Tag: DebutAuthor


Writing: From A to Y

It’s early on Saturday. I’m snuggled in bed with a book:Y is for Yesterday, to be exact. I’m still in my pajamas with the covers pulled up over my knees. My first foray out of bed this morning was to the three-foot stack of TBR (“to be read”) books in the corner of my room.  With some difficulty, I managed to pull Sue Grafton’s last book from somewhere in the middle without causing the entire wobbly tower to collapse. I don’t know how I managed to have not read Y is for Yesterday yet, but I’ll admit my failure and begin to remedy the situation. The only reason I put the book down is because it’s my turn to post for Miss Demeanors this week. I hoped I’d have a brilliant idea for a theme by now, but I don’t.  I looked through my calendar, desperate for something to spark an idea.  Nothing. Then I realized that the next time it’s my turn to post, Blessed be the Wicked will be out. I will be “a published author.”  I looked back at the book I didn’t want to put down and decided that was the theme: getting from A to Y in writing. I can’t offer perspective on what it looks like when you’ve written enough books that you’ve nearly run out of the alphabet for your novels’ titles, but I can give one person’s view from A. So this week I’m going to post about what it’s like at the beginning of the alphabet, just before your first book is published.  The good, the bad, and the ugly . . . and then some more good. I would love to hear from others, so please share your own stories from wherever you are in the alphabet.   

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Dark River Rising. A debut mystery.

