PLAYING THE ANGLES: The Joys and Challenges of Re-Release

Playing the Angles Cover Choice 3

PLAYING THE ANGLES released yesterday, which is exciting and frightening all at once.

Several years ago, it was originally released as ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT under the Annabel Aidan name, through a small traditional publisher, both electronically and via POD. It got positive reviews, and the people who found it loved it. When I had print copies for sale at conferences I attended, it was the highest seller of all my books.

It draws on my experiences working backstage on Broadway, and also dealing with Secret Service personnel who are backstage when political VIPS attend the shows. The romance between Morag and the Secret Service agent is pure fiction, on my part; as is a political figure coming to a show to actually perform in it. That’s where the “what if?” and imagination took over from being rooted in actual backstage experience and policy. And it was a lot of fun to write!

It was initially envisioned as a one-off, a complete stand-alone. I wrote it because I wanted to see if I could write paranormal romantic suspense. However, as I worked on the drafts, I felt there were other stories to be told within this fictional world (which is set in contemporary New York City). The readers felt the same way; they wanted to know about Morag’s friends and colleagues.

Several of the authors whose work I admire in the romance genre (such as Mary Balogh, Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz, and Julia Quinn) write clusters of books set around the same characters. Each book stands alone; each has a separate pair of protagonists who fall in love and find their HEA. But central characters from one book show up as supporting characters in other books; supporting characters move forward to become protagonists. I felt that was appropriate for this world and for these characters.

Because the publisher would not commit to more than one book, the next book in the series kept getting kicked down the road in favor of solid, signed contracts from other publishers. In the life of a writer who pays the bills by the work, he who pays most and has the nearest deadline gets first priority. I was still working on Broadway at the time, writing other paid and contracted work, and also writing plays. When my term of contract was up, the publisher and I parted ways.

I figured that was that, moving on, and the series was dead. I’d learned a lot from this book, and I could and did apply what I learned moving forward.

In the meantime, I still took print copies to conferences and appearances to sell them through. And readers LOVED the book. They wanted to recommend it to their friends. They wanted more stories with these characters.

I’d had the rights back for several years when I did a reassessment of how I wanted to shape my writing career, and what was and was not working for me. How I wanted to structure it according to MY vision, not someone else’s.

That doesn’t mean ignoring craft; my goal with every book is that it’s better than the previous book, and that the craft builds from book to book as well as the story telling.

But it meant a business strategy that worked for ME, rather than being part of a bigger machine that didn’t give a damn, one way or the other. It was not about one book; it was about how this book fits into the overall vision for my career.

That’s still a work in progress, but when my team and I sat down to figure things out, we came up with a plan that we’re implementing over the next three years, and then we’ll reassess.

First off, I re-read the book. I knew the title was a problem; I’d thought the publisher would change the title, and I often joked about the book as “when bad titles attack.” The poor choice of title (my fault entirely) definitely hurt sales. The cover art was gorgeous; I enjoyed working with my editor, although I disagreed with a chapter cut out that set up the relationship with Bonnie, who is the protagonist of the second book.

I was pleasantly surprised, when I re-read it, that the book stood up to the test of story. Some craft things could be improved; some references needed to be updated to reflect upgrades in technology and an even harder shift in the political landscape.

But Morag and Simon were still engaging characters, and the development of their relationship, set against the backdrop of a Broadway show that is depicted fairly realistically instead of the whiny, bitchy way non-theatre people tend to write about it, also stood up. I came up with the title PLAYING THE ANGLES, which had the double entendres I wanted in the title, was relevant to the book, and a catchier and more engaging title.

I started reworking the manuscript, and visualizing the series as a whole. I added back in some of the material introducing Bonnie (and cut what wasn’t needed). I started outlining the different books in the series (in Writer’s Rough Outlines), because I realized the subsequent stories would influence the initial set-up in PLAYING THE ANGLES, even if it wasn’t explained or referenced directly.

The larger traditional publishers aren’t interested in picking up a series that’s already in process unless it’s selling a gazillion copies with a headline name. It was possible to sell the second book in the series, but unlikely the first book would ever see the light of day again. While the lure of a larger traditional publisher was enticing, especially in terms of an advance and marketing support, I still wanted PLAYING THE ANGLES out there again, and I knew my readers did, too.

Smaller publishers sometimes take on series in progress, but, again, it would be one book at a time, and on the digital release followed by the POD model. There’s very little marketing support, and the POD model is not working for me right now.

