JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Sara J. Henry, like me, is a Mason-Dixonite. She grew up in the south but now makes her home in the Green Mountain State. Her debut, Learning to Swim, initially caught my eye because it's set in New York State's Adirondack mountains. Learning to Swim caught a lot of eyes - it was an Emerging Author pick for retail giant Target, nominated for a Barry Award, and last month, it went on to win the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark award during Edgars Week, and then went on to win the Best First Agatha Award at Malice Domestic. However, Sara's not here to tell us why we should read Learning to Swim (although you really should!) She's here to give us a peek into what it's like to live the mystery writer's dream come true.
My Most Amazing, Incredible, Wonderful Twelve Day
I live on a dirt road in southern Vermont—excitement is when a fox tunnels into my yard and I try to referee a chase between dog and fox as they lap the yard, me alternately trying to grab my 105-pound Newfie mix and direct the fox to a fox-sized opening in the fence.
A long time ago I wrote a novel. Parts were good and parts weren’t, and I put it in a drawer, where it stayed for a very long time. Eventually I pulled it out and revised it, over and over, until it was published. In the 14 months since I did two panels, and went to the few bookstores who asked me. And then my amazing twelve days began.
I head off to appear at the wonderful St. Louis County Library’s annual Suspense Night. (This, because at the previous fall’s Bouchercon, I’d shoved a copy of my novel into the library director’s hands, being abominably bad at talking about my work.) It goes well, and I’m delighted by the attendance of three long-ago Tennessee high school friends, now St. Louis transplants—one of whom arrives dressed as my novel’s main character, complete with fake ponytail.
Home one night, and then off to Booktopia in Manchester, Vermont. (This, because I’d forced my reticent self to meet the folks at Northshire Bookstore some time back, with my writer pal A.S. King’s words ringing in my ears, Sara, you HAVE to go to bookstores and meet people.) This is one of those events where you feel they accidentally invited the wrong person – there are seven other authors here, amazing authors, ones with books dancing around the New York Times bestseller list. I meet the delightful Richard Mason and Madeline Miller (the other debut author) at the opening party, and the next day appear with the wonderfully generous Howard Frank Mosher. The final event at Northshire is open to the public, and every chair is filled. I am scared almost spitless. I’m second to speak, and decide I’ll start with a funny childhood story. And people laugh, and I freeze only once, infinitesimally, and the result is now a podcast over at Books on the Nightstand.
Then to NYC where I appear on a panel with SJ Rozan at the MWA Symposium, and think from the audience’s blank faces that this must be the most boring panel ever, until I learn this is simply what people look like when listening. In a restroom I do a Superman-style fast change, to the shoes and black dress stashed in my daypack, and head into the MWA Agents and Editors party, where I’m up for the Mary Higgins Clark award. I’m happily standing there, with the analytic side of my brain assessing what I should say if I win, and then my name is called. And what I never once considered—the emotional impact of winning—hits me like a tidal wave, an enormous one. I cannot move, I cannot think, I almost cannot breathe. And I cry a little, but only a little, during my talk.
Next I’m at my cousin’s house in Virginia, where I play with my four adorable young cousins and do a book club group, and get up horribly early to drive to Malice Domestic in Bethesda. And there I have a lovely time at my first-ever Malice, until the awards ceremony where I am astoundingly up for a best first novel Agatha, and this time I refuse to let myself think that I could win, refuse to think of what I might say if I do, and sit in a sort of frozen stupor. (Yes, I am wearing the same immune-to-rolling-up black dress.) And then my name is called. So I stumble up there and stumble through a speech and stumble back to my table. And there, with my award teapot sitting in front of me, I dissolve into a puddle of tears, and my wonderful friend Jess Lourey takes charge of me for the rest of the evening.
On the way home I stop at the home of A.S. and Mr. King and daughters, where I’m greeted with lovely child-drawn signs, and spend the day with people I love.
And so end my amazing, incredible, wonderful twelve days.
Now I am back on my dirt road in Vermont, marveling at the turns my life has taken—all because I wrote a novel that I decided to take out of the drawer, and didn’t give up on.
You can find out more about Sara, and read an excerpt of Learning to Swim, at her website. You can also follow her on Twitter as @SaraJHenry and like her on Facebook.