September 29, 2011

Made It Moment: Nancy Means Wright

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:45 am

The Nightmare

Nancy Means Wright promises us a moral with her Moment, and by gum, she delivers. She also delivers a tightly written, edge-of-your-seat pace–if she can do this in a Moment, I can’t wait to read one of her books! Every time I was sure Nancy had made it, she pulled the tablecloth out from under me, leaving all the dishes level and drinks untouched. Table shaken, meal still standing. In the end, I suppose that’s the moral Nancy was getting at all the time.

Nancy Means Wright

Made it Moment with a Moral or Two.

Well, friends and writers, my outraged mother threw out the first mystery I wrote, age ten, about the kidnapping of a pesky older brother—and it was all uphill from there.

Later, my husband and I lived in a boys’ school where the headmaster wouldn’t let me teach English because it was a “man’s subject.” So I wrote a novel about a faculty wife in a boys’ locker room who slowly anesthetizes herself with sherry. When Ace Books accepted it, my man was away, kids in bed, so my neighbor and I emptied a bottle of vodka to celebrate. But omigod, the cover: a hairy hand pulling back a translucent shower curtain to reveal a curvy nude–not my feminist protag! Embarrassed, I sent friends and kids to buy up copies, and convinced it had a bestseller, the bookstore kept ordering more. It was my Mad moment!

But I wanted to write the great American novel, and two years later I thought I had. Until my agent ran out of places to send it and quit his agency to run a used bookstore. The mice in my upstairs closet turned the manuscript into a shredded nest.

I next wrote a YA about a wild party my daughter gave for 200 kids while hubby and I were away; the unagented novel was rejected by several houses, including Dutton. Three years later I resent it to the same editor who’d earlier rejected it—and she took it! She allowed how she might’ve had a belly ache the first reading. (Moral: Don’t Take No for a Final Answer.) But I still hadn’t published a hardcover novel for adults.

Finally I wrote Mad Season, a mystery set in Vermont, inspired by a pair of assaulted farmers. The perps were caught because the cash they threw about reeked of barn. I turned my teacher husband into an agent, made up stationery, wrote cover letters, and after two rejections we had a call from editor Ruth Cavin at St Martin’s Press. My man negotiated while I hissed in his ear: “Tell her I’ve published other books. Try to get more money!” Well, the advance was small, but heck, I’d made it (sort of). This time we downed two bottles of vodka, and as pay off, I took my husband out for a lobster dinner.

After ten years with SMP I was let go because the sales people said I wasn’t bringing in $20,000 a year, their new cut-off number. For a time I was devastated, and Cavin allowed she’d lost some good writers. But this month my second historical mystery is out from my wonderful new publisher, Perseverance Press, and I’m feeling fulfilled.

How apt a word for all of us struggling writers: Perseverance! Shout it out: Per-se-ver-ance!! (End of morals.)

Nancy Means Wright has published 17 books, including 5 mystery novels from St Martin’s Press, and most recently two historicals: The Nightmare: A Mystery with Mary Wollstonecraft (Perseverance Press,’11) and its prequel, Midnight Fires,’10). Her children’s mysteries received both an Agatha Award and Agatha nomination. Short stories have appeared in American Literary Review, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Level Best Books, and elsewhere. Longtime teacher, actress-director, and Bread Loaf Scholar for a first novel, Nancy lives with her spouse and two Maine Coon cats in Middlebury, Vermont.


  1. Thanks so, so much for hosting me, Jenny. Your introduction is so delightful that I think it really is all downhill from there! What a thoughtful, supportive thing to do for your fellow writers with this Made it Moment blog. And how inspiring for us to read the struggles and triumphs of others. You’re a treasure. Is your own made it moment in here somewhere? Or is it still in progress?

    Comment by Nancy Means Wright — September 29, 2011 @ 9:17 am

  2. Excellent post! I have now downloaded the Kindle peek, and I’m certain I will eventually buy the book.

    Comment by Alison DeLuca — September 29, 2011 @ 10:38 am

  3. Very interesting! Thanks Nancy and Jenny. But you need to tell us: Is that a very clever pen-name, or did your parents destine you to be a wrighter by giving you a name that is also a sentence?

