NOTE: THIS IS THE FIRST CHAPTER OF MY NEW SERIES. IT HITS ON JANUARY 2ND (NO PREORDERS) AND WILL ALLOW FOR A LOT OF CROSSOVERS
“Welcome to Moonstone Bay. We have eight hotels, fifteen bars and hundreds of shopping destinations. Where can I take you?”
I arched an eyebrow as I stared at the man standing next to what could loosely be described as a taxicab. He was handsome – in a work out four hours a day, five days a week sort of way – and his brown hair was a tad unkempt. Given the cut of his cheekbones and broad shoulders, the messy hair made him all the more appealing. Sure, the Hawaiian shirt and chinos tempered his sex appeal, but not by much.
Unfortunately for him I wasn’t in the mood for hot guys and flirty banter. All I really wanted was a bottle of Pepto-Bismol and a cold cloth for my forehead. The choppy ride to Moonstone Bay – my new island home – on the world’s smallest and most turbulence-prone airplane ever designed had been nothing short of vomit inducing.
“I’m going to the Moonstone Bay Lighthouse.” I shifted my bag so it rested on my larger suitcase, which thankfully rolled on wheels. If I had to lift it I knew I’d throw up … or maybe pass out due to the heat and humidity. That wasn’t the way I wanted to say “hello” to my new home.
“Really?” An eyebrow winged up on the taxi driver’s handsome face. “You’re Hadley Hunter, huh?”
I wasn’t sure if I should be surprised or impressed. “Am I your only recent transplant?”
The man shrugged. “We’re a tourist destination. That means we see a lot of new faces. Very few of those faces are permanent.”
I spared a glance for the sunny sky, sandy beach and lush foliage that filled the area surrounding Moonstone Bay’s small airport. It wasn’t an airport like the one I’d left from in Detroit. That had been a metropolitan airport, packed with stores, restaurants and terminals. No, the Moonstone Bay airport had only one terminal and two stores. You were either coming to or going from Moonstone Bay. There were no connecting flights.
“I see.” I forced a smile as I tucked a strand of my long black hair behind my ear. I could already tell the humidity was going to be murder on my tresses. It would soon become wider than it was long if I didn’t get a hand on decent hair care products. I didn’t give that due thought before rushing headlong into lunacy and uprooting my entire life to move to a place I’d never heard of and surrounding myself with people I’d never met.
Maybe I should go back. No one wants to deal with permanent summer hair, right?
“You seem a bit overwhelmed.” The man smiled as he grabbed my suitcase and loaded it into the back of the cab. The vehicle in question was actually a small bus, one of those you see in movies from the sixties and think are cute on first inspection – until you’re forced to sit on cracked vinyl seats and realize the air conditioning no longer works.
“I’m not overwhelmed.” Even though the words came easily to my lips I didn’t believe them. I hoped the man would be a different story. I was determined to meet this new adventure with a bold heart and open mind. I’m naturally snarky and prone to bouts of rampant complaining, so I wasn’t sure that was possible. I was going to give it my best shot, though. “I’m simply a bit sick to my stomach.”
“Ah.” The man nodded, recognition dawning. “You were on the morning flight, which means you were on the smallest plane that stops here. If I remember correctly, that plane makes the ride a bit … rocky.”
That was putting it mildly. “I think I’ll take the ferry next time.”
“If you have a weak stomach, that won’t help. The waters are choppy when you come in through the bay.”
“Well, great.” I meant the exact opposite. I’m the only person I know who’d pick a new home that promised continuous vomiting whenever I traveled to and from it. That was so … me.
“Yeah, you’re overwhelmed.” The man grinned as he extended his hand. “I’m Booker, by the way.”
I slowly accepted his hand. “Booker? Is that a first or last name?”
Booker bobbed his head and grinned. “Yes.”
Huh. Given the way he looked – half hot, half schlub – I guess I could expect nothing less. “It’s nice to meet you. I take it you’re the island taxi driver.”
“Among other things.” Booker ushered me to the passenger side of the small bus and opened the door. “Hop in. I’ll give you the ten-cent tour of our fine island on the way to the lighthouse.”
“I can’t wait.”
Booker was the chatty sort, which seemed to go with his outfit rather than his chiseled facial features. He didn’t bother looking both ways before pulling into non-existent traffic as he began his running commentary.
“You’ll find there’re very few vehicles on the island,” Booker explained, waving at an elderly woman on the sidewalk. “The island is only fifty square miles and the bulk of the population resides in the main city.”
“The island and the city are both named the same thing, right?”
Booker nodded. “Moonstone Bay.”
“It’s a unique name.”
“It’s a unique place.”
I’d landed only an hour before, so I could hardly argue with that. “So, I’m guessing the main industry is tourism.” I kept my eyes on the scenery flashing past the window. “Does that sustain the entire island?”
“Pretty much.” Booker’s smile was enigmatic. “There are farms on the far side of the island, so we have our own fresh produce and meat. Other than that, almost everything we do is in the name of tourism.”
“You don’t sound particularly happy about that.”
Booker pursed his lips. “I’m not unhappy with it. I’m merely … used to it. This is a new experience for you so it will probably take a bit of time to get used to island living. It’s not something most people embrace overnight.”
That was a strange statement. “Isn’t island living the same as living anyplace else … just on an island?”
Instead of agreeing, Booker barked out a laugh. “You’re cute.”
“Thanks … I think.”
“Island living isn’t like anything else you’ve ever experienced, I can promise you that.”
