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,

phutchins signature

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.

awg-qa-panela

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

14469698_10154485575407604_5064681077411134299_n

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

14441136_10154015487663233_537236194446231052_n

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

14450004_10154018752733233_4039198457552330379_n

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!

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-5-41-25-am

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.

phutchins signature

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:

 

phutchins signature

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.

phutchins signature

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

katniss-no-sadle-no-bridle-no-problem

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

14237572_10153966121673233_2573810950890171968_n

Feathers getting in the trailer to head to Nowheresville.

14183671_10153961961358233_7361495690201059223_n

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

14224778_10153958525533233_6213860583731208466_n

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

14199578_10153958515973233_8156142586617742440_n

My beautiful Percheron/paint cross mare, Katniss.

14100383_10153951891468233_2788289561034508087_n

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

14102387_10153951891513233_7969186683321212798_n

Hiking with my awesome parents.

14188425_10153946451708233_3364550309015439746_o

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.

phutchins signature

 

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.

phutchins signature

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

will sami eric pamela south fork

With our youngest Susanne and her beau.

eric walking on water park reservoir

I don’t just think he walks on water.

sami and me per usual little goose creek

Some things never change.

park reservoir temporary island

My crew at Park Reservoir.

fisher and photographer

Photographer and fisher.

twin lakes bull moose

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

phutchins signature

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

phutchins signature

12182705_10206806839462650_6516358532415553342_o-2

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. 

phutchins signature

20663_310245928232_3840304_n

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.

phutchins signature

 

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!

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 2.14.14 PM

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!

phutchins signature

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!!)

13000675_10208905449011907_2101801181_o

12999553_10208905450691949_1064921811_o

12874386_10208671508803548_1395101189_o
Michele enjoyed her supporting role in Hell to Pay, and so she’s giving away one of the lusted-after Hell to Pay fox pendants!! To enter, tell us where your review of Hell to Pay is posted, and the name it’s under so we can verify (or post the link). We’ll email the winner August 1 to get mailing details.

Next week she’ll reveal the cover of this fall’s new release, Fighting for Anna (What Doesn’t Kill You, #8): A Michele Romantic Mystery!

See you next week,

phutchins signature

p.s. Here’s some Snowheresville Awesomeness from our travels this week (and the reason I haven’t turned Fighting for Anna in to my copyeditor Rhonda!!):

Camping, near Coffeen Park in the Bighorns

If you’re receiving this by email, you need to click on the title of this post to get to the website if you want to view the moose and fly fishing videos.

13726754_10153825595963233_1364211822680286142_n

Headley Park happiness

 

13692902_10153825584383233_6601004293149171658_o

Dogs’ 1st time in Cloud Peak Wilderness en route to Duncan Lake

 

13735616_10153825567728233_8020969328417216108_o

Yep, that’s the Bookmobile overlooking East Big Goose Creek

 

13730994_10153825545473233_7208885258590946359_o

That’s an awful big flower in the background . . .

Longmire Days!

13607043_10208614686217689_5015152040686203466_n

“Branch Connolly” character actor from Longmire, in “Durant” Wy (Buffalo)

 

13582086_10208614413530872_3557721415542564376_o

Absaroka County Sheriff’s Department Bronco 😉

Lake DeSmet

13599986_10208611824306143_121707617881995806_n

Happy Georgia giving me a hug after she and Petey rode across the lake with us to this beach

Last week, we asked which book club question writer-editor-triathlete-protagonist Michele Lopez Hanson of Going for Kona (who also made an extended cameo appearance in Hell to Pay earlier this year and is the star of Fighting for Anna, which comes out in the Fall of 2016), wanted to answer.  She picked this one: In what ways was Michele similar to her alter ego Itzpapolotl? When and where did “Itzpa” exert an influence, and why?

I’ve been shooting tons of video for the new SkipJack Publishing Online School at http://skipjackpublishing.teachable.com, so I am just DONE with doing my hair and makeup. I share with you a little gorgeous mountain view instead. I find it fascinating that as the clouds pass the sun, your view of the mountains changes, just like mine. I love how light changes the color and even shape of the hills and mountains.

If you receive this blog by email, you can only view the video by clicking out to read/view on the internet. If someone smarter than me knows a way around this that won’t clog inboxes, I’m all ears.

