A Heart, a Mole, and a Limerick

It’s been a sort of eventful (and yet not) couple of weeks. There have been a couple scares, some new side effects, a milestone, some experimentation, and a minor epiphany.

Tasting and Smelling

First, I haven’t quite figured out how to deal with the nausea. It’s much worse this round, but as before, I’m not actually vomiting…I’m just nauseous all the time. Maybe weed would help, but I’m not willing to trade barfy for high at this point. If I were face-down in the toilet I’m sure that option would be more attractive.

Still, it’s very odd. It feels sort of like a mixture of pregnant and hungover. The constant low-level nausea is just there…ever-present like a tiny fetus in my gut. It’s accompanied by an excruciatingly sensitive nose. I can smell everything in exquisite detail and most of it makes me want to yak. And when I say I can smell everything I mean it. I can smell morning breath from across the room. I can smell YOU right now, reading this. I can detect whiffs of the soap you used this morning and the mint you ate after lunch.

Crime LabParadoxically, my sense of taste is completely whackadoo. One evening last week I got a sudden and very strong craving for pizza. Specifically, Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza. Thinking I was turning the corner on my nausea/chemical taste issues, I ordered one for delivery (sans sauce because tomatoes give me heartburn now). I opened wide and took what was meant to be a nearly orgasmic bite. And tasted…nothing. Nada. I haven’t been that disappointed since Santa failed to deliver Crime Lab back in 1970-whatever.

But then there are good surprises as well. Cantaloupe, for instance, which is one of my favorite things to put in my mouth. Cantaloupe has to be just right. The flavor is so subtle that if you have a slight cold you won’t be able to taste it. Or if it’s not quite ripe. I got some cantaloupe the other day with the thought that it probably wouldn’t taste good, but what the hell. I took the first bite and was overwhelmed with sweet flavor. It was the highlight of my day. It was THAT good.

can-dogs-eat-cantaloupe

Mole Hunt

Here’s something that wasn’t good. My youngest, Allison, is blonde. We’re not sure why or how, because everyone else in the family is dark. Some family members were blonde as very small children, but grew out of it. It remains to be seen if Allie will keep her yellow hair or not. My point is that I don’t know what to do with a blonde head and have always been super wary of the sun. Those corn silk locks don’t seem to offer any protection and so I’m hardcore about making her wear a hat in the summer. A couple of years ago I found a large-ish (relative to her four-year-old noggin) mole near her ear and have kept a close watch on it. Last Wednesday while washing her hair I saw what I’ve been dreading: the mole has changed. Where it was once uniform in color and perfectly round, it has suddenly shown all the signs of a potential melanoma.

IMG_1960Basically, my baby’s mole flunked the ABCDE test. Herewith:

  • A – Asymmetry (lopsided is bad)
  • B – Borders (blurry, uneven is bad)
  • C – Color (different shades are bad)
  • D – Diameter (larger than a pencil eraser is bad)
  • E – Evolving (change is bad)

So, Gunny and I resolved to take her to the pediatrician ASAP and put her to bed. Then I opened the freezer to get a popsicle and burst into tears. Those heaving, silent “Don’t mind me, I’m breaking down” sobs. Because cancer can take me, but it better not lay one turdy tendril on my child. Because I will burn this world down.

The pediatrician agreed the mole is “suspicious,” and has referred us to a dermatologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Once Tricare approves it, I’m hoping to make the appointment for a Tuesday. Just in case we run into Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on his weekly trip to visit sick kids. You gotta find the upside wherever you can.

Side Effects

In honor of some fun new side effects I have composed this limerick:

There once was a lady named Trix
Who found herself in quite a fix
Her gums were receding
Her ass, it was bleeding
And she still has four rounds left of six!

Also, my nose is running in what is lovingly called the “Herceptin drip.” Yaaaaaaaay.

My Heart

In my last post I mentioned that I’d been having some shortness of breath. The next day it concerned me enough to call Dr. Cap’s office. He had me come in and Gunny and I spent two hours there. First, I had two panic attacks before I even saw the doctor. I haven’t had one since, well, I guess since I met Gunny seven years ago, but I used to have them fairly often and once severe enough to land in the ER where the nurses nodded knowingly when I told them I worked at Microsoft. “Oh, we see Microsoft people all the time for this.” Anyway my heart rate was too high for Dr. Cap and he sent me to the lab for a blood draw to check my iron. My iron was fine but my postassium was low. He decided that we’d check on my heart a little sooner than planned so this Monday I had another echocardiogram which was absolutely fine. So my heart is in good shape and I don’t know what the shortness of breath was about and haven’t experienced it since.

