We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog to let you know that I’M IN AMSTERDAM!! It was a popup work trip for my husband Eric, and I had enough miles to tag along. So, instead of writing a post today, here’s a few happy pictures from a grateful Thanksgiving.

And NEXT WEEK you’ll get the first chapter of Act One (and subscribers will get the entire exclusive free novella!!).

Blessings!

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Thanksgiving in Nowheresville. We forgot to take pictures on Thanksgiving, so we missed Thomas and his girlfriend. And somehow Clark Kent and Allie evaded pictures (by not hot tubbing or riding horses). Rats!

 

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Eric with our niece, enjoying the cool side of the swim spa.

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Our youngest, Susanne, with our niece.

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My brother sweet talking Katniss.

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Even Feathers is smiling! And that’s after everyone in the house took a turn riding him, sometimes two at a time.

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Just us girls hot tubbing.

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My mother and her lookalike granddaughter.

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Our niece, displeased that something so unladylike came out the back end of my beautiful girl horse!

 

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The french braids I did in my nieces’s hair.

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The women of the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series have a few gratefuls to share this 2016 Thanksgiving.

Before we start, I wanted to let you know that my fellow SkipJack author Ken Oder is offering his mystery The Closing for the discounted price of 99 cents in e-book form through Black Friday. Be sure to snatch up your discounted copy this week, HERE.

  • Katie: The Dixie Chicks concert in Austin with Nick.
  • Michele: Looking forward to what’s coming next, for the first time in a long time.
  • Emily: Jack, Betsy, and me visiting Greg and watching the Masked Rider at a Tech home game.
  • Ava: Getting what I need and finding out it what I want.
  • Laura: Grand opening of Right Turn Equine Camp!
  • Maggie: A music studio in my birth mother’s house.

And a few of their favorite people want to chime in, too.

  • Nick: My hot business partner.
  • Rashidi: That I not born a redneck.
  • Wallace: A Texas wedding!
  • Nadine: No.More.Drama.
  • Jack: (lopsided, one-dimple grin)
  • Collin: If I told you, I’d have to kill you.
  • Mickey: Everywhere I turn, kids, kids, kids.

As for me, I’m thankful for my (1) husband, 5 kids, 2 horses, 3 donkeys, 2 cows, 3 dogs, lots of goats, health, safety, extended family, readers (!!!), Nowheresville, and Snowheresville. And that Hell to Pay won the 2016 USA Best Book Award for Cross Genre Fiction. Woot! Most of the winners/finalists this year were traditionally published, dominated by the big houses, so winning for the second year in a row was especially sweet.

What are you grateful for this year?

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p.s. Don’t forget to sign up for my e-newsletter (monthly) to receive your exclusive free copy of Act One: A What Doesn’t Kill You Prequel (Ensemble Mystery Novella)!!

p.p.s. Butterfly charm/pendant winner announced next week!

p.p.p.s. Have you read Fighting for Anna yet? I’d be honored if you left an honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads (or wherever you like, for that matter!).

 

Change of gears. We’ve been talking F4A, F4A, F4A for a month now, and while it’s still on my mind, we are only two weeks away from the official release of ACT ONE, a prequel novella set five years before Saving Grace, featuring all six of my protagonists in an ensemble at a point in which their lives intersected at the scene of a murder. It’s going to be an exclusive to e-newsletter subscribers. Can’t get it anywhere else, can’t pay for it. The only path to it is to earn it with your awesome, awesome loyalty. Please note that I won’t release it on this blog, as that would make it public. So if you’re a blog subscriber, please also make sure you’re an e-newsletter subscriber, so you’ll get ACT ONE. The link to subscriber is http://pamelahutchins.us1.list-manage1.com/subscribe?u=f34cdacfa75cea609a1b51121&id=85d5ed8820. If you have any trouble making this work, email me at pamela at pamelafaganhutchins dot com. I can manually add you to the list.

Before I reveal the cover, let me remind you that you have one more week to enter the giveaway of the Michele BUTTERFLY pendant/charm from Jewelweed Sprouts to celebrate Fighting for Anna’s release! Winner announced next week on the blog. Enter through the Rafflecopter, below.

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And now, with no further ado, here’s the cover for ACT ONE.

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I love it! It’s the first cover done by my assistant, Bobbye Marrs, so y’all give her some love in the comments and emails you send me.

Don’t forget to make sure you subscribe so you’ll have it in your inbox on December 2nd!

Coolness: Saving Grace is now available in Italian, with other languages coming soon.

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And last but not least: we now have my novels available in hardback (Barnes & Noble online only), in addition to the e-book, paperback, and audio versions (links to all formats and sales sites HERE). We hope you’ll consider making the What Doesn’t Kill You gang part of your holiday gift giving <3 <3 <3.

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Fighting for Anna ebook

Thank you for your support in the Thunderclap!!

We believe it is a huge contributing factor in successful launches of my novels. And successful it was. Fighting for Anna reached #2 in hot new releases and top 15 sellers. Pictures are better than words though:

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Before we begin the FINAL part of this 4-part installmentStory Behind the Story Series, I have a reminder. Remember how I gave away a little fox charm/pendant with the launch of Hell to Pay? Well…I’m giving away a little BUTTERFLY from Jewelweed Sprouts to celebrate Fighting for Anna’s release! Pictures coming soon. Enter through the Rafflecopter, below.

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And now, the last installment in the Story Behind the Story of Fighting for Anna (F4A), the 8th novel in the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series, featuring Michele. Here’s a look at the practical magic behind F4A.

By now you guys know that I love me some everyday, practical magic. Magical realism some call it. In G4K, the practical magic arose from Michele’s relation to her Papa and Mexican abuela/grandmother, who taught her Aztec mythology. Her father nicknamed her Itzpapalotl after a knife-winged butterfly goddess. Michele channeled Itzpa in her times of greatest stress.

In F4A, Michele is starting to feel tired to her bones, despite being only forty-one. She is beginning to feel drawn toward another man, with her husband Adrian now dead for more than a year. Michele doesn’t feel like a butterfly. She feels dirty and old. She no longer identifies with Itzpapalotl. Instead, she imagines herself more and more like Tlazolteotal, the “eater of filth.” As an Aztec goddess, Tlazolteotl rules over the cycles: ritual cleansing, female menses, the growth and life/consumption/expulsion/fertilizing cycle, and the sexual cycle (especially of woman). She is the goddess of sexuality and the forgiver of sexual sins and taboos.

She fit Michele’s “stage” and mindset like a glove in F4A. I’m writing the last Michele novel now, and I can’t wait for you to see where she goes next. However, you’ve got three Ava novels coming first, before you get another dose of Michele.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Story Behind the Story series as much as I have. I have a free novella coming out after Thanksgiving, exclusively for subscribers to my blog and newsletter, so I’ll write another piece for this series “The Story Behind the Story” series when Act One: A What Doesn’t Kill You Romantic Mystery Novella (Prequel Ensemble) comes out. [Be sure to let your reading friends know to subscribe!]

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p.s. It was a big week for other reasons.

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Eric competed in the Oilman Half Ironman triathlon. He crushed his goals, didn’t get injured, and had fun. I was so proud. I’m sure he was too: I did a cartwheel on the edge of the course during his run, while I was cheering for him. Mission accomplished: he laughed.

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Horses and donkeys got to know each other.

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Donkeys stole our hearts. (Fitz, Kathryn, Annabelle)

Fighting for Anna ebook

It’s RELEASE DAY for Fighting for Anna! Woot! Get your ebook copy before the price goes up from 99 cents to $4.99!

Help us spread the word about Fighting for Anna by joining the Thunderclap (click below):

Before we begin the third part of this four-part installmentStory Behind the Story Series, I have an announcement. Remember how I gave away a little fox charm/pendant with the launch of Hell to Pay? Well…I’m giving away a little BUTTERFLY from Jewelweed Sprouts to celebrate Fighting for Anna’s release! Pictures coming soon. Enter through the Rafflecopter, below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And now, the third installment in the Story Behind the Story of Fighting for Anna (F4A), the 8th novel in the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series, featuring Michele. This week, I’m sharing the story behind Gidget, Michele’s charming neighbor at the beginning of F4A. [Next week, I’ll close the series with a look at the practical magic behind F4A.]

When my husband Eric and I became empty nesters, we moved into our dream house on our dream property in Nowheresville, Texas. We expected to love our place. What surprised us was how much we loved the people in our community. They welcomed us warmly.

