Release day: MYTH & INTERPRETATION, a Gwen Finnegan novella

MYTH&INTERPRETATION Cover

Stuck in NYC when plans for their next expedition fall through, Gwen and Justin accept teaching jobs at different local universities. Adjusting to their relationship, and juggling the academic and emotional demands of their students, they are embroiled in two different, disturbing, paranormal situations that have more than one unusual crossing point. Can they work together to find the answers? Or are new temptations too much to resist? For whom are they willing to put their lives on the line?

This between-the-books novella takes place in New York City, shortly after the action in Tracking Medusa ends and The Balthazaar Treasure begins.

Released by Bluestockings and Gentlemen Press July 2018. $1.99
Universal Buy link:
https://www.books2read.com/u/4XKL57

Q & A with Devon Ellington:
Question: Talk a little bit about how Myth & Interpretation came about.

Devon Ellington: Originally, a handful of the scenes were in the opening chapters of the second Gwen Finnegan mystery, The Balthazaar Treasure. But they didn’t work. They slowed down the story. Yet, the readers needed to know what happened in between the end of Tracking Medusa and the beginning of Balthazaar. I talked to my editor. She suggested breaking it off and doing a novella. I outlined it; she worked with me to pare it down so it didn’t become a novel. And some characters that are vital to the series get proper introductions here.

Q: Justin is in an interesting position here. He’s always been the assistant. He’s always been in the position of less power. But here, he is the leader, especially when it comes to helping his student, Jessica.

DE: Yes, he’s growing into himself. He made huge strides when he and Gwen teamed up to find the Medusa statue. Now, he’s the teacher and he’s responsible for the next generation of his profession. Gwen’s done this before; he’s finding his way.

Q: Plus, they have to work out the dynamics of their own relationship.

DE: Which isn’t easy. Gwen’s been married and divorced. She’s worked and lived all over the world, and experienced her share of relationships. She knows what she needs and won’t put up with in a relationship. Justin’s still finding out, and he’s still playing by the rules he’s used to. They have to navigate. Gwen’s approach is simple: I love you and trust you. No games. Justin is used to games.

Q: At the same time, what Gwen chooses not to tell him here is interesting. You’d expect her not to want to have any secrets from him.

DE: Yes, and that choice is part of what fuels their conflict during Balthazaar Treasure. She believes that telling him certain things – can’t mention them here or they’re spoilers – would cause the type of drama between them she wants to avoid. Yet the choice to avoid drama now means she has to deal with it further down the line.

Q: And Karl stirs the pot. Again.

DE: As Karl does. Especially when it can annoy Justin.

Q: They stayed in New York for this adventure.

DE: And Gwen can’t wait to get back in the field. She loves her home, but she loves being out and about even more. Now Justin’s got field fever, too.

Q: I kind of fell in love with all the students in Gwen’s seminar. Even the ones who were a problem. Will we see more of them?

DE: In the original outline, they grew into a tighter group and had more to do. But, again, it was too much for the scope of the piece. Their stories definitely go on; how much directly intersect with Gwen and Justin, I’m still working on defining it.

Q: But we have to see more of Alec. And Jessica.

DE: Don’t worry. You will. In surprising ways!

Q: New York was a huge character in the piece.

DE: Yes, I’m creating my slightly alternate New York based on some of my favorite places. New York is rapidly changing, but my fictional New York, I hope, can retain some of my favorite places, add some fictional places, and still be believable for those who know the city well.

Q: The crossover that happened between the worlds of Gwen Finnegan and the world of the Coventina Circle happened again, with the Société Sortileger, the esoteric library on Orchard Street.

DE: Yes, that was fun. Since Gwen lives in almost the same New York around the same time as Coventina, even though they move in different circles (no pun intended) most of the time, it makes sense that they would end up in some of the same places, even if they don’t know each other.

Q: Harry Delacourte – he’s getting around. Kind of hard not to fall in love with him.

DE: He certainly is. He turns up in the next Coventina Circle, Relics & Requiem, too. Harry’s a busy boy. He and the staff of the library will likely cross over in several books in both series. He surprised me, though, when it turned out he was related to one of Gwen’s UK coven sisters. I have a feeling he’s full of more surprises. As are Gwen and Justin.

 

Excerpt:

Justin was grateful he’d prepared most of his lectures so far in advance. He was comfortable with the material, and he could make it through the lecture without worrying. He’d have to find a way to concentrate on the papers that were turned in today.