My Hair

What about your bald head, Christa? Oh, I’m glad you asked. So here’s something I didn’t expect: my head gets a little bit stubbly every few days. But only in patches. So if I hadn’t shaved my head I would still have hair, but I would also have bald patches, which I think we can all agree would not look very cool.

IMG_1993

I’ve decided I like the idea of wigs more than I enjoy wearing them. So I’ve been going naked-headed most of the time inside the house and rocking some hats out and about. These are the two I like best:

IMG_1985 IMG_1995

And now for the good news. At long last, after more than three months, I’ve started working on my novel again! The second Mike Malick mystery You Go To My Head is back on track. I’m not promising a release date yet, but at least the wheels are back in motion. It feels really good to be creating something again.

An Epiphany

That’s sort of my takeaway from the whole cancer experience thus far: being grateful for the small things. The kindness of a friend. A sunny day. The flavor of ripe melon. I’ve discovered that Death doesn’t have to come very close at all to make Life taste very sweet.

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My New Book Has Arrived!

Lexy4CoverSmallHip hip HOORAY, my new book is now available! It’s the fourth full-length Lexy Cooper mystery. You can pick up the eBook right now at Amazon, or you can wait for the paperback this summer. Any questions?

What if I don’t have a Kindle?

You’re in luck, cowboy. You don’t need the dedicated eReader to enjoy Kindle books. All you need is an electronic device with a screen. You can read Lexy books on your PC, your tablet, or your phone. Just download the free Kindle app for your weapon of choice.

I’m thinking about trying Lexy books, but where should I start?

Start at the beginning, grasshopper. The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first page of Schooled. All books in which Lexy appears are in this order:

  1. Schooled 
  2. Pwned
  3. I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa (short story)
  4. Griefed
  5. Summer Wind (Mike Malick #1)
  6. Glitched

TriplethreatColorFinalsmall copyYou can actually pick up the first four of these in one package: Lexy Cooper Triple Threat. It’s available in eBook and paperback.

Well, crap, I thought I was up-to-date, but I haven’t read Summer Wind. Do I need to read it before starting Glitched?

Heck no! There are a couple of things that happen in Mike’s book that are referenced in Lexy’s book, but not knowing them will not prevent you from following or (hopefully) enjoying Glitched.

I’ve read all the books, but can’t keep track of what’s what and who’s who. Can you help?

Yes indeed, young Skywalker. My dear friend Wendy wrote this Lexy primer to help refresh your memory.

Glitched came out at midnight last night and I’m already finished. What’s next for Lexy?

Yikes. You, sir or madam, are hardcore. And I love that. Lexy will next appear in a short story called Hurricane Lexy that picks up immediately after the end of Glitched. Then she will make an appearance in the second Mike Malick book You Go to My Head this fall. The next full-length Lexy mystery novel a.k.a. “Lexy 5” will follow in the first half of 2016.

In the Beginning – Starting a New Novel

-it-was-a-dark-and-stormy-night-pin-2120-pMy ninth book (Glitched) is with my editor right now and so, it’s time for me to start writing the next one. Book number ten will be the second in the Mike Malick series, and it’s unique in my experience for one reason. I don’t really know what it’s about.

Here’s what I’ve got:

A title: You Go To My Head (yes, another Sinatra song).

A pretty solid cast of characters.

A reference photo for the cover art.

Reference for the cover art. You Go To My Head...get it?
You Go To My Head…get it?

And a news story about a real crime that gave me the germ of an idea. I’m not linking to it, obviously.

Other than that…I got nothin’. Every other time I’ve actually sat down to start placing words one by one into a coherent story I’ve had a pretty fleshed-out plan in mind. Sometimes those plans change. But this is the first time I’ve sat down to a fairly rasa tabula.

So what now? I’ve got to turn this

In the beginning blog post
I do this bit right after finishing the prior book. The satisfaction comes from adding the newly-written one to the “Also by this author” list.

into a full novel that

  • Gives readers what they’ve come to expect in a Malick novel: snark, crime-solving, waitress-banging
  • Tells a compelling and complete story from the discovery of crime to the solution of whodunit
  • Touches on and advances the subplots and story arcs in the series
  • Feels familiar but not too similar to the first book Summer Wind

Where do I begin? I start with a victim. Right now I don’t know the name, gender, or method of murder. All I know is why the person was killed and who did it. But this dead body will put Malick and his partner Cricket Yi on the train that will carry them to the end of the story, some 300 pages away.

