What Makes for a Good In-Person Promotion? by Channing Whitaker

book-signing-panelHave any other authors out there ever been invited to or heard about an author event somewhere within driving distance, which boasts there will be five, ten, maybe twenty authors at an indie bookstore or some such place, so you signed up? You watched as the event posted dozens of times on Facebook, you shared all the posts with your own followers (as if they didn’t have your books already) you loaded up your book stock, drove over, and then spent most of the day chatting with other authors while everyone collectively sold an average of half a book per person?

 

I’ve only published one book, and I still have lots to learn about book promoting, but I’ve tried a lot in the way of live appearances. I’ve self organized book signings at book stores and once in a coffee shop, I’ve participated in a small bookstore’s “author day” with several authors. I’ve been to a special author event featuring more than 50 authors in the fourth largest city in the country, and yet in my experience, as an essentially unknown author, results have been less-than-encouraging.

 

Now, maybe you’re thinking, I don’t have the personality to generate interest and sales, that I’m too introverted, not engaging people. However, I’ve also tried my hand at pop-culture events such as comic-cons, places most attendees aren’t coming to find authors and books, and at some of these events, I’ve sold boxes of my novel. I’d even go as far as to say that I can turn about one in five people who slow down long enough to be spoken to into a sale at such events – not a bad batting average in my opinion.

 

So I have to ask, why do I have such poor results with book events, and so much better results at events where books are at best one small part of a much bigger focus on pop-culture and entertainment? Is it simply a number’s game? Perhaps. The author event with 50 of us word crafters only drew in 300 people, even in a huge city, while a comic-con, in a city less than half the size can pull in 30,000. Is success dependent merely on the quantity of foot traffic?

 

My intuition leads me to think the attendees of a specific book event come ready to purchase several books, while most the comic-con-goers, as I mentioned before, weren’t even expecting to see authors peddling their works when they showed up in their costumes. I suppose you can’t account for the quality of the product, at least not until you go buy and read my novel (wink, wink) but I wonder if the issue is more one of how routine and avid readers behave in the first place?channing-book-reading

 

Reading is more solitary and less flashing than the other kinds of entertainment out there. Is merely speaking to authors and seeing a bunch of them sitting around waiting to sign books not enough of an event to get readers out of the house? Do we need to start including live bands, acrobats, or celebrities in our author gatherings in order to elevate them to event status?

 

Another difference maker I’ve noticed is that at comic-con sort of events I’m usually able to sit in on or host some sort of short discussion or panel. I get to stand in front of a few people and talk, either about my material or about general genre topics. This activity has translated to a handful of readers heading over to find me and buy my book afterwards. However, I’ve also gone to a huge book festival which held a tight schedule of 15 minute talks by authors in blocks of four hours straight over the entire weekend, and then watched as one after the other authors stood and gave talks to a dozen empty chairs, or maybe to eleven empty chairs and the next author in line who was waiting their turn.channing-wine-and-sign

 

So I ask, what makes for a good live appearance? Is it a must that some other, crowd-drawing activity be included? Is it a must that we authors are given time to speak, at least in panels? Does every author event simply need big name author signings, so we lesser-known authors can hope to draw a few sales as the under-card? Or is it out of our hands, where how the event promotes itself is the real difference?

 

 

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Channing Whitaker is a novelist, screenwriter, and filmmaker originally hailing from Centerville, Iowa. An alum of Indian Hills Community College, Channing went on to study cinema, screenwriting, literature, and mathematics at the University of Iowa.

Post graduation, Channing began his career in the production of television news, independent films, and commercial videos, as well as to write for websites, corporate media, and advertising. His 10-year career in writing has taken Channing from Iowa, to Alaska, Oklahoma, and currently to Texas.

Channing has written five feature-length screenplays, co-written another feature screenplay, and penned a novel. In that time, Channing has also written and directed over 50 short films.

