Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cover Reveal for DEATH SCENE Re-release

At last I can reveal the cover for the MuseItUp re-release of DEATH SCENE.  And doesn't it look fab?  With this book being a re-release, the question of what to do with the cover seemed to be more problematic than the first time around.   The first cover was much simpler - the comedy/tragedy masks on a black background, with a backdrop of red theatre curtains.  I was very pleased with that cover.

But this time around, I wanted something a bit different.  I wanted an image of my main character on the cover.  I wanted something to suggest 'action' and 'mystery', and yet still wanted to suggest the theatrical nature of my amateur sleuth's main profession.  This cover, by the fabulous Charlotte Volnek, does all of this and more.

And for the first time, Shara Summers appears on the cover of a book.  I will say that this image is not how I initially pictured her.  But it seems somehow right, and I love it.  Here she looks mysterious and sort of ordinary, and that really fits the character.  She also has, here, a passing resemblance to the model on the original covers of Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski series.  And since Shara was inspired by V.I. Warshawski, that fits too.

This may not have been how I imagined Shara when I wrote the first two books about her.  But it's how I'm going to see her from now on, and it's how I'll picture her when I write the next book.

Release date for DEATH SCENE is not yet confirmed, but it's looking likely to be June some time.  And at present, I'm busy lining up blog tours.

In the meantime, I'm knee deep in edits for both Shara books.  So I'd best get to it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Further Adventures of Shara Summers

My editor at MuseItUp has been quite busy.  Not only have I received the second round of edits on DEATH SCENE from her, I've also received the first round of DEAD COOL edits.

 As well as meaning I know what I'll be doing for the Easter weekend, it makes the whole thing a bit more real.  DEATH SCENE is scheduled for release next month.  DEAD COOL will follow a few months later.

This is all very exciting stuff, particularly with a series that I had pretty much given up on completely at one point (and if you're a recent visitor to this blog, go to my Imaginary Friends blog and do a search on the Shara Summers tag to get a better idea of what I'm talking about here).  Shara now has a home with MuseItUp.  And with the contract for DEAD COOL stating that they want first refusal of any sequel, it makes writing more Shara books an attractive prospect.  When I thought I was writing the second book of a series that no one was going to buy, I found it a bit discouraging to carry on with it.

The homage to Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, which I started writing as the original sequel to DEATH SCENE and then gave up halfway through, I am now giving serious thought to reviving as the third book in the Shara series.  This one originally suffered from lack of plotting, when I got stuck halfway through and abandoned because I made the mistake of starting to write the book without working out first how it was going to end.

The thing is, though, there was a publisher last year I sent DEAD COOL to and it got a very enthusiastic response from the editor there.  So much so that she asked questions about the first book, and the third, and at one point we were talking about a three book deal.

Sadly in the end this did not lead to a deal - not because of the editor, who remained enthusiastic, but apparently she could not convince her sales people that there was a market for a contemporary British-based Amateur sleuth in the US, and the US was too big a market for them to overlook this.  And that's a whole different topic - let's not go there.

The point of mentioning this is that when this editor asked me for a plot summary of Book 3, as part of her negotiations with the marketing people, I had to come up with one quickly.  This obliged me to go back to my half-finished novel and decide how it was going to end.  This plot summary is something I now do as a matter of course (see last week's post on Plotting), but at the time I started this manuscript I didn't, and it became one of the many casualties I abandoned halfway through before I learned the valuable lesson about how important it is to plot.

Anyway, the point of this rather roundabout tale is that because of this sequence of events I now have a complete plot outline for the next Shara book.  And I'm starting to feel increasingly enthusiastic about writing this book.

There are other, less developed ideas as well for other Shara books.  I want to take her back to New York (where she starts out in the opening scene of DEATH SCENE), in a story that will involve a secondary character in DEAD COOL (no spoilers!).  So maybe that's book 4.

On the first round, Shara didn't reach a very big audience.  But there are a handful of loyal fans out there who are interested in what happens to her next.

When one of them happens to be your editor, it does renew your faith in your character.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


On the crime panel at Sci Fi Weekender, I found myself - quite literally - between two opposing views on plotting.  At one end of the table was a writer who was evangelical about the importance of plotting.  At the other end of the table was a writer who says she never plots and believes she would lose interest in writing about her characters if she knew what was going to happen to them next.  I was sitting in the middle.

I was struck by how neatly this set up demonstrated opposing views on plotting.  Some writers are plotters, some are 'seat of pantsers', but rarely have I seen two extremes demonstrated so neatly on the same panel.   And it inspired me to come up with this post.

I am on the side of the plotters, I have to say.  But it hasn't always been that way, and it has been my own experience that has brought me to this way of thinking.