The decision was made to split the re-release. Pronoun (owned by Macmillan) would handle the digital release. A small, new, very traditional publisher who does only print releases will do a small print run with a small advance next year (details will be revealed when contracts are signed by both parties). We’ll see how that works.

So, the business angle of ANGLES (pun intended) was done. Now it was time for the quality of the work.

I worked with the editor with whom I’ve worked on several of the Delectable Digital Delights. She’s good at training me out of my bad habits, even though I keep coming up with new ones. She’s also good at the discussion of “this is a trope of the genre, do you want to play within it or break it on purpose?” so nothing is done carelessly. As I worked on the manuscript, the tone changed somewhat. It was more “Devon” and less “Annabel.” We made the collective decision to release it under the Devon Ellington byline, even though, under that name, I am not known for romance or romantic suspense, merely “romantic elements.” But the tone dictated the byline.

I have a cover designer who ACTUALLY READS THE MANUSCRIPT before designing the cover, instead of simply reading an information sheet. When I worked for a NYC publisher many years ago, that’s what cover designers did; they were required to read the galleys and discuss things with the author and the editor, although the publishing company had the final say. Therefore, the cover was even more relevant and representative of the manuscript. It also meant the three of us could discuss the look of the overall series, and how to tie the covers together while making each distinct and eye-catching. It also meant presenting something to both the publishers that didn’t need a lot of tweaking (although the specs on the print cover will need some re-working).

Add in the copy editor — someone who is committed to the Oxford Comma, someone who is also a Strunk & White devotee (while well-versed in Chicago and AP styles), and someone who respects that, to a theatre professional such as myself, theatre is ALWAYS spelled t-h-e-a-t-r-e. (That is a clause in my contracts, and is one of the few non-negotiables for me. I am willing and have walked away from potential contracts on this matter, because it is that important to me). A copy editor who doesn’t make edits that change my meaning, but when she sees something that strikes a wrong note, ASKS ME ABOUT IT FIRST. Sometimes, it’s exactly what I mean; other times, she’s caught me when I made a careless mistake. Because that is what a good copy editor does.

Add to this, once the book was in final galleys, doing the Series Bible, so that I’m consistent in certain details from book to book. One of the positives was that I had a good chunk of the second book in the series, THE SPIRIT REPOSITORY, drafted, and that definitely contributed to re-committing to the series. If the second book hadn’t also held up to scrutiny (which doesn’t mean it doesn’t need editing, because it does), I might have retired ASSUMPTION/ANGLES permanently and keep it out-of-print.

There were decisions to be made on back matter. I added an article on theatre ghosts that is only available in the book I added the first chapter of the second book in the series, THE SPIRIT REPOSITORY. That was one of the reasons I wanted to go with these publishers – they were willing to include it. I also included the first chapter of SAVANASANA AT SEA, a not-quite-cozy mystery that releases in November of this year, and the first chapter of TRACKING MEDUSA, which re-releases in January. The inclusion of that additional material mattered to me.

Pile on top of that the need for a website just for the series — more work in both design and content. But it’s worth it. I feel good about both the look and the material on the Coventina Circle website. There’s information relevant to each book, and suggestions if the specific premise of each book appeals for further exploration. On the website, I have information about working on Broadway, background information on some of the characters, and a recommended reading list. I will post a facsimile program of the Broadway show within the book in the coming weeks, and also an article on aromatherapy. The website will grow as the series grows.

This more holistic approach to the book as part of bigger whole that then feeds into my career as a whole feels better than the constant knife-edge where so much was dependent on what worked better for others. This is more balanced. These particular publishers are supportive of my vision for the long-term, not just the one-book short-term. Hopefully, it will work out both business-wise and artistically for both of us.

It is exciting and invigorating and a little terrifying. But the creative team and I believe in this book, and we hope you love it.

Below is an excerpt, and below that, buy links. There’s even more information and a media kit in the Coventina Circle Media Room here. Thank you so much for taking this journey with me.

Devon

PLAYING THE ANGLES excerpt:
The man’s knife flashed in the glow of the streetlight. Morag kicked at him and scrambled away as he lunged for her. She stumbled, but managed to put more distance between her and the attacker. She grabbed the lid of a trashcan to use as a shield.

A couple out for an evening stroll stopped and watched the fight, mouths open. They stood directly in Simon’s line of fire. “Move!” he ordered. They turned and stared at him, at the gun, like deer in headlights. He saw Morag twist, avoiding the attacker’s next thrust. Simon stepped forward and shoved the couple out of the way. “Get out of here before you get hurt!”