The April 2015 publication of Channing’s debut novel, “Until the Sun Rises – One Night in Drake Mansion,” comes in tandem with the first production of one of Channing’s feature screenplays, “KILD TV” – a horror mystery. “KILD TV” has already filmed, and premiered in a March 2016 release.

 

Website URL: http://www.channingwhitaker.com

Blog URL: http://www.aboveallstory.blogspot.com/

Facebook URL: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorChanningWhitaker/

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/channing-whitaker-4120a614

Skype: Channing Whitaker (williamchanning@hotmail.com)

 

Buy link: http://www.amazon.com/Until-Sun-Rises-Channing-Whitaker/dp/1610091639/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1458157959&sr=8-1&keywords=until+the+sun+rises

 

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/until-the-sun-rises-channing-whitaker/1121808573?ean=9781610091633

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Getting to know Channing Whitaker

  1. Tell us about your new novel.channing

My recent novel is called “Until the Sun Rises – One Night in Drake Mansion,” and it is a mystery/thriller that also flirts a little with noir and horror. It’s set in a small, fictional Iowa town where 80 years ago a wealthy family of five attended a traveling magic show, after which they and the magician disappeared.  After a few people died in their mansion, it was sealed off. The family’s disappearance was never solved, the mansion has sat empty all this time, and naturally many wild theories and reports of ghost sightings have surrounded the house.

The book begins with the start of a live TV show where the house is opened for the first time since it was sealed and five contestants are going to spend the night inside to investigate and win a prize if they last until morning. Shortly after entering, the contestants find the journal of the family’s father, Vinton Drake, and discover he had a history with the magician before they all disappeared. As the contestants investigate the mansion, they follow Vinton’s investigation of the magician from the past as well.

  1. What sets this novel apart from other haunted house stories?

The five contestants in the story were selected for the TV show for their inherently conflicting traits. They are a commune-with-the-dead psychic, a high-tech ghost hunter, a Hollywood, scream-queen actress, a local woman who has known of the house and legends surround it all her life, as well as a professional paranormal skeptic and debunker.

As clues arise in the story, there is almost always a divide between two or more characters on how to perceive them and what conclusions to draw. Furthermore, the details of Vinton’s investigation of the magician in the past deal largely with paranormal beliefs, as his life builds towards his and his families eventual disappearance. The characters in the present find they aren’t just trying to uncover whether there are or aren’t spirits in the house, but rather exploring the effects of belief in the supernatural.

Elements of the story become psychological, examining consequences of supernatural beliefs, whether real or mistaken. And as it happens, those consequences turn out to not only have been life-threatening in the past, but are still putting the contestants’ lives in jeopardy today.

  1. What do you hope readers will come away from your book with?

First and foremost, entertained. I want people to feel like they were given an enthralling journey to submerge themselves in, to step out of their own world and enjoy a vacation into mine. I would also like readers to feel surprised.  The book is a mystery so there is naturally something to be uncovered as the book comes to an end. I worked hard to make that fulfilling and believable, yet unpredictable, and for the final reveal to change everything you thought and understood along the way.  If most readers experience that, then I’ll be satisfied.

Secondary to that, my novel and its characters pose reoccurring ideas of critical thinking, of examining phenomenon, historic tales, and evidence with critical and unbiased eyes. Not only because failing to do so can lead to false conclusions, but in some cases to severe consequences. This consistent theme adds layers of intrigue to the story but I feel it can and should be taken into real life as well. For some readers to bring that notion into their lives after reading the book would be immensely satisfying as well.

  1. What gave you the idea for this story?

The majority of “Until The Sun Rises: One Night in Drake Mansion” is set in the present, but a portion takes place in the past. The first past section involves a mysterious, secret, and very thematically dark magic show which adds to the mystery set in the present with a parallel mystery to unfold in the past.

This magic show moment was the first that came to me. I don’t remember anything specific that spawned that seed of the story, but in exploring and flushing out that single moment, I developed two characters, and in turn by adding depth, intrigue, and consequence to those characters gave birth to the entirety of the story.

