An interview with Lea Wait

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Lea Wait for several years and I find her work unique and entertaining. She’s a “mom” after my own heart and I thank her for coming to visit us today!

Hi, PJ – and thank you for asking to interview me!

PJ: How long have you been writing?

Lea: I’ve been writing all my life; the usual high school newspaper and poems and plays in college, and then I supported myself by writing executive speeches, corporate films, strategic plans and other nonfiction for many years. I didn’t turn to fiction until my mid-40s, and I started writing fiction full time in my early 50s.

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

Lea: I was lucky early on. (Lucky after having written for years and studied writing, and reading everything I could when I wasn’t writing!) Although the first full book I wrote was turned down by 40 agents, the second book I wrote (an historical for children, Stopping to Home,) was bought by the first editor who saw it, a top editor at Simon & Schuster’s McElderry Books, and was lauded in book reviews. Then, a couple of years later, an editor at Scribner saw that mystery no agent had wanted (Shadows at the Fair), published it, and it was a finalist for a “best first mystery” Agatha Award. For several years I had both a new mystery and a children’s historical published, both by Simon and Schuster. I was getting good reviews from The New York Times. I wasn’t getting rich, and I was working like crazy, but I felt successful. I just kept pushing to try to make every book better than my last.

PJ: Wow, that’s quite a story! Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

Lea: That early success didn’t prepare me for the major changes that were coming in the economy and in the publishing industry. My editor at Scribner retired and, as a mid-list author, my series was retired with her. And when school and library budgets in the country were cut, so were publishing sales staffs who sold to them, and historical novels for children gave way to fantasy and vampires. My editor at McElderry was laid off.  So, in a large sense, after having had eight books published in five years with a major publisher, I was back to ground zero. I’d been naïve enough to think that the contacts I’d made and the reviews I’d had gave me a platform I could stand on. I was wrong.

PJ: Yikes! Would you do anything differently if you had to do it again?

Lea: Yes, I think so. First, while I was still at Simon & Schuster I would have asked more questions about what direction the publisher saw my mystery series taking. It turned out we disagreed about that, and no one told me until they ended the series. If someone had mentioned it earlier, that might have made a difference. Maybe not. But I would have liked to have known earlier that they thought there was a problem. After I left Simon & Schuster I wrote a literary historical mystery, but it didn’t sell, and I partially blame my agent for that, but I also blame myself for not pushing enough. I don’t think it was submitted to the right publishers. I should have recognized that earlier, and tried to move to another agent. And I should have written a mystery that was more marketable at that time: a contemporary with more suspense. Instead, I focused on writing more historical novels for children, which I loved to do – but which didn’t sell, for the same reason Simon & Schuster hadn’t published them. I don’t think my strength is in fantasy, but I should have shaken myself and realized that this is not the time for historicals.

PJ: What are you doing now?

Lea: I kept getting letters from fans wanting to know about the fate of the characters in the discontinued mystery series, so when a small West Coast publisher wanted to pick it up, I decided to do that. Last year Shadows of a Down East Summer was published, the fifth in the series, and next year Shadows on a Cape Cod Wedding will be out. So that keeps my hand in the mystery world and my series alive. I’ve written a contemporary mystery for children, which my agent for children’s books is shopping now, along with those historicals which I still hope will some day come back in style. At the moment I’m not writing any more of them. I’m also in the process of changing agents for my adult books, finding someone who will be more pro-active, to work with me in re-inventing myself. I have several ideas in mind, for stand alones and for series’. In the next month I’ll be deciding which will be my next project. I’m very excited about starting in a whole new direction.

PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others? 

Lea: My characters and settings are my strengths. I take time with my writing; it’s strong, well-crafted, and evocative. Years of working in the theatre when I was in high school and college has given me a good grasp of dialogue. Most of my published books are set in the north east United States, from New Jersey to Maine, areas I know well, and they reflect the people who live there.

PJ: What do you do to promote your books?

Lea: I have a website (http://www.leawait.com) and I blog with nine other Maine mystery authors at http://www.mainecrimewriters.com . I’m a member of the speakers bureau of Sisters in Crime of New England; if you contact that organization they can arrange for one or a panel of mystery authors to speak at your group or library. I’m on Facebook (friend me!) where I post about reading, writing, and living in Maine. When I have a new book out I do signings and talks in New England, and sometimes beyond, and I make author visits to schools throughout the country. There’s more information about that on my website. If someone wants to know when my next book is out, I’ll either send them a postcard or an email. I’ll also visit book groups via Skype if they live a distance away.

PJ: What are your published books?     

For adults:  The Shadows Antique Print Mystery Series

1 – Shadows at the Fair

2 – Shadows on the Coast of Maine

3 – Shadows on the Ivy

4 – Shadows at the Spring Show

5 – Shadows of a Down East Summer

6 – Shadows on a Cape Cod Wedding (2013)

For Children

Stopping to Home

            Seaward Born

            Wintering Well

            Finest Kind

Give us an elevator pitch of your latest title.

Shadows of a Down East Summer. Two young women posed for artist Winslow Home on the coast of Maine in 1890. What happened that summer; the secrets the women kept, the lies they told, changed their families forever. Now one of their descendants has been murdered, and Maggie Summer must find out which family myths are true before someone she cares about becomes the next victim.

Where can we buy it?

At any mystery bookstore; or order it at your local bookstore – or, of course, on Amazon.  In trade paperback or e-book.

What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody know about you and your work?

Sneaky question! But, OK! Each of my mysteries is a take-off of a classic mystery style.

Shadows at the Fair = Weekend house party in country;  suspects snowed in

Shadows on the Coast of Maine = gothic (and takes place in my house)

Shadows on the Ivy = academic

Shadows at the Spring Show = terrorist plot!

Shadows of a Down East Summer = something happened in the past resulting in

murder today …

Shadows on a Cape Cod Wedding = wedding mystery (of course!)

Thank you for the chance to share some of my secrets and plans! Lea

    How very interesting! I never saw that. But these books are great – I hope everyone will go out and find one to read! Thanks Lea. Stop in any time!

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5 thoughts on “An interview with Lea Wait

  1. I was glad to see you’d found a publisher for your fine series, Lea. As you know, I’m a long time fan and a casual acquaintance at conventions. You exemplify the secret of a writing career–persistence! Keep up the good work!
    Eleanor

    • radine says:

      Great interview, PJ and Lea. I’m especially glad to see it because, Lea, hadn’t realised you’d found someone to continue your series–which I love. (Used to sell antiques 100-plus years old at a shop in Tulsa, Ok, and our stock included many antique prints.) Radine

  2. Pat Reid says:

    Sounds like an excellent series!

  3. Lea Wait says:

    Thank you for your comments, everyone! So glad to be here, and to be interviewed by the great PJ!
    Lea

  4. Rusty Fairbanks says:

    Reassuring, in a way, that even after finding an agent, there can be problems – ripples in the silk. I love the part about how you couldn’t get your first mystery novel published until after the second. And even then, by a different publisher. I call that vindication.

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