With no further ado, here’s the video:

See you next week, with a giveaway, and in July “bonus week” with the Fighting for Anna cover reveal!

phutchins signature

p.s. For those jonesin’ for more Snowheresville, WY pictures, here are some from our time with our youngest son and his longtime (long suffering? nah, just patient and sweet!) girlfriend:

clark and alayah south fork trail ride

clark and alayah flower arranging breakfast

seven brothers number 1 clark and alayah

clark and alayah seven brothers clear creek crossing

clear creek crossing with clark and alayah

fetterman clark and alayah

We miss them tons already! <3 <3 <3

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 5.44.44 PM

We’re back with writer-editor-triathlete-protagonist Michele Lopez Hanson of Going for Kona, who also made an extended cameo appearance in Hell to Pay earlier this year. Michele’s the star of Fighting for Anna, as well, which comes out in the Fall of 2016. She’s all over the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series!


Pamela: You’re back.

Michele: In black.

Pamela: A little AC/DC? Are you showing your age or listening to Adrian’s playlist again?

Michele: Probably both.

Pamela: So you know this week we’re doing two things: letting you show us your house and seeing which Going for Kona book club question you’ve picked.

Michele: Bring it.

Pamela: Now, I understand you aren’t living in your Houston house anymore, but you still own it, right?

Michele: Correct.

Pamela: Let’s focus on it then, since we don’t want to spoil it for readers who won’t have access to Fighting for Anna for a few more months.

Michele: Sure. Well, it’s the house Adrian and I bought to blend our family in, and I adore it. It’s circa 1960s, a 3 bedroom/2 bath ranch house, smack in the middle of Meyerland, a predominantly Jewish community in Houston.

Pamela: But you’re not Jewish?

Michele: I’m MethoCatholist. And mistaken for the Mexican help more than once by the neighbors.

Pamela: Is that awkward?

Michele: I guess statistically speaking it wasn’t much of a gamble as far as guesses go.

Pamela: What’s your favorite part of the house?

Michele: The backyard is like a tropical rain forest, with three ponds.

Pamela: What would you change if money wasn’t an object?

Michele: I’d bulldoze the backyard and put in a swimming pool.

Pamela (laughs): A love/hate thing then?

Michele: (laughs, too) It’s beautiful but always leaking. And the frogs, my Lord, the frogs. Every time it rains, they come out to mate. Loudly.

Pamela: When was the house updated?

Michele: We redid the bathroom just last year. Natural stone, seamless glass, a jacuzzi tub. It’s wonderful. Before that, it was 70s yuck. The kitchen is dated but top of the line. And the floors are a marble tile throughout the downstairs. Lovely.

And then there was glass in the shower! But don't ask if we're done.

Pamela: Sounds beautiful. Well, have you given any thought to the book club question you want to answer next week?

Michele: I wasn’t in love with any of them—so personal!—but I’ll go with “In what ways was Michele similar to her alter ego Itzpapolotl? When and where did “Itzpa” exert an influence, and why?”

Pamela: Yay, I love that one. Okay, so email me your answer, and I’ll do a video blog with yours and mine next week. And then we’ll reveal the Fighting for Anna cover the week after that. Thanks, Michele!

Michele: (hugs Pamela) I’ll talk to you soon.

phutchins signature

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 1.31.12 PM

So you’ve written a book. It’s for sale on Amazon, your own little Field of Dreams. You’ve strong-armed everyone you know, and they’ve all promised to buy it. To read it. To review it. Only they haven’t, and it’s not selling.

Meanwhile, your mother’s told everyone and their three-legged dog about her son the author. Her daughter the next Steven King. Her little pookie who’s going to be rich and famous any day now. People ask you when you’re quitting your day job (and to borrow money).

Your life has become a secret hell that you cover up with a swagger and a smile. You tell yourself that it’s about the achievement. About getting it out there. About the art. The truth is, though, you want readers. You want fan letters and a movie deal. You want to make MONEY at this, but you have no idea how.

I do. I went from attorney/investigator to full-time author in three years, with 1.5 million downloads and six-figure royalties. And I wantsto help you.

FOR FREE.

Join me LIVE July 7, 2016 at 1:00 PM CST for my absolutely free webinar on How to Sell a Ton of Books in 5 Simple Steps. Can’t make that date/time? Sign up anyway. The replay will be available 24/7 to all registrants for two weeks.

