Thursday, March 12, 2015

Welcome to the Club

By Julia Dahl

I’ve been reading mysteries and thrillers since before it was probably appropriate. I was in the Agatha Christie book-of-the-month club in elementary school, and by high school had graduated to Stephen King, Christopher Pike, Patricia Highsmith, Dean Koontz, and John Grisham. But it wasn’t until I happened upon a copy of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects that I actually thought I might be able to contribute to the genre I love so much.

I was initially drawn to the cover – all black but for a single, menacing razor blade. When I turned the book over and saw the author picture, I remember thinking: I know her! And I did, sort of. My first job out of college was as an intern at Entertainment Weekly where Gillian was then a television writer. We chatted occasionally, and she was always very nice. When she got promoted, I applied for her position but it went to a much more talented culture writer and I ended up at another magazine.

I took Sharp Objects home and read it in about 48 hours. When I was finished I had a mission: I was going to write a mystery novel.

I picked up Sharp Objects in 2007, and in 2012 I finished writing my own mystery/thriller, Invisible City. What now? I knew enough to know that just sending the manuscript to an agent who didn’t know me was likely to get my book thrown on the slush pile. So I took a chance: I sent Gillian Flynn a Facebook message. We hadn’t seen each other or spoken in more than 10 years, but this was before Gone Girl came out so she wasn’t yet an international sensation. I figured, why not try?

The message I sent was short -- just a quick intro (You may not remember me but we both worked at EW…), a description of my book, and a request: Do you have any advice for a new writer?

Two weeks later she emailed me back saying yes, she remembered me, and that she had mentioned my book to her agent who thought it sounded interesting.She said you should send it. A couple months later, I signed with her agent – my agent. Six months after that, we sold Invisible City and its upcoming sequel, Run You Down, to Minotaur.

In the year since Invisible City came out, I have been astonished by the generosity of writers in the mystery and thriller world. Cara Hoffman, author of So Much Pretty and Be Safe, I Love You has become a friend, and when I was terrified at the prospect of finishing a novel in a year she talked me off the ledge: You’ve done this before. You’re better at it now. And she was right. Lorenzo Carcaterra, author, most recently, of The Wolf, invited me to his book club and recommended Invisible City to readers of the New York Post. Hank Phillippe Ryan, author of Truth Be Told, introduced me to Lee Child and Julia Spencer-Fleming while we were at Bouchercon.

Writing a novel is a solitary endeavor, but publishing, promoting and selling a novel – all the things that turn one book into a career - is the opposite. You need relationships, you need support. I’m here to tell you that this community is silly with support. And I’m honored to be a part of it.

Julia Dahl is a journalist specializing in crime and criminal justice. She currently writes for and her feature articles have appeared in Salon, the Columbia Journalism Review, Pacific Standard and many others. Her first novel, "Invisible City," is a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel and the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and was named one of the Boston Globe's Best Books of 2014. Julia was born in Fresno, California to a Lutheran father and a Jewish mother, and now lives in Brooklyn.

INVISIBLE CITY is the story of Rebekah Roberts, a Florida native whose Hasidic Jewish mother abandoned her as an infant. Now a tabloid reporter in New York City, Rebekah is called to report on the story of a murdered Hasidic woman in Brooklyn. She soon learns that because of the NYPD's habit of kowtowing to the powerful ultra-Orthodox community, the murder may go unsolved. Rebekah can't let the story end there. But getting to the truth won't be easy--even as she immerses herself in the cloistered world where her mother grew up, it's clear that she's not welcome, and everyone she meets has a secret to keep from an outsider.

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