One night we were at an opening for an antique mart. There was a display of 70s-80s women’s clothing including a long white linen gown. Something about the gown called to me. Not as an art piece. I wanted to put it on myself and wear it. I picked it up, admiring it, and Stephanie—the most authentic, open, empathic creature I’d ever met—walked up to me and told me the story of the dress, which goes something like this:

A woman appeared in a house in Nowheresville, moved there by those “close” to her, suddenly and somewhat forcibly. They’d packed up dirty dishes in her sink, they were in such a hurry to exile her from Houston—where she’d lived and been an art gallery owner until she started experiencing health issues. She wasn’t in great shape. People got to know her, a little. Enough to know she was never seen without her devoted little dog.

She hadn’t been seen for a few days, when her little dog broke out a window in her house and went for help. Neighbors found her collapsed. She survived, but moved into a facility that could provide her greater care. Some time after her death, Stephanie’s family bought the house the woman had lived in, the one her dog had broken out of to save her. Stephanie spent weeks going through the woman’s things, getting to know her, connecting to her, and, ultimately, telling me her story.

The story she told me summoned the muse, and instantly a fictional version was born in my head. I bought the dress and wore it while I drafted F4A. I wrote an ending for the dog, whose story no one seemed to know.

I’ve left out most of the good details Stephanie shared with me, and possibly better ones that she didn’t. But that’s okay. My story to tell was Gidget’s. The other belongs to Stephanie, and I hope she writes the true account some day.

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p.s. New stuff to get excited about: subscribers-exclusive novella, Act One, coming out next month. It’s a prequel to the series (which started with Saving Grace) featuring all of my protagonists, past, present, and future. Cover reveal soon! Be sure to let friends know that the only way they can get their hands on it is by subscribing on my website.

p.p.s. November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Before I was published, I did it several years in a row. I wrote the original drafts of Saving Grace, Finding Harmony, and Going for Kona during NaNoWriMo. Well, this year, my schedule called for me to draft my next novel during November. So . . . I’m NaNoWriMoing this month, writing BOMBSHELL, #9 in What Doesn’t Kill You and my first novel featuring . . .AVA!! Yippee!! Here’s Eric prepping my writing tent, with a photobomb by Horse Feathers. Note no tent on the frame. We lost it in storms May 2016. Someday maybe we’ll re-tent the tent.

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p.p.p.s. A cougar has killed the last three surviving baby goats from this year’s crop. We suspect it is a female with yearling cubs, because there are no birds, rabbits, or deer in our area. Something is HUNGRY. So we got three donkeys to help defend the goats (and the big scaredy-cat horses, who, at 1500 and 1800 pounds, are not cougar-bait). Aren’t they cute? Their names are Fitz, Annabelle, and Kathryn.
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Fighting for Anna ebook

Help us spread the word about Fighting for Anna by joining the Thunderclap (click below):

Before we begin this the second part of this four-part installmentStory Behind the Story Series, I have an announcement. Remember how I gave away a little fox charm/pendant with the launch of Hell to Pay? Well…I’m giving away a little BUTTERFLY from Jewelweed Sprouts to celebrate Fighting for Anna’s release! Pictures coming soon. Enter through the Rafflecopter, below.

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And now, the second installment in the Story Behind the Story of Fighting for Anna (F4A), the 8th novel in the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series, featuring Michele. This week, I want to focus on art: pop and junk. [On release day, I’ll share the story behind Gidget, Michele’s charming neighbor at the beginning of F4A. Last but not least, I’ll close the series with a look at the practical magic behind F4A.]

Art is in the eye of the beholder and central to F4A. It starts with the art of the murder victim and her history as a gallery owner in Houston. I had a ton of fun creating Gidget’s art and the art in her gallery. I think I was inspired by the beautiful art created by my assistant, Candi, honestly. I had even more fun researching Andy Warhol and building him into the story. He even helped me explore the religious element.

All of what we normally consider art is juxtaposed against the junk art scene of the Roundtopolis area of Texas, very similar to what we all watch on television shows like Fixer Upper (best show ever!), American Pickers, or Junk Gypsy (they really are based in Round Top, by the way). A good friend of mine in Nowheresville, Tiffany, inspired me when she made her dreams come true with the real Flown the Coop (which can be found in Burton, TX, just down the road from its fictional counterpart). There, art abounds, in the form of repurposed, rethought, reused, and up cycled industrial, retro, primitive, and vintage pieces. So of course my supporting female character and newest future protagonist, Maggie, is a junker.

By extension of including junking and the Roundtopolis area, I got to include some of my favorite places as well as invent a few new ones. Props to my assistant Bobbye for discovering Moore’s Fort, the oldest building in Fayette County. It was originally in La Grange and later moved to Round Top, where it was most recently moved to a central location between Espressions coffee house and Probst wine bar. Once upon a time this twin blockhouse was a shelter for settlers. Now it is a piece of art, if you will, in creating a town entirely of “once upon a time” rebuilds. (Check out the Round Top library, also in the book, as another crown jewel of this phenomenon.)

Pop art meets junk art, and the result is awesome.

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Fighting for Anna ebook

Help us spread the word about Fighting for Anna by joining the Thunderclap (click below):

Before we begin this four-part installment of the Story Behind the Story Series, I have an announcement. Remember how I gave away a little fox charm/pendant with the launch of Hell to Pay? Well…I’m giving away a little BUTTERFLY from Jewelweed Sprouts to celebrate Fighting for Anna’s release! Pictures coming soon. Enter through the Rafflecopter, below. (Email subscribers may need to visit this post out on my website)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And now, the first installment in the Story Behind the Story of Fighting for Anna (F4A), the 8th novel in the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series, featuring Michele. This week, I want to focus on two elements of the book: religion and politics. Next week, I’ll cover art: pop and junk. And on release day, I’ll share the story behind Gidget, Michele’s charming neighbor at the beginning of F4A. Last but not least, I’ll close the series with a look at the practical magic behind F4A.

You know the adage not to talk about politics and religion in polite conversation? I’ve always followed that rule. I’ve found that I can’t change other people’s minds and they don’t change mind, 99.9% of the time. I play the averages, and I like serenity, what can I say? 😉

In the last year, my Facebook feed has been clogged with posts about religious freedom, discrimination, and politics. Whether or not I’ve agreed with them, I’ve found the underlying issues fascinating, even if I wanted to see pictures of horses and goats and bunnies in my newsfeed instead. I bided my time, and I did what all of us lucky enough to write novels do: I put them in my next book. (I do this in all my books, as you know if you’ve read all my Story Behind the Story posts)

Very near our Nowheresville home are some historic churches called The Painted Churches. My husband Eric and I visited most of them all on an anniversary a few years ago. You can read about that HERE.  I mentioned them in Going for Kona, and the property Adrian bought in G4K is smack dab in the heart of them.

Last fall, Eric took his mother to see them, and on that tour he visited the one closest to us, which we’d failed to see on our earlier tour: St. Paul Lutheran Church located in Serbin, Texas. This church was founded by Wendish immigrants in the late 1800s. The Wends are a Slavic people who fled religious persecution in Germany in the latter half of the 19th century, seeking religious freedom elsewhere. The Serbin group were originally led by a pastor named John Killian, who allied their church with the Lutheran Church – Missouri-Synod. Over the years, they assimilated into their predominantly German Texas community, giving up, for the most part, their own language in favor of German, and then English. You can still visit the Texas Wendish Heritage Museum and even experience the culture at the annual Wendish Festival in Serbin.

Originally enchanted by their church, I became equally fascinated with their story. I decided to include it thematically and as the backdrop for F4A. I realized that I could explore freedom of religion and discrimination organically this way (you’ll have to let me know how you think I did, after you read the novel!). Eric and I had a lot of fun driving around, visiting the church and museum, talking to folks, and taking lots of pictures. I was lucky to find some resources for this (and other) research on the internet as well.

Just recently, I was emailing with the former owner of Nowheresville, a Lutheran pastor. I told him about the inclusion of the Wend’s story in F4A. He shared with me that he has had many Wend families in his three different congregations near us. Somehow, this brought it full circle for me. I live on ground once occupied by someone with a huge heart for the Wends. How could it be otherwise that once I moved out here on this same ground, my heart would open to them as well?

I love how the universe works.

But what’s a “conversation” about religion without throwing some gasoline on the fire, in this case, politics? Nothing better for drama than mixing church and state. So I did. For starters, I included a former Senator, a Tea Party Republican, in a prominent role. No, I didn’t base him on Ted Cruz. My fictitious senator lives in Round Top, but no, he’s not Rick Perry (the former Governor lives a hop, skip, and a jump from Nowheresville). My fictional senator is just a politician. {There are lots of them, you know.} To stoke the fire, I added a potential presidential campaign and a pass at an underage staffer. Then to keep things interesting, I threw in some current events (the novel is set in the summer of 2015): Houston’s HERO battle (transgender bathroom usage became the big issue in a fight over adding GLBT to a municipal anti-discrimiation regulation) and the pending (then) case of gay marriage before the Supreme Court.

