WAGON TRAIN SISTERS, the second in my Women of the West series will be released July 19th. As in Wagon Train Cinderella, I did a whole lot of research for this book and have a couple of shelves full of books to show for it. In my writing career, I’ve switched genres a few times, from but the Old West, is where I’ll stay. There’s so much to write about, particularly the California Gold Rush, that I’ll never run out of plots!
Life in a gold mining town high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is fascinating. People came from literally all over the world to make their fortune, and that makes for interesting characters indeed. The plot and in my books are fictional, but many incidents are real, as well as descriptions of life in a mining town.
Who in their right mind would have any interest in the history of potato salad? As it turns out, I would. I’m in the midst of writing The Lost Sister, my latest western historical romance for Kensington Lyrical Press. It’s another of my Women of the West series. There’s a scene where Sarah, my heroine, and Jack, my hero, go on a journey by horseback from Hangtown to Coloma, both California gold mining towns. They’ll need food, so they buy it from a hotel. I’m thinking fried chicken and potato salad.
I’m pretty sure about the fried chicken, but here’s the pressing question: Was there such a thing as potato salad in 1851? If I get it wrong, some observant reader will surely let me know. (It’s happened before.) So I go on-line, look it up, and sure enough, people were eating potato salad back in the 1600’s. Problem solved. What a writer won’t do for accuracy!
My grandfather, John Francis Kennedy, came over “on the boat” from Thurles, Tipperary County, Ireland, back around 1876. He went to a seminary to become a priest, but for some reason gave that up and became a policeman instead. I wish I knew the details. I’ve written one book about Ireland, The Irish Upstart. I loved doing the research and hope some day to do another. Anyway, as a true daughter of Ireland ( and who knows where else?) I hope everyone is having a lovely St. Patricks Day.
Shirley Kennedy (who took her mother’s maiden name after that last divorce–a name I’m very proud of.)
Like most authors, I spend way too much time checking the rankings of my books on Amazon. Of course, the lower the better. Imagine my delight and surprise when, starting two days ago, the ranking for Wagon Train Cinderella sank from #51,000 to its current low, #717. Not only that, it has hit three “Western” best seller lists. I like to think that my detailed research has paid off. Wagon Train Cinderella is billed as a romance, which it is, but readers who enjoy accurate stories of the Old West will be pleasantly surprised. Although the book is fiction, several incidents in the story are based on actual fact. I hope you’ll take a look.
Sue Grafton writes female P.I. mysteries. Clive Cussler writes adventure thrillers. They, like most successful writers, have found their so-called niche in the writing world. Wisely, they stick to it.
After eight Regency romances and one wagon train saga, my niche was definitely historicals. Then the plot for Deadly Gamble
popped into my head and wouldn’t go away. A haunted casino in Las Vegas—skeptical heroine in very big trouble—deadly séance—gruesome death of a porn star—unguessable twist in the plot. How could I resist? I broke the unwritten rule and faced the perils of switching genres.
There were challenges. Fast forward 200 years from the elegant high society of Regency England, to the glitzy informality of a Las Vegas casino. Fashions—manners—morals—society itself—everything’s different. In 1813, find a husband topped every single young lady’s “things to do” list. If she didn’t, she’d end up a disgraced old spinster, dependent upon relatives for support. That’s not to say marriage isn’t important in 2015, but let’s face it, not so much. In Deadly Gamble, Kristi just got out of a bad marriage. She’s much more interested in climbing the corporate ladder than finding another man—at least for now—and has far more important problems to deal with.
One thing for sure, I had to be just as accurate with my contemporary story as with my historicals. Even though my imagination ran wild in Deadly Gamble with such things as ghostly voices, powerful spells, etc., there were some areas where I couldn’t just make it up. Before I wrote my first disaster scene, I had to determine if there was such a thing as a deadly escalator accident. Searching the Internet, I was amazed at how many accidents there have been, many of them fatal mishaps with causes ranging from “suddenly reversed direction” to “the victims fell into the gaping hole.” Old newspaper accounts told me exactly how and why the accident happened—very handy indeed for writing my descriptions.