  1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I can remember being in first grade and everyone going around the class having to say what we wanted to be when we grew up.  For many kids it was fireman, policemen, or doctor, I said cartoonist. I didn’t deviate from that until closer to Jr. High when my ambition changed to a movie director. That notion continued through high school, college, and persists through today.

Looking back, I believe even in the first grade what I really wanted was to be a storyteller, to invent and craft stories and then to share them with the world.  At that time, cartoons represented a large portion of my story experience so I think I imagined telling stories in that medium. Later, when live-action movies became more prevalent in my story experience, my ambition changed slightly, to storytelling through movies.  I always imagined being both the author of the stories I would create as well as the physical producer, so I just don’t think I realized I was planning to be a writer, at least in part, all along.

Though my pursuit heading into college and after was directed towards movies, even in high school I considered sharing my stories in books a possibility and tried to think in terms of both mediums as I developed my story telling skills.

“When did I know I wanted to be a writer?” I can only estimate that the moment I realized people were out in the world dreaming up the stories I enjoyed, I knew I would some day be one of them, and I was mighty young.

  1. What has been your writing journey?

I began writing an a serious way, by which I mean with the intent of building a career involving writing as a student at the University of Iowa. I studied cinema with my focus being on screenwriting, though my intent was to work in other areas of filmmaking as well. After graduation, I continued to write screenplays while also working in various jobs relating to media production.

It was my understanding that movie producers were essentially closed to submissions from unknown writers. As I would finish new screenplays, I would research appropriate screenplay agents, those who seemed to handle material similar in theme to mine and who also said they were open to new talent, and then I’d write query letters by the dozens. Over the course of eight years I wrote in excess of 350 letters and rarely even received polite rejections. No one was willing to read even 10 pages of my scripts.

Certainly one could see this as indicative of my material not being of high enough quality but I felt the material may not even truly be getting considered based on merit, but rather being ignored or rejected because I lacked noteworthy credits. For a long time I harbored the early version of my novel’s story in my mind, but I felt it was too big for a single, standard-length screenplay, and thus never attempted to write it as one. Finally, I decided to attempt to write the story as a book, thinking at the very least if I wrote a quality book, even if no publishers would consider me or the material, I’d at least have the option of self-publishing. Fortunately, it never came to that.

Once my book was written, I first sought out literary agents, to similar results as all of my screenplay efforts, however with only a dozen letters sent directly to publishers, I managed to secure several who were interested in at least reading the book and evaluating the material based on its content. I can’t say for certain whether it was coincidence or if it was merely the fact that I had a forthcoming novel to my credit but with in about a month of signing an agreement with my publisher on my novel, I received an offer to produce one of my screenplays, which then filmed in August of 2014 and is pending release.

  1. How do you get inspired to write?

I really find inspiration in almost everything I do. If my garbage bag splits open on the way to the curb and all my neighbors were watching, I’d think “wouldn’t this make a great plot point for a killer with a bag full of body parts? I’ll have to remember this.” Or I’d think, “what if the bag was full of embarrassing items right in front of a love interest? That could be funny.” Those little ideas don’t make complete stories but sometimes several come together and form a bigger premise, worth flushing out. So far, I’ve never experienced a shortage of inspiration, but rather an overabundance, where the challenge becomes finding the time to write, and selecting which potential project to focus on.

  1. How do you deal with writers block?

Though I can’t say I’ve suffered writer’s block severely, I have run into stopping points in projects. For example, after the first draft of my recent novel and another pass of rewriting I sensed the book was bloated and needed to be edited down for a better reading experience but I was too in love with the rich details to see what might be redundant, implicit, or overly explained.

Rather than force it, I set the book aside, letting it rest, and began work on a first draft of a new screenplay. I chose a project that was thematically dark, as the book was, in order to keep my creative mindset in that territory. After a few months I returned to the book with a fresh viewpoint and saw rather easily what could be and needed to be edited. I completed the next draft very quickly and found the bloating I sensed was cured.

