What if?

You know what I love about writing? It takes me back to the time I was a child and my days – especially summer days – were limited only by my imagination. I lived in a world of What If and could be and do anything I wanted to.

My best buds were a trio of brothers who lived in the house on the corner. Their names were Bobby and Kevin and Sammy Tally. I haven’t seen them again since I was seven but I hope they’re well and conquering every pirate they run across.

We lived in a little tract of cookie cutter houses. Ours happened to be just across the street from John Ross Elementary School. Those were the days when there were no video games, not even color TV. Kids played outside all day till supper time and we were expected to stay within view of our homes so our mothers could periodically stick their heads out the door and see that we were okay.

Boys Playing Near CreekFortunately for us, there was ready made playground right there on the side of the school, monkey bars and all. But did we play there? Hardly ever. Because there was also a drainage ditch that ran the entire length of the school right by the street. There we got together and every day was a new What If. We became pilgrims who’d had the worst of times on the high seas but finally made it to try (or actually somewhat soggy) ground.

When that grew old, we followed the “river” (which was really about 12 – 15 inches wide and no more than 4 – 5 inches deep) to Africa where we fought and daryl-stickcaptured all sorts of scary beasts. Of course they were really crawdads and occasion slugs and things, but they were kind of scary. As long as the water was murky, we knew there might be crocodiles. Those were the days when it was okay to have toy guns and a stick was as good as a sword.

Or the river might take us to Ireland, home of my Grandpa Jackson’s ancestors, or Scottland, where Grandmother MacCormick was ghostmrchickenfrom. Or to see the Tally’s grandparents in Spain. It was like a ready-made portal to anywhere. As I recall, one day we even followed the river in search of the murderer that was in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. Remember we were kids and we’d just seen that deliciously scary movie at the drive-in. That was a source of What Ifs for many days to come.

So when I sit down at my computer and pull up a blank page, if I don’t know what to write, all I really have to do is wonder What If?

How about you?

Angel Killer Blog tour is revving up

Hi all!

The AK blog tour begins today – you’ll find me guesting at Kevin’s Corner and talking about the difference between my publicist chair and my author chair. Stop in and leave a comment if you have a minute! http://bit.ly/15yJbPH

To change or not to change a series character

evil-days-hpI love series characters. They’re like friends you haven’t seen in a while and can’t wait to catch up with. And now that my own books are coming out in print, I’m starting to see them a little differently. Rather than just letting them take their courses as I write them, I’m giving a little more thought to the process of how they evolve. It’s interesting.

I’ve read series characters most of my life and still tend to favor a good series over a standalone novel. But not every series is a good series and that raises a flag for me. I write two series and I want readers to consider both of them good.

One character that I find engaging is fairly new to me – Clare Fergusson, the protagonist in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s series. She was different from the outset and that intrigued me, and I especially like the examination of her conflict in the on-off love relationship with married Russ van Alstyne and her clergy position. Julia does an excellent job of balancing the two without sacrificing realism. I understand that the next book will have Clare taking that step into a milestone moment. We all have them throughout our lives, but they’re not always so clearly defined – those events that we face that irrevocably change us. Whether chosen or not, sometimes we cross lines that can’t be uncrossed. That’s a real challenge for a writer and must be handled carefully.

For instance, one of my favorite characters is Stephanie Plum, Janet Evanovich’s brainchild. I love the Plum novels and they offer great comic relief. We don’t 19coverharddelve too deeply into Stephanie’s psyche, we just go along for the ride. However, after a while (how many books?) the back and forth between Ranger and Morelli gets a little tired and finally, one day, Stephanie crossed that line with Ranger and can never go back. It all happened so fast, if you blink you might’ve missed it and we’re back to the status quo (is she with Morelli this book or not?). Almost. But loyal fans know, somewhere in the back of their minds, that she did the deed. Can we ever really look at her the same way again? Do we really believe if Ranger is, well…Ranger, that she’s still not sure what she wants? She didn’t lose me. I’ll still buy number 20. And 21. And whatever. But I don’t feel quite the same anticipation for the release date I used to feel.

fantasy-in-death-by-j-d-robb1Another character I find fascinating is J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas. I would love to have been a fly on Robb’s office wall when she was writing those first couple of books. Where did she see them going? Her prolific output aside (and yes, I know all the arguments but I’m not going there), Eve is consistent, and yet there is growth. You don’t realize it with the volume, but go back to one of those first books when Eve and Roarke aren’t married yet. There’s change. And yet, you can read 10 or 11 books in sequence and only cover a year in time with little notable change in Eve, Roarke, or Somerset. But wait, there is change, you just find it in Peabody, and McNab, in Mavis and the birth of little Bella. Only Eve, Roarke and Somerset seem to stay the same.  It’s food for thought.

I also love the character of Alex Cross, although author James Patterson isn’t that popular among the writing crowd. I appreciate the way we seem to start at the beginning and see Alex experience Maria’s death. He moves on of necessity but clambers his way from one relationship to kill alex crossanother, trying to be there for his children and Nana Mama. When he finds Christine, we think maybe he’s found true love, but over the next several books we see him transverse an emotional (and sometimes physical) obstacle course. Even the “after Christine” episodes ring painfully true as he fights for custody of little Ali and the horrors that populate his job. I find it interesting (and perhaps telling about myself) that while I was bedridden several years ago, I went back to the beginning of the series and read through it again. With all the hideous crimes and emotional angst, it was still a vacation for me, of sorts. Again, like visiting old friends (which is considerably easier when you know how it will end) and taking a break from your own life.

takenMy favorite characters of all time, at least for now, would have to be Elvis Cole and Joe Pike as presented by Robert Crais. They’ve definitely influenced my writing and my approach to character construction, for which I’m eternally grateful. Cole has experienced a myriad of changes from beginning to end, but is still in many ways the same.