He pulled the piles Louis collected together, shoved them into a manila folder, and jammed them into his bag. He needed to get back to the hospital. His dad was scheduled for release in a few days, and Justin had the irrational fear he’d never make it out. He hadn’t dared to share this fear with Gwen. She’d comfort him, be logical, and he didn’t want that right now.

“Mr. Yates?”

He jerked his head up to see a young woman in front of his desk. He searched his memory. Florence. The Mayans. “Jessica? Jessica Sayles?”

“Yes. I’m glad you’re back.”

“Good to be back.” It sounded false and hollow. If he reached, he could remember the joy his first days of teaching gave him. They felt far away. “How can I help you?”

“I’m not sure.”

He noticed she looked tired. “Do you need an extension on the paper?”

“N-no, nothing like that. I turned it in. I hope you like it.” She looked down, her hair falling over her face, hiding it. After a minute, she took a deep breath, brushed her hair back and looked at him. “I’m afraid. And because you and Dr. Finnegan have the experiences you have, I thought you could help me.”

“Um, sure, I’ll try?” It sounded lame to Justin’s ears, but that was the best he could do.

Jessica took a deep breath and exhaled. “I think my roommate, Gina? The one who’s in Dr. Finnegan’s seminar? I think she’s trying to kill me.”

 

Available for $1.99 digitally on July 17. Delayed release on Amazon, but with the same link.

https://www.books2read.com/u/4XKL57

Visit the Gwen Finnegan website to keep up with all the latest!

 

 

 

Tues. May 8, 2018: THE SPIRIT REPOSITORY, The Second Coventina Circle Novel!

The Spirit Repository.6

Some shameless self-promotion here! The Spirit Repository releases today. Here’s a little background, and thanks to Mary Tratt for the interview questions.

Question: Following the evolution of this book through your blog, Ink in My Coffee, and on social media, it seems this was more of a struggle than Playing the Angles.

Devon Ellington: The books offered different challenges. When I originally wrote Playing the Angles, it was going to be a stand-alone. I had no intention of creating a series. Bonnie wandered in to sublet from Morag near the end of PTA, and started telling me her story. Around the same time, I was reading Washington Irving’s diaries and books about the history of New York when it was New Amsterdam. That all came together for The Spirit Repository – the idea that Rufus was comfortable living with the ghosts of his ancestors, but that someone was trying to destroy those ghosts.

The original publisher of Playing the Angles, back when it had another title, had first-look on my next book in that world; while that book was in production, I went under contract for a different series with a different publisher. Repository kept going on the back burner while I fulfilled signed contracts. When the publisher of PTA and I parted ways, I put the book aside.

When I sat down with my advisors and we did the career re-evaluation in 2017 and discussed new directions, I re-read PTA and really liked it; and I had more ideas for Repository. I’d written about a third of the manuscript before putting it aside. I started thinking about the stories of the other members of Coventina Circle, and came up with a series proposal. When Bluestockings and Gentlemen Press were interested in the series and willing to commit to the series, not just a book once it was finished, I went back to Repository. I had to get back into Bonnie and Rufus’s rhythms. Rufus, in particular, has a particular formal cadence, while Bonnie is more effervescent. Very different than the dynamic between Morag and Simon.

I hadn’t outlined the book, so it was harder to get back into it, find its rhythm, keep writing, and then figure out where I wanted it to go. At the same time, I was juggling the release of Savasana at Sea and the re-release of Tracking Medusa. So it was a lot.

Q: You have some interesting side stories in the book: New York’s history as New Amsterdam, the Battle of Fort Washington in the American Revolution, the popularity of spiritualism and mediumship in Victorian New York.

DE: Because Rufus lives with so many decades of ghosts, there are different time periods that wound into the story. New York still had plenty of Dutch influences; if you look around the city, they are still strong. I didn’t know much about the Battle of Fort Washington before it came up. Once I started reading about the way the American prisoners were stashed on ships in Brooklyn, starved, and the dead bodies thrown over the side, well, it was awful. I knew I had to put it in. The tie-in to the Percy family of Northumberland – had to go in. Anyone who knows me knows how obsessed I’ve been with Shakespeare’s Hotspur and his real-life descendants. I’ve always been interested in how mediums and spiritualism became popular, especially in New York. It gained momentum after the Civil War, when people were so desperate to connect with their lost loved ones and grew from there. Other Powers by Barbara Goldsmith has inspired several of my characters.

