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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WHEN SHADOWS FALL has a new cover!

Welcome to the bright and shiny new digital edition of WHEN SHADOWS FALL! My publishers are repackaging the series in fabulous new covers, and I’m so excited to share them with you. For your enjoyment, here’s a peek inside the origins of the novel!

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I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but my eleventh novel will be born into the world soon. WHEN SHADOWS FALL is the third Saman­tha Owens novel, a sem­i­nal book in the series, as it decides the course of action for the next several books.

Every series has a path, planned or unplanned. When I started writ­ing my Tay­lor Jack­son series, I had no idea it was going to be a series. I hadn’t thought about extended story, struc­ture, char­ac­ter devel­op­ment. I cre­ated a finite char­ac­ter in a finite world, and it was dif­fi­cult to see where to take the books.

With Sam, it was the oppo­site. I knew I wanted a char­ac­ter who could grow and change remark­ably. I knew I wanted to allow her the free­dom to move around the coun­try, the world, with rel­a­tive ease. As my then-edi­tor and I were plan­ning the first book in the series, I men­tioned I wanted Sam to be the Indi­ana Jones of foren­sic pathol­ogy. The idea stuck.

What hap­pens in this book wasn’t sup­posed to hap­pen until book 4 in the series. It’s funny, the same thing hap­pened to me in the Tay­lor series. The third book, JUDAS KISS, was sup­posed to be the fourth. I made men­tion of my idea for it, hop­ing to entice my edi­tor to buy the book when I was fin­ished with the third I had planned. Instead, she jumped on the idea and told me in no uncer­tain terms this was the ONE.

So when I found myself in the same posi­tion this time, I knew what I needed to do. Aban­don the story and move the next book into its place. I couldn’t let Sam lan­guish in her sor­row any longer. It was time for her to move on. To start anew. Insert res­ur­rec­tion clauses here.

Of course, Sam wasn’t aware of the change her life was about to take. She wasn’t par­tic­u­larly ready to move on, not really. And I had to tell her, Too bad, sis­ter. I’ll let you have some onscreen sex to make up for it.

I think its one of the most part of the fun being a writer, this game you play with your char­ac­ters. I once asked a very famous writer about how char­ac­ters some­times do their own thing, and he looked at me like I was a recent escapee from an insane asy­lum and declared his char­ac­ters would never do such a thing because they only did what he told them to do.

I find that so sad. I like that my char­ac­ters and I have this sort of push and pull rela­tion­ship. They give me some of what I want, I give them some of what they want. In the end, we’re all happy and mov­ing on to the next adven­ture. At least, that’s the plan. After wrestling alli­ga­tors with them for 500 pages, they damn well bet­ter be ready to move on. Cause if they’re not, they often end up dead. Or maimed. Or mar­ried off, or on the run.

Poor char­ac­ters. Poor, poor char­ac­ters. Bet­ter behave, or I’ll make your life hell.

But Sam behaved, and she was rewarded with many excit­ing things, all of which set up the rest of the series. I’m not one-hundred per­cent sure where we go from here, but I love that book three has become this sem­i­nal turn­ing point for the Sam. And as such, for Xan­der and Fletcher too. The whole cast is being thrust into a new world because I got impa­tient. I hope they con­tinue to behave!

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EDGE OF BLACK has a new look!

EDGE OF BLACK has a new look!

I was indulging in an age-old female tradition the other day—getting my nails done—when I overheard two older women strike up a conversation at the dryer. I listened with fascination as they circled each other, looking for that commonality that would allow them to have a meaningful exchange. One had children, the other didn’t. Strike one. One went to First Baptist, the other attended First Presbyterian. Strike two. They’d both discovered the nail salon about a month ago, and agreed it was one of the best they’d been to. And then came the home run: “Well, what did you do for work?”

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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?

Where does a writer get their inspiration?

Where does a writer get their inspiration?
This first appeared on Sirens of Suspense...

I’ve started a new novel, and I was writing along to Classical today (as I am wont to do; I am especially adept at red-pencil conducting), listening to an I Heart Radio station out of Minnesota, and was about to change the station when the host said the magic word: Berlioz!

Now, for me, there are several magic words when it comes to classical music: Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Dvörak, and Rodriguez among them, but Berlioz is the one that sets my heart a-flutter, because it is almost always followed by the chill-inducing words Symphonie Fantastique, which guarantees I’m going to stop what I’m doing and turn up the volume.

I think I may have been a conductor in a past life, the way classic music affects me. It is my preferred writing noise of choice, and several of my favorite symphonies have made it into novels along the way, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in creepy ways. (See THE COLD ROOM for a perfect example.) 

But the Fantastique holds a special place in my heart. I spent my late teen years in Washington, D.C., and my father is a classical nut, so there were many fine evenings at the Kennedy Center, listening to the National Symphony Orchestra breathe life into the music, riding the strains of my favorite composers as they lilted through the breathless air. Berlioz was always a favorite, but it wasn’t until a fateful day in traffic that it truly became an anthem. 

I was nineteen, and deep into my second internship at the White House. Cabinet Affairs, to be exact. We oversaw all the communication between the White House and the Cabinet members, including setting up Cabinet meetings. One of my jobs was laying out the pads and pens in Cabinet Room prior to events. The Oval Office was a handsbreath away, and it was not lost on me that I was rubbing shoulders with the most powerful people in our nation and the world on a daily basis. It’s a heady place for a kid to work, for sure.

 Heading home, I got stuck in traffic on the WhiteHurst Freeway. I was a football field away from the Key Bridge, and getting very impatient: There was an incredible storm brewing over Virginia, and I wanted to get home before the worst of it hit.

It wasn’t meant to be.

For ten minutes, traffic didn’t move an inch, and the storm swept in, with incredible forked lightning and earth-shattering booms of thunder, all the noise that makes you understand why the Greeks and Romans named, and feared, their gods. 

As it happened, Symphonie Fantastique was playing on the radio, WETA (90.3) still one of the best classical stations out there.  As if on cue, as the worst of the storm overtook us, on came the Fantastique’s fifth movement, “Songe d'une nuit du sabbat” (Dream of the Night of the Sabbath). The long, tolling bells, mournful clarinet, and deep notes of the bassoon and tuba always gives me chills, but in concert with the dancing lightning, the thunder shaking the car, the pelting rain, it became the world around me. An embodiment of the piece, literally ringing through the very air.

I was unable to run and hide, so I sat, mesmerized by the storm, feeling the world, and myself, becoming one with the music. 

It was such a visceral, present moment that I relieve it every time the piece comes on. I drop everything, listen to the fifth movement, and I’m back in the moment: A young, proud teenager, serving her country, stuck in traffic, praying the roof doesn’t collapse on her car, the wings of the music lifting her higher and higher. I think Berlioz must have appreciated a good storm. 

Don’t be surprised to see the Fantastique somewhere near the beginning of this new book. A thunderstorm, and the music, and the feels. I think it’s high time, don’t you?

 How does music affect you?