“You don’t even know me,” I pointed out. “I could be a wild person who jumps from island to island for all you know.”
Booker slid an appraising look in my direction. “I think you’re probably wild, but I doubt very much you’ve ever lived on an island.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you’re whiter than Maddie Park’s new bikini.”
“She owns a store on the main drag. That’s not important.”
“Then why did you say it?”
“Because I talk a lot and sometimes I simply say things to fill uncomfortable silences.”
“We’ve yet to have an uncomfortable silence.”
“Give it time. I always seem to find them.” Booker lifted his chin as we hit a busy part of town. “This is the main drag. It’s where you’ll find all the stores and restaurants. Even though we’re taking the scenic route, you’ll find that when we get to the lighthouse that you’re within walking distance of all of it.”
“I guess it’s good that I don’t have a car, huh?”
“You won’t need one. And they limit how many vehicles are allowed on the island,” Booker supplied. “I recommend getting a bicycle. It makes things easier. Maybe one with a little basket so you can transport groceries.”
That sounded nothing like me. “I’m pretty sure you’ll never see me on a bicycle with a basket.”
“Oh, come on,” Booker prodded. “I think you look exactly the type to have a basket, a pink bike helmet and one of those little horns to make sure people stay out of your way when you illegally ride on the sidewalks. By the way, that’s a big no-no. The Moonstone Bay Downtown Development Authority will fine you if you’re caught riding a bicycle on the sidewalks. That’s only allowed on the roads.”
“Good to know.”
“I can see you’re trying not to laugh, but I’m not exaggerating,” Booker said. “The fines are like five hundred bucks so … just keep it in mind.”
That sounded absolutely absurd given the state of the world today – you know, real crime and stuff – but he appeared serious enough that I filed away the tidbit for later. “I’ll remember what you said. I promise.”
“Good.” Booker was back to smiling. “So, this is the main drag, and pretty much everything you’ll need is here. That includes grocery and hardware stores. The bars are great and friendly to everyone. The same goes for the restaurants.”
“It looks so … colorful.” That was the only word I could think to describe it. From the kitschy T-shirt store with the pink awning to the tiki bar with colored surfboards dotting the walls, the entire main drag was a nuclear bomb of pastels. “Do you have regular seasons?”
“We’re an island in the Atlantic Ocean off the southern coast of Florida,” Booker noted. “We only have two seasons. Hot and hotter.”
“I guess that means your schedule is busy and busier.”
Booker nodded without hesitation. “That’s exactly right. Maybe you are geared toward island life after all.”
Somehow that sounded like an insult. “Give me the rundown,” I instructed, resting my hand on my stomach in an effort to settle it as I leaned forward. “Are there any crazy politicians? Eccentric residents? Overenthusiastic cops?”
Booker nodded. “Yes.”
“I didn’t realize I had to make a choice.”
“Good grief.” I heaved out a sigh. “I guess living on an island is like living in a fish bowl, huh? Everyone knows everyone’s business and all of those little things that drive you nuts about other people in big cities are magnified.”
“Or maybe people are the same everywhere – at least deep down – and you find those sorts of things wherever you go,” Booker suggested. “You, for example.”
My eyebrows flew up my forehead. “Me?”
“Word on the street is that you come to us from Detroit,” Booker explained. “I’m guessing you’ve seen your fair share of crime. That’s the stereotype, at least. Island folk deal with that all the time. People think we’re simple and quaint. People probably think you’ve witnessed a few murders and had your hubcaps stolen. How does that make you feel?”
“I’ve only seen one murder after a botched robbery outside of a casino and my hubcaps have been stolen three times.”
Booker merely shrugged. “Were they nice hubcaps?”
I ignored the question. “I think stereotypes are often wrong, but they exist for a reason.”
“Perhaps you’re right.” Booker flicked his turn signal and steered the bus toward the beach. “I knew your grandmother well. May was … interesting.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of the statement. “I never met her.”
Instead of being surprised, Booker merely pressed his lips together. “I know. She told me.”
“She told you?” I couldn’t contain my curiosity. “I’ve been trying to sort my way through this situation since I first got notification of her death three months ago. I had no idea she existed.”
“She knew about you.” Booker’s expression was hard to read as he remained focused on the road. “She told me about you before she died.”
“You were with her when she died?”
“Not at that exact moment,” Booker clarified. “May was a favorite daughter of the island. When she got sick – when we realized that she might not be able to fight off the cancer as easily as she did the old biddies at the senior center – we all made it a point to spend time with her.”
“Because you thought she needed help?”
“Because we didn’t want her to be alone,” Booker corrected. “No one should be alone at the end.”
“I guess.” I tugged a restless hand through my hair as I shifted on the seat. “I’m confused how she knew about me and yet I never knew about her.”
“Perhaps you should ask your mother.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.” Booker’s expression reflected remorse. “May mentioned that Emma died when she was close to crossing over, but I was hopeful that she was merely delirious. She didn’t talk about Emma much after she left the island.”
“I don’t know anything about her,” I said, licking my lips. It wasn’t in my nature to volunteer sensitive information to a guy I didn’t even know, but there was something about Booker’s quirky personality that appealed to me … and not in a Sex and the City way. More of a Friends way. I’m talking about Friends before they all started pairing off. Wait, what were we talking about again?
“You didn’t know your mother?” Booker furrowed his brow. “But … I don’t understand.”
That made two of us. “My mother died giving birth to me.”
