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Can Delilah Percy Powers figure out who killed Miriam Cross before she becomes the killer's next target?
Miriam Cross, author, feminist and philanthropist, disappears from her Philadelphia home. A year later, a lonely recluse named Emily Cray is brutally murdered in her bed in a small Pennsylvania town. Miriam and Emily are one and the same. As Delilah and her staff of female detectives - a militant homemaker, an ex-headmistress and a former stripper - delve into Miriam’s life, they become submerged in an underworld of unfathomable cruelty and greed with implications that go far beyond the gruesome death of one woman or the boundaries of one country. Eventually Miriam’s fight for justice becomes Delilah’s own...until Delilah’s obsession with finding the truth may prove just as deadly.
The sound, a subtle scrape of metal against metal, drilled through her subconscious, jarring her awake. She picked her head up off her desk, rubbed her eyes, and looked around the dim room, telling herself to focus. Outside, the wind howled. The branches of the big pine hit her window in a rhythmic tap, tap, tap. She tried to listen beyond the wind, beyond the falling rain, beyond the pounding of her own heart. She heard only silence.
Quickly, fervently, she organized the materials she’d been working on into a pile and fastened them with a binder clip. She shoved everything into a desk drawer and locked the drawer with a small silver key. Her computer screen was black, so she tapped the mouse and waited impatiently for the screen to come alive. Just to be safe, she hit the save button, exited the document and shut down her computer. All of this took her a minute, tops. It felt like forever.
She stole a glance at the clock on her desk. . Had she bolted the doors and windows before she’d gone into her study? It’d been around nine, so no, probably not. She cursed herself for falling asleep.
She made her way through the study and out into the hallway that divided her one-story house. The darkness felt thick and viscous, enveloping her in dread. Try as she might, she still heard nothing beyond the storm. Perhaps it had been a dream. But her gut said that wasn’t the case–and once upon a time she’d been a woman who trusted her gut.
She didn’t dare turn on a light. Feeling her way along the walls, she passed the open doors to her bedroom and bath, each room a dark abyss in the early morning hour. She held her breath. A few more feet and she would be in the living room. Beyond that, the kitchen and the back door. She needed to check the locks. Then she could return to her study and finish what she’d needed to finish in the first place.
A table lamp in the living room cast shadows across the small, carpeted space. Her gaze flew from one end of the room to the other, pausing in the darkened corners. Nothing looked disturbed. Relieved, she crept to the front door and fastened the bolts, stopping only to take a deep breath in a failed attempt to calm her jittery nerves. A year of running had made her paranoid. A year of relative anonymity had, perhaps, made her careless.
Paranoia was fine. But she could ill afford to be careless.
She turned, pulling her cardigan closer against a sudden chill. For the briefest of moments, her mind flitted to another time, to feelings of warmth and contentment. But some things were bigger than one person’s feelings and she forced herself back to the present. To her own safety. To the safety of others.
The kitchen was dark.
Her pulse raced. She could have sworn she’d put the light on over the stove. Yes, she was certain. She’d retired to her study after a dinner of bread and soup and had left the dishes out to be cleaned later. The light had been her reminder.
But the light was off.
That meant . . .
She jumped. While her eyes scanned the darkened kitchen for the person associated with the disembodied voice, her mind spun with more practical matters. What had she left out? What would they find?
He said, “This place is very . . . quaint.”
She spotted him in the shadows. He sat sprawled on a chair by the back door, his legs out in front of him, something long and metal on the table by his side. In the dark, his face was hidden. But she recognized the voice.
“How did you find me?”
“Does it matter?”
She ironed the shakiness from her voice. “It does to me.”
“We have our sources.”
“We,” she repeated.
“Does that bother you, Emily?”
She remained silent, her eyes on the back door, which, she noticed now, stood slightly ajar. How long would it take her to reach it–could she get there before he did? Even if she did, what then? A run to the neighbor’s house? To what end? So that she could knock loudly on the locked door and wait until the frightened woman finally agreed to open up? By then he’d have caught her. Perhaps her bolted front door? But her car keys were in her purse . . . and what if he wasn’t alone?
“What do you want?” she said.
“You know what we want.”
He smiled. It was a shark’s grin, full of cold-blooded malice, a reminder of who he was and all that he stood for. She knew then that she could tell herself whatever lies gave her momentary comfort, but the truth was, she was going to die in this house, far from everything she held so dear.
Oddly, this sudden understanding gave her strength. She forced herself to meet his gaze. She smiled. “Killing me will do you absolutely no good.”
He raised his arm. In his hand was a needle. Another icy smile. “I beg to differ.”
She shook her head, thankful for her forethought. He–they, she reminded herself–could take what they could from her. But it wouldn’t be everything.
He rose and took two steps in her direction. She saw now that the glistening metal object on the table was a knife. An impossibly long knife. She swallowed, again measuring the distance between her and a door.
In a burst of desperation, she stepped toward the back door, then quickly turned and ran toward the living room. She fumbled with the bolts, forcing jittery hands to steady as she jammed the locks away from their resting places.
The last bolt in her hand, she felt him behind her. Strong fingers clasped over her mouth, hot breath on her neck. She struggled against him, but it was no use. He was too big, too powerful. Her only weapon was retreat.
“Oh, Emily,” he said. A hand slipped down her side, cupped her breast, continued down to her waist. There it stopped. “What were you thinking?”
She remained quiet and closed her eyes. He tugged at her sweater, pulling it off. Her bare arms prickled in the chilly air. He grabbed her forearm. She felt the sting of the needle and waited for the haze that would no doubt descend. He picked her up, carried her to the back of the house. Toward her study.
She knew what he wanted. What they wanted.
