Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Reissue of the Novels of Judith Merkle Riley

Judith Merkle Riley, 1992
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Today I'm delighted to introduce Shana DrehsEditorial Director of Sourcebooks & Sourcebooks Landmark, who's talking about the late (and beloved) novelist Judith Merkle Riley — and the reissue of two of her novels, THE ORACLE GLASS and MASTER OF ALL DESIRES. Judith's books are historical fiction, with strong woman protagonists, wicked wit, and a supernatural twist. 

The original cover of THE ORACLE GLASS
I was lucky to be able to work with Judith in 1992, when I was but a lowly editorial assistant for Pamela Dorman at Viking/Penguin. I clearly remember my first telephone conversation with Judith, going over the contact sheet of her author photos for THE ORACLE GLASS (there was no email then). I was liking more of the smiley pictures, but Judith said, "No, I like the one with the half-smile—that's the right one for the author of a book with witches." And that's the one you see above. 

The original cover of THE MASTER OF DESIRES
Judith made my dorky twenty-two-year-old self feel like a real publishing professional. She took me seriously. I guided her books through the editorial process, yes, as I did with many books — but she always was so kind, so funny, so gracious — I felt (for the first time) like a colleague.

The original cover of THE SERPENT GARDEN
I worked with Judith on the books, THE ORACLE GLASS and THE SERPENT GARDEN. When I left Viking/Penguin, we stayed in touch. She introduced me to her lovely daughter (Elizabeth Riley, now a superstar book publicist) and Elizabeth and I became fast friends.

Judith was a colleague, who also became a friend and a mentor. She was one of the first people I showed a draft of MR. CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY to. And to her credit, she didn't laugh or make paper airplanes out of it, but instead send me constructive criticism, as well as love and support.

There's a lot of Judith in my work. I named Maggie Hope after her character Margaret in her first novel, VISON OF LIGHT. As a good luck charm, I gave my Maggie red hair after her Margaret's red hair — who was a redhead inspired by Judith's daughter and my eventual friend Elizabeth. And Maggie definitely has Judith's sense of humor.

Later, when I got an agent, and then a publisher, Judith guided me through a number of tricky situations, older novelist to debut novelist, mentor to novice, friend to friend.  

Alas, she died before MR. CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY was published, but I dedicated PRINCESS ELIZABETH'S SPY to her. And I still think of her often. So often.

The first cover of Judith's A VISION OF LIGHT
Can you see the family resemblance? (Actually, this is the first time I put it together....)

Alas, her novels went out of print, too, and I was sad — sad and angry she died so relatively young and also sad that her books were gone, too.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I opened up a package last month and saw her books, AN ORACLE GLASS and THE MASTER OF ALL DESIRES, all shiny and new, with gorgeous new covers!

Shana Drehs from Sourcebooks was kind enough to send them to me, and for that I shall be eternally grateful. 

And since they're now back in print, I'm delighted to share them with all of you, Reds and lovely readers. I hope you love them as much as I do.

Now, please welcome Shana, with the story of how she came to (re)publish Judith Merkle Riley's books!

SHANA DREHS: As a reader and an editor, I’ve always been drawn to historical fiction featuring strong female characters who thrive in unusual circumstances or triumph over overwhelming challenges.  Therefore, when I first learned of Judith Merkle Riley and her books shortly after she passed away in 2010, I suspected that I had been missing out on something truly special. 
The new Sourcebook cover of THE ORACLE GLASS

After reading The Oracle Glassfor the first time, my suspicions were confirmed. Judith is beloved by her fans and readers for her lively writing and unforgettable characters, and it immediately became clear to me that her books deserved a wider audience. 

Luckily, I was in a position to help make that happen—and that fact that I work for the largest woman-owned publisher in North America seemed extra fitting, as Judith’s work focuses on extraordinary women whose skills and ambitions often transcend the limitations of their times. Paired with a strong historical fiction program and a history of successfully republishing classic authors and books, Sourcebooks and Judith Merkle Riley’s work seemed like the perfect match.

The rights to two of Judith’s books, The Oracle Glassand The Master of all Desires, were available, and I snapped them up. In The Oracle Glass, the protagonist, Genevieve, escapes her abusive uncle to pursue a lucrative position as a fortune teller, eventually becoming entrapped in the political intrigue of the court of Louis XIV. 
The new Sourcebook cover of THE MASTER OF ALL DESIRES

The Master of All Desires is my particular favorite of Judith’s novels, as it tackles the unlikely premise of a genie-like creature living inside a small, ornately decorated box to show the destructive powers of human desire—while also being, at times, side-splittingly funny. 

We had an incredible response to Judith’s work in-house, and many people commented on not only how well-written the books were, but also how much they enjoyed the humor Judith so skillfully weaves through her writing. Historical fiction is not necessarily a category known for humor, but Judith had a particular gift for telling arresting, historically accurate stories with all the humor, drama, and tragedy that real lives encapsulate.

Of course, having connected so strongly with Judith’s work, my only regret is that I never had the chance to know her personally and to build the kind of author/editor relationship that makes my job so rewarding. Judith is spoken of lovingly throughout the publishing and academic circles in which she was known, and it is clear that she was not only an extremely accomplished writer but also a wonderful person, and I wish I had been lucky enough to be among those who called her a friend and colleague. 

