The "Birth" of Poison Study

As many of you know this October will be 10 years since POISON STUDY was first published by LUNA books, an imprint of Harlequin.  While I'm having all kinds of fun things like a blog tour, scavenger hunt, chapters notes, read along, and prizes to celebrate during the month of October, I also thought I'd do a series of blog posts about the book and how it came to be :).

I sparked on the idea of writing about a food/poison taster when I was reading Orson Scott Card's book, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.  It was the chapter on characters and a scene jumped into my mind of a King who had fallen in love with his food taster and she was just about to taste his meal and it was probably poisoned, BUT she had to do it.  So he watches her in heartbreaking horror...

I never did write that scene!  But it started me asking questions.  Who was this food taster?  Why was she there?  Why was the King worried about being poisoned?  I decided the King would be a practical type and he wouldn't want to use one of his loyal subjects as a poison taster, so he offers the next person in line to be executed the job.  Then that triggers more questions, why is she on death row? Once she takes the job, what keeps her from escaping?  And are readers really going to like a protagonist who murdered a man? (Yes, if she has a damn good reason!)

I started writing the book in the beginning of 1997.  Despite having a very energetic 2 year old boy, I wrote a couple chapters with a King. The King's name is D'Ambrosia and the murdered Duke's son is Reyad and I have three names listed for the King's Chief of Security: Valek, Valello, and Valerio!

I see a contest for Great Beginnings and decide to enter my first chapter.  The contest is sponsored by Pennwriters and is part of their annual writing conference.  In May 1997, I travel to Pittsburgh to attend a fantastic conference where I learn all about writing and publishing.  I don't win the Great Beginnings contest, but I DID get wonderful feedback from one of the judges - Ms. Kate Elliott (one of my favorite authors and one of the reasons I attended the con).  She really enjoys the story and thinks the food taster is unique, but she suggests lots of changes to make it stronger and I decide to try to make my fantasy stand out from all the others, so I kill off the monarch and decide to have a military dictatorship instead.  Oh, and I still plan to have the Commander and Yelena fall in love as per my original idea.

After I meet Kate and she encourages me to continue with the story, I'm very bold and ask her if she'd like to read a revision of the first chapter.  She says YES!!  I still have her note about the revisions it begins: Dear Maria - Wow! The new draft is much stronger. At this point you're right of course to not do any further rewriting until you've finished the first draft. I love the poison names, by the way!

I'm cheeky again and ask if I can send her the completed draft when it's finished. Again she says YES! Another happy dance!

I continue working on the book until my daughter is born in October 1997 and then I take 6 months off.  Re-starting in May 1998, I write one chapter a month to give to my writing critique group for feedback.  Having that small goal helps and I finish the first draft in January 2000!!!  By this time, lots of my original ideas for the story has changed - Spoiler - the Commander and Yelena do not fall in love and Valek turns from an antagonist into a protagonist!

I spend the next six months revising and then send a few queries out to literary agents and get rejections in return.  Then I receive feedback from Kate Elliott in January 2001 (She read the entire book and given me excellent feedback and suggestions.  Her kindness is why I'm teaching and mentoring writing students at Seton Hill University - to help other writers like Kate helped me).

Another six months's worth of revisions and by June 2001, I believe the book is ready to be sent out to agents and publishers.

Approximately 4 years from start to finish!!  Of course I wasn't working on the story full time - being home with two young kids doesn't give you a lot of time :)  And once I finished Poison Study, I started working on Storm Watcher while I worked on revisions.  At that point, Poison Study was a stand alone novel - no sequel was planned, but I did think I could write another only IF I managed to sell Poison Study to a publisher (self-publishing wasn't an option at that time!).

Next post will be on The "Trials" of Poison Study


  1. I smiled the entire time I was reading this post. I have that little dog eared paperback on my bookshelf right now. That cover was one of the things that drew me to the book in the first place😊

    1. Many readers have told me the original cover caught their eye - that why it's so important to have a great cover!

  2. I love this book with a red-hot passion and recommend it often. As a still-aspiring writer when I read it, it made me think, "I want to write something that good!" I never did, of course, but then, that bar is set very, very high.

    It never ceases to amaze me how generous other authors can be. I had a couple of people who mentored me (most notably Candace Havens, Lucienne Diver, and Mindy Klasky) and I'm not sure I'd be a published author today without their help and encouragement.

    1. You're so sweet Deborah! Thanks so much for all your support over the years. And you did write a fantastic series of books! I loved Wickedly Dangerous and plan to pick up the next one.

  3. I love that, with this post, you have let young, just starting writers in on the length of time it took to get that first book ready for publication. As a beta reader (and former high school English teacher), I find myself sometimes giving suggestions to young writers to actually re-envision their novels, but once in awhile they get so stuck on that original idea that they refuse to write the better story for the sake of preserving the original motivation or muse. Oftentimes I have wished for a successful published writer to post about the trials and revision process and such that is easier to me to refer people to, instead of recommending a book they don't feel they have time to read. This is awesome. I'll be saving this link to hand out, if you don't mind!

    All the best as you keep writing the rest of one of my favorite fantasy series!

    1. Revision is an important part of the process. Please share the link and look for my next installment about rejection. Thanks so much!

  4. So excited for this ! I love the series so much!

  5. Eu amo essa série. Sempre estou recomendando no meu blog.
    Espero ganhar um dos livros autografados, seria como um sonho.

    1. Sorry xD
      I love this series. I am always recommending in my blog.
      I hope to win one of the autographed books, it would be like a dream.

  6. Valek antagonist? Well ... I love him, but he could have been jajajaja...


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