“Oh.” Booker’s expressive face flooded with sympathy. “I didn’t know that. I always thought Emma ran off and lived happily ever after … or at least as much as was possible. It makes me sad to realize she’s been gone all these years and I didn’t even know it.”
I took a moment to give Booker another probing stare. He looked to be my age, maybe a few years older. He certainly wasn’t old enough to have hung around with my mother when she lived on Moonstone Bay. “Did you know my mother?”
“Of course not.” Booker answered almost immediately. He seemed sincere, yet there was something off about the response, something I couldn’t quite identify. “She and my mother were friends.”
“Really?” I forced myself to relax a bit. “Maybe I could talk to her once I’m settled. I don’t know anything about my mother except that she was married to my father and they were looking forward to having me. That’s what my father told me, anyway.”
“I wish that was possible, but my mother passed on some time ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“I was sorry, too.” Booker forced a smile for my benefit. “As for your mother, I’m sure I can come up with names of a few people who knew her. They’ll want to meet you because … well … just because.”
“Because of my grandmother?”
“She was beloved around here.”
“And my mother?”
Booker shrugged as he pulled into a long driveway. I saw the lighthouse, white brick walls with red accents and a fancy blue roof reaching into the sky offsetting the lovely beach tableau stretching out behind it. “Your mother was before my time, but I believe she was beloved, too.”
“Then why did she leave?”
“Island life isn’t for everyone.” Booker flashed a toothy grin. “But it’s the only way for some people. I have a feeling you might be one of them.”
Even though I found him a bit odd, I couldn’t help but return the smile. “What makes you say that?”
“Because you’re here.” Booker stopped the bus in front of the lighthouse. “This was your grandmother’s home for her entire life. It was your mother’s home for the first nineteen years of her life. Now it’s your home.”
“You seem to know a lot about my mother despite the fact that she was older than you.”
“It’s a small island. Gossip spreads like mustard on a ham sandwich.”
I tilted my head to the side, dumbfounded. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that saying before.”
“Then you haven’t been hanging with the cool kids.” Booker put the bus into park and killed the engine, his eyes bright as they caressed the lighthouse’s bright façade. “I’m glad you’ll be staying here. It’s been sad to see the place so dark and quiet the past three months.”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t sure I was going to come at all,” I admitted. “When I got the letter … well, let’s just say I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I had no idea I had a grandmother. For some reason I always thought my mother was alone in the world.”
“Why did you think that?”
“My father knew very little about her, and apparently she never volunteered information.”
“Maybe she thought she would have more time.”
“Maybe.” I pressed the heel of my hand to my forehead as I reached for the door handle. “Well, thanks for the ride. I appreciate the tour.”
Booker snorted. “You’re a poor actress, but I appreciate the effort.” Instead of waiting for me to collect my luggage and head toward the lighthouse, Booker pocketed his keys as he exited the vehicle. “Would you like some help?”
Of course I would. I didn’t want to get a reputation for being needy, though. “I’m sure I can manage.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“I … can figure it out.” I struggled with the answer, but managed to muster a smile. “It’s just a lighthouse, right?”
Booker snorted, legitimately amused. “Yeah. How about I give you a tour and we’ll see if you still feel the same way? How’s that sound?”
It sounded like the best offer I’d had all day. “It sounds like you can carry the big suitcase.”
“It would be my pleasure.”
So, I’ve been bad about updating the blog. It’s summer in Michigan, so when I haven’t been working I’ve been swimming. Sorry.
Anyway, I’ve received a lot of messages about the end of the Aisling Grimlock series, which is set to occur in October 2018. That means you have three books left in the series. People are upset, and I get that, but this first series was always meant to be a set story. I can’t give you too many details, because it would ruin the arc, but it’s not really an ending. Yes, it’s an ending to the Aisling Grimlock books, but it’s not an ending to the characters.
Next year I’m launching two new series. The first happens early in January. I’m not ready to give you the details on that yet either, but suffice it to say it’s another series that will allow for a lot of crossovers. Unlike Charlie Rhodes, though, the series won’t open with a crossover. In the third book, though, there will be a few Grimlock characters crossing over. No, I can’t tell you who, how or why. Again, that would ruin things. The series is set up in such a way (and you’ll understand when you read the new book) that almost all my paranormal characters can make a visit.
The second series will launch the same month the final Aisling Grimlock book launches (about two weeks later). So, your withdrawal won’t last all that long. It’s set in the same world, although it has a different setting. It’s a new environment, one of the Grimlock brothers (nope, won’t tell you which one) will be a main player, and the rest of the Grimlocks will be around as supporting characters. The main character in that series will be a new female, though.
Now, the new location is different and I don’t want to describe it yet. It’s close enough to Grimlock Manor that the characters can stop by for dinner, other Grimlocks (and Jerry) can visit the new location, and it manages to be different without losing the characters you love. Aisling will not be the lead but she’ll be around for all kinds of hijinks and fun.
So, I will be giving you more information on the new series featuring the Grimlocks, but it won’t be until much closer to the launch (so we’re talking about a year). It’s already being outlined and worked on, though, so it’s set.
So, that’s it. Just thought I would give an update to cut down on the panicking messages. Yes, the first arc is ending but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other arcs.
Thanks for reading and go ahead and theorize in the comments section about what I’m going to do. Be forewarned, I’m not going to confirm or deny anything. Have at it, though.
The witch fantasies are one of those things that stir people up.