It’s unfamiliar and sort of scary but also a bit liberating. BRB, gotta go kill someone.

All About That Pace

keep-calm-and-pace-yourself-24Let’s talk about pacing, i.e. the action in your novel. Does it start slow and build to an action-packed climax? Do you hit on your main themes in a regular pattern? Do you sprinkle humor here and there?

I wasn’t sure how I did it. I’ve had readers comment that they like the pacing in my books, so I guess I was doing something right. But to be honest, I don’t consciously think about pacing much. Well, except for the first Lexy book in which I was convinced each chapter needed to be 5,000 words and I distinctly remember saying to myself, “Hmmm Lexy hasn’t gotten laid in a while. Better fix that.”

But I know that pacing is important and I was curious to see what exactly I’m doing and when I’m doing it. So, as I reviewed and revised my new book Glitched, I kept track of certain elements of the story and where they appear. This is what it looked like:

Glitched Pacing

There were quite a few pacing relationships I was particularly interested in. Sex vs Romance is one of them. Maybe they’re not different for you, but they are for Lexy. At least in Glitched.

Also, Sleuthing and Skills. This fourth Lexy mystery is different in that alternating chapters are not in Detective Malick’s POV. In fact, the murder isn’t even Mike’s case. This is the first time that Lexy is actively trying to solve a murder. Now, she hasn’t hung out a PI shingle, and she’s still working at Xenon full-time, but neither is she stumbling on evidence or just lending Malick a hand. In this book–and going forward–it’s important for Lexy to have agency. For her to do things on purpose with intent instead of have things happen to her. Ergo, sleuthing is when she’s investigating the case: talking to witnesses, doing research, staking out a location. Skills is when she’s purposely trying to improve her sleuthing. Mainly recalling something she’s learned from Malick about being observant or getting reluctant witnesses to talk.

stake out

Then there are the ongoing story arcs: her relationships with recurring characters. So, Romance hits on her interactions with a certain character (no spoilers) and Rivalry hits on her interactions with Agent 54.

When you’re writing a series there is also a fair amount of Backstory or references and reminders to what has happened in previous books, and Set-up, laying the groundwork for the next book: introducing characters and situations who will be important in Lexy 5.

A couple other things I tracked were Humor and Trouble. Humor’s pretty obvious, and there are funny (I hope) Lexyisms throughout, but these were situations I included solely for comic relief. Trouble refers to situations when Lexy purposely does something knowing it will get her in trouble or stir the pot. Just because she’s Lexy.

Chowder
Lexy’s new roommate?

I also tracked her use of drugs and alcohol, and her smoking. She’s always been a closet stress-smoker and when she’s upset she indulges. If you check the grid, you see that she smokes less as the story continues. Is it because I forgot to put a cigarette in her mouth? Nope, it was that she was busy chasing baddies and had other stuff on her mind.

Looking over this, it occurs to me that I did a pretty fair job pacing this without much planning. The question is, do I want to track as I go with the next book (potentially leading to “hmmm Malick hasn’t gotten laid in a while” thoughts) or do I just keep on keepin’ on?

Series Fiction: What I wish I’d known at the start

long gameI’m in the final stretch of writing the fourth book in my Lexy Cooper mystery series. Now, I’m certainly nowhere near as prolific as many writers, but by the time you get to Book 4, you’ve built up a pretty substantial cast of characters, a history, and a world. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way and wish I’d known when I was writing the first one.

Consistency in World Building

Just because I write books set in modern times in the “real” world doesn’t mean I haven’t done some world building. It’s not Middle Earth, but Lexy Cooper’s fantasy world mapRedmond and Seattle are not exact replicas of the real thing and those subtle differences need to be consistent. Sometimes I run up against a perception I had while writing earlier books that cause me to hesitate and stumble writing later books. Take the Redmond Police Department headquarters, where Detective Malick does his murder-solving thing. When I wrote Schooled I had a very vague idea of what it looked like: a lobby where a desk sergeant sits, desks where cops do their work on battered government-issue desks, a conference room where the cops can gather to brainstorm, and an interrogation room for grilling suspects. That’s all I wrote about, because it was all I needed. Then in Pwned, I added another interrogation room and now there’s “Interview A” and “Interview B.” Each book has added new areas as the story requires them. By the time I wrote Summer Wind, in which Detective Malick gets his own series, the building is three stories high and has a computer lab, briefing room, Chief’s office, gym, and impound lot. The good news is I never said, in Book 1 that the station was small or one-story, or lacked any facilities. So looking back, is it better that I was vague in the beginning, or should I have mapped it out with a little more diligence from the get-go?  Vagueness has allowed me to get what I need from that location, but every time I send Malick up a flight of stairs that wasn’t in my head during the previous books, I feel a little bit guilty.