Because of the death of the woman that launches the plot in F4A, there are also local “state” issues: the probate of the will becomes quite the hot topic, especially when a major bequest is made to a daughter no one knew existed.

These state/political/legal issues meshed really nicely with the religion/discrimination story lines, I think. At least it felt right to me.

Now, lest you think this is some serious head-pounder of a novel, it isn’t. It’s a romantic mystery. But y’all know how I like to do things, right? I like complex characters with rich histories and complicated right-nows. That’s where all this good stuff comes in. Well, and with the plot, too. But I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll stop there.

Enter to win a butterfly! Support the Thunderclap! Pre-order your copy of F4A now! Pamela, stop using exclamation points!!

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p.s. A week of horse joy . . .

Eric working “online” developing trust and rapport with Feathers, HERE (must watch, so cute, and very short)

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Partying with my parents at a cousin’s wedding

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Don’t you love how weddings remind us to love one another?

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Before you read today’s installment of The Story Behind the Story, please join my Thunderclap for Fighting for Anna?

Probably the two most well-known stories I’ve told about my books relate to Leaving Annalise (Eric and the potential Annaly burglars when he had a bunch of cash from a liquidation/estate sale, which you can read HERE) and Going for Kona (that I was mad at Eric one day and had written three chapters in which I killed a triathlete husband in the second chapter by that night, which you can read HERE).

So I’m not going to repeat that old Going for Kona story. Instead, I’m going to share with you the quantum change that occurred on my umpteenth rewrite, five years after I first wrote the book. The story starts with an agent who loved Going for Kona except that she didn’t like the protagonist, Charlotte. It continues past my decision to go indie and even past the publication of Saving Grace and Leaving Annalise. Over the years, I’d done several rewrites of G4K (as we call Going for Kona at my house), but I wasn’t happy with the results. When I picked the manuscript up again in April 2013, it was do or die time. I’d done the 60-cities-in-60-days book tour. My novels were selling well. I had great reviews, including from Kirkus. Finding Harmony was nearly done and ready to queue up. I needed to act like a professional author and get my next book finished and in production.

Except I was terrified of it. I didn’t know how to fix it, just that I’d been told it wasn’t right, and knew in my core that the agent was on target with her opinion. Those closest to me loved the novel, though, and were just as scared of me changing it and possibly ruining it. What to do???

The book was intensely personal, very emotionally different from the first three in the series, and featured my first foray into a “Friend of Katie” protagonist. The intensely personal aspect was the problem. The protagonist was far too much like me, and the relationship with the husband was stymied by the fact that I identified him with Eric and with us. I needed distance. Writing what you know about protagonists who could “almost” be “you,” is one thing, but writing with accuracy about your own relationship is another!

So I planted my butt out in the Quacker trailer at Nowheresville (this was before we built a home and moved there) for three weeks. I shut out the input of others and trusted my gut. The weather was gorgeous and cool. I spent a lot of time in a chair in a field of wildflowers with butterflies all around me. My editor, Meghan joined me for a week (working independently but enjoying Nowheresville together), and Eric was there as much as he could be, but I mostly tuned them out as I immersed myself into a power rewrite.

The first piece that fell into place was channeling my cousin Michele into the protagonist role, to break it away from being a reflection of me. Michele’s father Arturo is Mexican and her mother Patrice is a Caucasian Texas native. Michele was, at the time, a single mom with a great son, and dating a very athletic guy she has since married (and with whom she has an adorable daughter). I realized that at least at the surface level I could make Charlotte into Michele.

What a relief that was! Immediately, it freed me up to realize Michele’s differences from me. Hallelujah. I realized she had a hyper active imagination, and my favorite scenes with her became the ones where her imagination ran wild, like when she discovers Scarlet has betrayed her, and marches away from Scarlet and the ESPN producer, convinced she’s morphed into a knife winged butterfly who takes off and bursts into flames. It rivals the Katie-mewling-like-a-kitten-in-the-courtroom scene from Saving Grace as one of my favorites of all time to write.

Since Charlotte was no longer me and Michele was now Michele, Adrian, the husband, was no longer married to me, and thus no longer my husband Eric. He was still a good guy, but I could talk about his flaws in writing without betraying my husband/talking bad about him in public. I could prepare Michele for a three-book romantic mystery story arc that would move her on from Adrian. This was much harder for Eric than me, especially when I wrote the next Michele novel, Fighting for Anna, but it worked for Michele, and that was all that mattered for the novel. (Eric and I could hug it out when it came to the rest, and we did ;-))

I put Michele in the occupation of attorney-turned-editor-turned author. I allowed myself to build on that to create what others perceive as the author life, instead of sticking with accuracy—Michele’s experience as an author is far more glamorous than the real thing for most authors.

Finally, as I wrote the Katie books, it had become increasingly clear to me that magical realism, or day-to-day practical magic, was part of the way I viewed the world and thus woven into what I wrote. Since Michele now had a Mexican Papa, she had a Mexican grandmother, and in came Aztec mythology. Oh how excited I was, sitting there in a wildflower field surrounded by butterflies, to discover Itzpapalotl, the fearsomely beautiful knife-winged butterfly goddess. Itzpa, oh Itzpa. The rub between Papa’s heritage/Michele’s desire to honor it, and her mother’s practical Methodist upbringing. Itzpa, as Michele’s alter ego, brought the magic to the book.

I wish I could say Michele no longer was anything like me, but she still retains my strengths/challenges. A nail-biting perfectionist who is more about getting it done than having fun, she’s a woman I can relate to. I wrote my worst fear in G4K: what would I do if I lost my own husband and had no one to turn to but myself to solve the mystery of his death and protect my family. I wrote it down to my secretly held belief that in my grief I’d be no good to anyone, even our beloved kids, and that hurt. In fact, it hurt so much that when I read this novel aloud to my teenage son (yep, Sam is based on him) and got to the horrible confrontation between Michele and Sam, my son started crying and told me to shut it and never make him read it again. Ouch. But I could understand. It cut to the bone with its unfortunate ring of possible truth for me, too.

In the end, my goal with the book was that it still have humor and move quickly even as it wrung emotions out of readers. Michele is a more serious protagonist than my others, to date anyway, and you’ll see more of her in Fighting for Anna (aka F4A), due out November 4th. Don’t worry: I don’t kill any more family members. Not in F4A anyway 😉

Stay tuned for part one of four of the final installment (for now) of the story behind the story, when I share the secrets of Fighting for Anna!

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p.s. A fun time was had by all in Nashville, as we joined three of our offspring for a Vanderbilt game, after a successful week presenting and moderating at AFPM for Eric.

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Oh yeah, I worked on my upcoming Free-and-exclusive-to-subscribers, prequel, ensemble What Doesn’t Kill You novella. So did Georgia, in my lap in the swing.

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The gang’s all here, but Dad’s manning the camera.

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Vanderbilt lost, but we scored some good shirts.

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First, the winners of the Katie & Annalise audiobook codes will be getting an email from me directly. Thanks for your interest and leaving an honest review. I appreciate y’all and hope you enjoy it!


I so excited, y’all! I got an email on October 1st from Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing announcing that my novels were included in their Celebration of Great Writing #PoweredbyIndie.

Woot!!

Since I’m in the middle of my story behind the story series, the story you’ll get this week is the story behind my decision to become an independent author.

(The following is an adapted excerpt reprinted with permission from SkipJack Publishing from my nonfiction hilarious how-to, What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too?)

A few years ago, I stood at a crossroads in my writing journey. I had three novels out with three great agents. I had their cell phone numbers on my iPhone. I didn’t have offers of representation, but I did have phone dialogues going and requests to see rewrites. I wasn’t there, but I was this close.

At the same time, the publishing industry was at a crossroads of its own. E-books seemed poised to take over the world. Profit margins were tight. Major authors like Stephen King (gasp, the moneymakers) were discovering self-publishing. And it wasn’t just them. There were the indie authors. Amazon was offering 70% Kindle royalties. E-commerce was truly accessible, and print on demand (POD) had become almost easy. Gone were the days when a writer’s only alternative to traditional publishing was an expensive vanity press. Amanda Hocking had burst onto the scene, making millions off books spurned by agents and editors. J.A. Konrath had shown that a middle-of-the-pack author could turn his backlist (backlist = all an author’s books but the newest one) released from contract by his publisher and future indie-published writing into a more than respectable income.