On one side, I would estimate a good 95 percent of fans love them. The remaining five percent apparently don’t and they write me (sometimes nonstop) messages explaining how much they hate them. The big thing seems to be that they’re not mysteries. That’s it. Plain and simple.
I get it. Some people only like mysteries. That’s fine. You don’t have to read the fantasies. I always try to at least mention what happened in the most recent fantasy in the following mystery so you can catch up that way. I will not, however, stop writing the fantasies and write two more mysteries a year. It’s simply not going to happen.
The fantasies are a way to do some truly goofy things and have a lot of fun. In general, they’re about character development and wacky hijinks. The stakes aren’t often as high in the fantasies – even though there’s some serious stuff – so (I hope) that readers can just sit back and relax. The whole point of the fantasies is to have fun.
I have a lot of ideas for the fantasies, which is why I upped them from one entry to two per year. No matter what, even if I didn’t write any fantasies, you wouldn’t get more full witch mysteries in a calendar year, though (which seems to be a sticking point for some readers). Why? I’m most comfortable, in most cases, doing two entries in a series per year. I consider the witch fantasies their own series. If I were to write only one series, I would grow bored and not want to write anything. As it stands, by the time I wind back around to something, I’m always excited to get back to the characters when it’s time for a series to wind around in the rotation.
As for upcoming fantasies, the timeline in the witch series forced me to do a Christmas fantasy this year, or risk losing the opportunity for a very long time. I actually wanted to write another fantasy first, but sometimes you have to go where the timeline takes you. That also forced some of the stuff to be cramped together in November and December this year. I don’t really like it but it should be remedied with better spaced releases next year.
There are several witch fantasies I’m really looking forward to, including the one I had to postpone this year for the Christmas fantasy. That one – which will be set in a soap opera world – is something I’m really looking forward to. I’ve always loved soap operas – no matter how ridiculous the storylines – and I can’t wait to write that one.
Other fantasies coming up over the next few years include a western, a zombie brouhaha, a trip to Salem during the witch trials, and a few others I’m still debating about.
So, yeah, I get that some people hate the witch fantasies simply because they’re not mysteries. You can’t always make everyone happy, though. I can make myself happy … and the witch fantasies do that for me.
They’re not going anywhere.
What do you think? Do you like the witch fantasies? What kind of fantasy would you like to see?
I get that people like kids and enjoy the idea of their favorite characters procreating. They, in theory, love the idea of seeing Bay and Landon raising a little witch – Landon most certainly turning into a pile of mush and sharing his bacon without prodding – or Griffin and Aisling raising the world’s snarkiest future reaper.
The problem is that, in practice, it often ruins the narrative.
My characters are immature by design and, while I like them to mature a bit each book, I don’t think most of them are ready to raise children. Even if they were, though, the odds of seeing my characters toting around an infant are pretty slim.
Why? Because I can’t get over the irresponsible nature of hauling an infant around to a crime scene (or facing off with vengeful ghosts, deranged killers, murderous neighbors, etc.). Sure, there could be babysitters and nannies or … in Avery Shaw’s case she would probably put a dog in charge as long as she didn’t have to do it … but, after a little bit, it straddles the line to bad parenting.
It’s not just the way the characters would have their lives changed, though. It’s the way the kids would alter the story. I mean, could Aunt Tillie curse everyone into a zombie book if no one was around to babysit the little ones? Could Aisling end up thrown through a window or attacked by a mirror monster if she had an infant in her arms?
I’m not opposed to the characters having kids … eventually. That really means that, for the most part, if they have kids it will be at the end. By adding kids you can spin off a series when it gets close to the end (if it’s needed or warranted). Instead of focusing on Bay and Landon eventually, perhaps you’ll meet their daughter. It’s not happening any time soon, but it’s not something that I would ever completely rule out.
As for Avery Shaw, she will never have kids. No matter how you beg and plead, it’s simply not going to happen. I don’t believe people need kids to be satisfied and Avery Shaw is not the mothering type. Period.
Now that I’ve said all of that, there is one notable exception.
On June 6th, the first book in The Dying Covenant Trilogy (the last leg of the Covenant College series) hits. As readers know, Zoe turned up pregnant at the end of The Living Covenant Trilogy. She announced it to her new husband on their wedding night.
The Dying Covenant Trilogy hops ahead thirteen years. Yup. You won’t get to see little Sami Winters as a toddler (although you will hear stories from her parents and get a prologue that revolves around her birth) or even as a precocious eight-year-old. She will be a pain in the butt 12-year-old with her father’s looks and her mother’s mouth. She will be a tyrant on two legs with abnormal role models who prefer messing with her to coddling her.
Why is Sami different? Because she’s part of Aric and Zoe’s story in an important way. She’s her own person by the time you meet her and can be left alone for little bits of time, which means Aric and Zoe don’t constantly have to be on top of her. Sami can actually carry parts of the story (although Zoe and Aric still do the heavy lifting) because she’s twelve and she’s coming into her own.
Also, it should be noted that Sami comes in at the end of Aric and Zoe’s story. While I have plans to have the characters cross over to the Mystic Caravan Circus and probably Charlie Rhodes’ world before it’s all said and done, The Dying Covenant Trilogy is the end of their individual story. That means they can support a kid because Sami won’t be weighing down future stories.
Now, I’m not saying the characters will never have children. I’m merely saying it won’t happen until a shift in the series is due or even until I’m wrapping up a series. Kids are inevitable for some of them, but they cause a narrative stumble a lot of times in an active series so they have to be worked in at the right time.
What do you think? Do you wish there were more kids hanging around?