This would be my approach for writer’s block. If one plans to have a career as a writer, you likely intend to write more than one book, so when you have the writer’s block, set the book aside and go start or continue work on something a little different, something you’re coming to fresh, even if it’s just an outline or synopsis for a future project. I think in many cases you’ll have new ideas for your stalled project just pop into your head, demanding you get them on paper, and you won’t be able to get back to that book fast enough.

  1. What influences your writing?

I admire the efforts and style of a great many writers, filmmakers, and artist, but to put my finger on a significant influence, I can think of none larger than my father. I can’t say he directly affected my subjects, themes, or style but rather, even more fundamentally, the way I think about people and the world.

He was a psychology professor and also saw clients at a public clinic for most of his career. I think he has an exceptional aptitude for assessing, understanding, and empathizing with people, which made him both an effective counselor and teacher.  In turn, I was almost always subject to lessons of character.

I’d compare it to Harper Lee’s,  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” I was always taught to try to understand things from others’ points of view. Whether it was personal conflict, or worldly trouble, my father always discussed and encouraged trying to understand people and situations from the other side.

How this spills over into my writing is in character development and depth. Characters are so important, I’d say I develop a psychological profile of sorts for virtually all my characters, which is affected by the story, but also affects the story.  When you think of people and characters in this way you see that villains can’t be completely bad, heroes can’t be completely good, strong characters aren’t without weakness, and so on.  My stories are always built around rich, deep characters, and I believe this leads to equally rich and deep stories.

  1. What is the best thing about being a writer?

I take immense pleasure in my imagination and I’m concocting stories, both large and small, almost constantly.  I also love good stories and I feel like keeping one to myself would be selfish. When one such story is big enough and clear enough to share, I put it into words as best I can and send it out into the world.  Having other people embrace and enjoy those stories I’ve dreamt up, there’s nothing more satisfying for me.

  1. Your recent book is set in a fictional, Iowa town and you’re from a small Iowa town, how did your experience influence the book?

I grew up in a small town but I’ve also lived in small, medium, and even a huge city. I believe the feel of community one finds in a small town is so drastically different than that of a big city. That element certainly went into the fictional town of my book.

until-the-sun-risesHaving a big mystery in a small town affects everyone. Everyone in the community is familiar with it and has opinions on it even 80 years later.  That realistic relationship comes through in the novel.  A similar event in a big city just wouldn’t have such an impact. Eighty years later, I think such a mystery would simply fade away as people come and go.  I’ve lived in suburbs of large metros as well, where you have a small community and the people do care about the community such as its schools and its appearance but they don’t share the small town’s sense of identity, where people heavily identify themselves by their town and often with that town’s history. In that way, I think not only Iowans, but almost anyone familiar with small towns and small, independent communities can find an extra layer of connection with the setting.

There is also an undertone of the consequences of small rural towns shrinking.  Work opportunities lesson, then population dwindles, then towns struggle to maintain themselves, and the cycle repeats. That is an effect I have witnessed through my life in rural Iowa, not just in my hometown but also in small communities all over. I brought that real-life depth into my story’s setting as well. I think my fellow native Iowans will identify with this theme, though I’m sure it’s true in other states and places, particularly agricultural hubs. However, if this isn’t an experience a reader identifies with, the story educates the reader on it quickly and then races in new directions, so no one is left out.

  1. You started your writing career focused on screenwriting. Was it difficult to refocus on writing a novel?

For me, whether it’s a screenplay or a book the story is the most important part and developing the story in either case is virtually the same. With that in mind, the execution of the story, shaping the story to be the best reading or viewing experience for your audience is where the differences lie between mediums.

I would never claim it is easy to write a book, nor would I deny that there are significant differences between screenplay writing and novel writing which must be understood and overcome in order to be effective crossing mediums.  However, I also wouldn’t say changing my focus for this project was difficult as if being a screenwriter leaves one ill-equipped to tell a story in a book.

