M.M. Chouinard is the USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Amazon Charts bestselling author behind the Detective Jo Fournier series, featuring The Dancing Girls, Taken to the Grave, Her Daughter’s Cry, and The Other Mothers.
In this post, Chouinard immediately started writing her second book after finishing her first and shares here why that was the best decision she could have made, as well as what her publishing journey was like and more!
Name: M.M. Chouinard
Literary agent: Lynnette Novak
Book title: The Dancing Girls
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing/Bookouture
Release date: May 11, 2021
Elevator pitch for the book: When Oakhurst, Mass., police detective Jo Fournier discovers a series of women strangled and posed like dancers, she’ll have to catch a killer who uses online gaming to snare his victims.
Previous titles by the author: I don’t have any previous, but I have some subsequent: Taken to the Grave (Jo Fournier #2), Her Daughter’s Cry (Jo Fournier #3), The Other Mothers (Jo Fournier #4), and a standalone coming out on May 27th, The Vacation.
What prompted you to write this book?
My niece introduced me to "World of Warcraft" as a way to spend time together once she went off to college. Players have to be social to access some aspects of the game, so player guilds and random player groups are a big part of gameplay. I was surprised to watch some very successful romantic relationships form through the game, because all I could think was, “What if the guy behind that night elf druid turns out to be a serial killer in real life?!”
How long did it take to go from idea to publication?
I stopped playing "World of Warcraft" in 2012, so I must have had the idea by then, and The Dancing Girls was published in May 2019, so at least seven years. I wrote the first draft in the spring of 2013, ironically as a way to take a break from my first novel, the one I thought was far more likely to get published. I don’t like to leave a draft unfinished, so I finished a very bad first draft of The Dancing Girls in six weeks, then set it aside while I returned to my "real" book. I alternated between revision rounds for The Dancing Girls and other manuscripts for a few years, then started querying it when I (and my betas) thought it was ready. I had a few hits during #PitMad, including one from an editor at Bookouture (Leodora Darlington), who ultimately wanted to acquire it; I signed that contract in late summer 2018. Since Bookouture is a digital publisher, they had the book out by May 2019, so that part of the journey was actually quite fast!
As for the idea itself, no, it didn’t really change much during the process; the killer and the ultimate twist stayed the same as my original vision. But what did change was my detective—he was a man at first, and that just didn’t work for the book.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
Since this was my first published novel, everything was a learning moment! So, not surprises so much, but more like waking up inside a very cool episode of How Does It Work about digital publishing.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
I was surprised by how important it turned out to be that I put aside my first book once I finished the first draft and immediately dove into writing a second (thank you, Stephen King’s On Writing!). When you’re writing your first book, it’s impossible to know what aspects of that process are specific to writing that particular manuscript or are general to your process. And, in my opinion, having that perspective is crucial for problem-solving while you edit your manuscripts, and allows you to have more confidence in yourself. The Dancing Girls was so different in format and content than my first book, it pulled me right out of the little box my writing brain had been in. It’s so easy to doubt that you’ll ever be able to write another book or figure out what’s wrong with your first one, and quickly moving on to a second book really helped me with that.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
First and foremost—don’t blindly trust people you meet online! But on a deeper level, themes of female empowerment and disempowerment were important to me in this book. All of the women either give away their power, are looking to reclaim their power, or both. Some do it in positive ways, some in dysfunctional ways, and some succeed while others don’t. For example, my detective, Jo Fournier, starts the book having made a decision she thought would empower her because society tells her it should, but that actually strips away her ability to make fulfilling, meaningful change in the world. I hope her journey realizing that and correcting it is a positive one for readers.
If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?
Don’t quit! Keep writing, keep working on your craft, keep putting yourself out there. Seek out feedback and accept it gratefully, even if you ultimately decide it isn’t right for your piece. You’ll improve with every word you write and get closer to the book that someone can’t wait to snap up.