A DEEPER DARKNESS — on sale for $1.99

A DEEPER DARKNESS, the first book in my Sam Owens series, is on sale for $1.99! We’re not sure how long this sale will last so get a copy while you can.

About the book:

As a medical examiner, Samantha Owens knows her job is to make a certain sense of death with crisp methodology and precision instruments. 

But the day the Tennessee floods took her husband and children, the light vanished from Sam's life. She has been pulled into a suffocating grief no amount of workaholic ardor can penetrate—until she receives a peculiar call from Washington, D.C.

On the other end of the line is an old boyfriend's mother, asking Sam to do a second autopsy on her son. Eddie Donovan is officially the victim of a vicious carjacking, but under Sam's sharp eye the forensics tell a darker story. The ex-Ranger was murdered, though not for his car.

Forced to confront the burning memories and feelings about yet another loved one killed brutally, Sam loses herself in the mystery contained within Donovan's old notes. It leads her to the untouchable Xander, a soldier off-grid since his return from Afghanistan, and then to a series of brutal crimes stretching from that harsh mountainous war zone to this nation's capital. The tale told between the lines makes it clear that nobody's hands are clean, and that making sense of murder sometimes means putting yourself in the crosshairs of death.

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What Lies Behind has a new cover!

Wrapping up our new cover scheme for the Samantha Owens novels is the 4th book in the series, WHAT LIES BEHIND. For your enjoyment, here is the origin blog post for the book, which was a complicated one indeed.

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On July 24, 2013, I read a story about a young med school student named Paul DeWolf who’d been killed in his apartment. No motive, no witnesses, no suspects. By all accounts, DeWolf was an exceptional young man. He excelled in everything from school to his military training to sports and his faith. He was perfect. Everything about him foretold a brilliant future. And here he was, his promising young life cut short. I couldn’t get him out of my mind. I read everything I could find on the case. And there was a single conclusion to be drawn. 

It was a perfect murder…

That became the first line of WHAT LIES BEHIND. I let my imagination run, wrote up a somewhat outlandish proposal. By August 12 I had a title, one that fit beautifully with the idea of a locked room mystery, and the futility of a life lost too soon. The title comes from the Thoreau (or perhaps Emerson, no one knows) quote:

What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us
are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.

Oddly enough, the day I decided on the title, I was in Ace Hardware looking for plants, and saw a plaque with beautiful birds on it. Up close, I realized it was the very quote I’d used to title the book. (I snatched it up, and it resides in my office in a spot of honor.) I knew then I had something special. Sometimes, the universe tells you when you’re on the right track.

In October, I submitted the proposal, which my agent and editor loved. I shelved the story until April 2014, when I was finished with my six months of the year I dedicate to Catherine and could think about it.

I started writing April 3. My publisher needed an excerpt for the paperback of WHEN SHADOWS FALL, so I wrote an opening. Cobbled it together, really. And in so doing, realized the story I thought I was telling wasn’t the story that wanted to be written.

It happens that way sometimes. You think a book is about one thing, but it surprises you, takes on a life of its own, and suddenly, you’re left with a completely new story. The characters dictate the story, obviously. And a lot happened between October 2013 and April 2014. Weird things, and good things.

Several wonderful people gave money to charity to have their names appear in the book. When I accept these kinds of commissions, I don’t just toss in a name. I want the donor to get their money’s worth. I create real characters, with real purpose to the story. Tommy Cattafi became my dead medical student. Robin Souleyret was his contact, also dead. (There’s another character name I can’t share, because I don’t want to spoil the story for you. You’ll see that one in the acknowledgements.)

And then the story decided it didn’t want to be about dead people. It wanted to have live people, who did amazing things. Every day, while I watched, it wove itself into a completely different entity. Tommy Cattafi wasn’t dead, but gravely injured. Robin Souleyret was very much alive, and a former CIA agent. What? She had a sister who was FBI, and her name was Amanda. She was murdered and Cataffi injured in what looked like a murder suicide. Their names became so intrinsically involved that, because of these character names, the story itself changed. It evolved. It became about Sam and Robin, the push and pull of the investigation, and the power of love.

There were other issues with the story as well. At its heart, WHAT LIES BEHIND is about a bioterror attack on the U.S. using an Ebola-esque hemorrhagic virus. Yeah. Topical much?

I was more than halfway through the writing well before the African outbreak, and as the virus, and the story, continued to spread, I kept having to change the book so it didn't look like I'd stolen the story from the headlines. Because I, apparently, am simply too prescient when it comes to writing about current events.

And then we have Sam and Xander and Fletcher. The backbone of these books. Vital, one might say, to their longevity. Samantha really comes into her own during this investigation. It was such a blast to watch her take over. She’s always been a smart cookie, but now, she’s smart and tough and isn’t about to sit back when she sees injustices. To put it mildly, she kicks ass.

It took five months to write this book, because the story was a moving target, day after day. When I finished the book, I was almost afraid to turn it in. The synopsis I’d given my editor months before was unrecognizable outside of a young man cut down in his prime. Completely different from the finished book. Happily, she loved it, and here we are.