It was a great deal of work.  To me “difficult” would mean I encountered challenges that I struggled to overcome. I didn’t. I did meet many challenges but I always knew how to tackle them – when I needed to go research, when I needed to evaluate and adjust my methods, when I needed a tool I didn’t have, and when I needed to seek out and learn something new. I met many challenges but I didn’t struggle to overcome them, I just had to work to overcome them.  In my view, those are two very different things.

I believe that in developing my skills as a screenwriter, I learned a great deal of methodology for tackling writing challenges.  While not every skill transfers to writing a novel and some might even directly appose it, the methodology for approaching the challenges remains effective. Metaphorically, you may not have exactly the right tool but you know the way to the hardware store. Thus, it was work to acquire the skills needed for writing the book, but it was no where near as difficult as one might find trying to write a book if they’d never written anything else before.

  1. How has Dyslexia affected you as a writer?

I believe Dyslexia has had both a negative and positive influence on my development as a writer. The clearest negative is simply my very slow reading speed.  Writers need to read and being a slow reader means spending more time reading or reading less than others. I’m always wishing I could read more than my time allows, and I probably short or slow my writing development in that way. Slow reading affects how quickly I can review my own work as well.  I don’t curse my Dyslexia, however, because I do see positive consequences too.

I was tested for a reading disability around 2nd grade and identified as Dyslexic. I think it was positive to have been diagnosed so early so my parents, my teachers, and I were all aware of it.  This let me to understand the reason behind areas where I struggled and to approach developing ways to succeed with a positive attitude. Had my Dyslexia not been identified so soon, I can imagine floundering in certain areas while appearing perfectly normal in others and finding that frustrating and confusing, and potentially withdrawing as a result.

That said, everyone encounters challenges in life. However, I feel having so early in life had to develop my own methods to succeed – having to constantly deviate from standard learning approaches and creating my own methods to conquer subjects and material, as well as resilience to setbacks and failures has all shaped the mentality I bring to my career.

I think it is common for writers to have to endure rejection and failure, to have to be inventive to bring something new and noteworthy compared to all the existing material out there, and to have to pave their own path to recognition.  Thus, I believe starting to develop that resilience, inventive problem solving, and unique direction early in life prepared me to accept the hurdles of building a writing career without confusion or frustration. Others might struggle to develop those skills in the moment and many more encounter those hurdles and don’t continue or persevere. For me this is a positive consequence, which might even outweigh the negative.

  1. What are you working on now?

I think it indicates a well thought out, deep, and complex story if the writer must heartbreakingly choose which spectacular elements to include and which must be benched in order to create the best reading experience. As such, you can wind up with more content in reserve than content that reached the finished pages.

In the creation of “Until the Sun Rises: One Night in Drake Mansion,” I developed far more plot, sub-plot, and character depth than I could cover in the one book.

Currently, I’m working on a follow up novel which takes two of the characters, Harlan and Vieve, into a new mystery which will leave the ghost stories and haunted houses behind but will still keep a borderline-paranormal theme.elechi-pen

Channing Whitaker is a novelist, screenwriter, and filmmaker originally hailing from Centerville, Iowa. An alum of Indian Hills Community College, Channing went on to study cinema, screenwriting, literature, and mathematics at the University of Iowa.

Post graduation, Channing began his career in the production of television news, independent films, and commercial videos, as well as to write for websites, corporate media, and advertising. His 10-year career in writing has taken Channing from Iowa, to Alaska, Oklahoma, and currently to Texas.

Channing has written five feature-length screenplays, co-written another feature screenplay, and penned a novel. In that time, Channing has also written and directed over 50 short films.

 

Mystery Subgenre: the Gothics by Amy Reade

20131548           A friend asked me to write a post recently on the definition of “gothic” mysteries. When I tell people I write gothics, often their initial expectation is vampires and fangs. But that’s not what I write.