Q: I felt like I could read an entire book about any of those side stories.

DE: It was difficult to keep them as anecdotes and discoveries, and not go too deeply into any of the tangents.

Q: Will we see more?

DE: Once the main thread of the Coventina Circle series is complete, I might go back and write some of these stories as straight-up historical fiction rather than paranormal romantic suspense. I still want to do that with some of the backstage stories in PTA, the stories behind the ghosts. Time and interest is going to dictate part of that. When I can schedule the writing, and if people want the stories.

Q: Stylistically, this book is different than much of the rest of your work.

DE: Yes, and that’s always scary, isn’t it? There’s more narrative than I usually use. I dramatized some of the narrative, and it created too much of a tangent so it had to be cut; I needed the information (although I cut it way back), so it made the most sense to have Bonnie and Rufus make the discoveries and then share them. Both of them are introverts. There’s more self-reflection and internal monologue here than in most of my other work. I had to be true to their characters, not worry about my ego and holding on to “the way I usually do things.” That way lies madness and bad writing.

Rufus and Bonnie question themselves, they have trouble trusting their hearts. I also use exclamation points more often. Because they don’t trust their instincts during the course of the books, they also tended to ask questions instead of make statements. My editor and I had to change some of that because of what happens in the third book, Relics and Requiem. One of the characters in that is Australian, with the upward inflections at the end of many of his sentences. It’s a different rhythm than the self-doubt in this book, but we had to look at the use punctuation to communicate the cadences properly, and how the cadences would play against each other, book-to-book. So we changed some of the questions in this book to declaratives. We had more discussions about comma placement and how to set interior quotes in spoken dialogue than usual, because we had to make it read clearly. Digitally, some of the correct copy editing style didn’t work, so we had to amend it and work with the publisher to make sure it was okay. It was difficult to let go of some of the style guide protocols that are second nature. Grow and evolve, right? I am so grateful to both my editor and my copy editor for their willingness to hash out punctuation beat-to-beat when necessary.

Q: Jake is a very strong character. How did he come about?

DE: He walked into the book and made himself at home! I cut him out of a few drafts, and he kept coming back. So I let him do his thing. One of the themes in this book, which I will build on in future books, is how interconnected this particular community is. Even if they don’t always get along, they’ll help each other. Bonnie and Jake have a strong connection that makes Rufus uncomfortable. Going further than that gives too much away too soon!

Q: There’s a lot of Celtic/Irish connection in this book, too.

DE: Yes. New York has pockets of different communities. They mesh, but they also keep a strong sense of identity. It’s one of the great things about living in New York, and one of the things I miss about it. There’s still a very strong Irish community. Lots of students, lots of young men and women who come over and work for a few months for their gap year and whatever. When I lived in Hell’s Kitchen, the community was changing. But it was still very strong down in the Village.

Q. Are there really hidden gardens in New York?

DE: Oh, yeah. Plenty of friends and colleagues created sanctuaries, sometimes just putting a blanket or table and chairs on the asphalt roof, or “Tar Beach” as we used to call it. More people than you’d think create rooftop gardens, and rooftop farming is getting more popular. Also, many of the buildings have tiny, narrow enclosures, back to back, bricked-in or fenced in, where they can have a bit of outdoor space. There aren’t a lot of alleys in New York – the gardens tend to back up against each other. But those delightful sanctuaries exist. It’s amazing what people can do with the space.

Q: I have to ask about The Dragon’s Lair.

DE: That is my fantasy of a perfect pagan club in NYC. As far as I know, it doesn’t exist. It would make sense to put it on the Bowery, as it re-gentrifies, although I’ve jiggled the geography a bit to make it fit.

Q: Will we have stories set there?

DE: It features in Relics and Requiem at the very least. I’m pretty sure I will set some short pieces in and around the club. Kayla and Lerrien are pretty interesting, and having that setting allows for all kinds of stories to flow through.

Q: What about the esoteric library on Orchard Street?