Sharing with your fellow authors is caring, so please spread the word.

phutchins signature

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00074]

We’re back to our normal blog schedule (for now, ha!). This month it’s all about Michele from Going for Kona: What Doesn’t Kill You, #4. That’s appropriate, because I just finished a new Michele novel (Fighting for Anna: WDKY, #8), and I’m starting another (Untitled: WDKY, #12, because there will be 3 Ava books (WDKY 9-11) before we finish Michele’s saga).


Pamela: Welcome to my blog, Michele.

Michele: Thanks. I’m not crazy about interviews, but for you I’ll make an exception.

Pamela: That’s right, you have had . . . issues . . . with media in the past. Running out on ESPN. Coming close to killing a publicist.

Michele: Hey, no on likes being used and taken advantage of. (Laughs) But I took care of them.

Pamela: Is Scarlet still working as a publicist for Juniper?

Michele: If she is, they’ve kept her away from me.

Pamela: Good! Well, you know I’ve got your best interests at heart.

Michele: (Nods) I’ve heard people say we’re a lot alike.

Pamela: You’re the most like me of any character I’ve written.

Michele: I’m sorry!

Pamela: Don’t be. (Smiles) You’re that unflinching look in the mirror I need sometimes. You even led to my first recognition as a USA Best Book Award Finalist in fiction. You were also my hardest character to write.

Michele: Oh? Why’s that?

Pamela: Because it’s tough being open about the parts of ourselves we don’t want other people to know about. The only way I could write you was by making you externally different, with different life experiences. But enough about that! It’s the first Monday of the month, and readers want to know what you’re doing for fun.

Michele: (Snorts) Most people don’t use the word fun in describing me. I’m usually dubbed “the responsible one.”

Pamela: I can relate to that. So let’s rephrase it. What are you doing in your downtime?

Michele: One thing I’ve done is cut back on my workouts since I don’t aspire to do another Ironman. I watch a lot of my son’s baseball, I go to swim meets to watch my stepdaughter, and I read.

Pamela: Cookbooks? Training books like your My Pace or Yours? Novels?

Michele: Novels. I used to be into fantasy. After Adrian was murdered and his killer came after Sam and me, I developed an interest in legal thrillers, mysteries. That kind of thing.

Pamela: A reader after my own heart. Any recommendations?

Michele: I tend to discover authors by their free e-books, then get hooked for the series. Most of them have $1.99 audio companion add-ons, too, so I can switch to my ear buds when I’m working out. I enjoy Patricia McLinn. Her Sign Off is a free download. Denise Grover Swank through her Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes. Jana DeLeon’s Louisiana Longshot

Pamela: Those are definitely good ones. What about movies? Music?

Michele: I’ve been watching PBS Masterpiece Mystery while I bicycle on the trainer. I’m into Sherlock—the Benedict Cumberbatch version, even though they only come around once in a blue moon. Grantchester. Endeavour. But when it comes to music, I’ve been stuck on Adrian’s old playlist. 70s and 80s rock. Triumph’s Somebody’s Out There. Cinderella, Nobody’s FoolBon Jovi’s RunawayOther than that, my stepdaughter Belle loves Meghan Trainor and my son Sam listens to Florida Georgia Line. I like them, too.

Pamela: I’m impressed. For someone who didn’t think she could answer my questions about fun, I think my readers are really going to enjoy your suggestions.

Michele: (gives a thumb’s up)

Pamela: And you’ll be back next week to talk to us about what’s cooking at your house?

Michele: I will. And thanks for making this easier than my last few media experiences.

Pamela: If I’m really nice next week, I’m hoping you’ll let us do a cover reveal on my next Michele book, Fighting for Anna, on July 29th.

Michele: I’d love it. It’s a great cover.

phutchins_signature

Hey y’all!

Well, it’s been busy, and that busy-ness has kept me from my normal blog schedule . . .

— Hell to Pay launch. India launch. HWG workshop. Wyoming Writers workshop. Finishing Fighting for Anna for developmental edit. Floods/tornadoes/hail. Vehicle problems. Manuscript critiques. Fences down. Livestock dead. Driving 60 hours in two weeks. Judging writing contests. House repaired. Setting up a Snowheresville household. Death in family. And life, in general. —

h2p fun in the sun

Despite all this, and mostly because of my great team, we released The Emily Box Set and were blessed to have a KICK AZZ Bookbub promotion. We’re launching a SkipJack Publishing online school (free webinar registration soon (How to Sell a Ton of Books, In Five Steps)! first classes not long after!). We’ve put together a series of cool Facebook ads. And our cover design for Fighting for Anna is tres magnifique.

