I missed the phone call from my agent, but Lesley wrote down the information on a piece of paper and folded it into a ring box, the kind you hand a prospective fiancé when you’re proposing. She took pictures, too: one of me with a bewildered grin as I stood in our living room with my coat still on, opening the box just handed to me and wondering what was wrong with my spouse.

In the second my expression is blank as I try to absorb the wrinkled words: “HarperCollins wants your book!”

For years, my English classes had asked about my publication progress, hoping to divert me from whatever discussion question or essay preparation I was steering them through. Once, for fun, I mapped out the agent process in a flow chart on the blackboard before their confused blinks. They understood now why I had laughed out loud when we watched an F. Scott Fitzgerald video showing how he got published by mailing his just-completed first novel to a single editor in New York, who immediately accepted it.

When I’d signed my first author-agent agreement, I’d thought I was set. When I signed my second, I pretended that I knew better. I’d been writing novels for about seven years, roughly one a year. I started the first on a whim, my poetry having drifted closer and closer to prose until I gave in to the inevitable. I though the piece was going to be a short story but overshot it by a couple hundred pages. In fact, it became two novels. I pruned the second premise during early drafts then replanted when I discovered I didn’t want to stop writing.

The notion of publishing a novel didn’t occur to me until I was done, then it rooted itself permanently. I learned what an agent and a query letter were and proceeded haphazardly. I continued writing, squeezing time after school, in the evenings, on the weekends, whenever my life would allow it. That became a lot harder once our daughter Madeleine was born. In retrospect, I can’t imagine how we spent all that open time without a child to care for. Without afternoon naps, I would have been forced to give up. When our son Cameron was born, I was drafting my eighth novel.

If my agent hadn’t liked my query letter, I would probably still be studying agent listings and reading advice articles for yet more tips. If she and my editor hadn’t liked my manuscript, I would still be signing up for writing evaluations at conferences and researching online. Instead I’m reading my page proofs and designing my author website, while feeling daunted by the coming publicity and marketing challenges.

Pretend I’m Not Here will be published by HarperCollins in July 2002. It’s a romantic thriller, and I’ll tell you, it has a happy ending. Not the glib, “Reader, I married him,” but a new beginning, heroine and hero ready to embark on their new life together, challenges and all. It’s set in the Virgin Islands, where Lesley and I honeymooned, the perfect place to start an adventure.

Chris Gavaler is the author of Pretend I’m Not Here, a romantic suspense published by HarperCollins. For more information, writing advice, FREE chapters or correspondence, visit https://www.ChrisGavaler.com.