I am delighted to host Roger Johns today at Miss Demeanors. Roger’s debut novel, Dark River Rising, launches on August 29th and I had the good fortune to read an advance copy. All I can say is get your copy now and prepare to enjoy! By way of introduction I’ll share that Roger is a former corporate lawyer and college professor with law degrees from Louisiana State University and Boston University. Born and raised in Louisiana – where his novel is set – he and his wife now life in Georgia. Before we get started, don’t forget to post a comment to REGISTER TO WIN a copy. We’ll pick randomly from all comments. Now let’s hear from Roger.  TdeH: Roger, welcome! I’ve read Dark River Rising and I’m brimming with questions. First off, like me, you had a very different career prior to publication. How did you get your start writing? RJ: The urge to write creatively, has I think, always been with me. As a kid, I was the neighborhood nerd who organized the ‘plays’ we put on. I was the editor of my high school literary magazine my senior year. As a law student, I was the director and principle writer of the faculty roast––the Assault and Flattery Show––at the end of my third year. I also had ambitions, a long time ago, to write for television. From there, the path to being a published writer (other than the ultra-exciting academic articles I’ve published) has been the most interesting path I’ve ever been down. The manuscript that eventually became Dark River Rising went in and out of the drawer several times. Along the way, I took a very effective writing class from David Fulmer––an excellent writer and writing teacher in Atlanta. That gave me the confidence to believe I could produce a novel length manuscript. Finally, once I retired from teaching, I got serious about finishing the book. And, after two intense years of writing and rewriting, with the help of critique partners and critique groups, I got the manuscript into good shape. Then, at an Atlanta Writers Conference, it attracted the attention of April Osborn, the editor at St. Martin’s Press who acquired the book. TdeH: What led you to crime fiction? Is there something sinister about corporate law that we don’t know? RJ: I’ve been an avid mystery, thriller, and crime fiction reader since childhood, so I decided to write what I enjoy reading. And yes, there’s plenty sinister about corporate law, and no, you don’t want to know. TdeH: Setting is very important to me when I write. I think of it as almost a character and can’t imagine transplanting the story elsewhere. Is Dark River Rising deeply based on your life in Louisiana? RJ: Dark River Rising set itself in Baton Rouge. The city had such a profound effect on me during my college, law school and early career years that I feel I know it better than the town I grew up in. Plus, there’s something very atmospheric about Baton Rouge. It’s an interesting place, with a lot of history and a lot of mystery, and the character and the setting suit each other quite well. There’s really no place else I could imagine putting it––no other place with which I have such a deep, enduring emotional connection. I’ll be appearing at the Louisiana Book Festival in the fall, which I’m really excited about. It will be my first time back in Baton Rouge in about twenty years, so I’ll have a chance to find out if I got things right. TdeH: Detective Wallace Hartman is a strong female protagonist. What led to her creation? RJ: This was not an easy thing for me. In my earliest attempts at writing the book, Wallace was male––same name, different gender––but for some reason that I still can’t quite put my finger on, it didn’t work. Mechanically, the plot worked fine, but the character never came to life for me. As I look back on this aspect of the experience, I think this must have been one of the reasons the manuscript went into and came out of the proverbial drawer so many times. Eventually, I learned to listen to the little voice in my head, which urged me to change the character from male to female. Once I started writing the character as female, things began to move quickly. I got a lot of help from my incredibly wise and creative critique partners on how to craft a female lead. TdeH: You have a male character who assists in the investigation. Was he in the original version and was he originally a woman? RJ: To the best of my recollection, Mason, the secondary lead, was always male. The most important changes in the Mason character (and these occurred before the manuscript was picked up by St. Martin’s) were an increase in his relative importance to the plot, and an increase in his on-screen time. This came about because I found it easier to expose Wallace’s inner workings by having her react to another person, rather than just have her react to situations. Both ways work, and a book certainly needs both, but person-versus-person offers a richer more revealing palette to work with. And, I paired her with Mason, someone she didn’t already know, rather than with a member of her own department, because the idea of having her react to a stranger was more interesting. There’s always a bit of negotiation, internal and external, when we find ourselves coming to terms with a stranger. It’s more uncomfortable for the characters, but more interesting to write, and hopefully, more interesting to read. TdeH: What was the starting point for Dark River Rising? And without giving anything away…. Let me just say ‘snake’. You know what I mean! Was that in your mind from the outset or did it come later? RJ: The genesis of the story was a question that just popped into my head, one day, about why the cocaine cartels operate the way they do. The ‘snake’ came after that, but not too much later. From the beginning, I knew there would be a fair amount of violence in the story, because it takes place against the backdrop of the unbelievably violent drug cartels. So I knew I would need a visceral image to make the reader sense, immediately, this is very serious, this story is going to involve a persistent, heightened level of danger. And while it’s true that the snake is technically an important element of the plot, to me it’s an even more important element of the setting. It sets the stage and it primes the reader’s emotional pump, from the very first paragraph. That said, I think it’s important to mention here, that while there are some dark parts, there are also some funny and light-hearted aspects, as well. And while it is a plot-driven book, it is still a story about Wallace Hartman, a woman on the cusp of middle age who happens to be a homicide detective working hard to solve a rather startling crime. I don’t see it as just a crime story that happens to involve a female police detective. For me, Wallace is the main attraction and she is my primary motivation for writing. It didn’t start out this way, but I’m quite happy that it has ended up this way. TdeH: What got left out of the final draft? Or added? RJ: Two of the most important additions were the resurrection of one of the characters that I had originally killed off, and the addition of a scene at the end so that Wallace is not so untethered from the aftermath of the events in the story. We get a chance to see more clearly how she, personally and professionally, will be shaped by what she has just been through. April, who has the most incredible instincts about what makes a story work and work best (and I know this, not just because of her impact on Dark River Rising, but because I’ve read other novels she has edited) led me to these changes. Gently but firmly, she pried me loose from my inclination to ‘kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out’. Without question, these changes significantly elevated the quality of the narrative and most certainly broadened its appeal. TdeH: Dark River Rising releases on Tuesday, August 29th, barely a week away. How will you be celebrating?  RJ: What a day, that’s going to be. It’ll be so wonderful to be able to thank all the people who were so helpful with the writing and who provided such amazing emotional support. TdeH: Can you say something about where we might see Detective Hartman next? RJ: Wallace will be faced with solving a murder that appears to involve race and politics.  TdeH: Roger, it’s been such a pleasure to chat. And thanks for offering to stay on line with us today to answer any questions your future readers might have! I’m certainly looking forward to appearing with you at Fox Tale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA (in the Atlanta metro area) on September 16th. For details and for other appearances please look Roger up on line at rogerjohnsbooks.com or on Twitter @rogerjohns10 and on Facebook. And don’t forget to POST A COMMENT by midnight tomorrow (August 25th) to REGISTER TO WIN a copy of Dark River Rising.

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Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself

Don’t know why, but I’ve had the song “Sympathy for the Devil” stuck in my head for days. Hence the title to this post. It seemed fitting because this is my first blog as a Miss Demeanor. So, hi. You may wondering why someone with a non-fiction credit is on a crime fiction blog. Well, in addition to my day job of fighting electronic crime, I write cyber crime thrillers. You just haven’t read them yet. I’m currently revising what I hope will be my debut novel. Soon it goes off to my development editor for a sanity check before I hand it over to my agent. Then I’ll concentrate on another work-in-progress, a YA cyber crime thriller. Writers write, and I’m no exception. It makes me happy and I seem to be pretty good at it. Speaking of agents, I joined the lovely and talented Paula Munier’s stable of clients at Talcott Notch in 2016. That’s one big hurdle down and an accomplishment I celebrated like I’d just made the NYT best seller list. Did I get a rockstar literary agent by luck? Or because I knew someone who knew someone? Nope. Passion got me started, hard work, dedication to the craft, and persistence got me this far. I do know people now, and continue to meet people, which is a fun part of the process. And their friendship and mentoring helped/helps a lot. Among these people are my fellow Miss Demeanors. I’m grateful to my new sisters in crime fiction for inviting me to the party. I look forward to doing you all proud. So what brings you here? Feel free to introduce yourself in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!  