M 2 DE

View as I finished Fighting for Anna, the developmental edit version.

Meanwhile, I’ve made new writer friends all over Wyoming and even in my own neck of the woods. Isn’t finding your people the best? I walk our dogs daily in our area, and I’ve found it takes me two hours to go three miles because of all the people that come out and visit. We’ve traversed roads so far up in the mountains that our truck gave up (and my husband inadvertently posed for a book cover, LOL)—

Book cover WY cowboy

—ridden horseback—

south fork trail ride

—acquired a Razor—

el loco lobo

—hiked the Penrose trail where we could see the roof of our house far, far away and rock cliffs much closer—

penrose view of our roof

eric penrose hike

—ate a gourmet dinner at historic TA Ranch—

Fusion Poutine

—and planned cliff jumping into Tie Hack reservoir for August.
tie hack reservoir

We watch the antelope, deer, grouse, pheasant, and jackrabbits in our yard every day, and we’ve seen (not in our yard) mountain lion, musk ox, and MOOSE as well.

bull moose

We’re gearing up for a 16-day Wyoming Wild RV trip (when the RV’s out of the shop–it’s always got something wrong with it: I blame it on the Saskatchewan-Alberta-Montana trip), which I know will only whet our appetite for more of this glorious state. Then we’ll be hosting family and friends for most of the rest of the summer, which we’ll cap with a trip to Denver to see the Dixie Chicks in September.

Is it no wonder I’m off my editorial schedule of character interviews on the blog? I mean, just look at these wildflowers!

bighorn wildflowers

Maybe they’re the reason I’m having an enormous amount of trouble focusing on outlining/recording Michele #3 and rewriting the WDKY prequel novella? I’d much rather be planning our Wyoming Wild trip or putting together the 3-ring binder I want to leave full of information for house guests (Did I mention that every time we leave town, friends or family show up to claim the house while we’re gone? We love it!).

But I buckled down for Michele #3 research and outlining today, thus I’m on track to start recording next week. So I guess I can get on track on the blog, too . . . next week. While you wait for me, enjoy a day with the skies of Wyoming from our place.

mist in the next valley

Mist in the next valley. Morning.

day time gorgeous

The Bighorns at midday.

dusk gorgeous

The Bighorns at dusk.

pink skies at night

Pink clouds, which gave way to . . .

orange skies at night

peach . . .

red skies at night

and finally to orange.

phutchins signature

p.s. All pictures were taken with my iPhone 6 (except for the first one of Hell to Pay, which was taken by Candi Fite with her iPhone), with NO FILTER or special effects.

banner
Reviews, interviews, and spotlights from our wonderful friends, the bloggers in India. Please check them out, leave a comment, and share.
1. Book Review by Nilima Mohite
2. Nimi Arora – Review
3. Shalini
4. TBC REVIEWS
5. Lata Sony – interview
6. Niharika G—-Review
7. Inderpreet – Interview
8. Bhavya
9. Inderpreet Kaur Uppal- Spotlight
10. Aparna
11. Ruchira Khanna
12. Just Another Bookaholic
13. Devika (Interview)
14. Spotlight:Nilima Mohite
15. Aditi Chopra
16. Sundari Venkatraman
17. Lata Sony
18. Niharika G
19. Aarti V Raman
20. Lata Sunil
21. romila – spotlight
22. Devika
23. Deepali Joshi Adhikary
24. Meenakshi-Spotlight

Also, on June 14, Heaven to Betsy went to #1 in free downloads and is still holding steady at the top spot as I type this. Woo hoo! On the 15th, Amazon promoted Hell to Pay and the Emily Box Set along with THE TOP romantic mysteries writers today: Liliana Hart, Denise Grover Swank, Jana DeLeon, and Gemma Halliday. And my author rank shot up to its highest ever. Pinch me. Here’s hoping the 100,000 downloads of H2B this week lead lots of readers to enjoy Emily and the rest of the WDKY gang!

13423747_10153750494463233_7398126189602028386_n 13407190_10153750494423233_4158508868342590642_n 13450893_10153750494433233_7322788985703687263_n

Oh. And I turned Fighting for Anna in to my developmental editor, Sara Kocek. Yahoo!

phutchins_signature

 

Do you ever feel absolutely certain about something, only to find that you completely change your mind? Like you think the world is flat, only Christopher Columbus sailed off into the East and ran into land? Or that smoking is good for you, only it gives you cancer?

