Santa Rosa mystery author scores half-million dollar book deal
Heather Chavez found out she scored a two-book deal with William Morrow on a mundane workday morning. The TV had just died. Her husband wanted to watch the news while he ate breakfast and they were both huddled over the cable box checking the connections.
Then the phone rang: “Are you sitting down?” her book agent asked.
After more than two decades of writing unpublished novels, her thriller “No Bad Deed” had just sold for enough to buy at least 1,000 new televisions.
“My first thought was — now I can buy a new TV,” she said, laughing. “It just didn’t feel real.”
What Publishers Weekly first reported as a “rumored mid-six-figure sum” turned out to be spot on, as she would sign a contract worth more than $500,000 with foreign rights included. Writing novels since she was in her early 20s — manuscripts she now calls her “practice novels” — Chavez had finally hit pay dirt at age 49.
“It was life changing,” said the former Press Democrat copy editor turned public affairs representative at Kaiser Permanente. While the book was being submitted to publishers, “I had told a colleague I was hoping to get enough to fix my rotting (backyard) deck. That’s it.”
Now, one of the most common questions she fields is, “When are you quitting your day job?”
A few weeks ago, she dropped down to 32 hours a week, but she’s not abandoning the day job — writing newsletters, employee recognition, corporate messaging and advertising inserts — any time soon.
Due out in early 2020, “No Bad Deed” follows the downward spiral of Cassie, a mother and veterinarian who witnesses an assault alongside a Santa Rosa road late at night. Instead of calling the cops and driving on, she jumps out of her minivan and tries to stop a man from attacking a woman. From there her life spins out of control as her husband goes missing, her son is injured and her dark family history emerges.
“It’s about someone doing the right thing, with horrible consequences,” Chavez said.
To write Cassie’s workaholic character, she pulled from her own experiences as a newspaper copy editor: working until midnight nearly every night, often working weekends and holidays and the guilt that comes from not spending enough time with your family.
“It’s important for me to portray strong females and moms,” she said. “That’s what gelled for me when I was writing the book. Once I found her voice and her strength, all of a sudden it made sense.”
Over the years, her closest friends, including fellow Press Democrat copy editors, have played the role of confidant and sounding board, fielding random text messages like: “So how would you kill somebody?” prefacing a list of different methods. Or “If your husband didn’t come home after work — when would you start to worry? After a few hours? The next morning? When would you call the police?”
“It’s nice to have those people you can ask the off-the-wall question about how to kill someone and they’re not going to look at you strangely,” Chavez said.
A Kaiser colleague read an early version of the first chapter of “No Bad Deed” and said, “You know, you have a dark side that I didn’t know you had.”