    Comment by Gary Hoover — September 29, 2011 @ 10:40 am

  4. I love it! Perserverance is definitely the important thing in this business!

    Comment by Connie J Jasperson — September 29, 2011 @ 10:44 am

  5. I love your post, Nancy – especially how tenacious and witty you come across. You give me the impression you’ll never be defeated …on any venture. Wishing you continued success! Juanita

    Comment by Juanita Wilson — September 29, 2011 @ 10:45 am

  6. Congratulations! You are a true do-it-yourselfer. And what a gorgeous cover! Love it.

    Comment by Savvy — September 29, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  7. OMG! I think we’re soul mates. Perseverance is my middle name. Only, I was never fortunate enough to be signed by a New York publisher. I gave up — more than once — but a good friend and critique partner kept at me, and finally I took the bull by the horns and self-published my first book last year. I’m not making much money, but I am feeling fulfilled!

    Great Made It Moment(s), Nancy!

    Comment by Lyn Horner — September 29, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  8. The magic word, perserverance – how true. What a wonderful, witty story! May you continue to succeed, Nancy.

    Thanks for another great “Moment” Jenny.

    Comment by mountainmama — September 29, 2011 @ 10:52 am

  9. To Mountain Mama, Lyn, Savvy, Juanita, Connie, Gary and Alison: Thanks a million for your kind and generous comments. I’m thrilled to read everyone of them! Support means so much to me where I’m sitting alone at my computer with an autumn cold but feeling your warmth.

    Comment by Nancy Means Wright — September 29, 2011 @ 11:17 am

  10. Wonderful story. This is very inspirational, and it definitely helps. Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your ‘story’ with us!! And thank you, Jenny, for the wonderful forum!

    Comment by Jennifer Word — September 29, 2011 @ 11:58 am

  11. Thanks for these wonderful Made It Moments! And a great moral. The times they are a-changin’. Good luck with the new project–cover is awesome!

    Comment by Kaye George — September 29, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

  12. I love, love, love this post! Perserverance is the key. You nailed it! Thank you so much :)

    Comment by Collette Scott — September 29, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

  13. Really enjoyed your story of success, Nancy. I, too, am a great believer in perseverance and tenacity. Every writer needs to be able to pick herself up and keep on, keeping on.

    Comment by Maryann Miller — September 29, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

  14. Thanks, and right on, Kay, Colette, and Maryann! We have to keep picking ourselves up each time we fall. I don’t know whether it gets harder or easier to do that. Well, harder as the old bones grow softer, but easier to keep the faith that ‘Okay,I made it before, I can do it again.’ I guess what’s most important is that you wrote the book and got it out there. That’s “success” in itself.

    Comment by Nancy Means Wright — September 29, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

  15. Great post for keeping at it the hard way. The best revenge is your next book.
    Nash Black

    Comment by Nash Black — September 29, 2011 @ 2:14 pm

  16. Oh that’s the best. Knowing that you just had to keep sticking your foot in the door they kept trying to close on you.

    I love the ideas you have for plots.

    Comment by Karyne — September 29, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

  17. As always, such wonderful comments on the posts–I think Moments absolutely rock. You all know this blog is YOUR blog–you make it what it is.

    Gary’s comment had me laughing. Looks like we have two apt names here today–Word & Wright. Could be a team of some sort.

    Now, per Nancy’s wisdom, hang in there, everybody!!

    Comment by jenny — September 29, 2011 @ 3:17 pm

  18. Oh, yes, Gary–reading back…my students used to kid me about my name. But better than Means Wrong! My maiden name was Nancy Means and I kept the maiden name in there because I know four other Nancy Wrights. So it came out a sentence! Not a sentence for death, but for, well,hard labor?
    And thanks for commenting, Nash and Karyne,and especially Jenny who Made It all possible for me to be here among great company!

    Comment by Nancy Means Wright — September 29, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

  19. Wonderful Nancy! Tenacity and wit pays off, and you are living proof. Congratulations!


    Comment by Julie D. — September 29, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

  20. This is an AWESOME story! Congrats to Nancy and THANKS to Jenny for sharing!

    Comment by Pamela Brennan Albacete — September 29, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

  21. Hi, Nancy,

    Getting picked up by St. Martin’s Press had to be a major made moment.
    It’s unfortunate that they let so many of their mid list writers go.
    I know of quite a few like you and they all write wonderful fiction.
    Best of luck with new publishers!

    Comment by Jacqueline Seewald — September 30, 2011 @ 7:38 pm

  22. Wonderful stories, Nancy, and a true testimony to the fine art of “hanging in.”
    Persistence does (eventually) pay off, and you are to be congratulated. (I have a similar story about an agent … except mine apparently went off to marry some guy she met at Mardi Gras in New Orleans! Ah, well … different story, same ending.)

    Comment by P.L. Blair — October 2, 2011 @ 4:05 pm

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