This subgenre of mystery has indeed encompassed monsters, vampires, ghouls, and crones in its storied history, but it has evolved to have a more nuanced meaning.

“Gothic” fiction began in the 1700s with Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto. And in that title lies one of the most recognizable elements of the gothic novel: the castle, often crumbling and decrepit, always spooky, always evoking a feeling of terror. And the castle, or its modern counterpart, the decaying mansion, is often present in more contemporary gothic novels.

 

Today gothics tend to have several, or all, of the following elements:

  • Female protagonist (with mid-twentieth century gothics, you can almost always tell you’re looking at a gothic book by the wispy, gauzy-clad woman on the front cover, running in fear from the forbidding mansion behind her)
  • Hero (almost always a male)
  • Villain, either male or female
  • Aristocratic characters
  • Dark family secrets, often something that happened in the distant past that haunts the minds of the characters in the present
  • Remote and desolate landscapes
  • An overall sense of fear and foreboding, or even evil
  • A brooding setting as important as any character
  • Love, whether powerful, unrequited, forbidden, or broken

The gothic mysteries I like to read and write also have components in common with today’s cozy mysteries; notably, the absence of gore, the absence of foul language, and the absence of explicit sexual passages.

How is the gothic different from the traditional mystery, you might ask? It’s a hard question to answer, but I believe it’s generally true that a traditional mystery tends to move a little faster while a gothic tends to take its time building suspense and fear in the reader. A gothic might also tend to have subject matter that is a bit darker than a traditional mystery, though that isn’t always the case.

houseofthehangingjadecoverwithusatoday2          So if you’re interested in reading gothics, where do you begin? I have some suggestions, but I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.

Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe

            The Monk by Matthew Lewis

            Tales of Terror and Mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Dracula by Bram Stoker

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Black Amber by Phyllis Whitneysecretsofhallsteadhouseebook

The Shivering Sands by Victoria Holt

Stolen Memories by Mary Miley Theobald

My favorite thing about the gothics? So many of them allow me to travel to exotic and fascinating locales without leaving my home. I’ve learned about history, other cultures, and other faiths. And through all my armchair trips, these books keep me guessing until the last delightful, suspense-filled page.

Here’s the rub for authors who write gothics: it’s not a huge market when compared with romance or thrillers or fantasy, so sometimes it can be hard to find readers who don’t even realize they’d love gothic books.

So what’s an author to do? Here are a few ideas that have worked for me:

I follow bloggers who write about and review gothic books, and I leave comments on those blogs. This has the advantage of getting my name out there to people who are interested in gothic-style books and it keeps me engaged with communities of readers who have interests similar to mine.

I join social media groups devoted to reading the gothics.

I write posts like this, to introduce readers to a genre they might not have known about.

I cross-market my books in gothic, horror, and suspense categories.

I started my own Facebook group devoted to gothics. My plan is to transition my author page fans to the gothic page and that way the group members will see all my posts. This is still in the planning stages, but if you’re interested in being one of the inaugural members, please visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/1072888142732536/.

When I’m at a book signing and meet readers who don’t know me, I discuss the gothics with them. Often they’re familiar with the more recent gothic theghostsofpeppernellmanor_ebookcovernovelists (Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt), but they don’t realize there are others out there right now (like me!) writing the type of books they love to read.

If you’re a readers, I hope you’ll give the gothics a look—and if you do, don’t forget to leave a review! If you’re a writer of gothic mystery, don’t give up! Try some of the tips above and let me know how they work for you. And if you have ideas of your own, don’t hesitate to share them in the comments.

Thanks for having me on Bookbrowsing. It’s been an honor and a privilege.

 

Author Bio:

Amy M. Reade, a recovering lawyer, lives in southern New Jersey. She is the author of Secrets of Hallstead House, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, and House of Hanging Jade. She is currently working on Book Three of The Malice Novels, a series set in the United Kingdom. The first book in the series, The House on Candlewick Lane, will be released in February, 2017. She loves cooking, reading, and traveling.