A steady stream of authors began making their way over to Amazon. Their dribs and drabs of sales plus the sales of self-publishing rock stars summed up to something significant that the publishers felt in their wallets and in the deepest, darkest, most scared places in their hearts. The indie sales didn’t, however, make much money for the self-published authors themselves, who tend to have trouble selling a copy outside of their immediate families. And 70% of nothing is, well, nothing. Or rather, it’s nothing in terms of money, but if your goal is to share your words and your worlds, it’s a whole heck of a lot of something—and to the major houses, all of that something started taking a bigger and bigger toll.

The publishers needed to figure out how all this change would impact their business model, but frankly, at the time that I was deciding whether to indie publish, they hadn’t yet. Writers discovered the concept of disintermediation, where the only truly necessary players in the game of book sales were author and reader, save possibly a freelance editor, a digital artist, a publicist, and a business consultant, all of whom an author could retain for herself if she chose to.

Slim publishing-company profits narrowed further while I went back and forth over many months in dialogue with agents, and I had a decision to make: Should I keep chasing after a possibility that kept getting less likely and would cost me control of my work? I mean, who really knew what return I would get on my three novel rewrites? I certainly wasn’t guaranteed representation, and even if I got it, a book sale was not an automatic. Until I signed a sales contract, the size of my potential advance would be shrinking daily, and the other terms of my deal would be growing less favorable as well, because this was business, and a business on the rocks. That potential deal would still require me to promote and market my own book on my own dime and my own time. Bottom line: I had no guarantee of a return, or even of ever traditionally publishing.

I started seriously considering throwing my hat into the ring of indie publishing. I’d still have no guarantee of a return, and I could lose my own money, at that. But the rewards were huge. I’d get the chance to share my works with whoever wanted to read it. I’d retain control—beautiful, blessed control—and publish the book of my heart, not the book of someone else’s balance sheet. And that was the crux of it to me: control. I’d been an entrepreneur for nearly twenty years. I knew how to run a successful business. And promotion was a wash; I’d be doing it whether I went indie or stuck to traditional. How big a stretch was it, really, to move from entrepreneur to authorpreneur? Bottom line: I had no guarantee of a return on my investment as an indie, but I did have a guarantee of publishing, and I could do it my way, which is what really drove me.

“You can make no money with someone telling you what to do, or you can make no money calling your own shots. Which one would give you more joy?” my husband asked. “And don’t answer that, because I already know. So I’ll help you.”

And he did. Oh, how he did, and does.

I’d love to say the result was an immediate gusher, but I’d be lying. It was a smashing success to us, but modest by major house standards. I sold 5,000 copies of my debut novel in the first six months, and almost half of those sales were of paperbacks. Combined with Kindle giveaways during that time period, 50,000 people got a copy of Saving Grace. It was picked up nationwide by Hastings Entertainment for their 137 stores, and regionally by Barnes and Noble. It led to greater exposure and sales of my backlist of relationship humor books. It paved the way for my future books. It beat the performance of most debut novelists with major houses. For all of that, I am grateful and excited, but not rolling in money, although eight books later, I’m a full-time author and retired attorney who calls all the shots in my business and enjoys the excitement of developing and implementing strategy as well as writing books that connect with readers.

I’ve learned that the upside potential of publishing as an indie is huge. The downside is you publish your book, which isn’t a downside. The buck stops with me. My story. My editor. My cover. My efforts. My mistakes. And my rewards. Best of all, as an indie, there’s no one standing between my readers and me, managing the relationship. It’s just us, diving into the imaginary worlds together. And I can price my books so that my readers can afford to indulge their habit. We both win.

So, for some of us writers, despite the odds and the cons, our goals reflect our desire for independence. The intrepid souls, stubborn to the bone and yearning to work like a pack mule, the kind of losers who’re right for indie publishing.

Like me. <3 <3 <3

(Thank you Amazon KDP for making this dream come true possible for me and so many authors, and for including me in Celebrating Great Writing #PoweredbyIndie!)

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p.s. Join in my Thunderclap for Fighting for Anna?

Before we start the story of the story behind Hell to Pay, I wanted to let you guys know Fighting for Anna comes out November 4th, and I need your support. How? People most often buy books based on some kind of recommendation. By Amazon. By word of mouth. By their friends on social media. And often authors’s friends want to help them but don’t know how. I have an easy way you can help me on your social media, using the message and image below. If you click Join This Thunderclap, then on Nov. 4th at 8:30 p.m., THIS message will be posted on your social media (and the social media of all my other supporters).  Same time, same message, best chance of “trending” or “going viral.” I’ve vetted the privacy of Thunderclap myself and want you to know I am quite sure they don’t use your social media for anything other than this post, but read for yourself if you have concerns (I’ve done them before with no problems).

So…click below? (Email subscribers may have to visit the post on my website to participate) And then share the opportunity to support the Thunderclap with your followers, too?

Thunderclap supporters will be entered into a drawing for a $25 Nook/Barnes & Noble gift card.

Now, back to the story behind the story!

Despite over a year of conversations about the plot and characters in the Emily books, it was on the eve of drafting Heaven to Betsy that game-changing inspiration struck. I discovered a terrorist group operating in West Texas, my childhood stomping grounds. As a potential plot river, it was timely (in light of terrorism in the name of religious beliefs occurring around the U.S.: Boston, Chattanooga, and others). But it is different from those. This is a domestic terrorist group of U.S. citizens which bases its judgments and actions on Christian beliefs, not Muslim ones. Think Westboro Baptist Church. I’m not going to name the group, because its name doesn’t matter. All terrorism is terrorism. All these groups are, to me, using religious interpretations to make judgments upon which they base actions.

Now, I’m no religious scholar, but I am quite familiar with Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged, and I was taught that Judgment was the job of a higher power. I admire evangelists who seek to convert through education and legal, nonviolent, nondestructive persuasion to make the world a better place and save souls, even in situations where I may not share their beliefs.

I despise terrorist acts.

I despise them even more when they’re happening in the community where I grew up, in the name of the religion practiced by myself and so many wonderful people there who are living positive lives of positive acts and positive intentions. I do not appreciate a terrorist group using my faith as the justification for their bad acts.

(I know Muslims who feel this way, and I feel sure most people would feel this way about any affiliation of theirs where a splinter group misuses their name and beliefs.)

So, as a result of me discovering this group, the Mighty is His Word of Emily’s world was born, an Army for God, willing to do things that the God I know doesn’t sanction.

Honestly, it felt goooooood to write about them.  To let the story find its way to me, to feel the tentacles of all the story lines weaving themselves around this cult, to untangle them carefully at the climax and slip Emily, Jack, and Betsy from their grasp. To give them an ending I felt was just for the fictional version. I loved writing about the compound, the Hodges, and Emily’s indoctrination. [My real favorite in this book, though, was Phil’s mother. Writing that scene was a highlight for me.]

As usual, I won’t spoil the plot for you, but I will add that since I centered this novel more in West Texas and less in New Mexico, I honed in on the Hopi Native Americans for the story’s “magical realism” and sought Emily’s maturation through her reliance on her spirit animal.

I also began to explore something deeply fascinating to me, that I see as a future for the Laura books: equine therapy (equitherapy or hippotherapy) for children.

It occurs to me that in writing about this cult I am, in a way, judging their judging. I’ll have to ponder on how I feel about that for awhile 😉

Before I go, I want to offer each of you a chance at free codes for the just released audiobook box set of The Katie & Annalise Romantic Mysteries from my What Doesn’t Kill You Series (Books 1-3).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(Email subscribers may have to visit the post on my website to participate)

My best,

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p.s. We had a great time in Alaska at the Alaska Writers Guild annual conference. I taught a workshop, a breakout session, and participated on the Q&A Panel, and Eric led a critique circle. We met awesome writers, and we were enchanted with Anchorage.

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Paneling with an agent, an Alaskan indie author, and a NYT bestseller-turned-Thomas & Mercer (Amazon) author. Fun!

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Dinner at the lovely home of author Jim Misko and his wife Patty with a view of the Chugach mountains.

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My sweet husband, who had flowers sent ahead to our hotel room.

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Celebrating a fun, successful trip (and a win by the Texas Aggies over Arkansas) with fried halibut at F Street Station.

My first-ever hardback is now available, with the rest of the novels coming soon!

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It won’t hurt my feelings at all if you order one.

Want to hear me talk about publishing with media expert TJ Walker? It’s a great podcast, for readers and writers. And you can access it RIGHT HERE. Easy peasy, fun.

I’m off to Alaska this week, speaking at the Alaska Writers Guild Annual Conference. I’ll be back with the next installment of the Story Behind the Story next week.