I thought I knew what I wanted to name the 8th What Doesn’t Kill You novel. I thought it would be called Going by the Book. Then I asked Bobbye, publishing assistant extraordinaire, to find me an evil, dark butterfly, since the monarch butterfly had symbolized Michele in Going for Kona, and because in this next book she saw herself differently, as something darker and less beautiful. Bobbye sent me this:

evil butterfly

And in a flash I knew I’d been wrong. I’d been trying to force “Going” into the first word of the title. The book isn’t about Going. It’s about Fighting for someone. This is the butterfly you get if you force her into early menopause, LOL, and you don’t want to mess with her.

So we changed the title. For now, it’s Fighting for Anna. And it’s going to have a kick ass butterfly on the cover.

<3

phutchins_signature

Folks, I ain’t gonna lie. The reason I haven’t posted in a few weeks is because it’s been a helluva time in Nowheresville.  I’m a week late with my raw first chapter of Going by the Book: A Michele Romantic Mystery (What Doesn’t Kill You #8). You’ll get it today, below (shhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone). But a few things first.

The scoop:

Instead of rewriting it, I’ll just regurgitate. That’s about all I’m up for.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 3.26.11 PM

I slept better last night. I haven’t cried about Omaha since this morning. And on a positive note, the new decals on the Bookmobile look great, and Wyoming is glorious.

Today's office

bookmobile pfh jws 2

Eric is already visiting clients from his temporary home base, and loving it. Our internet is lightning fast and unlimited, which is funny since Snowheresville is isolated and our Nowheresville sucky, expensive internet is only 1.5 hours from the fourth largest city in the country. Anyway, I’m gigging at the Wyoming Writers Annual Conference this weekend, teaching the Non-traditional Publishing track. Next week I’m trailing Eric into Canada, so you’ll get some great pics. I also hope to share some from our wonderful visit with my parents and kids soon.

Going by the Book hits the beta-for-story readers inboxes tomorrow. While they’re working on it, and before I send it in to developmental edit, I’m going to tackle the rewrite on the prequel novella I’ve written as a gift for you guys and outline my last Michele novel, which is going to be called Going for Broke.

With no further ado, I give you . . . Going by the Book.

Sneak Peek at Rough Chapter One: (copyright Pamela Fagan Hutchins, y’all)

An airborne string mop charged at us, muddy red streaks through white undulating like a curtain of deranged fringe. But of course it wasn’t a mop, it was a dog, and its squatty legs pumped hard, propelling its elongated body so low that I couldn’t believe its belly cleared the ground. I could smell it, too, a coppery, foul scent, and I tensed from years of experience with animals in my father’s Seguin veterinary practice. Yet, the dog looked familiar, and I was more respectful than scared.

“Get back.” I put my arms out to either side of me, as if that would protect my teenagers from whatever it was the terrified little dog brought our way. “A scared animal is a dangerous one.”

I heard the eye roll in my seventeen-year-old son’s voice. “We’re not babies anymore, Mom.”

I glanced at Sam. He had the Lopez coloring but his father’s height. Over six feet, muscular in a zero body fat kind of way. He had on khaki shorts and an Astros t-shirt, and his dark brown hair flopped across his forehead.

The dog panted and darted in front of me, and I caught a glimpse of one eye open wide, its white rounded. “Hey, I know you, don’t I?” I said, as if she would understand me.

I did remember her, from the neighbor’s. Gidget. That was the name of the neighbor. An oddly seventies-sounding name for an oddly endearing woman. The dog’s name also started with G. I ran through possibilities quickly. Gretel. No. Gretchen. No. Gertrude. Yes, that was it. Which was another oddity, like the names for the woman and the dog were reversed. I’d fallen in love with Gertrude last Spring, when Gidget invited me over to her little white farmhouse. She’d asked me to help her write her memoirs, since I’m an editor and a published author. I’d agreed—charmed by the woman and intrigued by her years as the force behind a hip Houston art gallery—then forgotten about it.

Until now. A flush rose toward my face. Ugh, memory problems, on top of hot flashes, fatigue and all over body pain. But, no, my, gynecologist insisted it couldn’t be early onset of menopause at forty-one. He’d offered me birth control pills and anti-depressants, but no empathy, and nothing that helped.

Annabelle spoke, the high pitch of a teenage girl, although at eighteen she was rapidly approaching womanhood. “Is it hurt?”

Okay, add trouble focusing, like on the crazed dog and my kids, to my list of symptoms.

