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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The Secret is Out!

I’m finally ready to reveal the massive secret project I’ve been working on. Ready?

🎉 I have a brand new book for you! 🎉

I am thrilled to announce A THOUSAND DOORS: An Anthology of Many Lives, will release from Two Tales Press November 5, 2018!

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The day Mia Jensen died, she finally got to live.

Hell of a tag line, wouldn’t you say? Here’s the rest:

WHAT IF...

We've all played the "what if" game. For Mia Jensen, "what if" is a fact of life. Dissatisfied with her choices, she often dreams about what could have been. Now she has the chance to know. But that knowledge is going to cost her dearly. Only through death can she fully realize the value of her life.

*

Forty-year-old Mia Jensen is home after a terrible day, trying to figure out how she's come to this point in her life, when she hears a strange noise from the kitchen. She investigates, only to be brutally attacked and left for dead. As she dies, she experiences some of the lives that could have been hers had she only made a different choice. 

Can one woman can find peace with the path she's chosen before it slips through her fingers forever?

*

Through the unique voices of New York Times bestsellers and rising stars in women's fiction, A THOUSAND DOORS examines how our smallest decisions can create lasting effects, and allows the thought—can we actually change our lives?


For a decade, I’ve been harboring a story. A young woman, murdered. And as she dies, she lives all the lives she’d once dreamed of having. Sliding Doors meets The Lovely Bones.

But it wasn’t my usual kind of story, and a very ambitious one at that, so I shelved it until I felt the time was right. I’m so glad I did, because as the years progressed, I realized I needed help writing Mia’s many lives.

Last year, I recruited some of my favorite writers and friends to help me. And oh, boy, did they hit it out of the park.

Just look at the list of amazing authors who bring Mia to life:

Kimberly Belle

Laura Benedict

A.F. Brady

Patti Callahan Henry

Paige Crutcher

Rebecca Drake

Heather Gudenkauf

Joy Jordan-Lake

Alisha Klapheke

Ariel Lawhon

Kerry Lonsdale

Catherine McKenzie

Kate Moretti

Lisa Patton

Kaira Rouda


This is the most unique, exciting project I’ve ever had the pleasure to work on. It’s much more than an anthology, it is a full-on novel. Over the course of the story, you are going to meet 16 different variations of Mia Jensen. You are going to journey through her lives, be shocked by her decisions, her actions, her vulnerabilities, her loves, her mistakes. You are going to get to know Mia better than she knows herself.

A THOUSAND DOORS will be on sale in all formats (hardcover, trade paper, ebook, and audio) November 5, and I hope you’ll talk to your favorite indie booksellers and librarians and ask them to stock the book, too. It’s available for preorder now 

So….

Surprise!!!!!!!!

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The Why Behind TEAR ME APART

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God bless National Geographic.

I have had a subscription for decades. I used to keep all the old magazines until it became an issue (stacks and stacks and stacks - all donated, finally), so I switched to the digital version. I always knew I’d find an idea in one of them that would give me the key to a really cool book. 

Enter the July 2016 issue. I was reading it on a plane, and I read a story and felt that incredible tingle all over when I see something I want to incorporate into a book. It was about a new forensic technology called phenotyping. The uses are endless — with a DNA sample, forensic analysts can generate facial features of a suspect. Eye color. Hair color. Ancestry.

I got excited by the possibilities of this new technology. To start, think of the people accused of a crime who are wrongly convicted. Phenotyping will cut down on these cases, for sure. Nothing is infallible, but it’s a cool leap forward. And there’s also a program that can take the DNA and build a 3-D face out of it. Not admissible in court…yet. We’re about to enter the brave new world of criminology, for sure.

When I read the story, I knew immediately I wanted to have a character use these skills to solve a crime. 

But what crime? How about DNA from the crime scene of a missing, day-old baby? Cool, but… What if that baby was now 17 years old and famous? OK, now we’re getting somewhere. You see how this works. This is my process. What if? How about…? Hmmm…..?

I took this concept, married it to the idea I’d been carrying around with me for years about a woman who makes the ultimate sacrifice—her life—for her family, and boom—I had the beginnings of a story. 

