Please welcome phenomenal agent-turned-writer Paula Munier talking about her debut A Borrowing of Bones!
My Secret Wish: Writing Mysteries
I’ve wanted to be a mystery writer since I was six years old and read my first Bobbsey Twins mystery. It was a secret wish for a very long time, and as a result I managed to avoid becoming a mystery writer for decades.
I did not, however, avoid becoming a writer. I started off as a reporter, writing and editing for newspapers and magazines. I went on to join the book business, first as a managing editor on the production side, and later as an acquisitions editor. During this time, I wrote several nonfiction books, including a memoir called Fixing Freddie: A True Story about a Boy, a Mom, and a Very, Very Bad Beagle.
#1 Declare Your Intention
This success writing nonfiction encouraged me to declare my intention to write a mystery—and I joined Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. I went to meetings and made friends and even served as the president of the New England chapter of Mystery Writers of America and on the planning committee for the New England Crime Bake writers conference. This went on for years and years and years—and still I never wrote a mystery. I started many, but as my brilliant and blunt pal Hallie Ephron would tell me, “You know what your problem is? You don’t finish.”
And I had to admit that she was right. An especially embarrassing admission for an editor who spent her working life sweetly bullying writers into meeting their deadlines.
When my own agent, the marvelous Gina Panettieri of Talcott Notch Literary Services, invited me to join her agency, I started representing lots of fabulous crime writers and selling lots of fabulous crime fiction. I wrote three books on writing for Writers Digest Books: Plot Perfect, Writing with Quiet Hands, and The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings. After writing the book on plot, I couldn’t use the excuse that plotting a mystery à la Agatha Christie and Elizabeth George and Louise Penny and Colin Dexter always terrified me. Still I demurred.
But when I was writing The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings, I needed an opening chapter that I could use as a sample in revision exercises throughout the book—one illustrating several drafts. While I used a lot of excellent openings from excellent books, I couldn’t use another writer’s opening chapter and subject it to all those revisions. Like it or not, I knew I had to write my own.
#2 Get Inspired
I had just been to a fundraiser hosted by thriller writer Leo Maloney for Mission K-9 Rescue, a first-rate organization that rescues and rehabilitates and finds forever homes for military working dogs. At the fundraiser we met a lot of working dogs and their handlers, both soldiers and their bomb-sniffing dogs as well as local law enforcement and their working dogs.
I fell in love with the dogs and their handlers. Especially a certain Belgian Malinois and his Massachusetts State Police trooper. Back at home, we rescued a happy if goofy Newfoundland retriever mutt named Bear from Alabama. Inspired by these lovely dogs, I wrote that first chapter and I used it as a sample throughout the book showing various ways to revise and tighten and polish your work.
When my agent read the book she said, “Whoa, I really like that chapter. You should finish that book.” So, I kept on writing it and she sold it and the next thing you know, I was a mystery writer.\
#3 The Sweetness at the Bottom of Your Secret Wish
The debut mystery novel that started as an exercise in a writing book—A Borrowing of Bones—is my secret wish come true. And it’s nothing less than exhilarating. Now I go to the same book signings I’ve been going to for years and years and years, where I see all my clients and my friends and my heroes—the real crime writers—and I am one of them.
What began as a dream once dreamed by a little girl who couldn’t wait to read her next Bobbsey Twins mystery has become a great honor and a sweet privilege and a humbling experience. And now I can’t wait to write my next Mercy and Elvis mystery.
It just doesn’t get any better than this.
Paula Munier is a literary agent and author whose first crime novel A Borrowing of Bones debuts from Minotaur in September 2018. Her other books include the bestselling Plot Perfect, Writing with Quiet Hands, and The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings. In her fab day job at Talcott Notch Literary Services, she reps many great crime writers