Sam snorted. “It’s so ugly it hurts. What is it? Some kind of mash up between a wiener dog and a sheep dog?”

I raised a brow at Sam, but secretly added pug to his list. “She might be hurt, Belle.”

The dog stopped in front of me, yapping frantically, like it was talking directly to me. Something was wrong with its eye, really wrong, but it was whirling in circles by then. Between that and all her hair, I couldn’t get a good look at it. Was the reddish brown in her dreadlocks blood?

“What is it, Gertrude?” I crouched and held my hand toward her, palm up.

She reversed course with her back end turning separately from her front, like an articulated bus.

“Oh my God, did you see her turn?” Sam leaned over, laughing.

“She’s so cuuuuttttte,” Annabelle squeaked, clapping her hands.

Gertrude sprinted into the woods, away from the three of us and the dilapidated summer camp travel trailer dubbed the “Quacker” by Sam because of the brand name Mallard emblazoned on its side. Stopping once, Gertrude looked back at us—one eye wonky—as if to say, “Hurry up, already.”

She tugged at my heart. “I’d better go after her.”

“I’m coming, too,” Sam said.

“You dropped your phone, Michele,” Annabelle said from behind me. “Some guy named Rashidi is texting you. Who’s Rashidi?” she called.

I pretended not to hear her, because I sure wasn’t going to tell her that a gorgeous Virgin Islander I’d met at my friend Emily’s wedding wouldn’t quit texting me. I hadn’t answered him, so I’d hoped he’d stopped. I wasn’t ready. I might never be ready again.

“Aren’t you coming?” Sam yelled back to Annabelle.

I heard her feet start up after us. Breakfast and too much coffee sloshed in my belly. I had a head start on them both, but, even though I’d done an Ironman triathlon less than a year before, my conditioning was no match for their youthful athleticism. Sam played elite high school baseball, and Annabelle was headed to UT on a swim scholarship. And both were about to leave me alone for the summer, as of today. Sam working a summer baseball camp that moved around the country. Annabelle getting a headstart on the fall in Austin. I couldn’t think it about that without my eyes leaking, so I forced it away.

The little dog had wheels, and the distance between her and us grew. We thrashed through the bush and brush like a herd of stampeding cattle, my snake-proof pink camouflage cowboy boots adding to our thunder. I tried not to think about snakes. Snakes in the grass, snakes hanging from trees, snakes under bushes. Copperheads, rattlesnakes, water moccasins, and coral snakes, all native to south central Texas, something I’d have to get past if I was going to make it through my summer in the country. Mongoose, mongoose.

Gertrude ducked under the bottom of three barbed wire strands at the three-way juncture of poles and fences that marked the edge of our property and the two parcels adjoining it. A new metal sign had been affixed to the outside of Gidget’s fence, but facing the next property over from ours. It read FUTURE SITE OF HOU-TO-AUS LONESTAR PIPELINE.

We skidded to a stop, and I put my knee-high boot on the bottom wire and pulled up on the middle one. “Here.”

Annabelle ducked through, using one hand to hold her mass of long curly blonde hair off her pink tank top and out of her face. Sam followed. They started running again.

“A little help, please?”

Annabelle understood me first. “Yeah, thanks a lot, Sam,” she teased. She mimicked my actions with the barbed wire.

I’d never been past our fence, and only up to it once or twice. When I’d visited Gidget, I’d driven on a dirt road that wound an extra two miles before cutting back to her place. I crouched, my butterfly pendant falling out the top of the shirt swinging forward to smack me in the teeth. I lunged under the higher strand into new territory, catching the back of my shirt. I heard a tiny rip, but I pulled through anyway. A piece of trash on the ground caught my eye, and reflexively I grabbed it and stuck it in my jeans pocket to throw away later.

“You’ve got a hole,” Annabelle informed me.

It was an old Hotter’n Hell Hundred t-shirt from a bicycle race I’d done with Adrian, Annabelle’s father. The ruined shirt was just another piece of him slipping away, a tiny sliver of my heart excised and gone.

Gertrude had stopped, and she was barking at us, her voice a cattle prod.

“Hold on, Lassie, we’re coming,” I said.

Neither kid laughed, my humor a few decades removed from theirs. We ran on through gray-trunked yaupon holly trees that scratched us up as much as the barbed wire, and I wished I had a coat of fur like Gertrude to protect me from it. The thick vegetation was pretty from a distance but up close it gave me the willies. Poison ivy, spiders, and the aforementioned snakes and yaupon. It was dark back there, too, the cedar, mesquite, and oak creating a canopy made denser by thorny vines and bee-attracting honeysuckle.