The woman screamed, grabbed the man’s hand, and they ran. “Drop the knife! Drop it or I’ll shoot!”

The attacker and Morag continued their jerky dance. If Simon fired, he risked hitting her. He needed to position himself to get a clear shot. She was trapped between the garbage cans and the iron railing.

The attacker charged again and Morag squirmed to one side. His knife scraped the plastic lid. Morag grabbed the lid off another can and threw it at him, left- handed. It hit him and bounced. He took a step back.

Simon fired.

Buy Links here.

 

Midnight Enchantments: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Character: Death


Midnight Enchantments is a celebration of authors, books, and characters we love, those who fill our lives with magic.

Midnight Enchantments: Terry Pratchett’s Death
by Devon Ellington

I adore Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Not only do they fill me with true delight, I think he’s one of the most brilliant social satirists we have. He takes his alternate, well-built universe, makes it reflect enough familiarities so we’re not entirely lost, and then shows us the absurdities of many of our assumptions and prejudices. He uses humor to make us pay attention.

A friend from a writing class gave me MORT for my birthday one year. She couldn’t believe I’d never read Terry Pratchett. In MORT, a kid named Mort who never really fit in, becomes Death’s apprentice. I was next guided to WYRD SISTERS, which gets some of its inspiration from MACBETH, and from there to MASKERADE. MASKERADE makes fun of many things, including taking digs at PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, CATS, and MISS SAIGON. I read it backstage between cues when I was working on MISS SAIGON, and I laughed so hard and so loud they were ready to drive me to Bellevue when the curtain went down! And from there, I just read whatever Discworld novels I could get my hands on, as fast as I could get my hands on them.

One of the most persistent characters in the Discworld novels (and in all our lives), is Death. Death is quite a character — thoughtful, resourceful, intelligent, kind when appropriate, gets the job done. AND HE ALWAYS SPEAKS IN CAPITAL LETTERS. One of my favorite novels in the series is HOGFATHER, where Death steps in to take over when the Hogfather (a Discworld variation on our Father Christmas) disappears. His genuine puzzlement when he sits down and takes small children on his lap to hear their wishes for Hogfather Night and how that does not go well, is both touching and hilarious.

Death is logical. Death knows when our time is up. Death likes a good conversation as much as the next fellow. Death does not suffer fools gladly. Death is practical. Death has a sense of humor, albeit a (ahem) deadly one.

Personifying Death the way Pratchett does makes the inevitable more palatable, somehow. The method of your personal death may not be particularly pleasant, but Death is there to give you a hand up to your next destination. The destination is determined by the way you’ve lived your life, and what you BELIEVE you deserve, but you are not alone. And so many of us don’t want to die alone.

Death will always win. But sometimes he likes to put his feet up by the fire and have a cuppa, just like anybody else.

Find out more information on Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels here.

–Devon Ellington is a full-time writer, publishing under a half a dozen names in both fiction and non-fiction. Her latest release, under the Annabel Aidan name, is the romantic suspense, ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT, available in print and digital versions from Champagne Books.

Midnight Enchantments: Joanne Walker


Midnight Enchantments is a celebration of books, characters, and authors we love who use magic in their work.

Midnight Enchantments: Joanne Walker
By Devon Ellington

Another favorite character in the urban fantasy genre is Joanne Walker. She’s a mechanic for the Seattle police department AND a shaman. Murphy mixes the native American and Celtic elements beautifully.

In my opinion, there are two reasons the books work so well. The first is that the landscape is rich with emotional geography and the setting is an additional character. You can feel the land breathe and respond to Joanne, support her or fight her. There were a lot of things I loved about Murphy’s Negotiator series, such as the way she dealt with race, but she never captured New York’s emotional geography, and I never got a sense of place. As someone who lived in Manhattan for many years and has strong feelings about its emotional geography, I found it very frustrating. And then, of course, I felt guilty about that response, because I’m such a huge fan of Murphy’s writing!

I lived in Seattle, too (the unhappiest year of my life), but Walker’s Seattle is a wonderful, rich, vibrant place, even when it’s terrifying.

The second reason I feel the books work so well is that we get to experience Joanne’s learning curve WITH her. We’ve all been frustrated with characters who make the same mistakes over and over again. Joanne is smart enough to realize if she does that, she’ll be dead, and so will people she cares about. So, she makes the conscientious effort to learn and grow. It’s one of the many things I love about her, and one of the reasons she’s one of my favorite characters.

You can find out more about all of CE Murphy’s books on her website.

