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.

 

HEX BREAKER release and New Excerpt!

I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that the first Jain Lazarus Adventure, HEX BREAKER, is out, from Solstice Publishing. The original publisher went out of business, which meant the book (and the series) went out of print. Once the rights reverted, I took a break to lick my wounds, outlined the entire series, and then started my market research. During the time I tried to find the right publisher, I kept getting requests for the book, and questions as to when Jain, Wyatt, Billy, and the gang would be back.

Solstice Publishing and I came to an agreement, and HEX BREAKER was contracted. The remarkable PJ Friel did the new cover, and my editor was the creative, eagle-eyed, and compassionate Shawna Williams. I couldn’t ask for better support than with these two. I feel really lucky — I got to revisit the book, go deeper into Jain’s POV with the knowledge I now had for the rest of the series, making it richer and more complex.

Solstice contracted the second book in the series, OLD-FASHIONED DETECTIVE WORK, and I plan to get third, CRAVE THE HUNT, to them this summer. OLD-FASHIONED DETECTIVE WORK is from Wyatt’s POV, and CRAVE THE HUNT alternates from Billy’s and Jain’s POVs. Billy gained such an adoring fanbase that he’s now got his own blog, Billy Root Blogs, where he talks about the books, the stories, and what it’s like to be an actor playing a character who’s a character in a series of novels. Fun stuff, and great fun to write in his POV outside of the narrative. Yesterday’s blog post contains a new excerpt, only found on the blog, not here or on the website or in the media kit. Read it here — then come back and read another new excerpt on this blog, below!

“Town Crier”, a short story about one of Jain’s exploits about ten years before the events of HEX BREAKER will be available the second week of June, followed by a Billy-centric tale, and then the re-release of “The Possession of Nattie Filmore” and “First Feet.”

So what’s HEX BREAKER about?
Hex Breaker Jain Lazarus joins the crew of a cursed film, hoping to put to rest what was stirred up before more people die and the film is lost. Tough, practical Detective Wyatt East becomes her unlikely ally and lover on an adventure fighting zombies, ceremonial magicians, the town wife-beater, the messenger of the gods, and their own pasts.

New excerpt (not found on the website or in the media kit):

Jain bolted toward the screams. Randy and Zig pounded down the path behind her. When they reached the row of trailers, they found Cady, hysterically flailing in Nick’s arms. He held her, trying to calm her down. Billy stood by, shifting from foot to foot, while Clive yelled, “Has anyone called the police yet?”

Vince rounded the corner, followed by several members of the crew, including Dennis and Mike. Cady wrenched herself away from Nick and flung herself into Vince’s arms, sobbing.

“What the…” Zig began.

Smeared across the door to Cady’s trailer and along the wall was a mass of grayish-red matter. Red liquid dripped from it.

“Something’s been killed,” Billy said with a shudder.

“It looks like someone’s head was smashed and smeared against the wall of the trailer,” said Nick.

“Is anyone missing?” Dennis asked.

“I’ll make the rounds and do a head count.” Mike turned and hurried away.

Jain stepped forward.

“Don’t touch it!” Clive warned. “We need to leave it for the police.”

Jain glared at him for a minute and bit back a retort. She leaned close. Billy paled, tried not to retch, and turned away. Jain examined it without touching it and took a sniff. She straightened. “Ground beef,” she declared. “And ketchup.”

Cady lifted her head. “It’s not someone’s brains?”

Jain shook her head. “Just a psycho trying to freak you out.”

“That was a success.”

********

More information on the Jain Lazarus site.

Available on Amazon Kindle and from Solstice Publishing.

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: Diana Tregarde


Midnight Enchantments celebrates characters, authors, books, and situations we love who use magic.

Midnight Enchantments: Diana Tregarde
by Devon Ellington

Diana Tregarde was out there kicking paranormal ass and taking names before it was even called “urban fantasy.” I read them in the late 1990’s and just loved them. Here was a practicing urban witch who was also practiCAL. She was much more relatable to me than some swanning princess in a fantasy tower somewhere, riding a horse,wielding a sword, and having to worry about a political marriage. Diana lived in a Manhattan that, while it wasn’t exactly MY Manhattan, was recognizable, to an extent — until it wasn’t. Diana was practical and resourceful and smart and funny and loving and compassionate. You’d want her for your best friend and rejoice in having her as a neighbor, even if meant run off from slimy things that go bump in the night. You just ward your apartment a little better, that’s all! When the books were reissued a few years ago, a dear friend gave them to me for Yule. I didn’t leave the house for three days — I stayed warm and cozy, gobbling up the books and enjoying them more than ever.

Diana was also one of the first kick-ass heroines who could genuinely fall in love, yet still maintain feelings for and care about an ex. It was very rare, at the time, that female characters were “allowed” to do that by publishers. In most circumstances, the ex would have had to be a total loser, and we’d wonder why Diana got together with him in the first place. OR, the new love would be a total loser, and we’d wonder why Diana didn’t go back to the ex. That’s the way it worked for most female-centric fiction in those days. Lackey refused to cave in to those kinds of pressures with Diana. She made Diana memorable and sympathetic, and made both past and present loves the same. You could truly BELIEVE that Diana could love each of these men for very different reasons, and that each man was worthy of the relationship at the time.