DE: Again, fictional. I love the NY Tenement Museum, and I could imagine the library being a couple of buildings down from it. There are a few private libraries. The New York Theosophical Society is on E. 53rd St. I thought I remembered it being down by Grammercy Park, but maybe I mis-remembered or maybe it moved. Their library is open to the public. There’s also the New York Society Library on E. 79th St. and the General Society’s Library on W. 44th St. I was a member of the latter for several years, before I moved away. I loved working in there. I thought it would be fun to have an esoteric library where Bonnie and Rufus could make discoveries, and it took on its own life.

Q. I’d like to see stories set there, too.

DE: When I can carve out the time, and if the stories pull enough, it’ll happen.

Q: You also have two in-jokes. One referencing a character from another series; one a nod to the next book in this series.

DE: You can blame Jenn McKinlay for those! She has similar cross references in her series. But it makes sense – two of my series are in contemporary Manhattan. Although the characters inhabit different circles (no pun intended), it makes sense that they would both use the Sociἐtἐ Sortileger. And the other reference came about by accident, and we decided to leave it in.

Q: What can you tell us about the next Coventina Circle novel?

DE: Relics and Requiem is scheduled to release in October. That’s Amanda’s story, and her complicated life gets even more so when she helps out an acquaintance at a small museum and winds up involved in a murder. The detective who catches the case is Phineas Regan, who we met in Playing the Angles. They are the primary protagonists. Amanda’s got a lot of sharp edges. She’s very forceful and dynamic, very different from Bonnie. I’m having a lot of fun with Amanda and Phineas.

THE SPIRIT REPOSITORY:
Bonnie Chencko knows books change lives. But she never expected her life to change because she happened to duck into a small bookshop in Greenwich Village on a rainy late November night. She’s attracted to Rufus Van Dijk, the mysterious man who owns the bookshop in his ancestors’ building. A building filled with family ghosts, who are mysteriously disappearing. It’s up to Bonnie and her burgeoning Craft powers to rescue the spirits before their souls are lost forever.

Excerpt:
Before Rufus could question or she could elaborate, the front door opened and banged shut. A gangly young man with short-cropped black hair entered, carrying a large take-out bag. Delicious smells of meat, chicken, onion, melted cheese, and peppers wafted from it. Minerva growled, and the other two cats glared at him. “Hey, the line at the taco place took for damn ever, but at least I got some beers to go along with the food,” he said. He noticed Bonnie. “Oh, hello. I’m sorry, I didn’t know we had company. I’m sure we can make the food stretch.”
“Because you probably don’t need to eat six tacos,” Rufus smiled and shook his head. “Bonnie Chencko, this is Adam Grenowski. Adam, this is Bonnie. She ducked in here to get out of the rain. Adam works with me.”
“Hidden away from the real world and daylight like a vampire,” he agreed cheerfully. “Good thing I’m nocturnal.” He sneezed. “Damn, guess the allergy drugs wore off. Gotta take some more.” He placed the greasy bag on the table and took off his outerwear.
“Adam’s allergic to cats.”
“And dogs and ferrets and all the rest of the critters New Yorkers tend to hoard to keep loneliness at bay,” Adam retorted. “Give me a nice goldfish any day.” He opened a drawer behind the counter, pulled out a packet of pills, and swallowed two without water.
“You work here anyway?” Bonnie asked.
“Hey, a little sneezing never killed anyone.”
“Now, that’s not entirely true,” said Rufus. “Back in –”
“I don’t wanna know, Mr. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Encyclopedia.”
“I better go.” Bonnie placed her cup and saucer on the table.
“You’re welcome to stay,” said Rufus.
“Yeah, sure,” said Adam. “Rufus is right. I really don’t need to eat six tacos. That’s why I ordered two extra enchiladas.”
“No, I need to get home to my dogs,” said Bonnie. She looked at Adam sideways through her lashes. “Hoarded to ward off loneliness.”
“Hey, if there’s a way I can put my foot in my mouth, I will,” said Adam. “Part of my charm.”
Rufus snorted and nearly choked. Adam whacked him between the shoulder blades.
“It was nice to meet both of you, and thank you, Rufus, for the tea.” Bonnie stood up and put on her coat, hat, and gloves.
“You’ll come back, won’t you?” Rufus asked.
Bonnie picked up her messenger bag and her purse. Was she imagining it, or did she detect a note of worry in Rufus’s tone? “I’d love to come back. I want to browse through the books, and I’m sure it’ll take more than one trip.”
“Soon, I hope.” Rufus smiled at her, a hint of a flush creeping into his cheeks.
“Soon,” Bonnie promised. She walked to the door and tried to open it, but it wouldn’t give way.
“Oh, hey, hang on a sec, I’ll be right there,” said Adam. “Sometimes the door sticks.”
“Yeah, when you slam it shut like that,” Rufus countered.
Bonnie gave it another good jiggle, hearing Adam’s footsteps behind her. A moment later, she screamed as a knife sailed through the air and pinned part of her sleeve to the door.