ss-100512-laworder-01.grid-8x2

The Trouble with Character Names

There are two male cops in my series: Mike Malick and Mark Rogers. In the first three books Rogers was always “Rogers” because he’s a young cop still in uniform and Mike is the star. But by Book 4, Rogers has a new job in a neighboring city and is a detective. Now equals–mostly–“Mike and Mark” are so close it sounds lame.

name gameWorse yet are rhyming names. Lexy’s brother is Kent and her cameraman is Trent. I never even noticed it until the two characters have a scene together in Book 4 and I had to write around putting their names next to each other. Meanwhile I cursed myself for my foolishness for not noticing in Book 1. Another example? Kenny Longworth and Kent Cooper don’t share a scene in the first four books, but that too, could be problematic in the future. And then I have to wonder: What’s with the “Ken” thing? Why did I choose those names? I don’t think I even know anyone named Ken.

Now I’m being much more careful in naming new characters. In book 4, Lexy’s friend Harper Cole (who appears in Pwned and Griefed) is a major player. When it came time for me to introduce a new character, I wanted to name her Hopper after Grace Hopper. But Hopper and Harper? That’s a no-go. So right now her name is Borg after Anita Borg, but I don’t think I can get past the Star Trek association on that one and it will most likely change again.

Now here are a couple of things I think I did right. And I did them right because I was slow and careful about what I was doing. I’m going to avoid spoilers as much as I can here, but if you haven’t read Lexy 1-3 and are super sensitive to vague hints about the plot, you may want to skip this bit.

The Long Game

If you’ve got the foresight to plan the major plot points of the books in your series, it’s very effective to lay the groundwork early for the biggest payoff. So there’s a bad guy in Book 3. Now I could have created a new character to do the bad things, but instead I played the long game. Knowing all along what I was going to write in Book 3 (at that time the end of a Lexy trilogy) I introduced the character very casually in Book 1. This character was so minor he or she may have mostly gone unnoticed. But then he or she became more important in Book 2. So by the time Book 3 rolls around and he or she does the bad thing it is a shock and betrayal to both Lexy and the reader.

See also: Foreshadowing. This character offers hints of what he/she is capable of in the first two books. What you’re going for is either a “I felt like there was something weird about that person!” or “Why didn’t I see that coming!?” So hopefully, a person who read Book 3 could go back to Book 2 and smack themselves for not realizing this character was trouble.

Another example: In Summer Wind (which is Malick #1 but also Book 3.5 in the Lexy series), I introduce a character who is not really going to be very important until Book 7. But when she becomes important she won’t have dropped out of a clear blue sky. She’s already been established in the cast and the world.

Incremental Change

It would have been easy to begin the series with Lexy Cooper–community manager by day, kick-ass vigilante detective by night, but let’s face it…that’s not really believable or relatable. Instead, Lexy learns new skills as the series progresses. Not because she has an end-goal of being some sort of Dirty Harriet, but because she has reactions to the things that happen in her life. Possible spoilers For instance: In the first book, something happens to Lexy that makes her interested in finally learning to handle a firearm. So in Book 2 she learns to shoot. In Book 2 and then again in Book 3, she is in a situation where she has to run to safety. And her speed and endurance fail her. In Book 4, running has become a priority for her. She’ll be ready for the next time. And at this point, she carries her Glock everywhere. By Book 4 or 5 readers will not be shocked–or skeptical–if Lexy outruns an assailant or uses her gun because these are skills she’s worked to acquire and not superpowers she’s granted when she suddenly needs them.

The Downside

The downside of the slow build and the long game is that readers can’t see inside your head and may get impatient as they wait for your heroine to “grow up.” I have had feedback about how Lexy often gets rescued in early books, or that she’s immature or didn’t have a big enough reaction to the tragic events at the end of Griefed. All I can say to that is: keep reading.