How to launch a new series
There are different ways to introduce a series.
When it comes to Charlie Rhodes, I realized I wanted to do it in the witch world for a very important reason: Location.
The hardest part of introducing a new series is to get readers to care about the characters. By introducing Charlie via the witches, I was able to anchor her in a unique way. She got to know characters readers already knew but managed to almost bond, in a way, with readers because she loved the witches, too.
Most people seemed to like the introduction, but a few didn’t. They wanted it to be all about the new characters. I get that. I understand the complaint. I felt that Charlie, Jack and Millie were the most important characters to start with but the rest of the characters will be fleshed out more in subsequent books. The second book, for example, will not involve any crossovers and will focus solely on the new characters.
However, the Winchesters were a nice cushion for Charlie to land on for the first case out in her new world. There will be other crossovers in Charlie’s world (not in the second book, but down the line) but the witches were the natural fit for the world for the first book.
Now, by contrast, I have another new series in development. Before anyone asks, it won’t debut this year. It’s very early on and I’m mostly working on world building (by hand in a notebook). It’s also a series that will allow a lot of crossovers (no hints because I don’t want anyone to steal the idea before I’m ready to debut it). This series will not open with a crossover. Why? Location.
The location in the second new series will be stationary and involve characters going to that location for a very specific reason. I’m sorry for the vague blogging but I honestly don’t want anyone stealing the idea, which is something that sadly happens from time to time.
Charlie Rhodes does not have a stationary location. Sure, we’ll see her in the main office from time to time, but her world is a moving target. She’ll be traveling all over the country with her trusty band of misfits. When creating an ongoing location, it’s almost another character. Charlie won’t have the benefit of that stationary location.
Now, when you look at my other series, most of them have very important locations. Hemlock Cove, Shadow Lake, Whisper Cove, Blackstone Bay, Covenant College, etc., they all have a personality of their own. Avery Shaw and Aisling Grimlock live in a real place, which allows for a different sort of story building. Sometimes that’s easier but, frankly, sometimes it’s harder. Avery also lives in the “real” world so there’s no hope of crossover for her. She lives in a non-magical world. Aisling lives in the real world but she can cross to a magical one, so she’s different.
That brings us to Mystic Caravan Circus. Now, they do move around (much like Charlie Rhodes) and have a different location each book. However, they set up their own camp (which is really kind of like a small town) whenever they get to a location. So, even though the part of the country is different, the set up and people are the same. The circus itself is kind of a set location even though you get to enjoy the fun of checking out a new set of fairgrounds each go around.
Charlie doesn’t have a set camp. She will have the same people around her (and a new set of people to interact with because I need suspects, after all) but she doesn’t have a home location to anchor her. That’s why I believe launching her story in Hemlock Cove was important.
Now, as for the crossovers, they will happen. That doesn’t mean they’re always going to happen or that the crossover characters will be as widely featured as the witches were in Charlie’s story. I have ideas for crossing my Covenant characters over to the Mystic Caravan Circus for a book as well as Charlie’s world at a certain point. The grim reapers will definitely cross over to the unnamed series at some point. It’s not going to be something that happens in every book but it will be something that happens if they fit a certain story.
So, that’s it. I hope you liked Charlie and when it’s closer (and safer) to talk about the new series when it debuts next year I will definitely do it. For now, though, I won’t be answering stories about that one.
I actually get a lot of messages about my writing process. I was surprised the first time but now I’m kind of used to it.
I think there’s an inherent curiosity regarding the writing process. Mine is not particularly illuminating (or even unique) but I promised to lay it out for those interested.
So, here we go:
1. I never work on one thing at a time. The reason I can publish things so fast is that I overlap. There are purists out there who believe it’s sacrilege to work on two things at once. That’s not me. Right now, for example, I have eleven things in various stages of completion. We’re talking shorts, omnibuses and novels here. Breaking that down, the omnibuses are completely ready to load up. Three novels are ready to load up (one for preorder, one for Tuesday, one for June). Two are with editors and the rest are ready to go to editors. All except for one … which is the book I’m writing now. I can only WRITE one book at a time. I don’t jump around from book-to-book while writing but I can overlap the various stages of editing (which actually take longer than the writing for me) and formatting.
2. I use an outline when I write. Each series has its own notebook and I outline the next book in the series as soon as I finish the previous book because it streamlines the process. For example, last week I finished the main writing on the next Avery Shaw book (to head off the inevitable questions, it’s for September release and has many rounds of edits to go through so it will not be out early. There is a schedule pinned to the top of the Facebook page that lists releases) and I immediately outlined the next one. That way, when I go back in five months and start writing it, I will already have the outline done and be able to hop right in.
3. When it comes to story ideas, they usually pop up when I’m doing other things … like laundry, dishes, walking or even driving to the store. I jot down the ideas in a notebook and when it comes time to outline I decide which outline I’m leaning toward and go. By that time I’ve had the story percolating in my head for a few days and it only takes me an hour or two to outline. I’m what’s considered a “beat” outliner. That means I write down the most important aspects to cover in that chapter and then let the chapter get to where it wants on its own. It works for me but I know other people who are horrified by my process. I’m also not afraid to break from an outline if I have a better idea as I’m writing.