I am so glad, however, that I have had the opportunity to republish two of her wonderful novels and bring new readers to what should truly be known as classics within the historical fiction category. I am confident that just like Menander, the devious genie figure in The Master of All Desires, Judith’s work will live on for generations (although, naturally, in a less disruptive manner!). 

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Thank you so much, Shana! 

Reds and gentle readers, if you could wave a magic wand (Judith would approve!) and bring any book back into print, what would it be and why? 


  1. How exciting that some of Judith Merkle Riley's books are being reissued. They are such gems. Thanks for sharing Shana's role in making this happen.

    I have a particularly soft spot in my heart for Isaac Asimov books and if I could bring any book back into print, I'd choose to reissue "The Best New Thing," a lovely children's book published in 1971. It was his first book for young children, and it's a perfect blend of science and science fiction . . . a true treasure.

  2. Wonderful news that these books are available again. I had the very great pleasure of chatting with Judith at a couple of conferences and admired her and her novels tremendously. She captured the feel of the historical periods she wrote about, made you believe in the supernatural aspects, and had a deft hand with touches of comic relief. As for other authors I'd like to see back in print, I'd have to give that some thought. Many who were missing just a few years ago are now available in ebook. All of Charlotte MacLeod's mysteries, for example.

  3. What a lovely story! I don't know these books so I'll have to fix that.

    Poisoned Pen Press has launched a "British Library Crime Classics" imprint that's very much worth looking at.

  4. Susan and Shana—
    I saw this post just as I was heading to bed, and there was something that said I should read it. I am very moved by everything in it. The feeling and strength. The kind amusement and care. I didn't expect that, so i'm very glad I caught your words and thoughts and had this very different blog experience, for me, with the added excitement to learn about Judith and her books. And they are available. Thank you, both.

  5. These sound wonderful and how awesome you get to bring them back out to new readers.

    Do audio books count? Because I'd reissue John Cleese narrating The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. So spot on. I can't find them anywhere.

  6. Hello everyone and welcome! The screw tape letters by CS Lewis, narrated by John Cleese? Count me in! I have to say I was over the moon when I Capture the Castle was rereleased a few years ago.....

  7. What a wonderful piece, Susan - Thank You!

    So many books that I've loved over the years have come back as ebooks, and that makes me enormously happy. The thought of losing someone's words and work forever saddens me.

  8. It is such a privilege to be able to help keep these great books in the hands of readers!

  9. First, thank you for reminding me of a wonderful writer and I am thrilled to know her books are back in print. As for who I would bring back? Anything by MM Kaye that has gone from print. Plenty of used books available, but her hardcovers (or even trades) would be lovely to see reissued with the smell of fresh pages. I particularly miss The Sun In Morning. It was a delightful book and mine was somehow ripped to shreds in our last move.

  10. MM Kaye! The Far Pavilions is so lovely.

  11. Welcome, Shana! And a big thank you to you and Sourcebooks for reissuing the novels. Are there any other upcoming reissues you can tell us about?

  12. Welcome, Shana! And a big thank you to you and Sourcebooks for reissuing the novels. Are there any other upcoming reissues you can tell us about?

  13. Welcome, Shana! And a big thank you to you and Sourcebooks for reissuing the novels. Are there any other upcoming reissues you can tell us about?

  14. Welcome, Shana! And a big thank you to you and Sourcebooks for reissuing the novels. Are there any other upcoming reissues you can tell us about?

  15. Hi Shana! I can't imagine how I managed to miss Judith's novels. They are just the sort of books I've always loved, so I'm looking them up as soon as I finish this comment.

    As for things I wish would be reissued, I thought immediately of the wonderful fantasy series by Joy Chant. The first book in the trilogy is called Red Moon and Black Mountain, and is one of the best fantasy novels I've ever read. You can get used copies--I just checked, but they are not available as e-books. Which brings home how much we take for granted these days that we can find almost anything as an e-book...

    I would also love to hear about other reissues you may have coming up!

  16. We've published quite a few books by an author I adore, D.E. Stevenson, with mor eon the way. If you haven't read Miss Buncle's Book, you're in for a treat!

  17. Thank you, Shana -- I'm off to look up D.E. Stevenson and Miss Buncle's book.... (forgive my erratic posts and double posts, I'm on Amtrak with signal issues... xx Susan)

  18. Susan, what a wonderful story of your friendship and mentorship with Judith Merkle Riley. And Shana, how rewarding it must be to bring Ms. Riley's books to new generations of readers. The cover of the reissue is great, too. I love the idea of historical fiction with a sense of humor, so I'll be checking these books out. Oh, and like Deborah, I'd like to know if they're other reissues coming.

    Hallie, I have come across a couple of the "British Library Crime Classics" books and thought they looked very much like checking out. John Bude has several in that series that I'm interested in, and I think I may have even bought The Cornish Coast Murder already. I know that I have Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon, but I haven't gotten to it yet. Have you, Hallie, or anyone else read any in the British Library Crime Classics yet?

  19. Oh, my goodness, I had no idea! ( I have heard you speak of her, Susan, with so much affection…) These books look wonderful.

    And Joan, I'd love to see that Asimov book. Is Jane Langton's Diamond in the Window still in print? I was so life-changing for me. And there was a series of horse books that pre-teen me loved--The first one was Golden Sovereign, and then Silver Birch. And Midnight Moon. I have no idea who wrote them--

    Off to find Ms. Riley's books--and maybe those, too!

    Thank you so much, both of you, for a lovely lovely post.