 

 

Book Release Day: Fantasy vs Reality

chinese_theatre-vintage-premiereWhen I was a very young writer I had visions of my future book release days that were elaborate and glamorous. Parties with New York literati. Long lines at bookstores. Jetting off on a book tour to exotic locations. I even used to practice what I’d say when David Letterman interviewed me about my wildly successful novel. So basically I was dreaming of being a movie star at a Hollywood premiere except that I’d be adulated for the words I wrote instead of pretending to be someone else’s character.

Many, many years went by before I actually published my first book, The Sleepless Nanny. It was perhaps the softest launch of all time. I uploaded a book I’d written twenty years earlier to Kindle Direct Publishing. I didn’t even have a cover. I think I just wanted to see if it would really work.

Seven books later, I’m a bit more meticulous about book launches: setting a date far in advance and squaring that schedule with my editor and proofreader; commissioning a professional cover; using social media to generate awareness of the title in advance, etc. Just in the past few months has Amazon allowed indie authors to do pre-orders (Thank you, Amazon!).

Yesterday, my new book released. And while I didn’t appear on Letterman, I did have a busy and rewarding day. Just not the kind I’d envisioned as a teenager. Here’s a look at Summer Wind‘s release day.

I woke up around 4 a.m. and remembered my book came out at midnight. Grinned a shit-eating grin. Went back to sleep.

When I set 11/11 as my publication date I didn’t take into consideration that it was also Veterans Day and my youngest child would be home from school. This turned out not to be the greatest plan because she was excited for a day at home with Mommy while I was excited about doing the stuff you do on a book release day. Necessary and fun-ish stuff, but not intriguing for a five-year-old. Here’s how the next few hours went:

Release Day - Update FB pageI updated the Lexy Cooper Facebook page with a release message. I like to share directly from the Amazon page because if it’s promoting an Amazon sale sometimes it pops up in people’s newsfeed more often. I also “Boosted” the post for twenty dollars. I earn $3.45 royalty (70% of the sales price) on each copy of the eBook sold in the US, so I only need to sell six copies to break even on the ad.

A lot of my friends and family shared that FB post in support of the launch, so I made sure to acknowledge each of them by liking the post and/or commenting. Your street team, be they fans or family, are your most important asset. Don’t ever take them for granted!

Release Day - Update lexycooper blog

Next, I made a post about the launch on Lexycooper.com. I don’t promote the site very often, nor do I post frequently, but it is the archive for all things in the Lexyverse, and as Summer Wind is a spinoff, it deserves a place here.

After that, I updated this blog with Summer Wind in the upper-right hand widget.

Release Day - Update trixieblog

 

At this point my daughter was hanging on to my desk chair and being a pest, so I made her a “nest” on the sofa and set her up on Netflix to buy myself some time.

Next up on the to-do list was sending the Team Lexy newsletter. I’d actually composed and tested it last week, so all it needed was a quick scan and then I hit the “Send” button. Bon voyage, newsletter!

Release Day - send newsletter

 

Newsletter sent, it was time to update Goodreads. Now, since Summer Wind had been available for pre-order, the link to buy it on Amazon was already in place. The updating of the Goodreads entry with the ASIN number is something I needed to do for the previous launches, but this time it was already done. What I did need to update was my author page from a “coming soon” message to something else. Here’s the before and after:

 

Release Day - Goodreads before Release Day - Goodreads after

 

Twitter was my next stop. Instead of a straight up “Hey, my book’s out” I went for a semi-inspirational one (that got a handful of retweets), and an attempt at humor, which didn’t really get noticed, but how great would that have been if Stephen King had replied or retweeted me? Worth a shot, right?Release Day - Twitter

 

My nagging little girl redeemed herself entirely when, at Thai Ginger with my friend Meghan, she burst out with “Mommy’s new book is out today!” Okay, that was pretty great. After lunch I bought the small one a Christmas dress at Gymboree gold christmas dressand then it was home again. How does the freshly-published author spend her afternoon? Folding laundry, mostly. But I also bought myself a couple new graphic novels:

Release Day - buy comics

Later I made dinner and we watched MasterChef Junior and I read a bit of Station Eleven before falling asleep. There was no congratulatory phone call from the president or requests for interviews. TMZ’s paparazzi are either fantastic at hiding or they’re not really interested in my activities. But all in all, I got some stuff done, fed my family, did a little shopping, and, oh yeah, released book number 8! Which you can buy here. (Or read  for free if you’re an Amazon Prime member or signed up for Kindle Unlimited)

 

 

Our series so far… To recap or not?

