As one reviewer wrote on a popular online site, "Some books are easy to pigeonhole others are a challenge." Pine Island author Ellen Larson describes her most recent book, "In Retrospect," as a dystopian, post-apocalyptic, science-fiction, mystery about time travel.
The St. James City Civic Association invited Larson to their meeting, "and hosting a book launch party for their very own member/author Ellen Larson" Feb. 17 at the center. Judy Green, SJCCA vice president, introduced Larson.
"I was first introduced to Ellen Larson's writings when I downloaded one of her stories from Amazon titled 'Abdul Rahman Guards the Bridge,'" Green said. "It was set in the Cairo, Egypt, suburbs and the main character was a policeman named Abdul Rahman. It was immediately excited and I was hooked."
Ellen Larson signs a copy of one of her books.
She continued, "Ellen sold her first story to Yankee Magazine in 1971. Since then she has written numerous stories and articles that have appeared in print and online. In 2010 her short story 'When the Apricots Bloom' appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and was short-listed for an award for 'Best Short Mystery Fiction.'"
Green said Larson is also the author of "The Measure of the Universe," a science fiction novella, and New Jersey mysteries currently being reprinted by Poisoned Pen Press.
"I would like to thank everybody at St. James City Civic Association," Larson said. "I think of this area as my second home. Who am I... What do I do when I'm not playing bridge or tennis? I started writing my first book when I was 9 years old. It was a very serious story about a stranger that comes into town and changes the lives of the people he meets. I didn't finish that book but it could still happen it's not too late."
She went on to say, "I did complete my first novel when I was 18 and I sold my first short story to Yankee Magazine by the age of 20. I then got an agent who tried to sell a futuristic, scientific, post-apocalyptic tale. That book was called 'Aftermath.' My agents loved it and were confident they could place it but I wasn't in a hurry, I was cool and I said, 'I'm going to give myself time I'm only 20 and I was certain that by the time I was 30 I will have sold a book to a commercial publisher - no problem.'
"So many years passed and when I was 33 I left the U.S. on a voyage of discovery," she continued. "I lived in England for three years and then my college professor was teaching at the Cairo American College in Egypt. She invited me to come visit and I loved it. I eventually moved to Cairo and found a job working for USAID agricultural project as an editor. I lived in Egypt for 15 years and I got to travel a lot around the Middle East.
"When I hit 50 I decided that it was time to come back to the states," she continued. "I decided that a change was in order and switched from agricultural editing to editing science fiction. Fortunately the Internet allowed me to find clients and one of those was Poisoned Pen Press a lovely little publisher in Scottsdale, Ariz., and they hired me to sort of 'help books along' and bring these books up to publication standards. The titles I edited did pretty well and this made me desirable as a freelance substantive editor. By substantive editor I mean things about plots, structure, themes, etc. So I started getting quite a lot of business as a freelance substantive editor. I still have a couple of international clients.
"In 2012 the good folks at Poisoned Pen Press asked me to be editor and chief of a new young adult mystery line called the 'Poisoned Pencil,'" she said. "So now I devote about half my time to developing the Poisoned Pencil. I read all submissions, I choose what books will be published and I work with the writers to bring the books up to publication standards. Our first book will be out in April and it has been one of the joys of my life to have this opportunity.
"Over the years I've had some small successes with my writing," she continued. "I sold a few short stories to small markets, I wrote reviews for the newspapers, I even cooperatively published three novels what that means is a bunch of my writing buddy's got together, formed a small publishing company and published the books ourselves. They were well received but that commercial sale eluded me. Until the summer of 2011.
"My books are hard to categorize and that's not what publishers are looking for. I started writing 'In Retrospect' in 2003," she added. "It's a mystery. There's a dead guy, suspects, a sleuth who makes her living as a detective and she solves the mystery by making deductions. Except that it has a complicated structure because it has a lot of flashbacks and it takes place 1,500 years in the future. Also the sleuth solves her mysteries by using time travel. So this is very typical Ellen unsaleable!"
"I sent it to every commercial science fiction publisher on the planet (OK every one that does not require an agent) because although I easily got an agent easily when I was 20 it was impossible when I was 50. So eventually I ran out of science fiction publishers so I started with mystery publishers. The first mystery publisher I offered it to was Poisoned Pen Press who I had worked for 10 years you'd think they would give me a break. But no, I get a standard rejection letter in just two days," she said.
"The second mystery publisher I sent the book to was Five Star Publications. In a matter of days I heard back in a one word reply from Deni Dietz... 'Bravo!' They were in love with the book and were so sure it would be published they went ahead and edited the book. Then it went to the top editors for a final decision and I got the word... 'Sorry it's science fiction. We don't publish science fiction.'
"It was about this time that Poisoned Pen offered me the job as editor and after a while I heard back from Deni Dietz. She asked, 'Is the book still available?' When I said yes, they said don't do anything until you hear back from us. Eventually they reconsidered and decided to publish it but asked for a few changes like some of the 'foreign' sounding names."
She went on to say, "I got my contract last October and I signed it but still didn't believe it. I got paid my $1,200 advance in January but still didn't believe it. But then I spent every waking minute of my waking life trying to promote this book. I did a kick-starter project to make a book trailer. I am happy to say this book came out on Dec. 11 to very good reviews. I was lucky enough to get a Star Publishers Weekly review. I am happy to report we did sell out the first print run in 3 weeks and I've just heard the second print run is just about sold out.
"It's been really wonderful and the absolute highlight of my life to have this last year of fun promoting the book and meeting a whole lot of people and doing conferences. I can't thank you enough for coming here tonight. Now let's have some music, food and I'll sign your books for you. With every book sold there will be a donation to the St. James City Civic Association."
Larson's books are available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon.com. Her most recent book, "In Retrospect," is available in hardcover and Kindle.