Be well, my friends.

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screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-7-14-23-pmI’m so thrilled to be a guest of TJ Walker’s on his Speaking with TJ Walker podcast! I met TJ nearly fifteen years ago when he provided (outstanding) presentation and media training for my organization. He is the bomb; really knows his stuff. You can read more about him and the wonderful services he provides on his website.

I promised him I’d list a bunch of fun giveaways his listeners are eligible for, all in one place, and that goes for my subscribers, too.

For people interested in publishing, subscribe to my SkipJack Publishing list, and you’ll get my exclusive Book Launch Promotion ebook, HERE.

BONUS: take my online course, How to Sell a Ton of Books in 5 Simple Steps, totally free, HERE.

For those of you who love to read (and who doesn’t??), subscribe to my Pamela Freakin’ Hutchins list, and you’ll get my exclusive ebook, Puppalicious and Beyond, which weaves in and out of fiction and (my) fact. Get it HERE.

And because I’m (foolishly) generous, you can download the ebook of Heaven to Betsy, my USA Best Book Award Winner, and the first Emily romantic mystery in the What Doesn’t Kill You series, HERE, until I come to my senses and stop this free nonsense.

Get to downloading, y’all!

And just in case you hadn’t already listened to this podcast, here you go:

 

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Where to start? Earth to Emily was an accident. I had thrown out a few clients that Emily and Jack were working on when drafting Heaven to Betsy, the first Emily romantic mystery. I picked up the story of good-guy-in-a-bad situation and imagined it back to its inception, which required it to crossover the other storylines, in this case, Jack, the love interest, and Emily’s family life. As I sit here typing, it defies my own imagination where my husband and story partner Eric and I came up with it. 😀 Just kidding, sort of.

In the second book featuring Emily, I wanted to figure out what happened to her father. From there it wasn’t a stretch that I wanted his path to intersect with Jack’s and create a rift between Jack and Emily. I needed a murder to start the book—it’s a mystery after all—and it had to relate to the father storyline and the good-guy-in-a-bad-situation client plight.Pretty soon we realized that meant we would be crossing state lines with “goods” in commerce, thus we’d need to involve trucking or railroads, and trucking fit best. We needed to incorporate Betsy, Jack’s family, Judith, Emily’s mom, Wallace, Nadine, Mickey, Laura, Jarhead, Melinda, and Clyde. We had baggage to resolve with Collin and Tamara. I wanted to set up future Ava novels with an appearance by her.  I wanted to test Emily’s heart for children, to see how far she’d go to help kids in need, even at risk to her relationships with Jack, Wallace, and Betsy. I had to figure out the magical realism (or what I think of as practical or everyday magic) element. And we needed a big ending with Emily using her brains, brawn, and special skills to save the day.

As usual, I was having trouble putting the elements all together at first. It’s always such a big wish list, and in the beginning feels insurmountable. It’s funny, though. When I think back on writing Earth to Emily, I don’t remember fretting about the plot or Emily’s personal journey. The one thing that resonates with me, that brings a smile to my face, is the Native American “magical realism” element. That was the piece that, when I figured it out, pulled the book together.

But it wasn’t easy. The Mountain Spirit Dancers in Heaven to Betsy were a no brainer. I loved them, and I loved how the Mescalero Apache used them to teach each generation with humor—and not a little fear—about those things that could harm them. By using them in the first Emily book, I felt like I had exhausted the very best of the Mescalero Apache mythology, though, and panicked on where to go from there.

I dug deeper, which is hard when you’re looking into a culture without a written history, except as recorded by people outside the culture. I mean, think about it. The whole point of Mountain Spirit Dancers is to teach in lieu of a written history. The dancers existed to pass on the learnings of history to the young. So my entire research was based on the interpretation of non-Apaches, which gives me the oogies. But it was all I had.

Imagine that, in our world of instant gratification, of knowledge via the Internet at our fingertips. We’ve become so far removed from passing our history down verbally. By song. By dancers. By poems. By stories. They didn’t have the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery seriesfor goodness sakes!!

But I digress.

I dug deeper, and I found the Mescalero Apaches’ incarnation of foreboding and evil. Not the devil, more like a Grim Reaper, if you will. For them, the Owl, sometimes called the Owl Man, embodied these things. The Mountain Spirit Dancers taught the children that the Owl Man would sometime eat children. And when I read  about this, it was like a bomb went off in my head.

From there, the story unfolded neatly with the Owl/Owl Man as the glue that symbolically held it all together.

I am interested: how many of you caught the Owl “drops” throughout the novel, and if you did, what did they mean to you? Do you find the “magical realism” in books like Earth to Emily a plus, a negative, or neutral?

By the way, I’ve always loved owls. We have little ones in the trees behind our Nowheresville house most evenings, and there’s a huge barn owl that lurks overhead all day in the loft window of my friend Lisa’s barn in Snowheresville. Owls rock. But after writing E2E, they spook me a little more than they used to.

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p.s. Enjoy some memories from our last week in Snowheresville 2016 summer.

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No saddle, no bridle, no problem with my Katniss.

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Feathers getting in the trailer to head to Nowheresville.

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Maybe my favorite picture of us from the summer, up at Circle Park.

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Eric and his giant friend Feathers, a tri-color paint Shire/Gypsy Vanner draft cross.

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My beautiful Percheron/paint cross mare, Katniss.

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I feel short in this picture, but I want to point out that Eric is standing on a higher rock.

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Hiking with my awesome parents.

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A quick visit from my brother AKA the inspiration for Collin in my novels.

 

I wrote about the overall inspiration for writing the Emily novels in my last post. I want to focus in a little more closely now on each one, because I had a lot of fun with these books. And Heaven to Betsy is special to me because it was my first national contest win for fiction.

So here’s the truth: I wanted to throw Emily back into her conservative hometown, after she’d moved away and become more moderate. Almost every element of the plot was written to show this hot seat she found herself in, where she questioned everything she was taught growing up, at the same time as she slowly came to appreciate some of it again. Her mother and Melinda Stafford most exemplified what she railed against. With her mother, at least, Emily eventually comes around.

Delicious (to me) irony: the original copyeditor for this book (a woman in her 20s) scolded me like I was a child for being politically incorrect and insensitive to every single non-white, non-Christian, non-American I wrote into the book. She did NOT shame me for stereotyping conservatives. Yet the one group that I stereotyped most blatantly was conservatives; largely white, straight, American, and Christian. LOL. I guess it’s okay to stereotype if goes against a group she doesn’t like??

But that brings up a few things that are important to me, so rather than tell you more about why I wrote the plot I did (which is that—in addition to the things I wrote about in the last post—I was fascinated by the issues around immigration, especially in border states, at the time this book is set):

1. Why did I let myself generalize more with conservatives, and paint them at times more negatively?

Because we are in Emily’s point of view, and she is questioning her past as she observes the bad behavior of certain people in her present.

2. Why did I occasionally lean toward political incorrectness with Emily’s observations of the world around her?

BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN AUTHENTICITY. PERIOD. Did I mention we are in Emily’s point of view? She has to think like a woman brought up in the time and place she was raised in (Amarillo with a rodeo cowboy father, and educated at Texas Tech), something I have great familiarity with.

Personal side note: I have spent most of my career working within organizations on creating and maintaining respectful workplaces. I have facilitated diversity training for twenty years. I have conducted thousands of interviews in harassment and discrimination investigations. My brother called me a femi-Nazi decades ago, before that copyeditor was even born. I believe in equality and respect. I believe some of my choices, actions, and stands helped pave the way for her and other women. And I believe she was wrong about Heaven to Betsy, as did her boss, who did the manuscript consult on this book and stood by it when I let s/him know about the copyeditor’s input.

I also believe I can impact ever so slightly how people view the world if I create the right characters and story (Please understand I don’t believe I can save the world with a romantic mystery, only impact it ever so slightly, one reader at a time). But only if I as a writer create authenticity. I can’t create a perfect world by rewriting it inauthentically. If, because of who they are, one of my characters will think about gender, national origin, religious, and race representation in, for example, their book or movie recommendations, then I make sure that I portray them doing just that. If my characters won’t give a crap about whether any female or GLBTQ or non-white writers or directors are represented in their  list, then I portray them in that way. I don’t balance out the recommendations that character gives because of MY need to right societal injustices or inequities. I don’t use my characters to set an example for humankind. Instead, I want them to reflect accurately humankind in their place, experiences, and time.

Does this make sense??? I hope so.

