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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Standing Alone - a Thing of the Past?

For years, people have asked me to write a series. But I'm one of those people who needs to envision things 100 steps ahead of where I am now before I make a move in that direction.

When Kickback came out, people clamored for more of Sheila Carpenter, so I wrote Ricochet and she made a "guest appearance" in Exit 22 ... But no real series.

When I wrote Songbirds are Free, I had enough material to write a prequel, which turned out to be my award-winning book, River Passage. But still no real series.

So, why now?

First, I did not want to become a "formula" writer. You know the type. The entire series is the same story, just different people murdered. You know what's going to happen and when. I needed a series that could take you, the reader, around the world and through time so you'd never know what's about to happen or which path I'll be leading you down. I wanted to surprise you, enlighten you, engage you.

Second, I needed multi-faceted characters. I needed main characters who were polar opposites but who were tied together through fate or blood. I needed people who could grow and change and be fleshed out over a dozen or more books. People whose pasts rose to haunt them, whose futures were uncertain, and whose presents were totally engaging.

Third, I needed a location that you could feel. One that you could become intimately familiar with, one that would draw you in so you'd feel as if you lived in that house, on that street, in that town.

How did I accomplish this?

Black Swamp Mysteries was inspired by my suspense/thriller, Exit 22, which is my most popular suspense. But it goes far beyond the plot in that book while bringing back the characters we loved, hated and feared.

Vicki's Key will be released in February in eBook format and in March in trade paperback.

It features Vicki Boyd, a CIA psychic spy. Her character is based on a real CIA program and real psychic spies. The side effects she suffers while remote viewing are based on those actually experienced. The detail she is able to describe and sketch is the same level of detail as the best of the best in the psychic program today.

By having a psychic spy as a main character, it allows me to take you around the world - even to remote regions inaccessible by any other means. It will also allow me to take you back in time, as Vicki pieces together events that have occurred in the past but are threatening the world - or her personally - in the present. It allows limitless plots, limitless locales, limitless characters.

But I chose not to have one main character. Brenda Carnegie, Christopher Sandige, and Alec Brodie - all from Exit 22 - have main roles in the Black Swamp Mysteries series also. If you've read Exit 22, you'll remember Brenda as a beautiful but mysterious woman who operates on the wrong side of the law--and who will come toe to toe with Vicki. Chris is a political operative who helps to provide funding for the controversial program - but who also will be involved in some of Vicki's assignments. Alec is Vicki's next door neighbor. Even Joseph Gabucci, the feared assassin, will come face to face with Vicki.

And a new character has emerged as one that reviewers and advance readers alike can't seem to get enough of - Dylan Maguire, an Irishman with a mysterious past whose fate is intertwined in Vicki's.

The locale - the launching point for Vicki's missions - is Lumberton, North Carolina, a real town in the southeastern part of the state. It provides the same level of mystery as the moors of England and the mists of Ireland. The Lumber River winds its way through the county and right through the heart of town. It often overflows its banks, and when the waters recede, it leaves swampland that is almost impenetrable. It's the perfect spot to hide a body... or two.

Stay tuned to future blogs while I tell you more about the main characters and about Lumberton and the mysterious home in which Vicki lives...

And about the murders there.

I hope you'll enjoy Black Swamp Mysteries...

Exit 22 is now on sale on amazon for just 99 cents! Watch the trailer in the upper right corner of this screen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marching to a Different Drummer Boy

I'm probably a week early with this post. After all, the rest of the world seems to be focused on Christmas, gift-giving, and Santa Claus. Don't get me wrong: I like the holidays. I enjoy going to parties and seeing people I haven't seen since... the last party. I enjoy my grandchildren's excitement about Santa Claus. I like Christmas lights (the tackier, the better), the smell of cut trees and getting food in the mail from all my relatives.

But I've never been one to march to the same drummer.

My favorite time of year is just one week behind Christmas. It's the start of the New Year. It's that last week of special television shows about the biggest stories of the year, the most-watched celebrities, those who sadly passed away in 2011, and how our lives have changed since 2010.

But it's more than that. It's laying the past to rest and turning toward the future. It's planning 2012 and all the exciting things I want to happen. And who I want to be.