The same with my fatal waterbed scene. First, I had to find out if anyone had actually been killed in a waterbed. Again, an Internet search told me yes, it has happened more than once, and from various causes, one of which I used in the book.
After Deadly Gamble, I switched back to another western saga and wrote Wagon Train Cinderella. There’s so much going on along the Overland Trail, I couldn’t resist. Should I have stuck to my original genre, Regency romances? Looking back, I suppose for the sake of my career I should have stuck to writing Regencies. On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed writing about Indian raids–buffalo stampedes, dangerous river crossings and all the other excitement that goes with a wagon train traveling the overland Trail. On second thought, I wouldn’t change a thing.
I’m happy to announce my Las Vegas mystery, Deadly Gamble, is now available on Amazon Kindle for just 99 cents. Inkspell Press has put several of its books on sale for a short time, so I hope you’ll take a look soon. This contemporary novel contains a mystery with a twist, as well as a bit of early Las Vegas history that fits into the story. See Deadly Gamble on Amazon
All novels are about someone with a problem. No problem = no plot = a very dull book indeed. In my years of writing Regency romances, my heroines’ problems reflected the time in which they lived. In my first book, poor, crippled Meg was a servant in fear of being dismissed from her job “without a character.” (Through no fault of her own, of course.) That meant she’d either be out on the streets or headed for the workhouse, a dreadful place where “there were eight or ten beds in each room, retentive of all scents and very productive of vermin.” My subsequent Regency heroines had to contend with everything from the all-important search for a husband, to a father who gambled the family fortune away, to a brother sentenced to hang for what today would be considered a minor white-collar crime. Fast forward two hundred years. After producing a steady stream of historicals, I got a great idea for a haunted casino mystery/romance. It just popped into my head and wouldn’t go away. So for the first time I plotted a contemporary romance in a setting far removed from the stuffy manners and morals of Regency England. Deadly Gamble is set in glitzy, cutting-edge Las Vegas, Nevada, 2014. To say Kristi Andrews, my heroine, faces a different set of problems would be an understatement. Unlike the women of the Regency, her one big goal in life is definitely not to find a husband. When the story begins, she just got out of a bad marriage and plans to focus on her new career at the Parthenon Hotel/Casino. Of course, human nature being what it is, no matter what the century, a new man in her life soon appears in the form of Mike Garvey, famed historian/author (his line of work ties in with the mystery.) As the plot progresses, Kristi’s “problem” reaches momentous proportions. Forgive a bit of a brag here, but I love a story that contains seemingly unrelated threads that all come together in the end. That’s true of Deadly Gamble. I hope I’ve kept the reader guessing almost to the very last. History lover that I am, I couldn’t entirely ignore the past. One of the threads in the book involves the history of Las Vegas. It’s hard to envision Sin City before the casinos—the Strip—all the glitz and glamour, but while researching, I did just that. Who knows that beginning around 1821, travelers on the old Santa Fe Trail passed directly through what is now the City of Las Vegas? It was all cactus and sand back then with one exception: after a hard trek across the desert, pack trains loaded with goods for Los Angeles stopped at a beautiful green oasis, a site just west of what is now downtown. Early Spanish explorers named it “Las Vegas” which means “grassy meadows.” There, amidst cottonwood trees and lush greenery, two pools of clear, cool water greeted the weary travelers. The pools were perfect for swimming. Bubbling waters from Artesian springs beneath kept the swimmers so buoyant they couldn’t drown even if they wanted to. It’s all in the book (I couldn’t resist), so for a bit of history, a look into behind-the-scenes Las Vegas, an intriguing romance, and a heroine with a very, very big problem, I hope you’ll take a look at Deadly Gamble.
See all my books on My Amazon Author Page
I was living in Las Vegas, Nevada, getting ready for work when I received THE CALL from my New York agent. Ballantine wanted to buy my book. After years of trying, I made my first sale. That moment was one of the memorable in my life, right up there with the birth of my two children (not quite, but almost).
