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Success Stories: How Sanctuary Editorial Client Joe Cancelmo got his book deal!

Congratulations to Joe Cancelmo, who has just signed with Heliotrope Books to publish his novel, Won’t Forget the Motor City, an upmarket murder mystery steeped in the culture and history of Detroit.

Did you try to get other books published before this one? How long was your journey?

This is my first novel. I’ve published non-fiction academic books and journal articles, both when solicited to contribute and also peer reviewed blind submission journals. By comparison those were easy.

This journey was much different and much longer; it was nearly a decade after I began to take publication as a goal.

Was there anything you’d point to as a turning point or turning points where you really leveled up your writing?

I’d say there were multiple points, each in its own way a transition in a process I couldn’t fully know. More an un-thought known, and a push to keep writing.

To be more specific, I’d say shifting the point of view in multiple drafts, from third person, to a first person “fictional memoir” of the protagonist, to a first person novel were pivotal points.

The last shift was helped along by you actually, helping me to take the plunge and own the characters I had created. In retrospect, the struggle to do that was centered on the cross genre position of this novel – a blend of fiction, memoir, a coming of age story and historical record of sorts, of race and gender and societal shifts of the era, all rooted in a real event, a murder, a personal trauma. My work as a psychologist all these years with traumatic loss, mourning and acceptance (to whatever degree) helped me to fashion a narrative to contain all of this experience toward some resolution.

How did you connect with the publisher who eventually offered?

For starters, I’d say working with you pushed me forward. While a number of agents and presses had given it a read, and several were quite positive but couldn’t take it on, the move to create a mystery trope that you suggested was another important transition point.

The connection to Heliotrope came via one agent’s suggestion that I look for a Detroit enthusiast, native, etc. and that was the trick. I happened upon a book that was written by a friend’s cousin, who introduced me to his publisher. The Press only takes submissions that are agented or come from author referrals. Once we got in contact, she was interested in the sense of place (which acts as almost a character in the book) as her family hails from Detroit, actually from the very neighborhood that is a focus in much of the book.

What’s your top tip for other writers who want to be published? (mental health tip or writing tip)?

That’s a tough one. I’d say maybe to cover a tip for both writing and mental health, to get rid of your inner critic when you sit down to write.

Also, writing can happen without touching pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard; some of my best “a ha’s” came during walks and swims, or watching a movie or reading other fiction. Of course, I learned my lesson to keep a pad and pen or phone handy to send me a reminder of whatever emerged.


Joe Cancelmo grew up in New England, but came of age in Detroit Michigan, his second home. He is a Psychologist and Psychoanalyst in private practice in NYC. He works with individuals, couples and consults to organizations as well as supervises and teaches therapists in training.

He has focused on trauma and loss for his entire career and has published non-fiction works on traumatic loss (Child Care for Love or Money: A Guide to Navigating the Parent-Caregiver Relationship – Jason Aronson; Terrorism and the Psychoanalytic Space: International Perspectives from Ground Zero – Pace University Press), in professional journals and has appeared on The View, NY1 and at professional conferences.

Won’t Forget the Motor City is his first novel.

To be put on the mailing list for the book's launch in March 2023, send a note to:

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