This blogspot is usually about writing, because I picked writing as my career and I love it. But I don't write for any public recognition. If I did, I'd probably be in therapy right now. I don't write for the money. If I did, I might feel like a failure. I don't write to be social, because writing is a solitary pursuit.

I write for the pleasure. My pleasure in writing it. And the readers' pleasure in reading it.

I have always felt that for the short time I will be on this planet, using up oxygen, water and resources, I should be prepared to give something back. And my small gift to mankind is a few hours of pleasure, of escape from everyday problems, a journey into worlds and times far removed from our own, a time when the rest of the world stands still and all that matters are the moments getting lost in a good story.

In early 2012, my 13th book will be released - first on Kindle and then in trade paperback. It's the first book I've written purely for myself. It's also the most personal story I've told to date.

Vicki's Key is the story of a young woman trying to leave the CIA and start over. Of a woman trying to find herself, looking for love, searching for a future, trying to find her place in the world. It's also the story of a man who leaves all he's ever known to travel halfway around the world to find his future, his place, his destiny. And the story of a remote village locked away from the rest of the world, who suddenly gets the attention of the CIA, and pulls Vicki from the brink of a new life back into the fold...

It's the story of journeys; life's journeys, and how even the smallest decision can place us on paths we never thought possible.

And in 2012, it's my hope that those who read it finds it broadens their horizons, provides pleasure and interest, takes them out of whatever challenges they might face in their own lives, even for a short time... And leaves them feeling just a little better than before they read it.

If you are a writer, why do you write? Why do you choose the books you read, and what do you hope to get out of them?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Importance of Setting

I grew up reading Daphne du Maurier's books and fell completely in love with the windswept moors and granite cliffs that wind their way through her suspenseful books. While reading Jamaica Inn, I could envision the main character trying to get away from the murderer, only to get bogged down in the swampy footholds of the moors in the dead of night. The setting for her books became antagonists in themselves, often hindering the good guys and helping the bad ones.

There was also something mystical about England in the days before electricity, gasoline-powered automobiles and technology. It was a world that was pure escapism, with all the good, the bad and the ugly.

I've had a few ah-ha moments in my life and one of the most vivid occurred when I was planning to move from Virginia (where I'd spent most my life, having been born in Washington, DC) to the southeastern corner of North Carolina. This region was immortalized in the movie, Cape Fear, which was originally released in 1962.

I was searching for an area in which I'd like to live after a driving rainstorm that caused the swamps to overflow their banks. The water was covered with thick green algae and the trees were sunk into the swamps with huge ballooning trunks surrounded by jagged "knees". It made me realize just how difficult it would be for a main character to try and escape a murderer through those swamps. It conjured up images of alligators, leeches, mosquitoes the size of a hummingbird... And those books I loved by Daphne du Maurier.

I had been writing Ricochet, a suspense/thriller that I'd intended to have occur in the Shenandoah Valley. But after that amazing day driving around Robeson County, NC, I decided the only place to have it set was the swampland. I changed the setting and then went back to Robeson County for the setting of Exit 22, which has been my most popular suspense/thriller to date.

Exit 22 has spawned a series, and I am finding as I've been writing books #13, 14 and 15, that I love the swamps as an antagonist - and sometimes also as an ally. In Vicki's Key, set for release in March 2012, the Lumber River serves as both a place in which two lovers fall in love--and a spot to dispose of a corpse later. Secrets of a Dangerous Woman, the third in the series (set for release in September 2012) returns to the swamps as both friend and foe. And Dylan's Song (set for release in March 2013) takes us across the ocean to Ireland.

As part of the research for Dylan's Song, I am planning a trip to Ireland. I am looking forward to visiting such a  mystical place, a place filled with moors and mist and fog... And I will no doubt feel a kinship with Daphne du Maurier while I am there.

Oddly enough (or perhaps not) my ancestors were from Ireland so I am feeling as if I am headed home. I still have distant cousins living there who never left Ireland when my branch of the family emigrated to the U.S. in search of a brighter future. And when I return to Robeson County, North Carolina after that trip, I will no doubt remember why the Scottish and the Irish fell in love with this area so many generations ago. Perhaps it has something to do with the swamps, the misty mornings, the fog that rolls in... And the perfect setting for suspense/thrillers.