*******

Published by Bluestockings and Gentlemen Press. Available on multiple digital channels for $3.99 here.

TRACKING MEDUSA Re-Release

Tracking Medusa Cover 1

TRACKING MEDUSA RE-RELEASE

The first Gwen Finnegan mystery, TRACKING MEDUSA, re-released digitally on January 12, 2018. It’s got a universal buy link here (and should be back up on Amazon by the time this post goes live, included in the universal buy links, although I’ll have lost all its reviews).

***

Blurb:
Archaeologist Dr. Gwen Finnegan is on the hunt for her lover’s killer. Historical researcher Justin Yates bumps into her, on the steps of the New York Public Library, and comes to her aid when she’s attacked, sparking an attraction between them in spite of their age difference. After avoiding a cadre of pursuers at the Met Museum, Gwen impulsively invites Justin to hop a plane with her to the UK. The shy historian, frustrated with his failing relationship, jumps at the chance to join her on a real adventure. That adventure takes them through Europe, pursued by factions including Gwen’s ex-lover and nemesis, Karl, as they try to unspool fact from fiction in a multi-generational obsession with a statue of the goddess Medusa.

***
The Mechanics of the Re-Release:
The print version (a print run, not a POD), should come out either late this year, or at the beginning of next year, when the second Gwen Finnegan mystery, THE BALTHAZAAR TREASURE, releases.

Sadly, due to issues with my webhost, 1and1.com, they will not allow me to post the cover of the book or a downloadable media kit, unless I pay them an additional monthly fee on top of the hosting fee I already pay. Have you ever heard of a host who claims simple JPGs are “double escape security issues” and demands extra payment? Websites need images. The Gwen Finnegan Mysteries website will move hosts shortly and be rebuilt — it will include the photos I took as I researched the various locales for the book and choreographed the chase scene inside NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and more.

Why the need for a re-release?

Unfortunately, Amber Quill Press, who was Gwen’s champion and great to work with, shut its doors nearly two years ago. Originally, I planned to go with the same digital publisher/distributor that released PLAYING THE ANGLES and SAVASANA AT SEA (as Ava Dunne) late last year — but then they closed their doors, too.

So TRACKING MEDUSA went directly to the new digital publisher/distributor, and I’ve moved both PLAYING THE ANGLES and SAVASANA AT SEA to this new digital home. Future digital releases in all three series will go through this distributor (unless they go under, too). New websites are being built for the series (and for everything else I do) and go live on a new webhost in the next few weeks. Stay tuned both here and on Ink in My Coffee for the details.

If you own an Amber Quill version, be it digital or print — the text is the same (my editor, copy editor, and I fixed some stylistic things to fit with both the digital and the print publishers’ house styles). It also has teasers for MYTH AND INTERPRETATION, a between-the-books novella that releases this summer, and the opening of THE BALTHAZAAR TREASURE, the second mystery, which releases in January 2019. But the book is still the book, and you don’t have to feel like you’re missing anything.

Tracking Medusa — Q & A About the Book and its Process:

Question: How did you come up with TRACKING MEDUSA?

Devon Ellington: The Medusa myth always fascinated me. I got mad in CLASH OF THE TITANS when she was killed. I felt she was marginalized and destroyed because she was powerful. I’ve always loved archaeology — when I was little, even though I always knew I’d be a writer, but before I made the commitment to theatre, I wanted to be an archaeologist. My life took a different path, but it always interested me. I also don’t think science and spirituality need to negate each other. I wanted to work with a character who was smart and based a lot in science and evidence, but was a practicing witch and able to use all those facets towards her goals. The opening scene, in the club at Gramercy Park, came early on.

When I lived in New York, I spent a lot of time wandering around the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library. The Justin character evolved out of that, especially when a group of us who were affiliated with PEN got a behind-the-scenes tour at the Library.

