conquer this writing thing.
A few months earlier, I’d read in the news about a serial killer who’d struck in my area. I had a random, unsettling idea: What if a normal person could see into the killer’s mind? How would they deal?
I’d set the idea aside, because the killer-thriller genre seemed saturated. But now, impulsively, I decided this might be the “small” story I needed. Why not plunge in and just try writing it?
The next day was Monday—my birthday. Usually Mondays are incredibly intense at my day job, but this one was slow. So I opened a document and started writing from the perspective of a teenage girl who thinks she has a mysterious connection to a serial killer. This was the definition of pantsing—no plan. I wrote a scene where the girl tries to warn the likely next victim. Then I switched to backstory: her memory of watching the killer commit his first murder.
I couldn’t stop writing. Sometimes I felt dirty—I was, after all, imagining how it feels to crack someone’s skull with an iron skillet and where did that sick idea even come from? But I had to go on, because the story was telling itself. Like it had always been waiting for me.
I kept writing, on and off—for six months. When I finished, I sent the ms. to my wonderful critique partner, who liked it but had some issues. I despaired. I binge-watched American Horror Story. I realized she was right. I revised.
I decided to kick off my querying with #PitMad. New to the whole Twitter-pitching thing, I received exactly zero agent favorites. I despaired again.
Because of all the despairing at every stage of the process, I took querying slowly: twenty-six sent over two months. The initial response wasn’t mind-blowingly awesome, so I decided to take a break from querying and revise some more. That’s when I got a request from Agent No. 26. A request that became an offer.
My new agent, Jessica Sinsheimer, gave me excellent revision notes, and within a couple of months, the ms. was on submission. I was excited, but I’d been through this process before. I knew the excitement could just be the prelude to a long wait, followed by a trickle of polite rejections. I steeled myself.
And . . . that didn’t happen. Things moved relatively fast, and one gorgeous July day, I was sitting on my patio and looking at an offer. My “small” book was getting a response bigger than I’d ever imagined.
Fast-forward two years. It’s July again, and my book has just hit store shelves. It’s been revised and restructured, broadened into a bigger book. (The heroine’s motivations are no longer crystal clear. The backstory is no longer at the beginning.) It’s been worked over by a brilliant editor and given a cover and presentation that I adore.
And what have I learned? That the process of spinning your daydreams into a story and trying to sell that story will always be a roller coaster. That the only way to survive the ride is to hang on, and not dwell on what might be around the next bend. That every rejection is an opportunity to rethink what you’re doing and do it better. (That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything the rejection says. Just see if anything resonates.)
And, finally, I’ve learned that stubbornness is a beautiful thing. I expect to keep having disappointments as long as I keep writing, because disappointment is built into being a writer. And every single time I stumble and fall, I expect that familiar voice inside me to say, You’re not giving up that easy. Go back and try again.
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