Harry-Potter-Books-1024x768How much should you sum up the story and characters in each successive book in a series? This is something that I’ve struggled with and am not sure I’ve decided exactly where I stand. The first question is “Do people read a series out of order?” The answer that I’ve found is “Not usually, but sometimes. Especially if book #2 or #14 was free.” So, on one hand, I would like any reader to be able to pick up any book in the Lexy Cooper series and make sense of it. But over there on the other hand, I don’t want people who read them in order to have to slog through a bunch of repetition. I also want to reward loyal readers with inside jokes, clues, and foreshadowing.

What I’ve tried to do is find a balance. I’ll write a quick refresher on recurring characters for example, and maybe reference where they fit into previous books. In a mystery/crime genre it’s SchooledCovereven dicier because I want to be able to refer to old cases but not spoil the whodunit aspect. I failed in this with my second book, which a reviewer pointed out. “Why are you reading the second book first?!” I yelled at my computer screen. Oh, right, I told myself, you did a five-day free promotion. That’s why he read the second book first. Going forward, if I refer to a prior case, the most I will disclose is the victim and maybe the mode of death, but never the culprit.

PwnedCoverSmallThe part that irks me about the character recaps is that I’ve already described them to my satisfaction. I can’t just cut and paste, but nor do I want to spend a ton of time thinking of some new way to get across the physical attributes and personality of each person. Certainly by the fourth book, this becomes an eye-roller. My solution has been to basically copy the character description, but alter it just a bit so it’s not completely repetitive for readers (or for me.) Here’s an example of how I describe Detective Mike Malick.

At forty-three, his good looks and thick, dark hair still made women of all ages stand up a little straighter and unconsciously pitch their voices a little higher. If she had a nickel for every time one of her girlfriends told her that her uncle looked like “that cop on TV” she’d, well, get that fancy Japanese hair straightening treatment and be done with the mess on her head.
Schooled

And then in the next book:

Detective Mike Malick was now 43 years old with a full head of dark, thick hair, deep brown eyes, and the kind of up-to-no-good smile that quickened the pulse of females from 12 to 100. Running and weight lifting kept his body in close to the shape he’d been in as a 22-year-old soldier. Never married, and not disposed to long-term entanglements, he gravitated toward women who wouldn’t expect much. The kind who knew he wasn’t ever going to call.
Pwned

See, very similar, but different enough that it’s not a direct cut and paste, and gets across what I need readers to understand about Mike. He’s good-looking, in shape, and chicks dig him. By the third book, I stopped describing Malick or his griefedcoverSMALLeffect on women and let the action speak to that. The novel opens with him getting a work call in the middle of a blowjob. Instead, I chose to sum up his relationship to Lexy (spoiler if you haven’t read Schooled)

Malick winked at Lexy. “See ya, kid.” He’d known Lexy since her second grade class had written letters to Desert Storm soldiers and her letter had wound up in his hands. They’d stayed pen-pals and when the Army transferred him to Ft. Lewis in Tacoma, Washington, the Coopers had more or less adopted him into the family. He’d watched Lexy and her brother Kent grow up and they’d called him “Uncle Mike” even into adulthood. It was just recently that Lexy had finally dropped the “Uncle,” and to be honest he was a bit relieved. He still called her “kid” now and then, but what had insulted her at nineteen years old had regained some charm at twenty-nine.
Griefed

The bare minimum I feel like I have to do with each book in the series is explain what Lexy’s job is (community manager/website editor/video host) and where she works and the product they make (Xenon Corporation; the Xenon 24/7 console and Xenonline gaming service). Recurring characters need at least a brief explanation of how they relate to the main characters (Lexy’s brother, Malick’s on-and-off booty call, the Chief of Police, Lexy’s boss…you get the picture). This is the benefit of having a lean cast of characters. As I add cast members, I drop (or kill off) others. I don’t ever want to get to the point where I have to include an exhaustive genealogy in the endpapers.

recap or no

However. According to my recent non-scientific survey of 112 readers, the majority don’t require a recap of who’s who and what happened in previous books. Nor do they care about spoilers. As a friend of mine put it: “I think it’s incumbent upon writer and publisher to make clear in the marketing that it’s Book 2 in the series. Beyond that, it’s on the reader. If they read out of sequence, tough shit.”