She was — and is — one of my favorite characters in fiction. Whenever I feel the world is too much with me, or lacks good — I can settle in with one of her adventures, be reminded that there are still plenty of good people, and a lot of them are dealing with Bigger Bads than I have to!

I remember six books, but I can only find three titles in various bibliographies, so maybe I read them in different formats. I see references to three stories in MZB’s Fantasy Magazine, so maybe I mis-remember those short stories as books. I knew Lackey decided not to write more adventures for her, and was saddened by it. However, it’s a writer’s right to write whatever she wishes. Lackey had other stories to tell. Good for her!

I was angered when I heard that she received threats by so-called “fans” for discontinuing the series. Those are not fans; those are bullies. There is no place for such creatures in the landscape of literature. They are the true demons in our world, and “poof” — it’s up to the rest of us to make sure they don’t get the attention they crave or the opportunities to do harm.

I did a little happy dance when Diana showed up last year (this year?) in TRIO OF SORCERY. It was an early story, set in Harvard, while Diana was in college. But yeah, there was my girl, learning and caring, and damn, it was good to see her again!

She’s the kind of person who brightens your day just by being a part of it — even as a fictional character. Kudos to Mercedes Lackey for creating her, and then letting us experience life through her eyes!

You can learn more about these books and Lackey’s MANY others at her website.

–Devon Ellington publishes under a half a dozen names in both fiction and non-fiction, and particularly loves urban fantasy. She is presenting this weekend at the WriteAngles Conference in Mt. Holyoke, MA. Her webiste: www.devonellingtonwork.com.

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

Midnight Enchantments: Harry Dresden


Midnight Enchantments is a celebration of paranormal authors and characters, leading up to Samhain.

Midnight Enchantments: Harry Dresden
By Devon Ellington<strongi

I’d heard about this JIm Butcher series for years. It was one of those I figured I’d “get around to” reading “someday.” Sort of like a round tuit, those potholder like things we used to give each other back in the 80’s and 90’s, when someone would say they were too busy and would “get around to it.”

Then, one of my students recommended the series, telling me she enjoyed it and thought I would, too. The next time I went to the bookstore, I picked up STORM FRONT. My student was right!

What makes Harry Dresden such a terrific character? He’s unique, he’s memorable, and he’s a good guy. Sure, he’s unusual — a paranormal detective who’s also a licensed wizard. He’s even in the phone book — a great detail. The guy has skills. He’s got talent, too, but he doesn’t do things by half-measures. He’s good at what he does because he puts in the work. He’s also got a wry sense of humor, a strong sense of loyalty, and doesn’t hesitate to do what needs to be done when those around him flinch. He’s someone you could just as easily sit and have a beer and burger with in the local bar, or go demon hunting with, should the need arise.

Chicago, the setting of the books, is also an additional character. It’s a slightly alt-Chicago, but the streets are both familiar and strange, and the geography sings. His father was a stage magician, so not only does Harry use magic in his work, he also knows how to weave in illusion when necessary. The way Butcher uses the two systems in tandem rather than in opposition makes for lively action. His mother was a wizard, but we don’t have much information about her in the early books. As with most wizards, he’s got an arsenal of tools at his disposal, as well as drawing on the elements. He seems to trust the tools, more at this point, although I hope that will be one of his areas of growth in the series (I’m just a few books in). He’s under the watchful eye of the White Council — who’d be more than happy to kill him if he steps out of bounds.

His relationship with Karrin Murphy, a cop and his sometimes partner on cases, is fascinating and unconventional. There’s a lot of deep emotion there, but neither seems willing to take a risk on the other. Considering how often they’re nearly killed together, it’s understandable. I don’t really understand why he’s involved with Susan Rodriguez other than she’s a fun sexual partner– I find her more annoying than alluring or feisty — but I’m willing to stick with the books to see how it unfolds. Harry may not always understand the women around him, but he likes and respect women, and that keeps the stories from falling into gender cliches.

Butcher is great at melding the natural world with the paranormal, telling us unique, unusual stories, driven by sparkling dialogue and memorable characters. Strong, intelligent female protagonists have been on the rise in this genre over the past few years. Every once in awhile, it’s nice to also focus on a male protagonist who’s also strong and quirky and intelligent and fun.

–Devon Ellington publishes under a half a dozen names in both fiction and non-fiction. She will present her Dialogue Workshop at the Write Angles Conference on the Mt. Holyoke Campus on October 22. Visit her website at www.devonellingtonwork.com

Shameless Self-Promotion — HEX BREAKER release!

Yes, I’m promoting my own release, the novella HEX BREAKER, the first Jain Lazarus adventure!

“Hex Breaker Jain Lazarus joins the crew of a cursed film, hoping to put to rest what was stirred up before more people die and the film is lost. Tough, practical Detective Wyatt East becomes her unlikely ally and lover on an adventure fighting zombies, ceremonial magicians, the town wife-beater, the messenger of the gods, and their own pasts.”

To read an excerpt, visit the Hex Breaker site.

To purchase a copy of the novella ($4/download, $6/CD), go to Firedrakes Weyr Publishing, and look under “New Releases”.

Enjoy!