She wouldn’t give it to him. That much she could do.
Wendy Tyson's background in law and psychology has provided inspiration for her mysteries and thrillers. The Seduction of Miriam Cross, published by E-Lit Books in November 2013, is the first novel in the Delilah Percy Powers mystery series. She has also authored Killer Image, published by Henery Press, the first in the Allison Campbell mystery series. Her second Allison Campbell mystery is due out this summer. Find Wendy at www.WATyson.com.
Find her at:
www.WATyson.com and on twitter (www.twitter.com/wendytyson) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/wendytysonauthor).
www.WATyson.com and on twitter (www.twitter.com/wendytyson) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/wendytysonauthor).
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Tips for finding a literary agent
I recently had the good fortune of attending the Amelia Island Book Festival in Florida, where I taught a workshop on finding an agent. We had a good crowd. Some of the attendees were aspiring authors–others, published authors looking for a fresh start. Discussion was lively. One thing quickly became clear: everyone had war stories about their agent search, and no one enjoyed the process.
So how can you make it easier? Below are a few tips based on my own agent search and feedback from agents.
Do you even need an agent? You may be wondering whether you really need an agent. After all, you have to pay her part of your royalties. And it’s such a process to get an agent. Well, the answer depends on your goals. Many smaller publishers accept unagented materials, and even larger houses take submissions directly from authors, although your work could sit in an editor’s “slush pile,” wallowing in a very big queue alongside other unrepresented work. On the other hand, agented work may (emphasis on may) get your book faster and more serious consideration. Not all agents are created equal, though, and you will want to consider an agent’s background and sales history before signing on the dotted line.
All that said, my literary agent is my sounding board, my business advisor, my cheerleader, my first editor and my friend. She responds to whiny emails at six in the morning with funny comments that make me laugh, and she shows up at my launch parties despite the trek across three states. I absolutely adore her. But it took me several months and many query letters to find her.
What can you do to increase your odds of finding an agent?
· Have a completed manuscript. You just finished your first draft of Novel X and you can’t wait to get it out there. You run Spellchecker, put your name and address on the front page and start sending it out, right? No! Don’t do it. Make sure it’s truly finished. And by finished, I mean beta-read, revised, polished, line edited, formatted and dipped in gold. Okay, maybe not the last bit, but you get the point. The biggest mistake I made with my first novel (the one sitting, alone and abandoned, on a shelf in my office) was to start submitting it before it was really finished. It makes a bad first impression. You’re better off waiting until that novel is ready.
· Do your homework. Another common mistake: querying agents who don’t represent the genre in which you write. Do your research. There are plenty of free and for-a-fee online websites that offer agent lists and provide information on agents’ interests and backgrounds. You can also read the Acknowledgements of books that are similar to yours for references to those writers’ agents. Make a list of agents that could be a good fit for your work. Go to their professional websites and read their requirements. And make sure they are legitimate agents. Sadly, there are some bad eggs out there–so-called agents who prey on aspiring writers. A professional agent generally won’t charge you upfront fees; they get paid when you get paid.
· Write an awesome query letter. Ask a dozen agented writers to see their queries and you will see twelve different approaches. But all will be well-written and designed to catch a busy agent’s attention. What worked best for me was a pretty simple formula. I started by stating the reason for my letter (“I am seeking representation for my 88,000-word mystery, The Seduction of Miriam Cross”). Then I provided a hook. I used the following: “How are the murder of an eccentric novelist, a sordid sex tape, a successful venture capital firm and a Catholic nun connected? In The Seduction of Miriam Cross, private investigator Delilah Percy Powers must figure that out before she becomes a killer’s next target.” I followed that up with a short, concise paragraph describing the plot. At the end, I included a short paragraph about my writing experience. Don’t have any publishing credits? In my opinion, you’re better off saying nothing than adding material that’s not relevant. We all start somewhere. Agents know that. They’re looking for talent.
· Personalize. This is worth its own mention. I can’t tell you how many agents have told me they instantly reject anything that looks like a mass-emailed form letter. It’s important to show you did your homework. Personalize the query–don’t just address it to “Agent.”
· Follow directions. I asked several agents, including my own, if they appreciate the creative author who bypasses the instructions and does something to stand out: sends chocolate with his submission, sends her manuscript in a bright pink box, shows up at the agent’s office uninvited and dressed as her main character. Not surprisingly, each agent gave me a resounding “no.” Most agents have guidelines for a reason–and if you’ve done your homework, have a polished manuscript and have written a great query letter, then you have no need for attention-grabbing shenanigans. My advice? Read an agent’s guidelines and query in the manner they request. This goes for partial and full manuscripts, too. Some agents want to see part of your work right away. Others just want the query.
· Nurture your patient side. Remember potty training your kid? Don’t have a kid–remember house training your dog? Or watching paint dry? Yeah, querying agents can test your patience. Be prepared to wait. Whatever you do, resist the urge to pepper potential agents with follow-up emails and/or phone calls. Some kind-hearted agents will list their typical wait time on their website. For others, no response means rejection. The one exception relates to requested manuscripts. If an agent asks to see your work and you have not heard back after several months, it’s probably okay to send a polite follow-up email.
· Rejoice if you get an acceptance. But what if you get two? Or three? Or what if the agent you really want hasn’t responded yet? This happened to me. Pull up your big-kid pants and send each of the other agents a note. Explain that you’ve received an offer and ask if they require more time to make a decision. Give them a finite period–say a week–to let you know. And tell the agent who offered you representation that you need some time to give an answer. Even if the agent who makes the offer is your dream agent, you should reach out to all agents considering your manuscript and let them know you’re now represented. And then go have a glass of champagne. Or fizzy apple cider. You deserve it!