In TEAR ME APART's first draft, the book was narrated by a dead woman in heaven. It was very cool, but it wasn’t right. Then I was challenged by one of those Facebook memes where you’re supposed to post the first seven lines of your work in progress (WIP). I took a look, and felt like my first seven lines weren’t shareable. I don’t like to discuss the WIP as it’s being created—you give away the magic when you do that, in my mind. So I cheated. I wrote something totally unrelated to my real opening. (Hey, don’t judge. People pay me to make things up for a living… 😉)

This is what I wrote, tossed off, really, just to satisfy the guilt of a meme:

I remember the day she arrived so clearly. What quirk of fate led her to me? I wondered about this for years. If only I had stepped right instead of left at the corner, or taken the stairs instead of the elevator at the hospital, perhaps ordered chicken instead of steak for my last meal with my father before his death, the principles of chaos—the butterfly effect—would have altered the course of my life enough that she wouldn’t have appeared. But I did step right, and I took the elevator, and I had the steak, and she did appear, and I will never recover from her. 

I posted it, and walked away. When I logged in again, there were a few comments from people who really liked it and wanted to see where the story went.

And I started to think. Who is she? Where DID this story go? Maybe this WAS the real opening of the book. It was a totally new voice, an undiscovered character. I knew one thing. It was a woman speaking. 

And suddenly, there it was. A new frame. A new setting. A new situation. A whole new story.

Magic. The sort of mental razzle-dazzle our creative brains do when we let them.

I love chaos theory; it’s the basis for a number of my stories. With my new frame in place, my new voice, the book… became. Without the meme challenge, would I have found my way into this story? I don’t know. But I am so grateful I did. (Thanks to fellow writers Bryon Quertermous, Allison Brennan, and Brian Tracey who all tagged me. Smooch!)

One last thing about TEAR ME APART: please read the Author’s Note. I was compelled to discuss some pretty dark, scary topics in this book, specifically depression, self-harm, and suicide. All have deeply affected my family, and I hope and pray we can have more open discussions about mental illness, remove the stigmas, and help ourselves, our family, and our friends live a better, happy, joyful, hopeful life. 

I leave you with the symbol of that movement, the humble semi-colon. Look it up. You won’t be sorry.



For every book, I create a soundtrack. This one is dark and evocative. I absolutely love it and hope you do too.

STORIES OF THE NIGHT and New Offerings From Two Tales Press

In a month filled with new release news, here's some more. As promised, the audio of STORIES OF THE NIGHT is on sale! It is a fantastically read collection, and it was an utter joy to collaborate with Courtney Parker and Basil Sands.


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STORIES OF THE NIGHT
(Print, Digital, Audio)

In case you missed it, in addition to audio, so many of you have asked for a print option for my short stories, I listened. This hefty collection features 2 shorts (Gray Lady, Lady Gray and Catwood) and 2 novellas (The Endarkening and The Omen Days), and a sneak peek of LIE TO ME. So however you like to read, there’s a format especially for you.

 


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NO ONE KNOWS - UK, Australia, Commonwealth version, German translation
(Print and Digital)

This is my first foray into publishing an actual novel, and I’ve been very excited by the response, especially in Germany. Having a book translated isn’t cheap, but if it continues to move copies, I may look at a few more translations in countries in which I sell well traditionally, especially French and Dutch. 

The book has a slightly different ending than its US counterpart, as well, so added bonus for you!


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DEAD ENDS: Stories from the Gothic South
(Print, Digital, Audio)

And it wouldn't be a post about short stories if I didn't mention the first anthology published by Two Tales! Featuring 13 southern gothic tales all centering around a single house, it’s a winner of a collection, with superb stories from a lot of my awesome writer friends. And it’s also now available in a fabulous audiobook edition, read by Courtney Parker. 


There’s more to come from Two Tales this fall, including a major secret project I am chomping at the bit to announce. Soon, lovelies, soon….

Thank you for supporting my work, as always, and the work of these talent artists. It means the world to me! 

Friday Reads

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June is flying by and I hope it's included plenty of good books, whether in the comfort of your home, at the pool, or on a memorable vacation. 

What are you reading this weekend?