Devon Ellington publishes under a half a dozen names in both fiction and non-fiction. She writes the urban fantasy Jain Lazarus adventures, and her latest release, as Annabel Aidan, is the paranormal romantic suspense ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT. She will present her dialogue workshop at Write Angles on Oct. 22. www.devonellingtonwork.com

Interview with Ute Carbone!

A Biblio Paradise is launching a new season, and my fellow Champagne author Ute Carbone is our first guest! Please give her a warm welcome, along with her book, A BLUEBERRY TRUTH.

Annabel Aidan: What triggered the move from poetry to novels? Do you still write poetry? Poetry requires such spare and specific language. Was opening out into prose a challenge?

Ute Carbone: The switch was something that just kind of happened. I had been writing poems for a while and I got to a plateau. I wanted to deepen my poetry and make it work better, but I couldn’t find the way to do it. I had talked to my good friend and fellow poet Lana Ayers and she suggested we take a workshop with another area poet, Kate Gleason. Kate is a terrific poet and a great teacher. Her workshop “writing from the inner voice” is based on workshops created in Amherst, Mass. by Pat Schneider. They’re all about writing from what’s inside of you, opening the faucets wide in the first draft. We would write using paper and pen and then read what we’d written, looking for the “good stuff,” the gems that come out in first writing. The method did help my poetry, but an interesting thing happened. I started writing stories. I began with flash fiction. Over time, the stories got longer and longer until, one day, I found myself writing a novel. I loved the method so much that I started a similar workshop with Lana!

I do occasionally still wax poetic. It’s a different kind of writing though, and most of my energy goes towards prose these days. I love creating worlds and telling stories. In a work in progress that I’m now polishing, the main character is a singer-songwriter. I wrote a couple of her songs. It was kind of fun, getting back into it.

You’re right about poetry being spare and specific. Blueberry Truth is around 60,000 words, P-town runs about 70,000. In novel-writing terms, those are relatively short books. Lots of novelists will write somewhere around 150.000 words in an early draft and then pare the story down to 100,000 or so. I find I often do the opposite, I’ll have to add things on rewrite because the prose is a bit spare.

But poetry has also been a great training ground for prose. Poets pay a lot of attention to voice, to how words ‘sound together’ on the page. I try to use that in my prose. And the language of poetry, because it is spare, needs to be precise. Every word counts. I try to carry that specificity into my prose. Geranium, for example, paints a more precise picture than flower.

AA: I love the title of your upcoming book from Champagne, THE P-TOWN QUEEN. Is it set in Provincetown? As someone who recently moved to Cape Cod, and spent many a summer in P-town in the late 1960s, the title alone captures my attention for the book.

UC: Thanks! P-town is a romantic comedy and kind of a romp. It was a lot of fun to write. And it is set in Provincetown. The Cape is one of my favorite places. I imagine it’s a wonderful place to live and a terrific place to write. I live about three hours away in Southern New Hampshire and my husband and I visit as often as we can manage. We usually go to the outer cape and have spent lots of time in Provincetown.

Provincetown is a great mix. There is a vibrant arts community, an open and equally vibrant gay community, lots of tourists, and a fishing community that tends to be traditional in its values and very proud of its Portuguese heritage. All on a tiny fist of land surrounded on three sides by water.

AA: BLUEBERRY TRUTH is set in Albany, NY. What about Albany, specifically, made it the perfect setting for the book?

UC: Hmm, good question. The short answer is that I lived and worked in the Albany area when I was in my twenties. I was a teacher and the school at which the main character, Beanie, teaches is loosely based on the place where I used to teach. So, Albany seemed like a natural.

I’ve read some of your blogs on the importance of setting and like you, I like having a place where I’m comfortable with the geography. Places have a kind of ‘feel’ to them that I think you have to experience firsthand. For this reason, all my books tend to be set in the northeast. It’s where I live and where I’m ‘comfortable’. That said, I have an idea for a book that would be set, at least for a part of it, in Afghanistan. I’ve been reluctant to follow that idea because I’ve never been there, but maybe it would be a challenge worth taking…

AA: Beanie’s playlist (on your book’s Facebook page) is fascinating –Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Dave Matthews. Do you usually use music when you write? Do the music choices evolve out of the writing process? Do you create a playlist before you write, and, if so, how do you choose what goes on it?

UC: I’m glad you asked about the playlist! Music and writing have always been connected for me. My love of poetry grew out of song. I spent my teens listening to songwriters like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell.

