From Slush Pile to Superstar: The Beginnings of Charlie McKelvey

From Slush Pile to Superstar: The Beginnings of Charlie McKelvey

Posted on May 22 by admin
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Happy Tuesday!

We’re back from a (much needed) extended weekend, and getting back down to business for another busy week in the Dundurn neighbourhood. We have a lot of great activities coming up this week, including our 40th anniversary celebration. Tune in for our live-tweets!

We’re also getting ready for a big rush of new releases, including The Devil’s Dust by C.B. Forrest. This is the third book in his lauded Charlie McKelvey mystery series, and seeing as this is one of our most anticipated releases this spring, why not dedicate more time to it on our blog?

Today, we take you to the humble beginnings of Charlie McKelvey, as told by Dundurn Senior Editor Allister Thompson, who actually acquired the debut McKelvey novel, The Weight of Stones, for Napoleon/Rendezvous some years ago. (As you know, Napoleon/Rendezvous became part of Dundurn last March.)

Read on to learn what attracted Allister to the McKelvey series, and just how good-looking C.B. Forrest really is.

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FROM SLUSH PILE TO SUPERSTAR: THE BEGINNINGS OF CHARLIE MCKELVEY

I spent many years being every sort of employee for a two-person small press, from marketing to design to editorial, and part of my duties was managing the “slush pile,” that mythical tower of paper toppling at the end of my desk. Each day I would eye it warily, wondering whether I should actually read some of it or just take it out to the dumpster.

I joke, of course. I read at least part of everything that came through, I swear. By 2008 a third employee had been added, freeing time for me to play big-time acquisitions editor. The company, Napoleon/Rendezvous, had developed a very successful line of crime fiction, and I was always on the lookout for authors who were working within the boundaries of the genre and its myriad subgenres, but whose work had something extra, a little more emotional heft or interesting ideas and settings. Most of the things that came through the door were very conventional cosies, police procedurals, etc., some good, some acceptable, some terrible.

Sometime in 2008, C.B. Forrest’s manuscript of The Weight of Stones arrived, with a nice bio page featuring a greyscale photo of the author drinking on a patio, looking pretty cool in his shades. The submission got chucked onto the slush pile (I think there may actually have been three or four piles at that point) and neglected for several months. Every once in a while I would pick up the bio page and admire Forrest’s handsome visage, thinking that at least he looked kind of marketable in a boozy way.

Finally, later in the year, I had time to do some reading. Forrest’s was one of the first I picked up, and in an extremely rare circumstance, it had me from the opening line. This is so incredibly rare. The first scene plunges us directly into the heart of Charlie McKelvey’s unbearable grief in a most visceral fashion. It struck me as a very brave choice, since either a reader would be immediately hooked by the intensity or turned right off by the bleakness. Me, I like bleak.

I read on and realized with excitement by chapter four that I had a winner in my hands. It was everything I ever wanted to see in a modern crime novel: darkness, violence, compassion, anger, sorrow, desire, the whole human condition in one novel. And it was set in Toronto, too. I got my boss to read it and she concurred that we needed to have this one.

This world being the cruel, stupid, tasteless place that it sometimes is, The Weight of Stones had for some reason not been snapped up by another publisher during the months it lay buried in my slush pile, and the industry’s loss was little Napoleon’s (and now Dundurn’s) gain. A few beers with Forrest later, the deal was sealed.

Since then Forrest has gone on to create two more McKelvey novels. The Weight of Stones was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for best first novel, and the sequel Slow Recoil, for best novel. The Devil’s Dust is arriving from the printers this week.

These are the victories we live for in our business, when out of the blue something great comes your way and you are awake and aware enough to realize it. Starting C.B. Forrest’s career is one of my proudest memories in publishing.

And he’s even better-looking in person.

Allister Thompson has been editing professionally since 1998. He is a Senior Editor at Dundurn and a noted raconteur.