Bidding war nets first novel $1M for town author

Whitney Scharer'This is beyond what I ever dreamt.'

 "It's crazy," Whitney Scharer said, adding a bit of a chortle.

She was referring to the bidding frenzy among 13 publishers this summer for her first novel, The Age of Light.

Little Brown and Co. of Boston paid the most to the Arlington writer, "north of $1 million," according to a publishing trade magazine.

Is the 40-year-old becoming accustomed to the news? She responded in two ways in a brief interview Tuesday, Oct. 24.

Asked whether she was getting used to the idea of $1M deal, she said, "I may always be overwhelmed .... "This is beyond what I ever dreamt.

"I felt confident" the book would get a positive reaction from publishers, but instead of one offer, she got 14.

She allowed that the initial surprise could change as normalcy may return.

Miller-Ray exhibit inspired

The new normal is expected to mean book tours discussing Age of Light, due for publication in February. The book focuses on pioneering photographer Lee Miller and her impassioned relationship with Man Ray, the surrealist artist.

Scharer calls Miller's story is fascinating. Why? Because the former model did not get enough credit for the value of her work as a photographer.

For a time, Miller played the role of Ray's muse, but she became accomplished in her own right. In 2011, their work was displayed together for the first time at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, in an exhibit that planted the seed for Scharer's novel. She believes her work will have wide appeal.

Backing her up is Judith Clain, her editor at Little, Brown, who told The Boston Globe in an Oct. 23 page-one story: "It is glamorous, page-turning, and divine in its details about Paris in the ’30s, but it is her story,” says Clain, referring to Miller. “This is just the kind of literary novel that will find a huge audience with women of all ages, and men too."

Debt to GrubStreet 

Handling Scharer's manuscript was her agent, Julie Barer, whose clients include Rumaan Alam, Mia Alvar, Joshua Ferris, Lily King and Scharer's friend Celeste Ng, author of the best seller Little Fires Everywhere. She knows the latter through their writing group, which they joined after meeting at GrubStreet, a gathering spot in Boston for writers.

She told The Globe that she "can definitely say I wouldn’t have finished this book if I wasn’t in my writing group." Her short fiction has appeared in numerous journals, including New Flash Fiction ReviewCimarron Review and Bellevue Literary Review

It is likely that Scharer's book deal may be tops in history among Arlington authors. Recent first effortrs by other female writers with large contracts include Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler and Emma Cline’s The Girls. Random House bought the latter novel, loosely based on the Manson murders, for $2 million in a three-book deal, The Globe reported..

The Denver native, who received her MFA from the University of Washington, has told stories in words and images for nearly 20 years. Before launching a graphic-design business, she was for 10 years the development and communications director at GrubStreet. See examples of her design work here  and here.

Salon curator

She has lived in Arlington since 2013, after moving from Somerville. Her literary taste is known in town, as she is a cofounder of the Arlington Author Salon and helps choose writers to speak at the quarterly series at Kickstand Cafe.  Past featured authors include Margot Livesey, Richard Hoffman, Michael Blanding and Steve Almond. 

Scharer is married to a software engineer and has an 8-year-old daughter.

If you would like to hear Scharer address authors, you have a chance at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, "Four Stories at Lit Crawl," at Salon Acote 132, Newbury St. Keep track of her happenings on her blog >> 

This news feature was published Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017.