Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bigger Books

Having just turned in the second book of a two-book contract, I'm now contemplating what to do next. I do have two more book proposals under consideration with my editor, and I'm planning to write three more books in the Cooper Justice series so all the brothers have their own books. But given the rate I'm writing these days, I could easily be finished with all of the Cooper books by early 2010, even though the books themselves will be spread over 2010 and into 2011.

What that probably means is that I'll have time to contemplate a bigger book if I want to write one.

There are definite benefits to writing a bigger book. I'm not as limited by subject matter, type of hero/heroine, language, etc. as I am writing for category in general and Intrigue specifically. I can delve deeper into the areas of the story that aren't directly related to either the mystery plot or the romance, allowing me to explore other relationships for the hero and heroine--family, friends, etc.--as well as delve a little more into their own personal histories and issues. That's also quite tempting to me, as I sometimes have to leave things out of Intrigues that I might have liked to include in order to flesh out my characters a little more.

Plus, whether it's fair or not, single title authors get a little more respect from readers as a whole than category writers do, despite the fact that I believe some of the best writing happening today is happening in category, especially Intrigue--Dana Marton is hands down one of the best writers I know, and all the Intrigue authors out there flat out know how to tell a great story. I feel completely humbled to be included among them and it's a challenge to live up to their examples. The money for a single title author is hit and miss--but when it's a hit, it can be very good money. Who wouldn't want to be Norah, Jayne Ann, Suzanne or Susan Elizabeth?

On the other hand, there are also drawbacks to consider. First, I'd have to interest a whole new editor. And I'd almost certainly have to get an agent. I'm not sure how I feel about having yet another person to please, on top of a new editor, just to write a longer book. Pleasing the editor I have is hard enough! Also, there's a certain security in writing for Intrigue--you know there are going to be six monthly slots to fill, and if you're an established writer and you write a good book, you have a more than decent shot of landing in one of those slots. But becoming a debut single title author? It's like starting all over again.

I know several Intrigue authors who've either made the jump to single title or write single titles and category novels simultaneously. I know others who happily and successfully write only category books. I love writing category, and it's not a stretch to imagine myself writing Intrigues for the rest of my career.

So I guess I'll keep pondering this question until the Cooper Justice books are done, and then maybe I'll have an answer.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Deadlines...and World Building

I've just printed out and packaged not only the second book of my current contract (thus completing my obligation to my publisher) but I also printed and packaged the proposal (three chapters and a synopsis) for another book that my editor wants to pitch to the senior editor as the second of another two-book contract. So wish me luck!

I'm in a position where I don't want to continue forward with those two books without having agreed to a contract (when you start selling, you soon learn that you shouldn't waste too much time writing something that's not earning you money). So I'm thinking ahead to even proposals. The two contracted books are the first two books of a new series, Cooper Justice. The two proposals I just finished are also Cooper books, and the next three will be as well, to finish it out. So it's probably a good idea to get those last three proposals worked up to pitch a three-book contract next time so I'll know what I'll be doing with my next couple of years as a writer. ;)
After that, however, I haven't really decided what the next group of books will be about. I've created several fictional places within my story world that I can work with, however. And who knows? Before the Cooper Justice series, I may create even more.

Fantasy and Science Fiction authors are the ones best known for world-building, but a lot of writers build their own fictional worlds to play in. For me, I needed to create places where I had control of the terrain, the political structures, the histories and the current affairs of the places involved so that they would meet the needs of my particular stories. But once those places exist in my story world, I've enjoyed using them to give depth to my other stories.

In my book FORBIDDEN TERRITORY, I created the Alabama city of Borland, Alabama. Though I haven't revisited Borland, outside of mentions in the two books that completed the Forbidden trilogy, It's a place I can certainly go back to now if I want to. In the third Forbidden book, FORBIDDEN TOUCH, I introduced the Caribbean island of Mariposa, a tourist mecca with a seedy side, and the Central Asian republic of Kaziristan, a former Soviet satellite with a history of tribal unrest, Islamist terrorism and constant political volatility.

In COWBOY ALIBI, I created Trinity, Idaho and Canyon Creek, Wyoming. I revisit Canyon Creek in my January 2010 book, CASE FILE: CANYON CREEK, WYOMING. I may go back to Canyon Creek before all is said and done. Who knows?

In my upcoming February release, which is currently without a title but will probably be called CHICKASAW COUNTY...something, I introduce Sanselmo, a South American nation on the Caribbean coast that combines the oil resources and volatile political history of Venezuela with the terrorist threat of Columbia. A nascent democracy with a history of both right wing dictatorships and Marxist juntas that have nearly destroyed the country over the past fifty years, Sanselmo's elected government is in a deadly power struggle with a leftist rebel group called El Cambio, which once espoused democratic ideals when it was trying to overturn a brutal dictatorship but now has shown its own totalitarian instincts by opposing honest statesmen trying to build their country into a true liberal democracy. I also revisit Kaziristan as part of Sam Cooper's backstory.

Kaziristan also has a role in the backstory of former Marine officer Luke Cooper, the hero of the recently proposed third book in the Cooper Justice series. And Sanselmo and Kaziristan feature prominently in the proposed fourth book (and the island of Mariposa gets a mention as well).

Here are some things I've discovered about world building in contemporary, earth-bound fiction such as romantic suspense:

1) It's easier to create fictional countries in areas where national borders are constantly in flux.
Thus, Kaziristan is in the Central Asia, where many countries were part of the Soviet Union as recently as the 1980s, and where borders are constantly in dispute (see also Kashmir).

