dianne salerni author
dianne salerni author

A listing for The Caged Graves went up on Amazon at the beginning of this month.  The release date is set for May 14, 2013.  That’s nine months from now.
It seems like a long wait.  I could have a baby in that amount of time.  In fact, that might be a good way to pass the time!

(Ha, ha, just kidding. I want to give my husband a jolt when he reads this!)

There’s no cover image yet (amended: Yes there is!) but the listing contains a really awesome book description and an excerpt from the prologue. Yup. My book has a prologue, so don’t let anyone tell you they’re completely off the table.
The galley pages are in my hands for proof-reading, and last month I received the cover copy for approval – the text on the back cover and the jacket sleeves. I was ridiculously excited.  
Anyway, I’ve got my proof-reading to do and nine months to wait. What to do … what to do … what to do …

Guess what’s come back to me?

This manuscript feels like a boomerang. Every time I send it off, it comes right back (in a big 4lb package). I suppose it feels that way because nothing happened for 6 months after the book was purchased, and then everything happened in quick succession. (With my last book, the whole process was more spread out.)

I’ve been through two rounds of editorial revisions, and now this is the copy-editing stage.

My biggest worry? Reading the copy-editor’s brown pencil notations.  I hope my bifocals are up to the job, because I left my lighted magnifying glass in my desk at school and I really don’t want to go back for it.

The coolest thing so far?  There’s been a page added since I last saw the manuscript.  The copyright page. LOOK!

And the best thing about reviewing the copy edits by hand on paper?  I’ll have to get off the laptop and sit at a well-lighted table.  Good for my sore shoulder and unhappy left arm. (*)

* Amended — My shoulder actually hurts more after sitting hunched over the manuscript at the kitchen table for a few hours than it does when using the laptop on the couch.  FYI.

So, my editorial notes for THE CAGED GRAVES arrived yesterday while I was on my lunch break.

It’s not the first time I’ve received editorial notes — I had them from Sourcebooks when we were working on WE HEAR THE DEAD and I get them from my agent Sara, too, when I submit a new manuscript to her. But these are notes from my new editor at Clarion, and it’s my first time working with her.

I admit, when I see the email in my in-box, the first thing I do is glance at the stack of brown paper bags on my desk, the ones my students are going to use for their Valentine’s Day card exchange.  Am I going to need one? You know, to breathe into, in case I hyperventilate?

Opening an email like this is scary. What will I have to do? What will I have to change? Am I capable of making it as good as it needs to be? A whole lifetime of self-doubt flashes before my eyes before I click it open.

I scan. Then I start over and skim. (Taking it in small glimpses seemed a good idea at the time.) Then I read it.  At some point, I push the brown paper bags aside and reach for my lunch, because I’m not hyperventilating and I’m not passing out — and I can do this.

Will I have to kill some darlings? Yes. All of them? No! This isn’t the final scene of Hamlet, with nothing but corpses littering the stage.  This is metamorphosis. This is clarity and focus. There will be changes, but most of the things I love aren’t going anywhere and there may well be new darlings born out of revisions.

Is it going to be awesome? I think so.  I’m sure gonna try.
Can’t wait to get started.

Last week, I signed the contract to publish The Caged Graves with Clarion. With the book on its way to publication, it seemed an appropriate time for a pilgrimage back to the place that inspired the story – Hooded Grave Cemetery in Catawissa, PA.

I knew, going back, that it was going to look different to me this time. I fictionalized the setting when I wrote the story, changing the geography around quite a bit. For almost two years, I’ve been picturing those two graves outside a cemetery wall at the bottom of a long steep road, between Ransloe Boone’s house and the Shades of Death swamp.

In actuality, the tiny cemetery is squeezed between a cornfield and somebody’s house, and across the road from an orchard. The church is long gone. Somebody cuts the grass, but nobody’s been tending the weeds inside the graves. It was quite sad to see. Both graves were damaged. One of the flying eagles was missing from Sarah Ann’s cage, and the wire had been bent and mangled on one side of both graves. It looked as if somebody had been pulling on the wire trying to get their hands in. (Or get their hands out!) In fact, the damage to the cage is eerily similar to an incident in my book, which is kind of creepy.

My first visit, 21 months ago, was on a bitter cold day in January. We didn’t stay long – just took a few pictures and left. This time, we spent time looking around and examining the other graves. I couldn’t find the graves of either of the husbands – Ransloe Boone or John Thomas. In fact, as I looked around, I realized most of the graves belonged to women and children. It started to creep me out, and I wondered why no men were buried here. Eventually, I did find two headstones for adult men – but all the rest were women and children.

There were a lot of open spaces between the graves, so maybe headstones are missing – crumbled and cleared away, or sunk into the ground. And of course, the mortality rate for women and children was higher than for adult men. Nevertheless, their near absence added one more unsettling element to this place.

All old cemeteries are fascinating to me. I love wandering through them, looking at the names on the tombstones and trying to figure out their stories. But Hooded Grave Cemetery seems to have more secrets than most. I could probably write half a dozen more stories inspired by the strange things I noticed in just this one visit.

Rest in peace, Sarah Ann Boone and Asenath Thomas. I hope I made up a good story for you, but I’ll always wonder what really happened.

I love my agent, Sara Crowe!
Well, that’s old news. I’ve been loving her since a) she raved about one of my characters and offered to represent me and b) her sharp editorial eye picked out what my manuscripts were lacking and pointed me in the right direction to fix them.
But now I have a new reason to love her!
My historical mystery, THE CAGED GRAVES, has sold to Dinah Stevenson of Clarion Books (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)!
From Publishers’ Marketplace:
WE HEAR THE DEAD author Dianne Salerni’s THE CAGED GRAVES, in which a 17-year-old returns to her hometown — where “the dead don’t stay where you put them” — to marry a young man she’s met only through letters, an unpromising engagement complicated by another suitor and by her family’s entanglement with a legendary treasure and rumors about why her mother was buried in a caged grave, to Dinah Stevenson at Clarion by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger.
I’ve been grinning stupidly for days now. This is an amazing way to end my summer vacation, and I’ll be headed back to the teaching trenches next week walking on air! Recess and lunch duty? No problem. Some of the supplies haven’t come in yet? I’ll manage. Don’t have your homework? Wait – that’s still going to be a problem, even if I did just sell a book. Sorry, kids.
THE CAGED GRAVES is fictional, but the story was inspired by two real caged graves in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. I’ll soon be planning another trip to the mountains so I can visit the cemetery and leave flowers for those two young women. I owe them big time!