So I may have characters behaving or thinking “insensitively” at times. I think if you take a step back from the words on the individual pages of a novel like Heaven to Betsy, though, you’ll see a broader theme emerge that is one about creating a kinder world where we care more about each other. At least that is what I see and what I intended. IMHO it is in the jagged, ugly beauty of authenticity that we achieve this every now and then as authors.

3. Why does Emily behave so recklessly with regard to her pregnancy and future reproductive abilities?

BECAUSE SHE IS EMILY. SHE IS DEFINED BY HER RECKLESSNESS, by her lack of self-love, by feeling she is of no real value to anyone. She is at a point in her life where she takes chances, ignores risks, and—because she has not faced reproductive challenges—doesn’t yet realize both how much she wants a child and how fragile a woman’s ability to conceive and bear one can be.

She isn’t you, even if she ALMOST could be.

And that’s critical for readers to understand about fiction. The characters are meant to be someone other than you.

To me, good fiction is about a character who doesn’t do what we would do, yet, for reasons of his or her own, their choices are possible and just within the realm of belief, within a set of circumstances that are possible but not probable. It’s life re-imagined, not life just like we’d do it. So Emily (and my other characters) sometimes make choices I wouldn’t or that you wouldn’t. I’ve come to accept that, even when I’m disappointed in them, LOL. I didn’t like Katie’s behavior in Saving Grace, for instance. But she is her, not me. I just wrote her anyway. Same thing with some of Emily’s choices. And don’t get me started about Michele 🙂

[So to anyone out there who might have found it painful to read about Emily in Heaven to Betsy: I get it. Just like life, fiction can be hard. There are books I’ve closed, because they hit so painfully close to home (my home) that I didn’t want to experience it again in the pages. I’ve kept reading those authors, most of the time, just not those books. I encourage you to do the same. You are in control of what you let in, and what you push out. I don’t avoid topics to create safe zones because you aren’t forced to be inside the pages of my novel; you have to create your own perfect space, and there’s no easier place to do it than within a book. Shut it. Delete it from your ereader. Throw it in the crapper, for goodness sakes. And move on. I promise, there are no hard feelings.]

These, my friends, are the issues I struggled with as I wrote Heaven to Betsy. They are the story behind the creation of this story, if you will. And ultimately they led to it winning the USA Best Book Award for Cross Genre Fiction for 2015. <3 <3 <3

And it brought me to an awesome new copyeditor who swooped in to finish it with me, as well as the next three novels I’ve written. Rhonda Erb, you are the bomb, and I appreciate the heck out of you.

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BOX SET EMILY

Setting/towns/geographies move me. I fall in love with the slope of a hill, the rustle of leaves, the way sunlight changes colors on the face of a rock cliff. I am fascinated with the how and why a place takes on a certain personality, how culture develops. Less populated areas intrigue me, where people are forced to be more self reliant, and where everyone knows everybody else’s business.

The Katie & Annalise books came about because of my nearly ten years in the Caribbean. The Emily books exist because of my coming of age in the Texas Panhandle (Amarillo) and lifelong affection for New Mexico.

But not many people read a book with the setting as the main character; sure, a supporting role is good, but that’s all. So when I started planning a three-novel addition to the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery seriesover a romantic dinner at Cafe Amelie in New Orleans on a moist September night in 2013, with my partner-in-love/crime/storyboarding, my husband Eric—it wasn’t just the Texas Panhandle and New Mexico that came to mind. It was Katie’s former paralegal and BFF, Emily Phelps Bernal, too. I had in my mind a three-novel arc with titles Heaven to Betsy, Earth to Emily, and Hell to Pay. I wanted each title to work thematically with a female character.

Actually, that conversation was a follow-up to a longer one on the road a month before with one of my BFFs, Amarillo native Stephanie. She joined me for a few days on the 60-cities-in-60-days book tour. I was fascinated with her job helping kids and their families in the Child Protective Services system. I grilled her mercilessly about the possibilities for abuse in the system. We talked about mutual friends Betsy and Walt, a hilarious Amarillo couple who were an endless source of comic relief, and what I could pull from them. Stephanie poured her heart out, and I hung on her every word.

On a day of hiking in Pedernales Falls in February 2014, Eric and I batted around more ideas, some of them good, some not so much. We focused in on plots involving New Mexico, with motives and criminals that would be as different as we could dream up from the Katie books and, at that time, the soon-to-be-released first Michele novel, Going for Kona (which I’ll post about after I blog about the Emily books’ stories). Over the next six months, Eric and I continued to discuss Emily and the Panhandle/NM, and it rattled around in my brain. Every time I talked to Betsy or Walt, I incorporated humorous elements into scenes. Stephanie continued to inspire me with her heart for children.

Nearly a year after my first conversations with Stephanie, Eric and I were on our America the beautiful Redneck-Writer-Roadtrip, and the subject of the Emily books came up again. I took notes while Eric drove. We finished the trip with ideas for each novel. I burned up the internet looking for silver, turquoise, uranium, and other natural resources in NM. When I found areas with a history of minerals, metals, or gems, I researched the industry around it. I studied the topography on Google Earth and considered the towns: the people, the business/restaurants, the schools, the crime. I wanted to explore Native American religion and beliefs in the Emily novels, so I considered their history in each area. I traced routes on Google Maps. I measured distances. How long to fly in a small plane from X to Y? How long to drive from Y to Mexico?

I kept scribbling notes. A humiliating and painful end to Emily’s previous marriage sending her back to her hometown. An absent father. A troubled relationship with a conservative mother who had a checkered past. An Apache attorney/rancher with a wry sense of humor and dark secrets, as her employer and love interest. I’d settled on a small New Mexico town near the Mescalero Apache reservation as the New Mexico setting, triple decker sandwiched between glorious mountain ranges, with a number of horse ranches in the area. It was close to Los Alamos and the border to Mexico. The list grew. The re-entrance of Collin into Emily’s life. Horses. Beautiful, wonderful, heroic horses. I dreamed of bringing in my other protagonists for supporting roles. Of including anecdotes from my life growing up in Amarillo. (Another writer asked how I could come up with details such as a boat-like Toronado that could only turn left, which ended up driven through the front window of a Toot ‘n Totum convenience store. I don’t come up with them. I just observe them and include them. Thanks to my friend Robin for living that one. Great fodder, Robin.) A colorful cast of characters around Emily. I ran across pictures of houses and rugs and furniture and ranches and scenery to include. I bought books on Mescalero Apaches and the Panhandle Hopis and studied them, expanding my knowledge through internet resources until I’d identified elements I could use in the novels.

And I had come to know Emily. Big-haired, rodeoing, crown-wearing Emily. Wounded Emily, reckless and lacking in self esteem. A product of her own reckless, self-reliant rodeo cowboy father, the man who disappeared and left her doubting whether she could be loved. Her wonderful backstory (I always wish I could include more when I draft a novel, but it slows it down too much. I would love to write about her college days.) and the way her heart for children took her by surprise, almost too late.

Coming down to the wire, I got scared. I didn’t want to offend people I care about with my portrayal of the town that shaped me. I have a love/hate relationship with the past and the people and the place. I didn’t know if I could go home again, figuratively or literally. In fact, it had taken me twenty-five years to do just that. You can read me vomiting up my heart on that issue here, LOL.

Now, I’m not going to give away any of the stories here. I’ll just say the main characters were inspired by real people (sometimes more than one person went into the making of one character), and the plots ultimately were a mix of current and historical events and pure “piglets of my imagination,” as we say in our family. Over the next three weeks, I’ll share the story behind each of these Emily novels that are so near and dear to my heart.

Emily went home again, to Amarillo. And so did I.

And it was incredible.

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p.s. I’m behind on sharing Snoweresville snaps. Enjoy.

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With our youngest Susanne and her beau.

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I don’t just think he walks on water.

sami and me per usual little goose creek

Some things never change.

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My crew at Park Reservoir.

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Photographer and fisher.

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Bull moose at Twin Lakes. This was a 6-moose trip over 36 hours.

Twin Lakes Overflow Pamela and Eric

Twin Lakes Overflow

Perfect Selfie Take 753

The 1 hour quest for the perfect selfie. Take #372.

Twin Lakes Pamela Will Sami

Yakking and hiking and eating wild raspberries. I love these two.

harmonious differences

Picked up this beauty on a quick trip to Nowheresville, from Candilynn Fite, a local artist of extraordinary talent.

Rhonda and Bill

Friend and double-co-worker Rhonda surprised Eric and me with these. Ohemgee!!

 

BOX SET KATIE Web

You know what I love? I love a great series with characters I want more of.