Amy can be found online here:

http://www.amymreade.com (website)

http://amreade.wordpress.com (blog)

http://www.facebook.com/amreadeauthor

http://www.twitter.com/readeandwrite

http://www.pinterest.com/amreade

www.goodreads.com/author/show/8189243.Amy_M_Reade

www.amazon.com/Amy-M.-Reade/e/B00LX6ASF2/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0.

And finally, here’s the publisher’s copy from her next release, The House on Candlewick Lane:housecandlewicklane_final1

It is every parent’s worst nightmare. Greer Dobbins’ daughter has been kidnapped—and spirited across the Atlantic to a hiding place in Scotland. Greer will do anything to find her, but the streets of Edinburgh hide a thousand secrets—including some she’d rather not face.

Art historian Dr. Greer Dobbins thought her ex-husband, Neill, had his gambling addiction under control. But in fact he was spiraling deeper and deeper into debt. When a group of shady lenders threatens to harm the divorced couple’s five-year-old daughter if he doesn’t pay up, a desperate Neill abducts the girl and flees to his native Scotland. Though the trail seems cold, Greer refuses to give up and embarks on a frantic search through the medieval alleys of Edinburgh—a city as beguiling as it is dangerous. But as the nightmare thickens with cryptic messages and a mysterious attack, Greer herself will become a target, along with everyone she holds dear.

Sleuthing Duos by C. T. Collier

ct-collier-authorAs I wrote the fourth and final book of my romance series (pen name Katie O’Boyle), I prepared for my next series, murder mysteries set in Tompkins Falls, NY, the same location as Lakeside Porches, and revolving around troubled Tompkins College. The mysteries would be whodunits and they would fall into the subgenre of academic mysteries. I wanted a pair of sleuths, complementary equals, not a detective and sidekick, to work in tandem to solve the murders. Neither would be a professional crime solver (PI, police detective, for example), and they’d be a married couple.

 

Having articulated that for myself, I went back to work on the last romance, Waking Up To Love, and found the plot had changed in an important way. It always had a villain, whom I imagined to be a likable character. But now, the more I got to know him, the more devious be became. He turned Kyle and Lyssa’s journey toward true love into a roller coaster ride, a dangerous one. His tricks ultimately inspired Kyle and Lyssa to set aside their squabbles and act as a team, in order to look more closely at what the villain and his buddies were up to. While it wasn’t murder, it was an infraction that negatively impacted the college and destroyed one faculty member’s academic career.

 

Wait. Two smart people, Kyle and Lyssa, acting as a team, doing what? I’d found my crime-solving duo!

 

Fresh from Waking Up To Love, Kyle and Lyssa stepped into the role of investigative partners in The Penningtons Investigate. It was clear as I drafted the first book in the series, Planted, that neither Kyle nor Lyssa ever would become a detective. Lyssa thrives on her career as an economics professor at the college, and Kyle embraces his role as CEO of his own computer security business, Pennington Secure Networks. However, circumstances arise that require them to work as a team to solve a murder, because the killing affects them personally and impacts the college in some way.

 

When I told my loyal beta readers about my concept, they came back with big smiles. “Are they going to be like Nick and Nora? Tommy and Tuppence? Hart to Hart? MacMillan and Wife?” I loved the question! Why not learn from and play off sleuthing duos from series I’d loved and maybe a few I’d never heard of?

 

I watched old movies, TV series (anyone remember Mr. and Mrs. North?), and updated versions of classics like Partners in Crime. My research took a big step forward when a librarian friend handed me a June 20, 2015, article published in The Guardian: “Perfect partners in crime: Tommy and Tuppence,” which gave me a taste of still more crime-solving duos.