Justin was inspired by the same real individual who inspired Billy Root in my urban fantasy series The Jain Lazarus Adventures, but the two characters evolved very differently, and have grown into very much their own men. Justin’s journey through this series gets quite dark at times. Billy takes a very different route in finding his true purpose.

I also wanted to play with the age difference between Gwen and Justin. Gwen is a dozen years older than Justin — how does that affect their relationship? Especially since Justin’s emotional age is much younger than his chronological age.

It all started to come together one day when I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wandering around the Greek and Roman galleries, which had just reopened, and the Egyptian gallery.

Q: Tell us about the background of the chase scene at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

DE: That was a lot of fun. I’d written my way a few chapters into the book, and I wanted to get it right. I took a day and went back to the Met, with my camera and my notebook, to choreograph the scenes. A couple of security guards asked me what I was doing, and I told them I was choreographing a chase scene through the Met for a book. They were enthusiastic, and offered ideas and feedback (while still keeping an eye on things– no one neglected their jobs)! They asked not to be specifically named in the acknowledgements, in case Management was unhappy about it, but at this point, I’m sure most of them have moved on to other jobs.

Also, at that time, Hatshepsut had her own room. It’s been dismantled now, much to my disgust, and the Hatshepsut sphinx was in the same room as the Temple of Dendur, last time I visited New York. She’s not too happy about it.

I find it insulting that she no longer has her own room — it was an important exhibit focused just on her and her achievements.

I’m putting photos from the Met and the Library and some of the places in Edinburgh and Ayrshire up on the website: http://gwenfinneganmysteries.devonellingtonwork.com. Once the webhost move is complete and the site is rebuilt.

Q: Did you ever get to study archaeology?

DE: Not traditionally. In 2013, I was able to take, through Coursera, an online class with Sue Alcock of Brown University called “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets”, about some of the basics. I loved it, and I was lucky enough to head from the Cape to Brown to meet her. In fact, she got me back in touch with one of my favorite playwrights from my early days in New York theatre, who was teaching at Brown. In the edits, I fixed a few glaring errors in the manuscript, but I still have made, shall we say, “adjustments” in proper process to serve the needs of the story. I hope Sue will forgive me — and I plan to study more with her if the opportunity arises.

Q: The relationship seems more of a triangle that a couple, thanks to Karl. Can you talk about that a bit?

DE: Karl was originally going to be the primary antagonist — former lover gone bad. However, Karl had other ideas. The relationship between Gwen and Karl has gone through various permutations for over twenty years. Their bond is so strong that even the genuine love between Gwen and Justin can’t break it. Nor should it. This idea that fictional characters can only have a single relationship and everything else must come second is something I believe is harmful to teach readers to look for as human beings. We are capable of having more than one relationship without those relationships being a threat to each other, and I wanted to explore that.

Q: Then, of course, there’s Edward.

DE: Yes, there is. Again, Edward was supposed to be a very small supporting character whose purpose was to provide information and the next lead for Gwen and Justin to follow. But Edward had other ideas. I believe in following my instincts when characters want to take a different direction than the original plan. It’s the subconscious mind at work, which always knows more than the conscious mind. The subconscious embodies itself in the characters, so when you let that go, at least in early drafts, you can get to a better place than you would otherwise. When you write something that needs a structure, such as a mystery, then you take it and adjust the piece to the structure. Fortunately, the genre lines are blurring somewhat, and I take full advantage of that!

Q: Did you get any push-back because your vampire is named Edward?

DE: Because of Twilight? More power to Stephanie Meyer for creating a trilogy that connected to so many people. But I hadn’t read her books when I wrote this, and the only thing Edward Ramsey has in common with the other Edward is the fact they’re both vampires. One trusted reader who’s a big Twilight fan suggested I change his name, but Edward’s Edward, and there’s more than one Edward on the planet. My editor and publisher had no problem with it. I also wanted the vampire aspect to be peripheral to this novel. It comes more to the center in the third book, especially where Justin is concerned.

Q: So where do your characters go from here?

DE: You’ll have to read the books to find out! How’s that for avoidance AND self-promotion! 😉 Seriously, the second book, THE BALTHAZAAR TREASURE, is about salvaging a pirate ship, and there’s a murder, AND Gwen and Justin face new obstacles in their relationship. There are definitely some surprises in that one, for readers who think they have a handle on Gwen and Justin. MYTH AND INTERPRETATION, a between-the-books novella deals with what Gwen and Justin deal with in New York, trying to build a stable, adult partnership and some of the obstacles they face in the life/work balance. It’s vital information needed to go into what happens in BALTHAZAAR, but it ruined the pace and plot of BALTHAZAAR, so we yanked it out and developed it into its own novella.

