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  • Melissa Westemeier

plot twist

I left you with an offer on the table for my books, but I forgot to mention how the actual writing of books was going. During the query process in October my agent read the synopsis for the second book, which I'd begun writing in June. I'd actually just sent the full draft of the second book to beta readers and had begun revisions per their feedback. I was about to dig into a final effort at edits in book two when Dawn told me, "Your characters cannot travel in book two. Can you change that?"

No. The whole POINT of book two was that my protagonists are in a new location. The hotel is central to the plot. Impossible to change this dynamic without completely rewriting the book (which was nearly complete). The thought of tossing out the entire book (a book I felt really pleased with) was inconceivable. Still, Dawn was good at her job for a reason, so I had to trust her. I suggested a compromise.

"Can I just shuffle the order and make this book a later title in the series?"

"Sure. What's book two about? I need an outline."

Reader, I've mentioned how I'm making this up as I go, literally what a fiction writer does, but coming up with an entire NEW plot after cranking out two other books inside of nine months pushed my imagination to the limit. I asked Dawn for a day to sort out my answer and went for a hike.

Hiking at Purdy lets me sort out my thoughts. I listen to the birds and chipmunks chatter, block out my heavy panting as I climb the hills, and ruminate on my latest project. I think about the characters and their motives, where I last left them, and what their next moves should be. I consider the interaction between characters and I contemplate possible plot twists. I review what the heck I'm doing, which is usually when a burst of clarity hits me and I return home to jot down notes for myself.

On this particular hike the idea for New Book Two (formerly book three) came to mind as I was rounding the bend over the first ravine and scaring up two does. I used the rest of my journey through the nature trail to flesh out the details and returned home to write everything down on paper. After sleeping on it (to make sure it wasn't crazy or incoherent) I emailed the pitch to Dawn. She said, "Start writing book two now and finish book three later."

it's Purdy in October!

Within forty-eight hours I pumped the brakes on an entire novel and began a whole new book. This may possibly be the greatest mental challenge of my entire life and that project has been an absolute hoot for me to write. I've only had writer's block for two days and I've produced 46,000 words as of yesterday. It's astonishing.

Now, back to where I left you in the last post. Dawn gave me the opportunity to research the publisher and I did. A day later I gave her the All Clear to Accept. She replied she would accept the offer on my behalf, in the meantime several publishers still had my manuscript, so she typically gave them a week to counter or decline. Was I good with that?


A day later she asked if she could reach out to all of the other publishers in a single email, she'd never done this before, but wanted to try it. Was I okay with that? I'm always down for efficiency, so I agreed.

An exciting week passed where various publishers asked for the full manuscript, asked for more time, rejected my manuscript, and...rejected my manuscript. Once everyone's rejection got accounted for, it was time to officially sign my offer. Except Dawn was headed out of town. Could we wrap it up next week? It was November 2nd.

You betcha.

The following week was bananas between Dawn attending a conference and returning home to a mountain of work (not unusual for anyone) and feeling ill. On Tuesday, November 7th she asked if she could circle back to me on Monday with the contract offer.

Of course!

Over the weekend I kept my brain occupied by working on New Book Two. I only shared my exciting news with a few people because until the ink was dry, who knew what could go wrong? (Once I let D tell people I was pregnant before the 12 week mark. Of course that was the miscarriage we had to tell everyone about. I could go on and on about caution before making a big announcement, but that's the most dramatic example that comes to mind.) Anyone who saw me in early November probably wondered why my body vibrated and fidgeted and bounced. It took enormous effort to contain my huge news.

On Monday, November 13, Dawn posted an update on the agency's Facebook page that she had a medical appointment. I distracted myself by writing. She was busy, she'd get back to me tomorrow. Be patient, sit tight, have faith. On Tuesday I still didn't have any word from Dawn and felt anxious. That night I emailed Graff and hopped over to Facebook and read these words:

Dawn had died of a heart attack Monday afternoon.

I reread the post.

I read it again.

I skimmed several responses to the post to confirm it wasn't a weird rumor or a horrible joke.

I cursed.

I panicked.

I felt my dreams crash beside my feet into tiny shards of What were you thinking would happen? and You were a moron to quit your day job, kid. and Bwahahahaha! You thought this was real, you idiot!

