Many years ago B.C. (Before Computers), I was eighteen and finally realized what I had been doing all my life, writing stories and poems and plays, could be my career. My goal in life was to have a book published. At the time, self-publishing was very expensive and the product didn’t look very good, so from the beginning, I wanted to be traditionally published. For all you young folks out there, that meant typing your novel on a typewriter, correcting mistakes with Wite-Out or Correcto-Tape, very messy and time-consuming techniques, finding a box the right size, making sure you had enough return postage, mailing it to New York, and waiting months and months for a rejection slip. This went on for years until something magical happened: personal computers and the internet.
Woo hoo! Now I could cut and paste and delete with ease. Now I had my own printer instead of having to haul three hundred pages down to the copy shop. Now I could email queries and sample chapters, save tons of money on postage, and be rejected in no time, at all! Then a real miracle happened. After twenty years of sending manuscripts out and getting them back, I got an agent. Okay, this was it! My future was assured!
Just one slight problem.
My agent said she could sell my book if I changed my hero to a woman. At the time, mystery authors with female protagonists were all the rage. I understood this. However, my Grace Street series featured a private investigator named David Randall.
In the first book, Stolen Hearts, Randall, struggling with the death of his little daughter, had come to stay with his best friend Camden, who was psychic and also a man, in Cam’s boarding house at 302 Grace Street, in my fictional city of Parkland, North Carolina. Having a setting like 302 Grace allowed all kinds of characters to move in and out as the series progressed, including Kary Ingram, Randall’s love interest, and Camden’s girlfriend, Ellin Belton, head of the Psychic Service Network. Way too many relationship problems to solve if Randall became a woman. Maybe there was a way out.
So I tried another angle. I wrote a book with a female PI, ex-beauty queen Madeline “Mac” Maclin and her con-man boyfriend, Jerry Fairweather, and set this book in a small fictional town much like my town of Mt. Airy, NC. I called it A Case of Imagination. Okay, now we’re good to go, I thought.
Here’s where the story gets dark. I spent quite a few sleepless nights thrashing this out. I’d waited twenty years for a breakthrough. I finally had an agent. She was telling me what I could do to get published, and I couldn’t do it. I’d spent those twenty years creating characters I loved, and I had thirteen manuscripts all finished. If David Randall became Donna Randall, the relationship between Randall and Cam would be dramatically different. So would Randall’s relationship with Kary. If I changed Randall, I had to change his entire world. My entire world.
I couldn’t do it.
The hardest phone call I’ve ever had to make was the one I made to my agent. We parted ways, and I went back to Writer’s Market. Many years later, I found Poisoned Pen Press. They didn’t require an agent. Ironically, the first book they published was A Case of Imagination, but since then, they’ve published four more of Madeline’s adventures and so far, six of the Grace Street mysteries with everyone’s original gender intact.
I started my quest when I was eighteen. I received my first book contract when I was fifty-five. It took longer than I’d hoped to be an overnight success, but I learned a lot about myself in the process. I’m grateful I didn’t have to compromise on my dream. So is David Randall.
Jane Tesh, a retired media specialist, lives in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, Andy Griffith’s hometown, the real Mayberry. She is the author of the Madeline Maclin mysteries and the Grace Street Series. Her mysteries are set in fictional North Carolina towns and are on the light side with humor, romance, and a touch of the paranormal. They are published by Poisoned Pen Press. She is also the author of four fantasy novels, Butterfly Waltz, A Small Holiday, The Monsters of Spiders’ Rest, and Over the Edge, published by Silver Leaf Books. When she isn’t writing, Jane enjoys playing the piano and conducting the orchestra for productions at the Andy Griffith Playhouse.
“A P.I. and a psychic team up to solve a series of crimes. Tesh gets her new series off to a promising start.”
Kirkus on Stolen Hearts
“A gratifying blend of the surprising and the spirited.”
Publishers Weekly on Stolen Hearts
“The mystery plot is convincing and motives abound, but the vivid characters are the main draw, in particular the wryly observant Randall, who narrates the story with verve. Fans of cozies with a paranormal twist will be rewarded.”
Publisher’s Weekly on Death by Dragonfly
“Beauty pageant tomfoolery and psychic shenanigans add comic zest to Tesh’s cozy debut.”
Publishers Weekly on A Case of Imagination
Kirkus on Evil Turns