Some years ago a friend of mine whose husband worked for an oil company was living in the middle east. At a social gathering attended by other British expats, she met a lady who worked for the BBC Overseas Service, who mentioned they didn't get many submissions for their short story broadcasts. Hearing this and having contributed to science fiction fanzines as well as professional non fiction mags, I thought, hmmm...and so was written "Aunt Ba's Story". It had a double nativity, being partly inspired by a dream and partly by a favourite Pre-Raphaelite painting, Home From Sea. "Aunt Ba's Story" is difficult to categorise, but would perhaps best fit the fantasy/mystery slot, since it deals with Death, who has grey eyes -- and when you see him a third time, you're about to sail away with him.
Lo and behold it was chosen! It was my first fiction sale and was memorable not only for that reason but also because the acceptance letter arrived just as I was leaving for an appointment with fear at the dentist. I suspect few patients bounce into his surgery with a grin from ear to ear.
Several years later I embarked on writing short mystery stories, giving myself five years to sell one or else take the hint, and succeeded about two years after starting to submit. A complete unknown, I was one of those who came out of the slush pile at Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine into publication. They ran three short stories, a couple of which have been reprinted here and there. In retrospect however I realise five years was wildly ambitious, for some of our best mystery writers took longer to initially get into print.
Subsequently fate took a hand for, as is so often the way, one success led to another, though in our case not immediately. About four years after the third story ran in EQMM, one afternoon we had a call from master anthologist Mike Ashley, who asked us to submit a short historical mystery story for his Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits. The snag was it had to be written to a very short deadline -- less than a month as I recall. However, it happens Eric is interested in Byzantine history and had a number of books about the period, so we decided we would set our story in that period, which was unploughed at the time, having the research material right to hand. Thus was written A Byzantine Mystery, which appeared in 1993.
A number of short stories about John have now been published, as well as other yarns set in different eras plus four unspooling in modern day Mongolia (Interested parties may like to point their clickers at http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/fiction.htm for further details.)
Our latest short story is "The Three-Legged Cat of Great Clatterden" in The Mammoth Book of Dickensian Whodunnits, again edited by Mike Ashley. The feline of the title is a hill figure in Kent, visited by that jolly fellow Mr Samuel Pickwick (accompanied by fellow Pickwickian Mr Tracy Tupman) who are in Great Clatterden to investigate a strange disappearance.
Returning to the early l990s, we decided to write a novel concerning John and his adventures. By then we had joined the Mystery Writers of America and not long after we had "One For Sorrow" ready for submission we read in the MWA newsletter that Poisoned Pen Press, then a newly minted publisher, had been nominated for a 1998 Edgar Award for its A to Z Murder Goes....Classic.
Writing to congratulate them, we summoned up the brass nerve to ask if they also published fiction, whereupon in a classic case of the sort of luck that so often appears in these paths to publication, we learnt editor Barbara Peters had just been complaining about the lack of
Byzantine mysteries! Needless to say we submitted ours and One For Sorrow became the first original mystery they published.
We're now up to Seven For A Secret, the book titles being taken from the traditional counting rhyme upon seeing black-plumed birds. The version of the rhyme Mary knows ends at seven, and so we've said all along that once we get to eight we will start making up new lines for the benefit of bird counters and claim it as oral tradition at work.
The path to publication is not easy, but from our own experience we would say it can be smoothed by persistence, patience, politeness, and the occasional bit of luck -- particularly being in the right place at the right time. Wayfarers on the road will need to keep their sense of humour well polished, as it will be needed! Other than that, our best advice would be to work at the craft, write something every day, read as much and as widely as possible, and above all keep sending the ms out. Don't be discouraged about rejections. Although they were not fiction, Mary's record was twelve in two days, and yet all the articles were eventually published.
You can read reviews of Seven for a Secret at Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and on their website: home.epix.net/~maywrite/sevrev.htm.
And, if you want to know more about the book, here's the official blurb:
Who killed the mosaic girl? As Lord Chamberlain, John spends his days counseling Emperor Justinian while passing the small hours of night in conversation with the solemn-eyed little girl depicted in a mosaic on his study wall. He never expected to meet her in a public square or afterwards find her red-dyed corpse in a subterranean cistern. Had the mysterious woman truly been the model for the mosaic years before as she claimed? Who was she? Why had she sought John out? Who wanted her dead -- and why? The answers seem to lie among the denizens of the smoky streets of that quarter of Constantinople known as the Copper Market, where artisans, beggars, prostitutes, pillar saints, and exiled aristocrats struggle to survive within sight of the Great Palace and yet worlds distant.
John encounters a faded actress, a patriotic sausage maker, a sundial maker who fears the sun, a religious visionary, a man who lives in a treasure trove, and a beggar who owes his life to a cartload of melons. Before long he suspects he is attempting to unravel not just a murder but a plot against the empire. Or is John really on a personal quest, to find the reality behind the confidante he thought existed only in his own imagination? Is there such a thing as truth in a place where people live on memories, dreams, and illusions? Even if there is, can John push aside the shadows and find the truth in time?
PATHS TO PUBLICATION, Heidi Ruby Miller, Mary Reed, Eric Mayer, Seven for a Secret, A John the Eunuch Mystery, Byzantine mystery, writing, author interviews