2) It's easier to create fictional countries in areas that are not immediately familiar to most readers.
Can you really be sure there's not an island in the Caribbean named Mariposa?

3) If you're going to create a nation in a more familiar areas, make it plausible.
I couldn't have made Sanselmo an oil-producing nation on the Caribbean coast of South America if a country like that (Venezuela) didn't exist already. And I couldn't have created a quasi-Marxist rebel group like El Cambio if terrorist groups like FARC (Columbia) and Shining Path (the Maoist rebel group in Peru) didn't make such a thing plausible for that part of the globe.

4) A corollary to #3: If you're going to create a city or town in a state that people have visited, make it plausible.
Trinity, Idaho is plausible, because I based it largely on a real town, Stanley, Idaho. I used real landmarks like the Sawtooth Mountains and Boise to ground it more in reality. Canyon Creek doesn't exist, either, but I placed it in the ranch country just east of Jackson Hole, where similar towns do exist. Likewise, Gossamer Ridge, Alabama, the setting of my February 2010 book, may be fictional, but it takes on characteristics of two towns in northeast Alabama that do exist: Guntersville, Alabama (which is the inspiration for Gossamer Lake) and Ft. Payne, Alabama (which supplies a lot of the geographical features for Gossamer Ridge, including its beautiful mountainous terrain. As I did with both Trinity and Canyon Creek, I grounded Gossamer Ridge in real places like Birmingham (where Sam Cooper commutes to work and parts of the story take place).

So, how about you? If you're a writer, how have you handled world-building? And if you're a reader, which fictional worlds (and their writer/creators) have had the most impact on you?

Monday, May 18, 2009


Chuck has been renewed!

I can live with the budget cuts, if they can.

Folks, if you've never given Chuck a try, please do it this coming season. The show is funny, touching, romantic and exciting—a smorgasbord of 1-hour dramedy delight.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Garden Adventures: May 2009

Today on Garden Adventures, watch Paula work on a container garden for her back deck. Pretty pretty tomatoes and peppers. Look at the lovely herbs (cilantro, basil, chives and parsley). See Paula plant the flowers—marigolds, salvia, impatiens, begonias. Oh, look, lizards sunning themselves and playing courtship games...

Hey, wait a minute, is that a black widow spider in that pot?

Why, yes. Yes, it is.

For a little while, I thought I was jumping to conclusions. Yeah, big round black abdomen, and yeah, when she moved around you could see a flash of something red on her belly. But really, a black widow spider in my container garden? Come on.

But then she flipped over and there was the red marking on the underside of her abdomen, just like this. And she also had a big round egg sac just like the one in that photo.

Normally, I'm a live and let live kind of person. She was outside in her own habitat. But she was also laying eggs and making more black widows. And we have kids and animals here. Plus adults trying to have a nice little container garden who don't need to stick their hands into a pot of dirt and come back with a possibly fatal bite.

I hated to do it, but the spider is no more. And neither is her egg sac.

I just hope she was a loner.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Top 10 Bits of Trivia about COWBOY ALIBI

While I'm waiting for my new books to come out in 2010, I suppose it doesn't hurt to talk about my last book, COWBOY ALIBI. So here's my Top 10 Bits of Trivia about my September 2008 Intrigue:

10. It's the first of my books that takes place entirely outside the state of Alabama. (The epilogue of FORBIDDEN TOUCH took place in Alabama, though the story was set in the Caribbean).

9. It's the first of my books with a cowboy hero.

8. The town of Trinity, Idaho, is loosely based on the small town of Stanley, Idaho, located near the Sawtooth Mountains.

7. While the hero, Joe, turns out to be a whiz at Blackjack, I'm not a gambler and I had to do a little research to find out how a good Blackjack player might react to the hands Joe was dealt.

6. I'm endlessly fascinated by con artists and how they work, so it was fun to incorporate a con artist into the heroine's background.

5. I deliberately wrote a rain scene into the book, despite the notoriously arid climate of the Idaho/Wyoming area, in order to keep my streak of rain covers going.

4. The original working title of the book was TARGET: JANE DOE.

3. I didn't know that Joe's best friend, Riley, was going to be a widower whose wife had been murdered until I actually got to the scene near the end where Joe and Jane meet up with him. His backstory just popped into my head as I was writing the scene. I went back and worked his backstory into previous chapters before I turned the manuscript in.

2. The horse Jazz is actually named after my friend and critique partner, Jenn, whose nickname in college was Jazzy Jenn (because of her affinity for hip hop music).

1. COWBOY ALIBI is still available for purchase at If you haven't purchased a copy, I hope you'll consider it, especially if you're planning to read my January 2010 book, CASE FILE: CANYON CREEK, WYOMING, which takes us back to Wyoming to give Riley Patterson his own happy ending. You can read CASE FILE: CANYON CREEK, WYOMING without reading COWBOY ALIBI, but it's a lot more fun if you know how Jane and Joe got to where they are by the time Riley's story rolls around.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Congratulations to my Southern Magic Sisters!

The Daphne du Maurier contest for unpublished writers has announced their finalists in the Daphne, and three of my Southern Magic chaptermates made the finals! Congratulations to Marie Campbell, whose category-length romantic suspense, AGAINST HER WILL, made the finals in the Series Mystery/Suspense category and Pamela Bolton-Holifield and Julie Johnstone, who made the Historical Mystery/Suspense finals with their books THE DECEIT OF DESIRE and DECODING DECEPTION, respectively.

Way to go, ladies! Best of luck to all of you.