Most murder mysteries are carefully plotted, but Mette Ivie Harrison didn’t know who the murderer was when she started writing her first adult novel. “I wrote the first draft of The Bishop’s Wife (Dec.) in a fever-hot three-day period, often writing more than 10,000 words a day,” says Harrison. “I thought I knew who the murderer was when I started, but I turned out to be wrong.” Though she says she always writes fast, this book was extreme—even for her.
Harrison has been a more or less conservative Mormon since her teenage years, and she hopes to reach two audiences with The Bishop’s Wife: a national audience willing to see an older Mormon mother as sympathetic, and a Mormon audience of women who are afraid to ask their own questions about religion. The Bishop’s Wife has all the hallmarks of a twisted murder mystery: a missing wife, dark secrets, and an atmospheric setting. But its characters are Mormons, and Linda, the protagonist, is deeply involved with the church.
Juliet Grames, associate publisher at Soho Press, first met Harrison in Vail, Colo., at a conference for female fantasy writers. When Grames read Harrison’s book, it wasn’t on submission—Harrison had sent it to her informally, asking for advice on whether the book was working as a mystery novel. “I think it surprised her when I told her we needed to loop in her agent [Barry Goldblatt] and treat it as a submission,” says Grames, who was enamored with the ways the novel discussed themes of the right and wrong ways of interpreting feminism, as well as topics like motherhood and marriage. “I was so caught up in Mette’s thought-provoking worldbuilding that I couldn’t stand the thought of letting anyone else have it.”
Harrison says that she immediately felt a connection with Grames while revising The Bishop’s Wife. “I never even thought of sending the book to another publisher,” the author notes. Grames felt the same way. “I just didn’t see any risk in publishing this book. There was too much to get excited about. It’s the kind of book you don’t just enjoy reading, you become eager to share it with other people so you can talk about the things that made you think.”