Excerpt ( takes place on Lindsfarne, at the old kilns):

A clap of thunder followed almost immediately by a flash of lightning startled them. The lightning snaked out of the sky and struck the rocky beach close enough to them the hairs on their arms tingled.
“Whoa!” Justin yelled.
“The kilns!” Gwen said. “It’s too far to make it back to town.”
They grabbed their belongings and ran into the nearest small, arched doorway cut in the rock as the rain poured down. Once inside, they stepped back. The kilns were empty stone spaces now, with two small arched openings out to the rocky ground, another larger one, and a fourth smaller one. They leaned against the side wall near the back to avoid the rain whipped in by the wind. Gwen tried to shove the wet hair out of her face.
“That came in fast,” said Justin. They watched the storm race across the rocks, lightning reaching out like electrical, skeletal fingers.
“Storms do here.” She shivered. “The storms usually leave almost as quickly as they come in. I should’ve paid attention. And I should have found us a secure indoor place to work, like the Crown and Anchor.”
“We’d have been noticed in a pub.”
“At least we wouldn’t be soaked to the skin. Sorry.”
“I’ll dry off,” said Justin. “I’m kind of glad to be in this big coat, even if it makes me look stupid.”
“You don’t look stupid. You—”
“Bloody hell! We’re not being paid enough for this bollocks!” A voice floated to them from right outside the kiln.
Gwen and Justin exchanged looks. Gwen pulled Justin farther back into the kilns. They were in the backmost corner, hidden by shadows thrown from the other archways, but not much else.
Two men, bundled in heavy coats, ducked just inside the protected arch. They stared out at the driving rain. They were almost within arm’s reach of Gwen and Justin, who barely dared to breathe.
“Ye can’t blame ’im for the weather now,” said one of the men, slightly shorter than the other.
“I can blame him for bloody hell anything I want,” said the man who spoke first. “We don’t even know who they are. Just a man and a woman. She’s got red hair; he don’t.”
Gwen and Justin stared at each other. Justin pulled off his hat and handed it to Gwen. She yanked it down and tucked her red hair under it.
The shorter man chuckled. “He’s just a jealous bloke. Wants to know what the missus is doing when he’s not there.”
“I wouldn’t have agreed if I hadn’t had too many pints,” the man said. “I don’t like to put my fists to a man unless I have a personal argument with him. Besides, I hate this island. Haunted it is.”
“We just wait out the storm, then walk around a bit. There’s a pub or two. We can ask around. Someone will have seen ’em. Don’t get too many strangers ’round here. They’ll be remembered.”
Justin leaned close to Gwen’s ear. “Is there another way out?” She pointed deeper into the kilns. They’d have to cross behind the men, hoping they didn’t dislodge any stones.
“I’m not staying here. Bloody tide’ll come in and fill this place right up.” The taller man shifted in his coat.
“No, it won’t. These kilns have been there for o’er two hunnard year. They wouldn’t have built ’em if they couldn’t use ’em in bad weather. Seein’s as that’s all you get here.”
“’Twill now. With all that global warming bollocks.”
“Ye’re not going all environmental on me, are ye? Next step, you’ll be vegetarian. That’ll ruin a good night out.”
“Nah. I still like me pint and me steak. But I’m regrettin’ agreein’ to this.”
“We took the man’s money. We’re not killin’ them or nothin’. Just givin’ them a what-for so they stop sneakin’ around together.”
Justin and Gwen looked at each other again.
Suddenly, a long, low howl filled the air. Justin and Gwen jumped because it sounded as though it was right beside them.
“What in the bloody hell?” the taller man asked.
The sound of footsteps padding toward them grew louder, along with a familiar sound of ragged breath. Another howl rent the air. A large dark head poked around the side of the archway. The two men screamed and nearly climbed over each other as they scrambled out and ran through the central arch into the storm. The large black dog turned to look at Gwen and Justin, then turned away and padded off.
“Am I completely hallucinating,” asked Justin, “or did that ghost dog from hell just wink at us?”

***

TRACKING MEDUSA, the first Gwen Finnegan Mystery, $3.99 digitally here.

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.