I hope I take enough from these and others to help me create characters in Shari Markham and Jesse Morgan that will be appealing enough for readers to want to see what happens next. I hope they’ll save my books and re-read them as time goes by.

What characters have most influenced you? What do you like and not like to see as far as character growth goes?

What happens when a publicist gets published

Who knew this would be a hard question? I spend at least part of my day, every day, getting publicity for somebody’s book. It’s what I do. And, if I do say so myself, I’m fairly good at it. What’s even better is that I love what I do. It doesn’t get much better than this.

So when I got the word that one of my books was finally going to be published, it seemed like I’d just taken “better” to a whole new level. Let the fun begin.

It didn’t take long to figure out I’d MUCH rather brag on someone else’s books than my own. After weeks, literally, of avoiding the issue (after all, it’s not even released yet) I figured out I better get some help. Fortunately, I’m in the business so I know where to get it. Whoever thought I’d be hiring a publicist??

The first of what seems a frightening number of blog stops begins Sunday, June 23 at the Oak Tree Press. There’ll be plenty more to follow that one.

I can’t avoid it all, so with some trepidation, I am working on plans for an exceptional book launch. Note that you are all invited and that my partner-in-crime Mike Witzgall WILL be in attendance along with the illustrious Earl Staggs and whoever else I can corral to make sure we throw a real Texas party. More on that later.

There will also be a few random book signings in the Tulsa area (so all my Night Writer friends and family get ready) and around Hot Springs Village so all you writers up there can come too while I’m in town visiting my mom.

My hubby, also known as radio-man, is thrilled to talk to all his broadcast buddies about interviews with me. I’m rolling my eyes a lot. But I’ll show up and we’ll have a good time and in the process, I hope we move a ton of books.

But meanwhile back at the ranch, I’ll be busy tucked away in my office, talking on the phone about all my clients’ books because that’s what I love to do. Being published didn’t change that a bit. Promoting you all is a joy! Promoting myself is a job.

Published at last!

I started writing while I was still in school. After college, I did quite a bit of freelance writing and academic articles in the field of psychology. It was a living for me for awhile. I’ve loved mystery Trixiesince I first discovered Trixie Beldon and Cherry Ames in the Bookmobile when I was in first grade. The love of mystery has only grown from there.9- Cherry Ames, Student Nurse

What’s really exciting is that I’ve managed to carve out a career promoting the type of books that I love and I’m in a place where work just doesn’t seem like work most of the time. But back in the nineties, I decided to try my hand at fiction. I scribbled out a few short stories that were published in different places but that truly isn’t my forte. I found that my stories kept getting longer and more complex so I finally took the plunge and decided to write a novel. Not the world’s greatest. Just to see. I loved it. I finished one, polished it (or so I thought) and started another while I learned the ropes of querying agents and publishers and rewrites and getting hopes up, then the dashing of the same. If you’re a writer I’m sure you’ve been there and done that. If you’re not, I promise you it’s not as glamorous as one might thing.

Finally, I found an agent who raved about the book. But alas, after a year of trying he couldn’t find it a home. I decided maybe I should try querying a few publishers myself. After 20 or so, I actually found one who wanted to see the whole thing! Off it went (back in the dark ages of mailing manuscripts). Meanwhile, I got a phone call from another agent I’d queried. She also wanted to see the manuscript. Who’d have thought? I was jazzed!

It was the agent who called first. She wanted to represent me and thought she could sell it to an agent she knew at Berkley who was looking for a new series. Eureka! That same week I got a call from the publisher of a small press who wanted to offer me a contract. I just couldn’t believe it. I called my agent, she encouraged me to decline the offer and give her a chance to do her job. I took her advice. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. She did talk to the editor who took a look and liked what she saw. She asked me for a couple of rewrites, which I did. Then she left Berkley and took a job with another publisher that wasn’t in the market for this type of series and she didn’t want to rock the boat at a new job. Unh! Ever vigilant, my agent connected with the editor that took her place at Berkley. However this particular agent wanted an ice skating series instead. I don’t know anything about ice skating.

As a last resort, I tried to contact the publisher who’d offered the contract before. They’d gone out of business. So maybe it wasn’t meant to be. I tucked the manuscript away, but I kept writing. I worked on promoting other authors’ work and enjoyed the friendships I made along the way. It was worth everything just to have that.

AngelKillerfrontFast forward 10+ years with all the changes in the publishing industry and so many having success with self-publishing. A few of my friends suggested I dust off those old manuscripts and see about publishing them myself. They’re worth reading, they said. I mulled it over. Before I could actually settle on what to do, I decided to take one more shot at seeing if I rewrote the manuscript to bring it up to date with things like cell phones and such, would a publisher like what they saw? Yes, they would. I was so excited to get the word, I didn’t want to tell anyone at first. Kind of waiting for another shoe to drop. But it didn’t. Angel Killer will be out later this month! It’s very surreal.

So, riding that wave, I had Private Spies edited and hired a cover artist and a formatter, and it is now available for Kindle. Thus the introduction of this new blog for PJ the Private Spies frontauthor to differentiate me from PJ the publicist, if indeed that is at all possible (probably not). I hope to keep this blog about my writing life and those who are a part of it, those who’ve influenced it and generally about all the books that I’ve loved. I hope you’ll stop here from time to time and share your thoughts. A quiet blog is a sad blog. So let me hear from you please!