4. Once I’m done with the main writing I walk away for a week or two and work on the main writing on something else. By the time I come back I have just a bit of distance which helps for editing purposes. I then edit the manuscript and get it off to the first editor as soon as possible. I have a line editor and two proofreaders I utilize (and, yes, typos still get through). Once I get it back I have to go through it one more time, format and then upload. Because the process is so long and overlapping, that’s why I can’t always do preorders even though people want them. Preorders are great when they work but I refuse to put anything up for preorder that’s not 100 percent complete (there have been horror stories about Amazon sending out the wrong file) so I can only do what I can do. I put what I can up for preorder and the rest doesn’t get preorders.
5. As for ideas, I have so many ideas that I can’t keep up with them. I know other authors who say they struggle for ideas but I have the opposite problem. I will never be able to write all of the ideas I have. In fact, sometimes I get taken over by an idea. That’s kind of happening now with a series that I had an idea for and it was kind of stalking me so I started working on it to get it out of the way. I like it because it has a lot of crossover capability with characters from other series. Despite that, though, if I don’t put some work into it I will become distracted while trying to write something else and it will actually slow me down over the long haul. I have a tendency to get obsessed with stuff.
So, that’s basically it. My process is relatively easy but it’s long and I have a lot to cover between stages.
I’m attached to my characters. All of them.
I’m even attached to the ones that readers write to me about and say “I love every single one of your characters but … .” Guess what? I love the “but,” too. I don’t ever really want to end a series but it’s inevitable and I would rather pick the right time than let something linger longer than it should.
As an author, you walk a fine of trying to make readers happy but doing the story justice. I can’t tell you how many times people have written to me and said that my series should be no more than three books. Each and every series. If it goes longer than three books I’m a hack who is just out for money.
On the flip side, a lot of people write to me that they never want a series to end. They want it to go until the end of time and if I ever stop writing the series they’re going to hate me forever. That’s great in theory, but it’s not so easy (or pragmatic) in practice.
The longer a series goes you risk tipping into “diminishing returns.” What is that? At a certain point you stop sucking in new readers for a series and you start losing them. That happens to everyone.
Now, I’m not someone who pays much attention to diminishing returns. I am lucky enough to be able to write full time and I never end a series before I decide it’s done. I always have an idea of what I want the end of a series to look like, a set story so to speak, but some of the stuff between can be more vague. I try not to focus on the money angle over everything else. That’s why I keep my books at $3.99 and in KU.
Other authors or publishers give a series one or two books and then yank it without an ending if it doesn’t perform. I don’t do that. I always finish everything. I’m a bit of a completionist.
Take Hardy Brothers Security, which I wrote under my pen name. That series didn’t sell well and I still wrote twenty-four books. I was attached to the characters and had a specific story I wanted to tell.
I don’t know anyone else who would’ve written that many books in an underperforming series. That’s simply how I’m built.
Now, when it comes to series like Wicked Witches of the Midwest and Mystic Caravan, I’m honestly not sure how long they’ll run. I know I have quite a few stories still to tell. I “kind of” know how they will end but I have a lot of room to play in between.
My grim reapers, however, will go nine books. That means they end next year. I already know how they’re going to end. In fact, I know what the final line in the book is going to be. That doesn’t mean I won’t revisit the series at some point. That’s not something I just say either. Covenant College folks can attest to that. I had a set five books for that series and then had a fun idea and added six more books in two follow-up trilogies. That could easily happen to Aisling Grimlock. However, right now it will be nine books (although the grim reapers are most likely going to pop up in my Charlie Rhodes series and another series I’ve been working on outlines for) and then there will be a break before anything else is decided. It’s always nice to step back for a little bit, because when I have ideas for new series (or a continuation of an old) it’s usually when I take a step back.
As for Avery Shaw, I keep going back and forth. I believe she’ll go fifteen books but she’s honestly my favorite to write (yes, I know other people hate her, you message me all of the time). She’s essentially me, though, so when you write that you hate her it’s kind of like you’re hating me. Luckily for you, just like Avery Shaw, that only makes me stronger. Anyway, if Avery Shaw goes longer than fifteen books – and that’s honestly up in the air – it will turn into a series where there is only one new entry a year. Like I said, I keep waffling on that one.
Why is this important? Why do you care? Unlike other authors, I have more ideas than I can write. I honestly have outlines done in another twenty series or so because I have so many ideas. Whenever I have an opening and can start a new series I’m excited … until a great war wages inside of me to pick a series to focus on. I just had another idea this past weekend I’m dying to write but I don’t have time.
The thing is, I never want to stop a series because I love the characters. However, I do want to get to know new characters and series going forward, too. It’s honestly a double-edged sword (I have two future series where swords would make regular appearances, by the way). I do give it a great deal of thought, though.
So, what do you think? How long do you think is too long for a series?
The "whiny" witch?
So, a lot of people are worked up about Bay.
I didn’t foresee an issue, but apparently I was wrong.
Here’s the thing, Murder Most Witchy was a “transition” book. What do I mean about that? I mean it was setting things up for what is to come next.
I don’t always like the television season analogy, but I think that’s the easiest one to go with. When you break it down, the first three books were the first season. It was your introduction to Bay and the other Winchesters but you were in learning mode more than growing mode.
The next block of books were as much about Landon adjusting to a magical world as Bay adjusting to having him in her life. She grew up thinking no one would want to put up with the magic and ghosts – let alone Aunt Tillie – but slowly learned maybe that wasn’t true. She was still insecure, though, because she believed one thing her entire life and wasn’t sure she could ever break from that belief.
I spent a lot of time building the witch relationships how I wanted them, and now it’s time for another shift. Bay and Landon have to take the next step – moving in together – before they can take more steps after that. To make that happen, I needed Bay’s worst-case scenario to come to fruition. I needed Landon to go undercover and things to go badly.