It’s always fascinating to me to relive the writing of a book. WHAT LIES BEHIND was possibly my most challenging to date, simply because it did not behave. It didn’t do what it was told. It’s fitting WHAT LIES BEHIND was the thirteenth novel I’ve written. It seems I’ve just given birth to my first teenager. 

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How an Author Chooses What to Write Next

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I’ve been in a strange sort of limbo for the past few years. My last 4 solo books were planned and written a couple of years prior to release. NO ONE KNOWS was five years in the making, LIE TO ME was started back in 2014. FIELD OF GRAVES I obviously wrote ten years ago, as it was my first, and the new novel, TEAR ME APART, was originally conceptualized in 2011, replanned in 2016, and brought to life during a brief writing stint last year. 

Add in a Catherine book every year since 2012, and the long-standing Sam book to follow up WHAT LIES BEHIND (which is still sitting in its Scrivener file with 15,000 words written), it’s been a long while since I’ve had to develop and plan for a new novel. 

(Yes, I do plan to finish the Sam book, and yes, Taylor is in it. I swear to you, it will happen, and soon.)

I thought for the longest time I would write a standalone or two then dive back into my franchise series, but I’m finding the standalone world quite seductive. There are pros and cons to series and standalone writing — mainly, the challenge with a standalone is developing an entire world construct and wrapping all the threads versus the series in which your world is already built and it becomes a bit like paint by numbers, plugging in new plots to people who are already established. One is not better than the other; in my mind, they’re both fun.

But since I’m writing a big international series with Catherine, it’s been easier to write standalones on my own. I have another series idea. And another series idea. And a few more book ideas based on previous characters who’ve appeared in novels and short stories. All of these have been in the idea file for years, though. 

Full circle back to what’s possibly next: 

I was watching International House Hunters this morning, and the family was moving to Surrey, England, so the husband could teach at a private all-girls school. The building was so charming, with its Gothic spires and red brick front, my latent brain starting churning. 

I like the idea of doing something totally new, fresh, different. Something I plotted recently… Perhaps…

A boarding school. Dark. Gothic. Nasty. I kinda like the sound of that.

I’ve ALWAYS wanted to write a boarding school novel. I went to an all women’s college that required the students (except Prime Time—older/married students coming back to school) to live on campus. We lived behind the “Red Brick Wall” and our buildings were attached by covered trestle bridges, so we could literally move from dorm room to class room to dining hall without ever going outside. The school was haunted, as all good boarding schools must be. We even had a staircase painted blood red, because legend had it a girl died in the stairwell and they couldn’t get her blood out of the concrete, so they painted it to match.

Yeah......

The moment the show was over, I opened my Day One app, titled a Story Idea entry (this is how I file ideas and things that don’t have titles), and pulled a plot out of thin air that actually might have promise. It will take a lot of work, but I may have a line on my next book. And in the subsequent days, bits and pieces are floating toward me out of the ether. It's cray cray.

Interestingly, the last time I had a "gut feeling" about a novel like this, I felt compelled to write a haunted house book set in Scotland, and I ended up with WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE... 

So… since this is getting to be an actual possibility, a little help please? What’s your favorite boarding school novel?

1.18.16 - Sam Owens #1-2 Digital Box Set ($5.99) is on sale NOW!

Looking for some reading material for your winter hibernation? I've got just the thing: the first two books in the Sam Owens series are now available in one digital package for only $5.99! 

Interested? You can find the books here:

10.4.11

My eyes are crossing and my mind has turned to mush. Why? A six hour marathon session of copyedits on the May '12 book. Done, and turned in, and hopefully I won't have to see it again anytime soon. (You do stop seeing the forest for the trees after a while, and this one feels like I've edited it to death. Of course, they all do at this point...)

OK. I've been holding out on you. I've talked around this for weeks now, but it's time to share. Brace yourselves.

WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE is the last Taylor book for a little while.

Don't panic. It is NOT the end of the series. I fully intend to return to Taylor's world very soon. I can't imagine my life without Taylor in it for very long. And we have so many unanswered questions....

As a writer, you always want to try new things. I've never written anything more than a short story that didn't feature Taylor. It was time to spread my wings. My agent and my house kindly agreed, and we decided that it might be fun to spin off the series with Dr. Samantha Owens as the main character.

Let me tell you - writing from a new perspective has been at once liberating and terrifying. Sam is Taylor's conscience in the Taylor books. I didn't know who she was outside of that.

I do now. And boy, how, is she an amazing character.

The May '12 book is called A DEEPER DARKNESS. I PROMISE I will share the back cover copy very soon. With all the transitions - my editor leaving - my new editor catching up, I want to be absolutely sure we are all good with everything before I do. But soon, chickens. Soon.

So. I'm off to read BREAKING DAWN because I need something fun and engaging and different. Tomorrow I'll be back at it with the sandwich book.

Who's buying the iPhone 4S?