 

Unlike many couples in crime fiction, Kyle and Lyssa Pennington are equal partners in solving any murder they tackle. Lyssa, the economics professor, is a natural for “following the money story,” which proves to be essential in unraveling each mystery. Similarly, Kyle’s expertise with technology gives them a leg-up with manipulating all available data as they search for patterns and discrepancies. They are different but equal personalities as well. Where Lyssa is sensitive and intuitive, Kyle is logical and capable of intense concentration.  They are united in their goals but divergent in their paths to the answers. Neither can determine “whodunit?” without the other’s input.

 

How do they see themselves? Here’s an abbreviated exchange from an early chapter of Planted, the first book in The Penningtons Investigate. On their lawyer’s advice, Kyle and Lyssa have undertaken a door-to-door canvass of their new neighborhood, apologizing for a shooting in their backyard. Oh, and sleuthing while they’re at it:

 

“Ready, Mr. Pennington?”

“Ready, Mrs. Pennington.”

“I like being on your team,” Lyssa said with a wink. Script and clipboard at the ready, they crossed Seneca Street to the first house on their block.

. . . after a difficult encounter with their first crotchety neighbor . . .

She put a plus sign in the final column for 50 Seneca Street.

“Ah, a secret code. What does the plus sign mean? Clearly not ‘warm and fuzzy.’”

“Hah. It stands for successful damage repair.”

“Meaning, he doesn’t hate us as new neighbors?”

“Exactly.” She had penned ‘Mr. Jonas’ in the Name column, and ‘Tuttle 20 years?’ in the Notes column.

“Good work, Watson,” Kyle teased.

“What Watson?” Lyssa elbowed him playfully. “Miss Marple, I’d say. Oh, I should add a comment that we’ve invited him for iced tea.”

“But Jane Marple was solo. We’re more like Nick and Nora, don’t you think?”

“Weren’t they sloshed a lot?” Lyssa said with a laugh. “I’m sober, don’t forget.”

“Right. Tommy and Tuppence perhaps?”

“Not sure. I’ll have to reread those.”

 

The lively banter between Kyle and Lyssa is a device for processing clues and brainstorming next steps and talking through possible murder scenarios, and it’s also a vital source of humor in a series that deals with murder. Readers have picked up on it as a hallmark of the series, and a few have likened the Penningtons to Nick and Nora, which compelled me to reread Dashiell Hammett’s classic The Thin Man. The experience was different as an author, and truly fascinating. Having savored Hammett’s extraordinary whodunit, I can’t imagine Kyle and Lyssa putting away gin the way Nick and Nora do. And I can only aspire to write a plot as clever and baffling as Hammett’s.

 

With five semesters left in Lyssa’s contract as a Visiting Professor at Tompkins College, there are more murders to come in the Finger Lakes village of Tompkins Falls. Each of the murders will affect both Kyle and Lyssa enough for them to unite as a team to figure out “whodunit?” Solve it they will, using their diverse talents and their trademark humor.

 

planted-book-coverBOOK BLURB:

 

It’s Monday of spring break when Professor Lyssa Pennington’s backyard garden project unearths a loaded revolver. With no record of violence at their address and no related cold case, the Tompkins Falls police have no interest. But the Penningtons and a friend with the State Police believe there’s a body somewhere. Whose? Where? And who pulled the trigger?

 

Planted is book one in the mystery series, The Penningtons Investigate.

 

BUY LINK: http://tinyurl.com/h2f2xeh

 

AUTHOR BIO:

C.T. Collier was born to solve logic puzzles, wear tweed, and drink Earl Grey tea. Her professional experience in cutthroat high tech and backstabbing higher education gave her endless opportunity to study intrigue. Add to that her longtime love of mysteries, and it’s no wonder she writes academic mysteries that draw inspiration from traditional whodunits. Her setting, Tompkins Falls, is a blend of several Finger Lakes towns, including her hometown, Seneca Falls, NY. Entirely fictional, Tompkins College is no college and every college.

 

AUTHOR LINKS:

 

Website: https://drkatecollier.wordpress.com

Facebook: kate.collier.315

Twitter: @TompkinsFalls