From that heady moment in 1997, I continued writing. I never became Danielle Steel or Norah Roberts, but I sold a lot of books and developed a following of fans who liked my work. That’s the good part. The not-so-good part was, my worries weren’t over. Was that first book just a one-time fluke? Even after publishing the second, third, fourth, etc., there was always that little doubt I would ever publish again. You never know, especially in this crazy, ever-changing world of publishing. I also discovered being a successful author equates to lots of hard work. It’s not all that glamorous. Before I got published, I would have sold my soul for a two- or three-book contract with Signet. When it actually happened, I discovered the downside.
Everyone’s out having fun, and (sob!) there I am, chained to my computer, trying to make my deadline. Sales and readers opinions make up the most traumatizing part of being an author. This torturous facet of writing comes in several forms. What author doesn’t check her book rankings on Amazon? The lower the ranking, the more we check. If it drops below one hundred, (Oh, the excitement!) it changes hourly, so we’re wasting half our day watching those magical numbers go up and, hopefully, down. I’ve told myself to stop checking, but I can’t. It’s like telling myself to stop after one potato chip. Cannot be done. The Amazon Select program occasionally causes me grief. Since I sell some of my old Regencies myself, I’m constantly checking the sales figures. How many sold, how many returned! It doesn’t happen often, but when I see a mark in the “returned” column, I agonize. OMG! WHO SAW FIT TO RETURN MY BOOK AND WHY? I have no way of knowing. Best scenario: the buyer clicked the “buy” button by mistake. Worst scenario: Book was so terrible, reader wanted money back. Reader reviews are the most traumatizing of all. I’ve received a lot of them. The good ones warm my heart. I even appreciate the not-so-good ones, too, if they’re well-written and thoughtful. But occasionally, I, or one of my writing friends, receive a nasty, stinging review full of vitriol. We writers are sensitive souls, so those awful reviews can be devastating. A friend of mine gave up writing for two years because of one, and this was for a well-written book that had received nothing but raves. Thank goodness, there aren’t many mean-spirited readers in this world. Here’s a message to those who are: If you’ve had a bad day, please don’t take it out on some poor writer who poured her heart and soul into the book you’re about to trash. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a writer. I love the thought that people are reading (and hopefully enjoying) my books, not only in the U.S.A. but around the world. It doesn’t get any better than that.
One of the perks of being an author is we’ve got complete control over our characters and can make them anything we want. When I start a new book, creating my romantic heroine is a labor of love. She can be shy and quiet, brash and talkative, blonde, brunette, whatever. It’s up to me. When I first started writing, all my heroines were drop dead gorgeous. Deep-set blue eyes with thick fringe of lashes—perky little nose—perfect, pearly white teeth—swan-like neck—cascade of blonde wavy hair flowing down her back…etc. Then I went to a writers’ conference where I learned readers don’t relate to a too-beautiful heroine. I should make her more average looking, maybe give her an unattractive feature or two, like a less-than-straight nose or a few extra pounds. I tried to take this advice but failed miserably. Why create an ugly heroine when I can create a beautiful one? Okay, I’ve toned her down a bit. At the start of the story, Callie Whitaker, my heroine in Wagon Train Cinderella, is an ugly duckling. Later on, she transforms into an attractive woman, but I don’t overdo it. Even so, I can’t bring myself to give her any flaws, like I refuse to put a bump in her perfectly straight little nose.