When I started writing SUFFER THE CHILDREN, it was based on a short story called "Kiddiwinks".  The story was basically about a group of children telling scary stories to each other about the witch that allegedly lives in the haunted house.  They dare each other to go in and discover that it is, indeed, occupied by a sinister old woman.  Who, they learn too late, eats children.  The writing group encouraged me to turn this short story into a novel, and the premise behind SUFFER THE CHILDREN was born.

When I began the novel I knew the monster was to be a mythological creature, and that the main characters would have to defeat the creature.  What I didn't know at the time was how they were going to do that.  I began the first draft, thinking that ideas would come to me as I went along.  I ended up writing half the novel, and then got stuck.  I went back to the beginning, and re-wrote the first half, but I was still stuck at the same point.  My characters were floundering around saying that they had to defeat this evil creature, but they had no idea how to do it, and neither did I.  I put the novel away, for a good five years - writing short stories in the mean time.  I dreaded going back to it.  I had no idea how I was going to write myself out of the hole I'd dug for myself.

But I wanted to finish the novel, and eventually I bit the bullet and realised I had to work out how it was going to end.  So I went back to the beginning and wrote a three-page summary of the whole novel.  From there I took that summary and broke it down into a chapter by chapter plan, from beginning to end.

At that point, I went back and started the novel over.  And lo and behold I got to the end of the first draft.

I have used this technique for writing ever since.  I write the plot summary first - usually it runs to three pages.  I break that down into a chapter by chapter outline.  Only then do I start writing the first draft.

Some people baulk at such a regimented plan, but this is now the only way I can write a novel.  It means that every time I sit down for a writing session, I review what I wrote last time, and I look at my chapter plan and I know what's going to happen next.  Sometimes my chapter plan is quite brief - it might say, for instance, that in chapter 10 my amateur sleuth has to discover X about this character, which turns out to be a vital clue.  But how she's going to discover this piece of information I still have to think about when I sit down to write the chapter.

This doesn't mean that things always go to plan.  Writing the first draft of DEAD COOL I was surprised to discover about three quarters of the way through the first draft that the killer was not who I initially thought it was.  But knowing the identity of the real killer suddenly made a lot of things in the plot that hadn't been making sense click into place, and all I actually had to do to correct the second draft was to plant a couple of extra clues and rewrite a few scenes with different characters.  And of course it did change the ending a bit.

If you're a pantser and not a plotter, I am not disrespecting the way you work.  Everyone has to find the system that works for them.  But I will say, as a reader, I can tell when a book has not been plotted.  Generally the book will start off with the characters heading in a certain direction, and suddenly they'll lurch off and head in a completely different direction. Some people might say that they enjoy unexpected twists like this, but I tend to find them a bit off-putting.  But this is just me.  On the whole, I don't like surprises.

Perhaps we can liken writing a novel to taking a journey.  A plotter takes the GPS, and the map.  They've studied the route beforehand, they know where they are going and how they are going to get there.  There are no surprises.  This is the way I work.  Occasionally I might take a slightly different road than the GPS suggests, because instinct suggests there's a better way, but only if I'm confident that I'm still going to end up in the same place.

A pantser, on the other hand, will get in the car and start driving.  For them, it's about the journey, not the destination.  They will get lost, they will arrive very late, they might end up someplace completely unexpected, but they enjoy the journey and not knowing what's around the next corner.
Plotting and pantsing is reflected in reading preferences, too.  I much prefer to read books that are plot driven, with a clear beginning, middle and end.  Readers who are more fond of character-driven books and 'surprises' are going to be more fond of writers who don't plot.  And I suspect such readers may not get on very well with my books - they might consider them too predictable.

This is one of those issues that always causes lively debate - there's no right or wrong answer, it's entirely down to personal preference.  Whether you're a reader, or a writer, where do you stand?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Con Season

Galt House, Louisville, KY
It's April. That means con season is in full swing. This year, I'm planning to attend ConGlomeration, Fandom Fest, Night Risers, and Imaginarium. This isn't the complete list. Depending on my publisher, I may add a few more.

This year will be different for me now that I have a print book to sell. Before, I would have promo materials available: postcards, pens, magnets, business cards, even free CDs with PDFs of my short stories. I participated on panels or did readings whenever possible. This year, at ConGlomeration, I'm on two panels: "Thrill of the Kill" and "Beyond the Grave." I'm also doing an official book launch for The Ripper's Daughter, and doing a reading with fellow authors.

Why attend a con? From a writer's perspective, it's a way to meet fellow authors, engage with readers, and get your brand out there. My publisher encourages authors to participate on panels, and to help work toward building a readership, not just with our particular books, but books by our fellow authors. A win-win situation for everyone.

Time to fill up the gas tank, set the GPS, and get ready to hit the highways.