Sam turned around and ran backwards. “So, where are we—“ His words were interrupted when he hit the ground with an “oomph,” butt first, palms next.

“Are you okay?” I extended a hand to him.

He lifted one of his up, and it was covered in something brown and mushy. He waved it back and forth in front of his face, sniffing. “Gross.”

I withdrew my hand.

“What is it?” Annabelle leaned toward him, then backed away quickly. “Ew, poop.”

“Help me,” Sam said, shaking his hands to try to fling it off.

Gertrude started barking at us again.

“Sorry, son. I’ve got to see about the dog.”

“Yeah, me, too.” Annabelle giggled.

I zigged and Annabelle zagged around him.

“No fair!”

“Wipe it off on the ground and the leaves.” I laughed, and Annabelle skipped. Literally, she skipped, and it warmed me inside.

Sam caught up with us. The scent of something rotten flooded my nose for a moment. At first I thought it was Sam, but it was dead animal stink, not manure stink. A few running paces later it started to recede. I didn’t want to know what it was. There were lots of critters out here, and all lives had an expiration date. We just didn’t have to face it personally in modern society very often. Or at all, most of us. Another thing I’d have to get over to survive my summer.

My breaths were coming in short pants now, and I couldn’t hear anything except the yips and barks of Gertrude. She broke from the tree line, and I saw Gidget’s clapboard house in the clearing. Gertrude scrambled toward it, running full out. I wanted to stop and put my hands on my knees, but I kept going. Sweat trickled down my temple and onto my cheek. Annabelle was in front of me and Sam a good ten yards in front of her. A gate was ajar in a picket fence that could use the attention of Tom Sawyer. Gertrude entered with Sam hot on her heels. The dog bounded onto the porch and disappeared.

It looked like we were going to get the chance to say hello to Gidget, and I could offer to help her with Gertrude’s eye, or take them to the vet.

Sam stomped up the wooden steps and came to an abrupt halt. He leaned forward, then stood. “You guys, there’s a broken window with blood on it, and the dog jumped back through it and ran inside.”

Annabelle joined Sam, and I caught up with them. The porch sagged under our weight.

“How weird.” I knocked but there was no sound from the house, and no one came to the door. “Gidget?” I called.

Nothing.

I took a step to the left and pressed my nose against the intact upper half of the window, my feet crunching the broken pieces on the porch. I shielded my eyes with my hand, trying to see past the glare of high morning sunlight against glass.

“What is it?” Annabelle asked.

I scanned the room. Gertrude suddenly appeared and rushed the window pell-mell, her bark piercing. I jumped back, falling into my stepdaughter. She stumbled a little, and I righted myself.

“I’m not sure,” I said. I braced myself, hands on the window frame, paint coming off in dry flecks on my palms. I brushed them off on my shorts and tried again. This time I was able to follow Gertrude with my eyes, and they led to the right, in front of a coffee table and faded tweed couch. A bundle of worn clothing lay piled on the wood floors, twitching. Hands and feet and a gray-haired head protruded from the bundle, and blood trickled from Gidget’s forehead into a pool beside her.

 

***

 

The sight of Gidget was like a jolt of electricity, short circuiting my brain. “Adrian.” I exhaled, frozen. My forehead slumped against the glass. “Mom.”

“What?” Annabelle asked, her face right beside mine. “Michele, are you all right?”

I sucked in a deep, careful breath. For a moment, my mind had filled with macabre pictures from my nightmares, a flash of my husband Adrian, crumpled lifeless by his bicycle on the side of the road, murdered a year ago by a crazy stalker in her car. Then one of my own mother, puddled, dead, alone. She’d had a massive stroke only six weeks ago, and Papa had found her.

I winced. “Sorry. Hit too close to home for a second.”

Annabelle nodded, her eyes huge.

I squeezed her shoulder. “Gertrude’s owner, Gidget. She’s in there, on the floor.”

“Oh my God.” Annabelle pressed her face to the glass.

Sam did the same above her head.

“We’ve got to help her.” I rattled the locked door knob and shouted, “Gidget, can you hear me?”

Still nothing.

I pushed, but the door wouldn’t budge. I knew I should call 911 but first I had to check on Gidget. “Sam, we’ve got to bust through the door. On three?”