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Getting Your Debut Book to Print

  Last weekend I was honored to moderate a panel at Killer Nashville on getting a debut book to print. My co-panelists Patricia Dusenbury, Danny Lindsey and Rona Simmons were such a pleasure to meet and we each had a different story to share. The morning of the panel we spent some time thinking about our message, sharing our stories of path to publication, and ruminating about what we wanted to do next or do differently. This conversation led to the realization that the most important question any author can ask is: what is my goal. That became the theme of our panel. My goal was the start of a lasting relationship with an agent and publisher to launch a series. Series equals long term relationship with ‘the team’ made sense to me, however I’ve come to realize that if someone has a stand-alone book a long term relationship may not be as important. Several members of our audience expressed a sense of urgency due to age or health or another time factor. They wanted to see their book in print and the immediacy of self-publishing made sense to them. There were, of course, pre-conceived notions about the path of agent/publisher and self-publishing. One of the biggest seemed to revolve around marketing. In today’s world I think that anyone publishing a debut book will have to engage in marketing – even if you have a large marketing team coordinating an effort, there will be social media and local appearances that the author takes full responsibility for. Decide to embark on self-publishing and you’ll need to take on marketing whole heartedly – there was general agreement among the audience that once your book is launched you really do want it to sell regardless of any initial dream of simply seeing it in print. When you learn that Amazon launches 5,000 books a day you understand how hard it is to garner attention for anything being published. There were also cautionary tales of self-publishing, not necessarily bad business practice or dishonesty but the need to do the research to find a publisher or platform that truly meets your needs. For example, if you are publishing a mystery find a publisher who understands what that cover looks like, not a publisher who has a stock of romance covers that will make you grit your teeth every time you see it (a ‘wrong genre’ cover also hurts marketing). There was one horror story of self-publishing that proceeded smoothly except for the fact that the finished books were in a warehouse in Asia and the fee to get them to the US was not included in the original cost. Read the fine print is the take away here. My story, by contrast, has been a joy. I met my agent and signed quickly thereafter, she sold the manuscript within a few months and I have been thoroughly pleased with every aspect of the process – lovely cover, love the title, wonderful copy editor, supportive editor, encouraging marketing staff (I’m at the end of my adjectives now). At the Killer Nashville Conference I sat through many cocktail conversations and panels thinking that I needed to reach out to my agent and publisher to thank them, it is easy to forget to thank people who are wonderful, not as easy to forget the tales of woe. For my path to publication I had some thoughts about the process, which I shared, including these points: 1. To obtain an agent go to conferences. A face to face meeting gets you over a huge hurdle. 2. Sign up for on line help. Specifically, Writers Digest First 10 pages or Synopsis critiques (there are others, but as a panel we had experience with these and they were entirely positive). 3. Enter contests. There are contests for a variety of manuscripts/books. There are also contests for short stories, which provide an outlet for a new manuscript that doesn’t necessarily take months and months to write. 4. Be ready to revise. Among my panel there was consensus that the suggestion of a major change often results in a knee jerk reaction of NO! I want that sad ending or happy ending or whatever the suggestion is. Take some time to think about it. Ask why. If you are talking with an agent or editor then you are speaking with an experienced professional. We all fall in love with our story, we also have to learn to kill our darlings. (This may not be correct but I believe that Patricia Cornwell first wanted to publish a thriller series with a very different character and someone said to her – what about a female coroner as your central character, that would be unique and make you stand out. Perhaps she jumped on the idea, but I suspect she was very disappointed they didn’t simply take the character she had already created and say Yes!) 5. Be ready to revise again. Seriously. Two times I thought I had ‘finished’. Not so. I was fortunate to have a beta reader who suggested some structural changes that I incorporated prior to sending to my agent (without too much detail they were the kind of changes that meant cutting and chopping everywhere…. I had to think about them for two months to get up the courage. Even the idea of doing it was so painful I wasn’t sure I could. But I did!). I had another great reader make suggestions after the manuscript was sold and I knew they were the right changes – it meant taking a small suggestion and really going for it. I could have gotten away with an easier edit (trim a little here and there) but the better decision was to trim by re-incorporating. Harder, yes. But infinitely better. Ironically both changes came at critical moments which meant that they were made before I sent the manuscript to my agent (perhaps getting her to sign me) and then after we sold the manuscript, which means my editor thinks I am an editing genius! (Hope she’s not reading this.) If you have a chance, take a look at my co-panelists’ books. They are great people and I enjoyed sharing an hour with them. Patricia DusenburyA Perfect VictimSecrets, Lies & HomicideA House of Her Own Rona SimmonsPostcards from WonderlandThe Quiet RoomInto the Light of Day Danny LindseyThe PresJustice 

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