You know what I hate? Series that flog me to death with characters that never develop, even if they were great in the first three, four, five, or six books. Not all long series are like this. I just binged on CJ Box’s Joe Pickett series and can’t wait for #17 to come out next year. But, to me, this is an exception rather than a rule, and has more to do with the protagonist taking a fairly minor role in the alternating points of view. It’s like the 3rd Joe Pickett book instead of the 17th, if you know what I mean. (If you want to check them out, I highly recommend it. Start with Open Season.)

So when it came time to write my own series, I wanted to leave my readers wanting more of each protagonist when I finished with her. I wanted to take a character and develop her over a three-book story arc. Each of her books would be a standalone mystery novel, but when combined with the other two books about that protagonist, they would tell a story about her with significant, interesting personal growth occurring from book-to-book, and a satisfying romantic storyline as well.

With Katie, that means we have Saving Grace where she’s trying to belatedly grow up, Leaving Annalise where she’s becoming less self-focused, and Finding Harmony where she learns she can’t expect perfection out of others any more than she can expect it from herself. When I wrote the ending of Finding Harmony, I liked where Katie was. Honestly, I didn’t want to mess up her world, and if I’d continued with her I’d have had to. The way I write, the protagonist must have skin in the game. She has to have all she cares about at stake in each mystery in order for her to care enough to put herself at risk by taking ownership of solving it. My gift to Katie is a long and happy life with her husband and kids 😉 My gift to you guys is that I don’t dilute her impact on you by going on and on and on. (You’re welcome!)

Yet I don’t want to start over with a new world after I finish three novels for a protagonist. So I chose to do a series, What Doesn’t Kill You, where I can stay within the same community of characters and spin off protagonists who we already know. Enter Michele (Going for Kona and the upcoming Fighting for Anna), Katie’s law school roommate, and Emily (Heaven to Betsy, Earth to Emilyand Hell to Pay), Katie’s former paralegal.

BOX SET EMILY

Then I did the same three-book character arc thing with them. For example—Heaven to Betsy: Emily discovers she wants a child, Betsy. Earth to Emily: Emily learns that she has a heart for the plight of endangered children. Hell to Pay: Emily realizes there’s nothing she won’t risk to help kids. We leave her in a happy place, and I think the mystery plots and romance turned out complex and satisfying as well. At least I hope they did. Readers are better judges of that.

I’m working on Michele’s three novels now. Going for Kona: Michele overcomes her own grief for the sake of her son and stepdaughter. Fighting for Anna: I’m not going to tell you yet. Book Three: I honestly have no idea, LOL. Ask me in a year.Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 9.12.29 AMI let my protagonists make guest appearances in each other’s novels. Katie shows up in all the books so far. Emily in six of seven. Michele guested in Hell to Pay and Ava in Earth to Emily. And many others cross over as well (Collin isn’t a protagonist but appears in six novels so far; Rashidi is about to appear in his fourth; Nick shows up in four).

I have three more protagonists in development for their starring roles.: Ava, Maggie (who you’ll meet in Fighting for Anna), and Laura from the Emily novels. I’m in rewrites on a novella starring all six protagonists (Katie, Emily, Michele, Ava, Maggie, and Laura) that you’ll have in your hot hands sometime this fall, for FREE (assuming I can make myself finish it; I’m in denial right now and focusing on some other things while I regain my mojo), and I envision future ensemble novellas.

What I don’t plan to write is more novels starring protagonists who have already completed their three-novel runs. For better or worse, that’s my strategy, and it’s working for me. I’m sorry, though, because I know how hard it is to walk away from a character you love and not continue in-depth in his or her world. Bring on more Joe Pickett, haha. Thanks for sticking with me anyway!

<3

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p.s. Meanwhile, the Katie & Emily character arcs had a dang good week. Bestsellers, top-rated, staff picks, across the top sales platforms. I’m pretty dang excited for this dream come true. Check it out here, if you’re interested. And if you’ve bought, downloaded, checked out from the library, shared, gifted, recommended, referred, or reviewed, thank you. More than you’ll ever know.

 

Ordinary, extraordinary women: could we solve the mysteries in my series? I like to think so 🙂

Over the last two weeks, I’ve shared the story behind writing Saving Grace and  Leaving Annalise in my series of “stories behind my stories”. Now let’s talk about the story of the third and last Katie book: Finding Harmony, which will further illuminate why I write what I do, and the writer I’ve become (if anyone even cares, LOL—sometimes these blogs feel like spitting into the wind).

While I was living on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix—an island that at the time housed the 2nd largest oil refinery in the Western Hemisphere—a local oral surgeon disappeared when he flew his private plane to Puerto Rico. Speculation about his disappearance was rampant. In the same year, a man died from a gunshot wound while in a vehicle on the road that led to my future driveway (I moved into Annaly a year later). Again, speculation was rampant. Both stuck in my mind until I was later able to weave them into a plot on my fictional St. Marcos. (p.s. the oral surgeon’s crashed plane was later found off Vieques; the death of the man in the car was ruled a suicide)

Meanwhile, I was accidentally writing mysteries with an amateur sleuth, because when I started them I hadn’t realized they were mysteries **this is not uncommon for writers in their first few books, even though I know it makes it sound like we’re idiots**, thus obviating the need for a cop/coroner/soldier/investigator/or-somesuch protagonist. I just wrote what I felt was authentic: a woman bombarded by life’s issues, forced to be self sufficient and solve her own problems. I mean, isn’t that how it is for you? That’s what it’s like for me. We live a crazy modern life of conflicting responsibilities and desires, with technology never allowing us to escape them. In retrospect, I positioned my amateur sleuth to have special knowledge of the law, I wrote her as a karate champion, and I gave her a love interest who could teach her about private investigations. Go, me. 😉

I think of fiction as “life re-imagined.” When you day dream, do you re-imagine your life completely, or just try to spice up what you’ve got? Probably some of both. But for me, it’s just little “what ifs,” little twists of fate that speed things up and turn up the tension. Did the guy in the plane run away with a girlfriend? Was the man in the car shot by drug dealers who staged it as a suicide? Things like that. So my protagonists, for better or for worse, are ordinary, extraordinary women forced out of their daily c0mfort zones into roles they are capable of (solving “problems” aka murder mysteries) even thought they never planned for them. But the rest of the story beyond the mysteries is just as important, so problems with their love lives, offspring, parents, day jobs, etc. are just outside center stage, ramping up the pressure and giving depth to the characters. Which makes the mysteries character-driven, just short of women’s fiction.

This topic reminds me of a story about my husband Eric. When he was 40, he took his youngest daughter Liz to audition for some commercials and print ads. She wasn’t cast. He didn’t audition, but they had his contact information from her, and he got a call—much to Liz’s chagrin—and a few weeks later, he was the husband in an ad for a medication for female incontinence. The ad featured a woman with her husband and two children, running on the beach. She was a little older, a little heavier, and a little less attractive than my gorgeous husband, but not much. Just enough that if she was re-imagining her life, her husband would have looked like him, and they would have been on a beach in St. John, with smiles on both of their perfect kids’ faces. Possible, but not probable 😉

And so it is with Finding Harmony. If we reimagined our lives just slightly, our husbands might fly private planes. We might live on a Caribbean island. If something happened to him, we would be the only one who could save him (and the whole island while we’re at it), engaging in a high stakes race from from St. Marcos to the Dominican Republic to hither and yon on Puerto Rico. We don’t want or need to go back to school and become a forensic pathologist (ew, yuck, smelly, gross, long hours, blech), but we can imagine using our wits to a higher purpose JUST AS WE ARE, and starring in the What Doesn’t Kill You mystery series.

And so I write about you, dear readers, ordinary, extraordinary women, capable of great things in a life just slightly reimagined. Close your eyes for a moment. Can’t you just picture yourself there?

<3

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I’ve told A story behind Leaving Annalise before (read it HERE). But I haven’t told THE story behind the novel. And THE story is what further solidified who I am as a writer and bled into all my future books.

First, Saving Grace and Leaving Annalise were, once upon a time, the same book, called Leaving Annalise (“LA”). I cut them in half and expanded upon them and named the first novel Saving Grace. Thematically, I was very clear that Saving Grace (“SG”) was about Katie growing up and getting past delayed maturation. She was a 25-year old woman in a 35-year old woman’s body. The mystery and theme were, hopefully, complementary.

