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Nev March: Taking a Leap of Faith to Write an Award-Winning Historical Mystery Novel

Award-winning author Nev March shares what inspired her award-winning mystery debut, how the editing process went after it was accepted, and so much more.

Nev March is the winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award. Leaving a long career in business analysis in 2015 she returned to her passion, writing fiction. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and the Hunterdon County Library Write Group. A Parsee Zoroastrian herself, Nev lives with her husband and two sons in New Jersey. Murder in Old Bombay is her debut novel.

Nev March

Nev March

(21 authors share one piece of advice for writers.)

In this post, March shares what inspired her award-winning mystery debut, how the editing process went after it was accepted, and much more!

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Name: Nev March
Literary agent: Jill Grosjean
Book title: Murder in Old Bombay
Publisher: Minotaur (Macmillan)
Release date: November 10, 2020
Genre: Historical Mystery

Elevator pitch for the book: Why did two beautiful and privileged young women drop from the University Clock-tower in broad daylight? An unsolved murder in colonial Bombay leads young detective Captain James Agnihotri into dangerous adventures to reach the ultimate prize—a sense of belonging.

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What prompted you to write this book?

As a child I had heard of the two Parsi girls who died in the middle of a busy University, by falling from the university clock-tower in broad daylight. Adults used this cautionary tale to warn girls of the dangers present in a city even in daytime.

(Creative writing prompts for writers.)

Researching the story, I learned that the husband of one of the victims was the young Ardeshir Godrej, who went on to become a serial entrepreneur and inventor. At the time of his wife and sister's deaths, he was just 22! He never remarried, so I thought he must have been deeply in love with his young bride. 

I wondered, how could a young man recover from such a blow? His biography shows how remarkable he was in later life, so I speculated, what if he hired a detective to solve the mystery? That started me off. 

Since my story is based on the original tragedy, it has a strong feminist message. However, the novel became a far larger canvas than I had originally planned.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication?

I wrote the first draft in four months, in days when eating felt like a waste of time, and sleeping with a scene repeating in my head. The book morphed—I moved important scenes from narration to action, added on a first chapter, changed the ending. It took me a year to revise and edit it, and six months to find my fantastic agent, Jill.

I submitted the ms to MWA's contest in December 2018. In April 2019 it won MWA's First Crime Novel award and a contract with Macmillan—what joy! Publication is scheduled for November 2020. 

It's a long haul, but it gave me time to learn the publisher's process, to plan marketing strategies and to research and begin the sequel.

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Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

Surprises: The folks at Macmillan were incredibly kind. As a newbie I asked a ton of questions, which they patiently and promptly answered. They put a great deal of effort behind the book, as professionals who truly know their business.

(Jennifer J. Chow: Sparking optimism and hope with cozy mystery novels.)

My learning moments: understanding how much a novel is the result of collaboration. My critique group reviewed one chapter a week, listening to me perform it. I write very short chapters, so that's over 70 weeks!

The original title was The Rajabai Tower Mystery. Google it and you'll find the article about the tragedy of the Godrej Girls. However the word "Rajabai" was too unfamiliar for an American audience, we felt. We brainstormed. My mentor Jay came up with a simpler title that reflects the colonial flavor of the book, and I was sold.

Another learning moment for me was absorbing my award-winning editor Kelley Ragland's detailed revision notes. She insisted that I trim down the Pathankot adventure in the middle of the book. It was difficult but I did, and the book is much better for it.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

Oh yes! I had the first chapters and the ending worked out and only the vaguest idea of how to seam the two together. The mid-section was hijacked by the characters—one character, really, Captain Jim. 

(How long should my book be?)

I took a leap of faith and wrote it—and ended up with a mammoth manuscript of 138,000 words. Cutting it down to 115,000 words was hard work. My critique partners helped—can't thank them enough!

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope they're entertained, are carried into a different world where they join Captain Jim's in scouring diverse places and people for clues—a world where mountain villages and society drawing rooms are equally treacherous, yet offer unexpected gifts to those who keep trying and will not give up. I want readers to see the ugliness and the beauty of a world that seems far removed from our modern world, and realize that both the ugliness of unfairness and the beauty of unexpected kindness are with us still.

In ambitious moments, I dream that readers will find profound meaning in my book, even if each perceives a different facet of it. And for readers of my (tiny) Zoroastrian community, I hope they hear the desperate plea at the heart of the story.

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Do the work. Do the work of learning the craft from classes and books. Write the book. Then talk to other writers, share critiques, revise and edit (many times!). Read and deconstruct novels you like, and write more.

(Wendy Holden: Unlocking the secrets of historical fiction.)

Do the work when you fear you're not good enough. Do it anyway. When the book is right, you know, and others will too.

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