Where am I today? Houston I suppose. I can't say for sure since I'm composing this in advance. But no fear. James Callan is my guest hijacker today and he's got everything under control.
Can an author get in a rut? Absolutely. But, just a little thought and work can eliminate that possibility.
I’ve had two books released in 2012. But if you think they are a series, similar, or came about in a similar fashion, think again. They were very different in production. In looking at how these two went from nothing to published books, you can see the many sides of writing.
Two years ago, east Texas endured a rash of church burnings. The police were baffled. There seemed to be no motive, no connection between the victims, no significant robberies—although a few minor things were stolen from one of the churches. But eventually, two men were caught and because of the stolen items, the police were able to gain a conviction. But throughout, the police were unable to determine the motive. The men simple said, “We wanted to show we could get away with it.” And maybe that’s all there was to their motive.
As with many people, this seemed like a rather poor motive. I began to wonder, what could be the motive for burning several churches. I dismissed the obvious choices, for instance a religious hater. And when I came up with a suitable motive, I had the plot for Cleansed by Fire.
The second book came about a bit differently. Several years ago, our youngest daughter sang with a chorus of Sweet Adelines. (Sweet Adlines is the female version of the men’s Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Singing in America. These are women who like to sing the four-part harmony of barbershop. They sing a cappella. Sweet Adelines is an international organization and each year it holds a competition to crown the best chorus and the best quartet.
One year, Diane’s chorus made it to the finals, so naturally my wife and I went to hear her group compete. The competition that year was in San Antonio, Texas. Her chorus came in fifth in the international competition.
Diane writes YA books, mostly non-fiction. But after the competition was over, being writers, we naturally wondered how this might bring about some writing project. After awhile, we decided to write an adult murder mystery set in the glitz and excitement of an International singing competition. The result was Murder a Cappella.
On Cleansed by Fire, I let the idea percolate in my brain for weeks. I decided against using a detective as the protagonist. Like those in east Texas, I wanted no clues left at the crime scene. Finally, I decided to let the only clue come to a priest in the confessional. Now, I had a real conflict for my new protagonist. He couldn’t tell anybody, not even the police. His information was that another church would be burned. He didn’t know which church, when, or by whom. What was he to do? Finally, he determines that nothing says he can’t look into the arsons himself.
I sketched out the principal characters, developed a bio for them. Decided on alternate suspects and how they would be noticed by the protagonist. Added in something to counter the darker side. And then, it was sit down and start banging out a story.
For Murder a Cappella, a few ideas were bandied back and forth between my daughter and me. I then took those and developed a plot and passed it back to Diane. She had many suggestions and we spent weeks revising, refining, tossing out, adding in, until we had a plot that we believed not only worked, but would not be obvious to the reader. We agreed that the reader had to be given a fair shot at determining the antagonist. But we also wanted enough twists that the avid mystery reader would not be able to get the right answer until our protagonist gave it to them.
We developed character bios for principal players and sat down together and banged out a few chapters. Since we lived in different states, that approach wouldn’t do for the entire book. We decided she would take the first crack at chapters centered around the actual Sweet Adelines experience and competition. I would take the chapters centered more on the murder investigation. When she finished chapters, she sent them to me and I went over them, added in my suggestions for handling, pacing, dialogue, etc. When I finished a chapter, I sent it to her and she took the same steps on mine that I had on hers.
Once we got to the end, we let it sit for a month. Then, separately, we each reviewed the entire manuscript and compiled a (long) list of areas for work. For the last pass, we agreed it had to be done together and I visited her home to iron out the final version. This was an important step so that the book would maintain a consistent voice.
As each was contracted for by different publishers, the editing process was also different. For Cleansed by Fire, I simple got the suggestions from the editor, adjusted the manuscript and returned it to the editor. For Murder a Cappella, each suggestion from the editor was made by one of us and reviewed and okayed by the other. Those areas that Diane had written, she handled first and then passed them to me for approval. I made the adjustments in those areas I had first written, and then I passed them to Diane for her okay. Thank goodness for the Internet. It allowed this approach to work and work rather efficiently. Often, we could each be working on different sections at the same time. No confusion there. So, time was not lost by this “double checking.”
The End Results
Cleansed by Fire was released and has received some very complimentary reviews and sustains good sales in both paperback and Kindle editions. At one point, it rose to number 22 on Amazon’s bestseller list for its category.
Murder a Cappella has, at this point, only been released in paperback, but the publisher promised an e-book version will be out soon. It has been well received, sold well, and at one Sweet Adelines competition (not the international—that’s still ahead) all copies the publisher had sent were sold.
I have finished the second book in the Father Frank Mystery series and started on the third book. I am expecting the second book to be released in 2013.
Diane and I have laid out the basic plot lines for books two and three of the Sweet Adelines Mysteries series. We have no contract on those as yet.
I took a degree in English intent on writing. However, I discovered that one could not support a family as a beginning writer. I returned to graduate school, entering a Ph. D. program in mathematics. Writing was left far behind. After graduate school, I took a job at a research center and began a thirty year detour. Along the way, I received grants from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Data Processing Management Association, and gathered listings in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans.
Then one day I said, “I don’t have to support a family anymore.”All the kids were out of school, gainfully employed and raising their own families. So I returned to my first love, writing. I first wrote non-fiction books on the area I had been working in for thirty years. Finally, with a few books under my belt, I moved to mysteries, my real goal.
My wife and I now split our time between Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and Texas. She is the consummate reader and I write. Yes, she is the first reader, and a critical reader, of my manuscripts. She has, under duress, written two short stories, one of which placed second in a short story contest. But, that did not excite her enough to continue. She reads. And we writers know that readers are very important to us.
http://www.murderacappella.com/ A Sweet Adelines mystery. Book Trailer at: Murder A Cappella
www.cleansedbyfire.com A Father Frank mystery. Book Trailer at: Cleansed By Fire