So many feelings.

I felt terrible for Dawn and her family who were certainly reeling from the shock of her sudden death. I felt terrible for her friends. I felt terrible for her. I felt sad for me and every author she represented because we lost a truly caring, compassionate, effective agent.

The next few days were spent doom-scrolling for any fragment of information and trying to write a book I'd now convinced myself was a fool's errand because any deal that got struck was lost in a dead woman's email account. Her assistants were doing their best to grieve and sort out the business end for people with urgent issues (like royalty checks and books coming out). Someone from the agency posted that they'd honor Dawn's monthly Zoom happy hour on Friday and if they had news to share, we'd hear it there.

You can bet I dialed in for that call.

After over fifty anxious authors joined the call we heard the announcement: Effective immediately, Dawn's family was closing the agency and our contracts were null and void.

While people began sharing their tributes to Dawn, I opened a tab and went to the publisher's website and searched for a way to contact them. All I could find was a generic "Contact Us" form, so I filled it out with an explanation that they'd made an offer on my series, but my agent had died, so I wasn't sure what to do next. I left my cell number and my email address. Then I reached out to another agent and asked if she'd consider representing me. I participated in communal grieving for the best agent in the universe (no exaggeration, Dawn was one of a kind). I got off the call two hours later feeling empty.

Still, it was opening weekend of gun season for deer and G was home. Nothing fills my heart like spending time with my kids. I kept praying for peace, enjoyed the blessing of my youngest son, and searched for a job. My spirits were low. Like, drowning in the earth's molten core low.

Monday morning I drove G back to college (for three days before he'd return for Thanksgiving break) and listened to him practice his speech for a class as we traveled along Highway 10. I deposited him at his dorm and retraced the route while listening to podcasts. I got back home around eleven and for the first time all day checked my email.

There was an email through this website from Jane Porter asking me to contact her.

There was a message through my author Facebook page from Jane Porter asking me to contact her.

Jane Porter is the founder of Tule Publishing.


She knew of Dawn's death and was waiting (like everyone else) to hear what would happen to the agency. Now she was trying to find me because she still very much wanted to publish my series!

Reader, imagine the fastest email response ever. Now imagine it gets typed and sent even faster. That's how quickly I replied.

Well, Thanksgiving was Thursday that week, so of course the contract rewrite took a little time, but the following week all of the ink was dry and I have a three book deal for my series. I have an editor (I have an editor! Her name is Sinclair and she's super cool!) who has already given me great ideas and insights. I'm halfway done with New Book Two. I have the potential to make this more than a three book series and work with Tule to pursue other writing projects. My wildest fantasies of Life as an Author are becoming my reality. Like, I can look people in the eye and assert without feeling Imposter Syndrome, "I write murder mysteries. I'm a mystery writer." I landed in a whole new network of writers and have a wealth of resources at my fingertips, courtesy of becoming a Tule author. I have book release dates (Old Habits Die Hard will be available April 3, 2025). I've booked my ticket to Malice Domestic in April to rub shoulders with a whole bunch of authors and advance this part of my story.

It's been a roller-coaster year and my real life has had more plot twists than the fiction I'm writing. I am grateful and fortunate. Every day when I open up my Word document and get to work, I acknowledge the huge role Dawn played in getting me to this spot.

Reader, this is a good place to end for now. 2023 concludes on a happy note. I'm writing off into the sunset toward my next great adventure.

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4 commentaires

23 déc. 2023

What a ride! Amazing, Mel. The Coven is crazy proud of you! ❤️🕊🎄🎁❄️


23 déc. 2023

I am soooooo happy that 2023 is ending on such a good note for you.


23 déc. 2023

Oh, my goodness! What a difficult time it must have been. I am so in awe of you for making it through all that, all while imagining and writing the stories and characters in your books.

I suppose you can't answer this for fear of spoilers, but: Why, Santy Clause, why can't the characters travel in book two?


23 déc. 2023

So glad this story has a happy ending for you. You’ve worked hard to get here! Take a deep breath of that clean air by you, enjoy your family at the holidays—then get cracking! I’m anxious to see how you wrap New Book 2 up!

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