When we resumed with Katie in LA, she has controlled her drinking and she’s dating a chef, gigging with Ava, and remodeling Annalise. [Annalise of course manifests my desire to write in the “odd space” where history/culture/religion/mythology and even mysticism or a hint of the supernatural collide with the present, as I wrote about last week.] The story I wanted to tell about her—thematically again—was about a woman learning that life wasn’t about being the princess, the center of attention, the one taken care of, and adored. Those things are nice, don’t get me wrong. A little of them in balance is a good thing. But to me, a woman becomes womanly when she learns not to insist she be put first all the time, and finds some part of her calling in service back to others, whether through things like a religious calling, a commitment to a nonprofit, caring for animals, or nurturing humans. Now, I hope that doesn’t make anyone angry, and I hope you understand my meaning and perspective. When Katie got past being self focused and learned to give of herself, she became more womanly to me. To ME. This may not signify womanhood to you, but, in my own life, I found it true of myself, and I wanted to explore it.

And writers write what they know.

In earlier unfinished novels, I had written about women who were younger. I flirted with the concept of writing a Bridget Jones’ Diary type of book. I laughed and loved that dang book so much. I liked the flexibility inherent in writing about a youngish woman without serious entanglements and obligations. I liked the idea of chick-lit. Maybe partly because I was unhappily married and wanted out, the genre with its inherent age and “singleness” elements seemed shiny and bright.

Some of that bleeds into Katie. That yearning to be young, free, and wild. But in the meantime, in my personal life, I had discovered how to be a wife successfully, and I had three wonderful step kids enter my life. I had a man who made me feel like a freakin’ princess, who adored me, who put me first . . . mostly. And I did the same for him . . . mostly. Because we both had to put my two kids and his three kids first much of the time. I felt, for the first time in my life, truly womanly, and it was loving a man who brought me these, well, obligations that did it for me. So, in many ways, LA is a love letter to being a stepmom. To being a family, no matter how we got there.

I’m not saying I’ll never write about younger women or for a younger audience. I might. But, for now, my fascination lies in the inherent tension in womanhood and its complex relationships and, yes, beloved obligations.

And that, my friends, is the real story behind Leaving Annalise. 

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Living the Virgin Islands life

I turned Fighting for Anna in for copyedit last week. It’s my 8th novel. My 1st novella rewrite is my August project, then I’ll continue work on my 9th full-length novel.

My brain is a little tired.

I sat down to write an “It’s all about [insert character name here]” blog, and I realized I don’t have it in me this week. But I had a better idea, that I think you guys are going to like.

I’m going to share some stories behind my stories, focusing on why I write what I write. Thank Bobby Marrs, publishing assistant extraordinaire, for it 🙂 Right now, the background of Fighting for Anna is burning a hole in me, but I’ll hold off the urge until October when we’re getting ready for its release.

Instead, let’s start at the very beginning, as that’s a very fine place to start: Saving Grace.

When I sat down to write novels in my thirties, I had no idea what kind of writer I wanted to be or what sort of stories I would tell, other than the overly long emails I sent to friends and family, little “slices of life”. I’ve gone through fits and starts, flirting with every conceivable genre and incarnation of the written word. No matter how I tried to write “fresh”—unrelated to me—my stories came from what I knew. Being a wife. An ex-wife. A mother. A daughter. A lawyer. A stepmom. A fresh water West Indian. A lover of animals. An investigator. A singer of songs. A mediocre triathlete. A hormonally-challenged female. A Texan. A former Wyomingite. A writer. An occasional New Mexian. Now I realize this is what all writers do. Back then I thought creativity meant I had to write outside my world.

Sometimes my writing was light and fast, other times it was deep and complex. A sliding scale from mystery to women’s or literary fiction. As my writing matured, the stories started revealing my internal and external struggles and complicated “everything is shades of gray” worldview. But it wasn’t until I unleashed my fascination with the impact of place and religion on culture, past and present, that my stories gelled, that they lifted off the page.

My original drafts of the novel that became Saving Grace were about my experiences with a house and the human relationships between Katie, Nick, Ava, Rashidi, Emily, Collin, and Bart. Annalise was there, but she was just in Katie’s head. We never saw her. I downplayed her, scared of revealing what she really was to me.

But I had more to say, to share. I had lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands for nearly ten years. I married a Virgin Islander. My best friend besides him is a Virgin islander. I was immersed in this odd space between Christianity and “legacy” voodoo or santeria. Between slavery and freed people. Between my life of privilege and minority. Between beauty and violence. Between our four senses and what lay beyond them. The people native to the island—including my husband and best friend—took for granted that spirits (jumbies) co-existed amongst us. Some were good, some were bad. Most were a little of both. The stories of them were current and frequent, and even in my own home.

Meanwhile, my husband just wanted me to reach THE END. I’d told him it was my dream to write a novel. Not half a novel or two-thirds of one, but a whole one. The original Saving Grace was a novella to make him laugh, one I cranked out while he was on a two week trip to India. He loved it, and urged me to make it THE ONE. To see it through. So I did, or tried to.

At the 11th hour, I realized that the heart of my writing was that odd space. It was whatever it is that makes the setting my protagonist lives within unique: religiously, mythologically, culturally, historically, and contemporarily. Annalise sprang to life, her story became the story of the three Katie books. We saw her, we got to know a little about her, and we wanted more. And the simple act of making her visible—of accepting that there were things beyond my upbringing and five senses, of validating what was real to the people I’d grown to love in the islands—burst through in my writing from that moment and forever more. Katie’s differences from her world and her new friends in the islands became more important and yet more nebulous. The colors became brighter, the stories bigger. The book became a love letter/poison pen to the Caribbean. The path forward to the other two Katie books became clear.

And to the books beyond.

So if you think you see in my fast-paced romantic mysteries a fascination for cultural and religious history and exploring the extremes of them without sacrificing pace or tension, you are correct. I don’t do cozy. I don’t do police procedural. I don’t do pure romance or pure women’s or literary fiction. I do “cross genre,” uncontainable, not coloring within the lines of what agents or publishers expect will sell. (You guys proved them wrong)

This is the thing that makes my writing mine, and I love it.

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So, loyal ones, this is a month with FIVE Wednesdays, and that means you get a fifth Wednesday bonus: content from an upcoming book. And, thanks to the agreement and generosity of Michele of Going for Kona, Hell to Pay, and Fighting for Anna . . . you get the cover of Fighting for Anna, which we affectionately call F4A at our house. It’s the 8th novel in the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series, and features Michele in her second turn as the protagonist.

I think I love every cover better than the last . . .

Fighting for Anna ebook

Michele Lopez Hanson retreats to the country for peace and quiet while her teenagers are away for the summer, hoping to learn how to be alone in the wake of the death of her husband. But when her elderly neighbor Gidget—a Houston art gallery owner whom Michele is assisting in writing her memoirs—dies and leaves everything to Michele except a bequest to a daughter no one knew existed, it seems like half the state shows up: some to help, some to contest the will, and others to make sure the mystery daughter is never found alive.

As a refresh, here’s what the first Michele cover looks like:

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00074]

Anticipate F4A will be available around November 1st. 🙂

Congratulations to Heather Baxter, winner of the Hell to Pay fox pendant. Thanks for posting a review, and thanks for entering my giveaway.

Meanwhile, I have a book event coming up!

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Yeah, I’m a split personality: Texas/Wyoming, but I claim both. (In fact, check out my Wyoming Writer article HERE.) So if you know someone who will be in the coolest little town (Buffalo, WY) August 6th, let them know!

Have a great weekend!

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p.s. Snowheresville pics of the week: end of our staycation.

petey daybed

Daybed war: Petey

georgia daybed

Daybed war: Georgia

theres no place like home sunset

There’s no place like home for the sunsets over the Bighorns

fast hiker medicine wheel

Hiking up to Medicine Wheel

hiking to medicine wheel

Obligatory selfie hiking up to Medicine Wheel

arapaho at medicine wheel

My Arapaho husband at Medicine Wheel (also Hungarian Gypsy, but we’re all mutts of some kind, I guess!)

pie zanos

Checking on the Hatchery and Arden fires at Pie Zano’s as we choose a next adventure site
flowers at tree line long lake

Long Lake: flowers at the tree line

clear creek reflection of sunset

Reflection of sunset in the waters of Clear Creek near Circle Park

sunset at circle park

The actual sunset

reflection of sunset on eastern clouds

The eastern reflection of the sunset

eric and georgia at oliver creek

Eric and Georgia admiring Oliver Creek

trail salad at oliver creek

Salad on the trail, with helpers

louise gassed at long lake

Louise gassed at Long Lake

ringbone lake selfie

Selfie at Ringbone Lake

ringbone lake view

Eric thinking “I want to climb that” from Ringbone Lake

long lake dam

Pamela and Louise on the old dam at Long Lake

long lake georgia

Georgia enjoying the crystal clear waters of Long Lake

Sad Georgia

Georgia refusing to exit the RV as she mourns the end of staycation (she didn’t eat for 3 days either!!)