I published my novel Hailey’s Comments on Thursday. This book has a special place in my heart because of an experience that I had immediately following its completion. This was in that dark era before indie publishing where the only writing career available to authors’ was strictly controlled by the arbitrary New York gate keepers.
(WARNING-MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS)
After finishing Hailey, I had a goal of querying fifty agents, which I did. A few weeks later the rejection letters were flying in each bringing a blow to my fragile ego. My friends own successful businesses, they teach, run preschools, take in foster children, and I wrote stories no one ever read. Like my main character, Emma, I was a discouraged artist.
Hailey’s Comments takes place on a fictional island in the Pacific Northwest. In my novel the family matriarch, Helen, is murdered by her grandson, James Dunsmuir. I imagined the Dunsmuir home as a stone Victorian mansion, complete with turret and a widow’s walk that overlooks the ocean.
While vacationing in the Sun Juan Islands with my husband’s family, we visited Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, BC. Craigdarroch Castle stands high on a hill, but it’s not a castle with ramparts and moat—it’s a stone Victorian mansion complete with turret and a widow’s walk overlooking the ocean. It looks exactly as I envisioned my fictional Dunsmuir home.
When I went upstairs, I read that the home was built by Robert Dunsmuir, and after his death it became the property of his widow, Joan. Joan and her son, James, who shares my villain’s name, had a stormy relationship and were estranged for many years.
Until that day, I’d never visited Victoria. To my recollection I hadn’t any prior knowledge of the city’s prominent families or of Craigdarroch Castle. I had never seen a picture of the Dunsmuir home, and I’d never heard of the Dunsmuir family.
As I stood on the castle’s widow’s walk and watched the ships moving along the water, I felt a hand resting on my shoulder, pressing me forward, urging me to continue writing.
I apologize to the Dunsmuir family if Hailey’s Comments, although 100% fictional, draws any painful connections to their own lives. I’m sure the real James was a lovely person, and if he had reasons for being estranged from his mother, I’m absolutely sure it’s not because he murdered his grandmother.
I thought about changing the names in my novel, but decided against it—it’s just too good of a story not to tell.
Often times when I become discouraged, when the monetary rewards are too little and the negative reviews are too painful, I remind myself of that day on Victoria Island and how I felt when my fiction collided with the real world.
From some secrets, just like from some men, there’s no escape.
No one knows that sassy but shy Emma Clements is the voice of her grandmother’s advice column, Hailey’s Comments, until handsome Ryan Everett discovers the truth. To avoid his teasing questions and his you-can’t-fool-me remarks, Emma and her ugly dog Wyeth flee to sparsely populated Lister Island in the Puget Sound, where Emma intends to devote the summer to her painting and art.
On Lister Island, Emma encounters a pistol packing priest, a pair of greedy organic food farmers, an octogenarian jail keeper and Ryan Everett. Soon, Emma is much more concerned about her heart than her art. After a series of disturbing coincidences, Emma suspects that the life of Helen Dunsmuir, Lister Island’s recently deceased grande dame, is tied to her own. As she unravels the secrets of Helen’s life—and untimely death—Emma learns that problems are rarely solved with a quip or platitude, and that it’s better to love than to comment.
Hailey’s Comments, a romantic suspense reminiscent of Mary Stewart, was a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Contest.