Do we authors model the physical appearance of our heroines after themselves? I’d like to think I don’t, but come to think of it, I’ve never had a short heroine. She’s always tall and slender. Gee, do you suppose the fact that I’m 5’8” have anything to do with it? As for the slender part, there was a time when I… Hmm, don’t think I’ll go there. Every heroine should have a goal. She should want something badly. If she’s completely content with her life and doesn’t want a thing, then where’s the story? Authors of contemporary novels have an easy time defining their heroine’s goal. In this post- women’s liberation world, a woman can aspire to being anything from a nursery school teacher to brain surgeon, race driver, astronaut—anything she wants. In my contemporary mystery, Deadly Gamble, my heroine holds a mid-management job. Her big goal in life is to fight her way up the corporate ladder to get to the top. If some kind of physical danger exists in an historical novel, the heroine’s goal is an easy one. In Wagon Train Cinderella, my heroine travels in a wagon train to California in 1851. Her built-in goal is to get there alive without being scalped by Indians, bit by a snake, trampled in a buffalo stampede, etc. But lacking deadly threats and mishaps, historical novels present the biggest challenge. Women in Regency England, where my early novels took place, had limited choices, to say the least. Regardless of class, the only accepted goal for every woman was marriage and motherhood. If a woman of the aristocracy remained single, she became that most pitiful of creatures, an “ape leader,” doomed to live out her life as the useless dependent relative who couldn’t find a husband. A woman in the lower classes didn’t fare much better. She could be a governess, servant, or possibly run some kind of establishment. In Lady Semple’s Secret, Meg, my crippled heroine, worked as a lowly servant but had her dream. “Some day I shall keep apartments for gentlefolk some place by the sea, possibly Brighton. Then I shall read all I please—collect books—sketch—write poetry—travel to Paris, Venice, everywhere.” Coupled with a goal, a heroine needs a special interest. Otherwise, she’s just plain boring. Contemporary heroines can bowl—ski—line-dance—take up gourmet cooking—the choices are endless. Not so back in Regency England where a lady was limited to playing the pianoforte, painting with water colors, embroidering, and that’s about it. Anything else was considered most unseemly. After writing several Regencies, by the time I wrote The London Belle, I was desperate to find a new, unique interest for aristocratic Jane, my heroine. I came up with something I feared would never fly. Jane’s passionate, secret interest was rescuing ancient manuscripts inscribed by Cistercian monks in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and translating them from their original Greek or Latin. OMG! Who would believe such a thing? Did I stretch too far? It turned out okay. Never in reviews and comments from my readers, did anyone ever observe that no pretty young woman in her right mind would just love translating ancient Cistercian manuscripts. Which only goes to show, readers are ready and willing to suspend belief if the author makes the story believable, which in the case of Jane, apparently I did. It doesn’t hurt to think outside the box a little when creating a new heroine. If she’s fascinating, chances are the book will be, too. That’s what I always aim for. Here are some of my books. I invite you to take a look at: Wagon Train Cinderella, Amazon
I published my first book in 1997. It doesn’t seem so long ago, but in publishing terms, 1997 was back in the stone age. My, how times have changed. Before then, when my book was nearing completion, I’d mail out a few queries, both to agents and editors. Occasionally I’d receive a reply with those magic words, “I’d like to see the complete manuscript.” Oh, the excitement! I would print out the book, never without some sort of foul-up with the page numbering (I used Word Perfect back then). Then I’d get the package together: manuscript, synopsis, cover letter, return postage. Haul the package to the post office and mail—no small expense for a struggling writer. Then wait. And wait. And wait some more. Months later, the rejection letter.
“Although I liked certain elements in your story…”
“Unfortunately we recently published a book with a similar plot…”
“Interesting plot but cardboard characters…” (Ouch!) Finally I found an agent who said she’d like to represent me. Another wait, and then “The Call,” that wonderful moment when the agent phoned with the news she’d sold Lady Semple’s Secret to Ballantine. Soon after, the Ballantine editor sent me the manuscript with lots of little yellow Post-Its sticking out the side. My heart sunk. It looked like I’d have to rewrite the book, but most of the Post-Its had to do with comments and questions, and very few typos or requested changes. I revised the manuscript, sent it back, and that was it. I had nothing more to do except revel in the glow of being a published author and wait for the book release.
Thank goodness, those costly days of printing and mailing a manuscript are long gone. I wonder if our newer writers appreciate being able to send a manuscript to an agent with one quick click. The Post-Its are now replaced with MS Word tracking, so that editing is so much faster and more thorough. (Not that you’ll find many writers who love tracking, including me, but it’s a good tool, nonetheless.) And then there’s the marketing. If you’ve written a good book, that’s only half the battle. Facebook—Twitter—my own website and blog—Linked—and a lot more. Do a Cover Reveal. Do a One Day Book Blast. Oh, for the good old days! But no, wait. The good old days mean having to lug my manuscript package to the post office, pay double postage, then wait eons for the mail. So, no, I’ll take this electronic age any day, and excuse me while go do my Blog.