He crouched in front of the door, and I did the same beside him.

I said, “One, two, three.”

We threw our combined weight against the flimsy old door and the jamb gave with a splintering of wood. Sam and I half-fell through as the door swung open. Annabelle followed us in.

The house reeked of burnt coffee. I put the back of my hand to my nose and stumbled forward. I crouched at Gidget’s side, careful not to slip in her blood. I dropped my hand from my nose and reached for her wrist, pressing my fingers against the inside of it as it jerked spasmodically, and I searched for a pulse. It was very faint, but it was there. “She’s alive. Call 911.”

“Um, I don’t have my phone.”

Not a surprise. Sam never had his phone.

“I’ve got yours,” Annabelle said, and she was already pressing the numbers in the keypad.

I was afraid to move Gidget, but we needed to stop her bleeding. “Find me a rag, please, Sam. Wash your hands first.”

He disappeared.

Some cruel puppeteer kept pulling Gidget’s strings, and I wished I could cut them. Instead, I smoothed steely curls away from her temple on the dry side of her forehead and they sprang back into place. Her pale skin seemed gray, the lopsided red lipstick garish against it. I put my mouth next to her ear and my hand on her sternum. She was breathing, just barely, with long lapses between each breath. I opened her mouth. Her tongue wasn’t obstructing her airway, which was good. I heard water running from down the hall.

“Gidget, are you there?”

No response.

Gertrude crawled on her belly, her gnarled locks pooling on the floor and soaking up blood and some kind of brownish liquid. She inched as close as she could get to Gidget’s head, knocking into a broken coffee cup that skittered out of her way. For the first time, I got a good look at the dog’s face. Beneath the dreadlocks crowning her forehead, one of her eyes had popped partway out of its socket, hanging just over the bottom lid. She looked like something from a B horror flick.

“Poor Gertrude,” I said, using my most soothing voice. “I’ll fix you up as soon as I can, I promise.” Summers and weekends with Papa had taught me most of what I needed to know to help animals—including genus home sapiens—in minor emergencies, thank goodness. I’d put many an eye back into its socket, especially with the dog breeds whose eyes were on the outside of their skulls. Like Gertrude’s were, bless her heart. She licked Gidget’s face, seeming not to notice her own injury. I brushed locks back from Gertrude’s face like I had Gidget’s, with the same result.

Sam returned with a yellow hand towel.

“Put it here, and press.” I pointed at Gidget’s cut.

He positioned it tentatively.

I put my hands over his, applying more pressure. “Like this.”

He complied. “Why is she jerking around like that?”

“Seizure.”

I stepped back, taking in the scene. Gidget was bird-like in a voluminous snap-front housedress. Her high cheekbones slashed across her face, over a pursed mouth now barely sucking in enough air to keep her alive. Concern had tightened Sam’s brow at the same time as compassion softened his eyes. He put his free hand on Gidgets shoulder, as if to stop her spastic movements.

I heard the 911 operator on speakerphone. The voice and static crashed through the living room like a wrecking ball. “Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”

Annabelle’s eyebrows rose. She shrugged at me, a clueless gesture. Teenage girls. Teenagers in general.

I shouted so the phone would pick me up from across the room, and I motioned for Annabelle to move closer, which she did. “My name is Michele Lopez Hanson. We found my neighbor collapsed and in a seizure. She’s unconscious, bleeding from a head wound, and barely breathing. I don’t know what happened to her, but we need an ambulance.”

The connection crackled behind the loud voice. “Where are you calling from?”

“I’m not sure of her address. Out near Serbin, between Giddings and La Grange.” I gave her my address. “It’s near there.”

Before I could explain further, the operator boomed, “What county is that? Lee? Fayette? Washington? They all come together out there.”

“Lee County. Gidget—my neighbor—isn’t on the same road as me. She lives about two miles away from by car, but maybe a quarter mile as the crow flies.”

The voiced boomed. I still couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman. “Gidget? Gidget Becker?”

Of course, with a name like Gidget in a small town, the dispatcher knew who she was. “That’s her. We’re at her place.”

“I’ll dispatch the ambulance and the sheriff’s department.” Then, more softly, “Poor thing. Another seizure.”

“Thank you.” I looked into the eyes of my kids. They looked scared. I tried to sound confident. “What should we do for her in the meantime?”

The voice softened, was solemn and more feminine. “Pray.”

phutchins_signature