It wasn’t just about Bay being “whiny,” which she fully admitted herself. It was Bay coming to grips with the fact that even when things change, that doesn’t mean she’s going to lose everything. There was a lesson in there that she needed to learn.
Going forward, I want to set up four different households. The Overlook is one, the guesthouse is another, Marcus’ stable and funky house project is the third and the Dandridge is the fourth. Now the witches, who are extremely codependent, need to learn to live in new environments. Even though Bay isn’t moving, it will be a new environment because the old pieces are being replaced with the new.
All that being said, November’s mystery and December’s fantasy (and even some of the book following that) will involve Bay, Landon and Thistle (and Marcus by extension) living together. Landon and Thistle being on top of each other is too much fun to ignore. After that, though, there’s new avenues to stroll down and they’re bound to be exciting.
How will Bay, Clove and Thistle deal with not being under the same roof? Sure, Clove is already out but with Thistle and Bay left behind it wasn’t that different. When Thistle leaves, though, we really are in a brave new witch world. That witch world will be different for Landon, too. He will go from spending half his time there to all of his time there, and it will still be an adjustment.
For those upset with Bay’s reaction, I’m sorry. Bay needed for the absolute worst to happen to prove that it wasn’t the end of the world. Did she act in a mature fashion? No. I never even considered that. I wouldn’t have been happy in her position and I didn’t ever think that was the way to go when writing it.
Moving forward, though, the witches will be braving new things and new scenarios. Will they always be mature when they respond? Absolutely not. That’s not the way they (or I, for that matter) roll.
They learned from Aunt Tillie, after all.
When it comes to the worlds I’ve created, my general rule is to make sure the emotions are true to the characters rather than have every action and reaction be based in reality.
What does that mean?
It means that it’s more important to me that Landon and Bay sit down for a serious talk if they’ve had a misunderstanding than worrying about the fact that real witches don’t curse people to smell like bacon.
Yes, I’ve had a message complaining about that. For the record, I know. I know there’s not a bacon curse and that it doesn’t really exist – so there’s no reason to keep messaging me about it. That’s not the point of the story.
I want the emotional bonds between the characters to ring true. The other stuff – the ghosts, curses, wraiths, pouting reporters, and magical mages with glowing hands – isn’t as important to me.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore the action when it comes to the meat of the story. I still focus more on the characters even when mirror men are trying to kill my heroine.
That being said, a lot of the character actions ARE based in reality despite what some people think.
ARGUMENT ONE: No one would ever talk to his or her boss in the manner that Avery Shaw talks to her boss.
The thing is, I often talked to my boss the way Avery Shaw talks to Fred Fish. Out of all of my characters, Avery Shaw is the most like me. Newsrooms are not “office” settings by any stretch of the imagination. They may be housed in offices, but they’re not “normal” business settings. Strange, but true. My former co-workers and I used to have a good laugh about the oddballs in our newsroom.
I always had a theory that the journalism profession appeals to oddballs and loners. You’re not expected to dress in a suit and kiss the boss’s butt in a newsroom. That’s simply not the way it goes. Instead you’re allowed to come as you are (unless you’re covering a charity event or court case) and snark about with your co-workers while making fun of the television reporters.
Newsrooms are loose and fast with the rules and I had a tendency to whine when I didn’t want to cover something. In the books, Avery Shaw has a pair of shark mittens she uses to do puppet shows to explain to her boss why she doesn’t want to cover something. I got several messages about how unprofessional that was. Here’s the thing: I do have those shark mittens, although the mittens I utilized for my puppet shows were snakes (I still have them).
Why the snakes? They had long, floppy tongues that made the puppet reenactment so much more interesting. I did argue with my boss when I didn’t want to cover something but the puppet show was mild compared to what I saw other co-workers doing. The co-worker Marvin Potts is based on, for example, was prone to flying off the handle and yelling and stomping around whenever the mood struck.
And he not only got away with it but also was considered the best reporter in the room.
So, yeah, reporters are odd. Newsrooms are odd places, though, and they’re nothing like regular office settings.
ARGUMENT TWO: Grandpa’s antics in Avery Shaw are completely off the charts.
They may be but my Grandpa is based on my grandfather and he did a lot wilder things than what I have in the books. My family is also that co-dependent and we fight with each other constantly. We snipe, blackmail, mess around with and threaten to get our way when nothing is going on. We also turn up in a crisis and help, no questions asked or apologies for earlier fights offered. It’s simply how we roll.
ARGUMENT THREE: No one would put up with Avery, Aisling, Zoe, Harper, etc. and actually stay long enough to fall in love with them.
That’s actually a legitimate argument. In the real world, I can’t imagine anyone putting up with the stuff Avery does on a regular basis. She thinks nothing of it and Eliot is pretty much a martyr where she’s concerned. Aisling isn’t quite as bad but I know very few people in the real world who would put up with meddling brothers (to say nothing for a threatening father) like Aisling has. The same for the Winchester family. Bay honestly isn’t all that hard to deal with (for the most part), but putting up with Thistle, Aunt Tillie and Winnie on a regular basis would be soul-crushing for most men (delicious bacon aside, of course).
That’s why it’s a book, people. If I wanted everything to be exactly like it was in the real world I would stop writing and sit on my front lawn and watch the neighbors do nothing eight hours a day. The fun of a book is escape. I don’t pretend for a second that the bulk of my characters are people who would have an easy time of it in the real world.