The Art of the Cover – Summer Wind

I published my very first novel–that I wrote in the early 1990s–with a default Amazon eBook cover. I was still pretty excited to have The Sleepless Nanny out in the world, but when my dear friend Paul Steed loved the book so much he volunteered to create a “real” cover for it, well that was just amazing. For the first Lexy Cooper book, serendipity or fate or something put me together with Brett Parson, who has done five Lexy covers and has agreed to do Lexy #4 this coming spring.

four lexy covers

Brett’s interpretation is a big part of who Lexy is. I can’t imagine having anyone else do a Lexy cover (though I almost had to once–a harrowing tale you can read here).

But then I decided to give Lexy’s co-protagonist Detective Mike Malick a spin-off series. One in which he would do his homicide detective thing unencumbered by video game stuff. As much as I love Brett’s work, Malick needed his own signature look. Something completely different in style. So, I approached a great friend of mine, Sarah Nicholson. Several years ago we founded a group for women gamers–Xbox GamerchiX–that at one point had over 10,000 members. So she and I go back quite a ways. She also happens to be an amazing artist/graphic designer.

This is how our first conversation went:

Convo with Sara about Malick covers

Now, if you’ve read any of the Lexy books you know that Malick is a bit of a throwback. He likes his drinks straight up and his women without strings attached. He still reads the newspaper, and listens to the Rat Pack. His first novel, Summer Wind, shares its title with a Frank Sinatra song (and so will the next two books in the series. Shhhh….).

Here’s a passage from the upcoming book:

After the meeting breaks up, I put in ninety minutes at the gym. Sinatra at the Sands with Count Basie makes the time slip by quickly. As I unclip the mp3 player, I get a look at the album cover and deeply regret the era in which I live—a time when a man can’t wear a hat without looking like a tool or a hipster. Because I’d look damn good in a classic fedora.

See? This book is written in the first-person. There aren’t alternating chapters in Lexy’s P.O.V. or any of the other characters. It’s all Malick all the time. Another reason this series needed its own distinctive cover style.

As Sara and I worked out ideas for Summer Wind, we kept in mind that this was the start of a new series, so the style should be able to carry over to new plots while maintaining that Abstract Noir feel. I showed her a series of covers I’ve always admired: the Ruth Rendell paperbacks from the eighties. Dark background, lurid color, and the focus on a single object. And the drip–always the drip.

Rendell Covers

So, armed with “abstract noir” and the knowledge that the book is about the death of a grunge rock star, Sara came up with two concepts:

Summer Wind cover concept 1 Summer Wind cover concept 2

Bloody guitars? Hell yeah!! We went with the first version–it had more movement and said “rock and roll” more than the guitar pick one. Sara refined the art and the font and the final cover looks like this:

Summer Wind Cover

And, since a paperback will follow the eBook in a few months, here is the front and back. I absolutely love how she used the Seattle skyline to give the book a sense of place.

summer-wind-back

Summer Wind comes out a week from today, on 11/11. You can preorder it now or snap it up next Tuesday! I sure hope that Sara will do the cover for the next Mike Malick book: You Go To My Head, but in the meantime if you’re looking for a truly gifted UI/UX designer who is a hilarious joy to work with…

 Check out Sara’s work!

My new book is out!

This is a proud moment for me seeing the first three Lexy books under one cover. Also new: this one released in eBook and paperback simultaneously. The book is a big ‘un: it runs over 600 pages and weighs more than 2 pounds. Slip one under the tree of your favorite reader. Super duper thanks to Team Lexy: Editor Marti McKenna, Proofreader Stacie Magelssen, and cover artist Brett Parson (aka Blitz Cadet).

Lexy Cooper: Triple ThreatTriplethreatColorFinalsmall copy

Explore a world of sex, lies, murder, and video games in this Lexy Cooper collection which includes three novels and bonus content:
Schooled (Lexy Cooper #1)
Pwned (Lexy Cooper #2)
Griefed (Lexy Cooper #3)
I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa (Lexy Cooper #2.5)
First chapter of Summer Wind (Mike Malick #1, Lexy Cooper #3.5)
Foreword by Jenn Frank, winner of the 2013 Games Journalism Prize

From the Foreword:

“She might wear pigtails and short skirts, and she may casually use words like “noob” and “pwn,” but she’s cut from the same cloth as any flawed noir hero. She shares as much in common with Sam Spade as she does with Nancy Drew.”

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