Sydni Simone: A secret avenger delivering justice to those the system has failed – for a price. Her cover is as a gallery assistant to her boss and former lover, Oscar. When his partner is arrested for murder Sydni intervenes, uncovering a massive insurance fraud scheme that the principals will kill to protect. Sydney must reveal her secret identity to protect Oscar. Together they bring down the bad guys and finally resolve their own relationship.
R.F. Sharp recently took time out of his busy schedule to discuss his debut novel.
Your mystery, NO REGRETS, NO REMORSE, was your first novel in print. What was your path to publication?
I had already published two non-fiction books. Consumer guides on divorce and trusts. But publishing non-fiction gives you no credit when trying to publish fiction. I was unpublished as far as the agents and editors were concerned. So I followed the recommended procedure. After writing and rewriting until I felt the manuscript was ready, I read all the books and articles on what to do next. Getting a literary agent was the standard advice. So I ordered the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS by Chuck Sambuchino and Jeff Herman’s GUIDE TO PUBLISHERS AND AGENTS. The advice from both came down to writing a terrific query letter and sending it to agents who represented work in your genre.
I sent out over two hundred queries, a few at a time over three years while continuing to work on the next novel. Most by email, some via post. I changed the query a dozen times since it wasn’t working. I got requests for partials, but no takers. Half the time the agents didn’t respond at all.
Wasn’t that discouraging?
I expected more rejection than acceptance. It was clear from my research that agents had enough clients already and would take someone new only if the work was exceptional. Getting their attention seemed to be the key and writing a great query was the advice given. I had sold insurance once, and in that business it was a numbers game. You would get more no’s than yes’s but if you kept at it the yes’s would come. But they didn’t come. Finally I got a request for the whole manuscript from Grace Morgan, a low profile agent in New York. She had no website, no email, but was well regarded and experienced. She called me and said she wasn’t interested in the manuscript – then told me why. For a half hour she went over the strong and weak points of the novel. There were too many characters. The story was so complicated she needed a chart to sort out what was happening. The book needed a complete restructure, not just a rewrite. She said to work on it, but not to send it back to her.
So you followed her advice I take it?
Absolutely. I threw out four chapters, eliminated three characters and started over. I worked on it full time and it took weeks to put it back together. I thank her for the rejection.
Tell me about the writing contest that you won. The Poisoned Pen Press Discover Mystery Award.
This was perfect timing. When I finished the restructuring I saw the announcement about the contest for a best first mystery run by the publisher. Rather than start over with query letters to agents I decided to try the contest. So I entered, having no real expectation of winning, then forgot about it while I continued to work on my other book.
A couple of months later I was playing the best round of golf in my life. I was on the 8th hole and one over par when my cell phone rang. It was Jessica Tribble, the Publisher at Poisoned Pentelling me I had won. I was dumbfounded. I forgot about the golf game, figuring I couldn’t concentrate on that anymore and raced home to tell my wife. I left my golf ball on the course.
This is your first published novel. You retired from years of being a sculptor and lawyer to pursue writing. Are you concerned about your age; that you might not be considered a viable commodity by other publishers?
Keats died at twenty-five. Sylvia Plath at thirty.Steven Crane at twenty-nine.They wrote for a very short time. I ‘m sixty-five and have at least twenty years to write. I expect to produce at least twenty to thirty more novels. I have one with my agent right now and I think it’s pretty good.
How did you finally get an agent?
After I won the contest I thought it would be wise to have someone to negotiate the publishing contract. As an attorney I had done this for clients, but there is the old saw about a lawyer who represents himself having a fool for a client, so I wanted a professional. I read Chuck Sambuchino’s blog regularly. He lists new agents who are looking for clients. I wrote to Sara D’Emic who was a new agent with Talcott Notch Literary Services, sent her the manuscript and asked if she would she be interested in representing me. She did. Turns out getting an agent is easy. All you have to do is get lucky enough to have your novel picked in a contest over two hundred others. I’m kidding of course. I edited a literary journal at one time and had to reject hundreds of fine submissions just because there were only so many I could use. So I am sure there were lots of others as good as mine.
How did you learn writing?
By reading and writing. I didn’t take any creative writing classes or belong to any writer’s groups. This was a mistake, but I had no time for those things then. I was afraid to show my writing to anyone, even my wife. What if it sucked? Sending to agents was safe and impersonal. I have since learned to let people read your stuff. Not just ones who tell you how wonderful you are, but the ones who will give you honest feedback on plotting. Does the story make sense? Is the writing stilted? Is the point of view wrong? I owe a lot to the editors at Poisoned Pen and to Sara D’Emic for their cruel examination. I learned that re-writing is the most important part of writing.
Ronald Farrington Sharp has juggled three careers as an attorney, sculptor, and writer. He is the author of two consumer legal guides on divorce and estate planning and his sculptural work is in the collections of numerous major universities and public and private collections. He migrates with his wife, the artist Susannah Keith, from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Florida. This is his first novel, the winner of the first annual Discover Mystery Award sponsored by POISONED PEN PRESS.
To learn more about R.F. Sharp, please visit his website.