ARGUMENT FOUR: The characters are selfish and not good role models.
I like to think the characters are more than one thing. They are certainly selfish when they want to be. People in the real world are selfish, too. The characters are also giving and loyal when things go bad, just like the people in the real world. As for the role model argument? I don’t set my characters up to be role models. I write them to be true to themselves and that’s pretty much it.
This goes back to the beginning, though. I like emotions that are realistic and actions that can be fantastic. That’s probably one of the reasons I like soap operas so much. I never once believed the Cassidines were going to freeze the world on General Hospital but I always believed I wanted Luke and Robert to stop them. To this day, I’m still rooting for Robert and Anna because of the characters … not the ludicrous stuff hey did throughout the years, like both of them dying and coming back from the dead, Anna being a double agent, Anna being kidnapped by a crazy person, their daughter dying and coming back from the dead, etc.
None of that bothers me because I’m invested in the character. Since that appeals to me, that’s what I focus on when writing.
So, for me, it all comes down to character development above all else. I don’t see that changing and that’s simply what I like to focus on.
What about you? Do you prefer a more realistic plot or are you focused on how the characters interact with one another?
There are some authors who know every character’s path before they even start writing.
I’m not one of those authors.
I’m the one who often surprises myself while I’m writing when it comes to certain things. Character development is one of those things.
Take Eliot in the Avery Shaw series. When I first envisioned the series I knew I wanted him to be a viable love interest but I ultimately expected him to lose to Jake. As things progressed, though, I realized it wouldn’t end up that way.
As romantic and fun as it is to imagine first love turning into forever love it doesn’t fit for Avery and Jake because it’s not fair to ask either character to completely change to fit in the other’s world. Eliot doesn’t have those issues and he grew in different and exciting ways as the series progressed.
Sometimes even I’m surprised by how much I like Eliot.
There are different characters in each series that ended up with bigger roles than I initially envisioned.
One of the biggest (other than Eliot) is Chief Terry in the Wicked Witches of the Midwest series. I always wanted him to be a friendly and amiable guy who cared about the witches but he’s ultimately taken on a huge role in the series (he’s very involved in the upcoming mystery installment).
He’s a surrogate father for Bay, Clove and Thistle. He’s a sounding board for Landon. He’s something to spar over for Winnie, Twila and Marnie. He’s also someone Aunt Tillie can’t help but rely on when she gets in trouble.
On the flip side, because I’m so enamored with Chief Terry I don’t often give the fathers enough character development. In my head I know I need to fix that and yet I remain a huge fan of Chief Terry and love writing for him. It is what it is.
When it comes to the Mystic Caravan series, I knew I would be able to have a lot of fun with the characters. One that stood out was Nellie, though. I thought he was going to be an occasional funny character. I mean … who doesn’t find joy in a cross-dressing dwarf masquerading as the bearded lady at a magical circus? Fairly soon when I started writing that series, though, Nellie’s role grew and while he’s not the main character, he’s definitely in the top tier of characters. He’s not all about comedy either. I like it when he has some emotional growth (which you’ll see a bit of in Freaky Games).
Sometimes I know going in that a character is going to be huge … like Jerry in the Grimlock series. Just envisioning him had me laughing and he still makes me laugh six books in. The big issue with the Grimlocks was creating a unique relationship between Aisling and all four of her brothers. At the outset I found Braden lacking so I had to concentrate hard on developing him and (hopefully) I’ve managed to create a unique relationship between Aisling and each brother that manages to stand out.
It’s always hardest at the beginning of a series. It’s a balancing act to give new characters life without doing an info dump (which is boring for everyone involved, readers and author). Launching the Charlie Rhodes series (which will debut in May) in the Wicked Witches of the Midwest world was an added trial because I wanted to give the witches some time to shine while introducing the new characters. I’m not a fan of revealing every single thing about a character in the first book, though, so there will be plenty of books to get to know them better while the witches get a lot of time to interact with the new characters in the first book. It was fun to write the witches through a new character’s eyes. There’s a lot of “wink, wink” for readers but there’s fun in the new discovery, too.
Sometimes I get messages asking how a series is going to end. I know in some cases how it’s going to end. In fact, I know exactly how the Aisling Grimlock series is going to end. I know who is going to say the last sentence. I know what the words are going to be. I have a few ideas about the witches, but that’s way down the road. I also know in a general sense how Avery Shaw will end. I have no idea how Mystic Caravan or Charlie Rhodes will end, though. Not even a notion. Sometimes it’s fun knowing. Sometimes it’s fun discovering things as I’m writing.
Even though I know exactly how the Grimlock series will end I’m still excited to enjoy the ride to the finale. And, like anything else, that ultimately may not be the end. I ended the Covenant College series at five books and then more than a year later I had fun ideas for two follow-up trilogies, which increased the books in that world to eleven. I also have plans for those characters to visit the Mystic Caravan Circus and very probably they will ultimately cross paths with Charlie Rhodes down the line.
I’m always open to new ideas so when people ask how I plan on ending something I’m not playing coy when I say I don’t know. I honestly discover something about the characters each time I start a new book. They come alive and entertain me even though I’m supposed to be the one creating them.
When I was a kid, I was torn between whether or not I was going to grow up and be the Incredible Hulk or Wonder Woman. I flirted with being a Jedi Knight for awhile, but I wasn't up for the intense travel associated with the gig. In my teens, I settled on being a writer -- although I had no idea the effort that would entail.