My debut novel, Until Proven, will be published by Pandamoon Publishing May 2014. It hasn’t gotten much publicity, since I wrote it so quickly (compared to my other work) and it only saw a few eyes before I entered it into one of Brenda Drake’s pitch contests; it was picked up by Pandamoon the same weekend. Whirl-wind, friends.
With this AWESOME SHINDIG going on right now, it seems like a good time to give Until Proven some love.
So, the dirt:
“UNTIL PROVEN is a fast-paced, suspenseful mystery about Penny Baker, a caseworker in a Montana correctional facility with an unusual sensory ability. Part gift, part curse, Penny can tell whether or not the accused are innocent or guilty – at a glance.
Unable to make the grades for law school where she could help those whom she knows are innocent, Penny settles for a prison caseworker position that leaves her frustrated and unfulfilled. That all changes when an inmate named Gatsby Childs enters Penny’s office. She has never seen someone so blatantly innocent. But he’s claiming he’s guilty of a horrific crime, arson and the involuntary manslaughter of a six-year old girl–a crime Penny knows he did not commit.
Why would he so adamantly confess to such a crime? Is he protecting someone else? Penny is determined to finally use her gift to help someone she knows is innocent, but she must do so without the knowledge of her superiors at the prison. Her investigation leads her to a horse therapy farm owned by Gatsby’s family in nearby Wyoming. Everyone there assumes Gatsby’s large and mentally-challenged brother, nicknamed Frankenstein, is responsible for the crime and that Gatsby is making the ultimate sacrifice for his family. However, Penny’s gift allows her to see what no one else considered…Frankenstein is innocent too.”
So, how’d you come up with the idea for this book anyway?
Well, the most essential premise of my book—the idea that someone can have the ability to tell if an accused victim is innocent or guilty—started because of my mom. Just like Penny’s mother, my mom watches a lot of true crime shows. I remember sitting on the couch, listening to Keith Morrison end an episode on an ambiguous note and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if you could know if someone was innocent or guilty?”
This spawned a daydream (a habit of which I am frequently guilty) of a female lawyer scouring prisons, looking for the wrongly accused like a modern day Wonder Woman, and she comes across a man who is clearly innocent, but he says, adamantly, that he’s guilty.
When I decided to write the book, that was the only image in my head: the lawyer and the prisoner facing each other across one of those clear partitions you see in movies, with the little air holes.
Of course, as I started to outline and do research, a couple of questions got in the way. First—if someone realizes they have this gift, do they really just decide to be a lawyer and everything works out for them? Like, when I got out of high school, it wouldn’t have mattered if I wanted to go to some schmancy law school. The reality was I probably wouldn’t have gotten in.
I wanted my gal to be normal. Heroic in her own way, but normal. So she ended up as a prison caseworker, convenient for me because my dad is a caseworker in the Central Utah Correctional Facility, and so I had a lot of insider information.
Then I moved on to my main guy. Why would he willingly serve time for a crime he didn’t commit? I needed a character invested in family and possessing the kind of stoic integrity that simply manned up and did hard things when hard things needed doing. So I made him a cowboy from Wyoming.
Let’s take a closer look at the characters:
Penny Baker: Penny is a 28 year old caseworker—not exactly by choice. She loves Keeping Up With the Kardashians and high heels. If she had her way, she’d be a hairdresser. Slightly quirky and more-than-slightly girlish, working in a male prison department constantly stresses Penny out, but despite her convictions that her general mediocrity is doing little good, she has a sharp ingenuity and an almost infallible desire to do the right thing.
Gatsby Childs: The youngest of four siblings, Gatsby is quiet, articulate—well educated, but content to work on his family’s ranch, Healing by Hoofs. He’s a “last resort” trainer, with a special gift for working with horses no one else wants to touch. He’s brusque and not very helpful to his own cause, and fiercely protective of his family, particularly his older brother, Frankenstein.
Frankenstein Childs: Frankie (short for Frankenstein, whose real name is actually Shelley) is an enormous, overgrown kid, basically. Almost seven feet tall and three hundred pounds, Frankie is special–suffering symptoms of mental retardation and autism. After Gatsby’s arrest, he goes completely mute. Penny can see that he’s innocent, but figuring out who is guilty will be a challenge.
(Unofficial Q/A: Um, what’s with the weird names? Answer: The Childs had a very literary mother. The oldest brother is named Heathcliff, from Wuthering Heights; the sister is Eliot, named for George Eliot; Shelley is named for Mary Shelley, nicknamed Frankenstein; Gatsby for Jay Gatsby, from The Great Gatsby. What? The English major in me had to come out somewhere.)
Can’t give away much more of the plot–it is a mystery after all (even though I know what you’re really wondering is DO PENNY AND GATSBY FALL IN LOVE–oh, no? Just me? Okay).
The story of how it came to be published:
Okay, so I wrote this book February—April 2013, first draft (a little over 70,000 words). I spent May and August hiking through England and got some feedback from some cool people. When I got home June 20th, I spent the next three weeks doing edits and rewrites (racking it up to about 78,000 words).
As I was writing it, I felt in my gut (since it would be my debut novel), that what I really wanted to do was go small press. Since I was an associate editor at a small press, I thought—perfect! I will send in my book to them and they will love it and all will be well.
But, lol, they didn’t love it. It was rejected (which is not a reflection on their misguided taste or some such vindictive nonsense, just a reflection on the highly subjective nature of this business and the fluctuating needs of publishers). Around about this time, I saw Brenda Drake had a contest coming up strictly for adult novels.
I wasn’t sure I wanted an agent for this book, and agents are usually the ones who participate in those contests, but I signed up anyway. I got a few requests—one from my current publisher, Pandamoon Publishing!
I sent in the full and Zara Kramer, the executive editor and founder, read the whole thing over the weekend. When we talked on the phone, she spent twenty minutes telling me all the things she loved about my book, and I knew I couldn’t give UNTIL PROVEN to anyone else.
This is the dream spot for my book, and I love the inclusive, community feel of a small press. For more on why small publishing houses rock, see this post.
But you see what I mean about it being a whirlwind? It’s only been seven months since I started writing it and now here we are. Sometimes it just happens fast.
Stay tuned for for updates as we work our way to a May 2014 launch!