These days, I’m a huge Petty and Springsteen fan! My iPod is one of my prize possessions. I listen while driving and while walking and while doing chores. I don’t usually listen while writing, because I can get too caught up in the music and so it becomes a distraction rather than an asset .

Like most writers, I spend a lot of time “noodling,“ that is thinking about the next scene- what my characters are likely to do, what will happen, how things will be resolved, etc. I find that music helps to me to find my way into the tone and feeling of the book.

I have a playlist for nearly all my books, though I haven’t ever started with songs. I usually get a ways into a project before I start thinking about a list. The choices are very intuitive, they just ‘feel’ like they belong to the book. Often, the lyrics will in some way match the thoughts and feelings of the main characters. I will sometimes add or subtract songs as the characters undergo changes.

I read on Twitter where someone was creating stories based on what was playing on their iPod. That sounds fascinating to me, maybe I’ll try that at some point.

AA: What drives you to keep writing?

UC: I love words, I love the sound of them, the way they fall together on the page.

I was a head-in-the-clouds kind of kid so dreaming up worlds and characters suits me well. Creating characters is a kind of magic. After a while, they take on a life of their own. It’s like hanging out with a whole bunch of imaginary friends. And really, how many adults get to have imaginary friends? ☺

Excerpt:
I shouldn’t have slept on the floor. I’ve got a perfectly good bed to sleep
in after all. But I couldn’t stay there. Not alone. Not after the fight I had
with Mac. It’s not as though we haven’t fought before. You don’t go
through a bunch of years dating and eight years of marriage without a few
skirmishes. But he’s never walked out before. He’s never opted to sleep on
the couch before.

He’s wrong about Blue. She needs a place to stay. I’ve promised to keep
her safe. She’s had enough of broken promises. I don’t plan on breaking
this one. I have to get Mac to change his mind. He’s not some cold-hearted
beast who won’t see the rightness of this. When I go down to find him, he’s
gone.

Blue wanders into the kitchen while I’m making coffee.

“Hey sleepyhead, what kind of cereal do you like?”

She doesn’t answer me right away. The wariness that had disappeared
yesterday is back and creates a wall between us.

“We not going to Florida?”

I set a bowl of cereal in front of her. “No, Blue. We’re not going to
Florida.”

“You say you help me out. You lie.”

“Florida’s a big place, Blue. I told you that. We can’t just go to Florida.”

“We can’t. We can’t. We can’t.”

I pour milk into the cereal. She stares at it for a minute, then walks
away. I walk after her to find her sitting desolate on the piano stool.
“Right now, we need to get to school.” I sound more like her teacher
than someone who might care for her.

“No. I’m going to find my ma. If you don’t help, I go by my own self.”
She crosses her arms and turns her back to me.

“It’s not that easy.” I’m ready to detail how impossible, to say we may
never find her.

Blue reaches into her pocket and pulls out a battered postcard. It has
been torn and taped back together. The ends are dog-eared from the
pocket. On it is a picture of a cheap-looking motel made of pink cinder
blocks. The sign in front of the motel says Flamingo Motor Lodge. On the
back, girlish handwriting tells Blue to be a good girl. The “o’s” in “love”
and “Mom” are big and heart shaped. The postmark is February
something, Dunedin, Florida. “That where Ma is.”

I hand the card back to her. She folds it into her pocket with the care
you’d give something breakable.

“We can’t go down there. The card came months ago. It’s a motel.
People don’t stay in motels for long.”

“You ain’t going to help. You lie. You fucking lie all the time.” She gets
up and knocks the piano bench over.The top flies open and sheet music is
spewed onto the floor. “Fuck you.”

I gather her up, hurt back and all, and hold her close.

“Fuck you.” She sobs into my robe. We sit on the floor, rocking and
rocking.

Bio:
Ute began her writing life as a poet and has had a number of poems published in small press magazines and anthologies. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in such publications as Comstock Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, and
Bellowing Ark. She taught first-draft writing workshops for about twelve years and keeps a fan page based on the workshops at:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wildwords/191658074009. She has a short story due out in the “Words on Fire Anthology” by Nemesis Publishing, later this year. Blueberry Truth is her first novel. A second book, a romantic comedy called The P-town Queen, will be released by Champagne Press next June.
Ute was born in Germany and grew up in upstate New York. She and her husband now reside in Nashua, NH. They have two grown sons. Ute enjoys hiking, skiing, and generally anything that involves being outside. She loves the theatre and attends as regularly as time and money will allow. She’s a bibliophile who will read just about anything, though she loves novels best.

You can contact Ute at her website: http://UteCarbone.com