I got some wonderful mail this afternoon–advance copies of The Mother Next Door, my second suspense novel. Weirdly, the box started twitching—those books REALLY wanted to come out.
Coming October 12, 2021! Pre-order your copy now!
Friends, I need to chat for a moment about edits.
I heard a lot about the dreaded second book. How hard it is to write. The worries about if it be as good as your first book. The pressures of writing to a deadline if you have a contract.
I believed all those warnings, I did. But I don’t think I was prepared for just how hard it would be.
It didn’t help that on top of a deadline and performance pressure we were hit with a deadly global pandemic. A fraught presidential election and insurrection. Countless examples of racial injustice. Writing fiction at times felt both pointless and frivolous when so many others were suffering so badly.
But write I did. I crafted an outline, with the help of my agent and editor, and went for it. I thought it would be so much easier this time with a road map. I knocked out 70,000 words and a rough first draft in about six months.
And then we figured out that the book wasn’t working at all. I tried to resist it at first, but alas, it just wasn’t fixable. I cried. I threw things. I said some mean and snotty things about myself.
And then I sucked it up and tossed it all out and started again.
But now I was severely behind in my timeline. No one else seemed to think this was a problem. My agent and editor were like, “Oh, you got this. No worries.” My husband was like, “You’ll be fine.” I was like: “HOLY SHIT I’M DOOMED THIS IS NEVER GOING TO WORK I’M MOVING TO A REMOTE ISLAND AND HIDING UNDER A BLANKET FOR FOREVER.”
But then I sucked it up and started writing. Again. And again I got about 10,000 words in and realized I needed to change the point of view.
I cried. I threw things. I said mean and nasty things about myself.
You can sense the cycle here. Needless to say, it never really got easier. I did finally find the POV I needed. The story got tighter and tenser and more suspenseful. I threw in some crazy stuff that I love–like Halloween, like creepy urban legends, like cultish friend groups. I cursed some more and cried some more and all through it my editor, my agent, my husband, my friends were like, “You’ve got this.”
(Moral of the story here: Surround yourself with some good people.)
I wrote another 70,000 words. More than that, if you count all the scenes I threw out. I edited those words. I edited it more. And again and again. My eyeballs fell out of my head a few times. I had to start PT for my shoulder and neck issues. I haven’t watched much TV in a year unless you count Murder, She Wrote (and you should always count Murder, She Wrote.)
And this morning I finally turned in the book for galleys. It will still go through copy editing and proof reading, and yes, I’ll have more edits to do. But it’s there, it’s done. People will read it. (Hopefully some will like it).
I. Did. It.
But yeah, what they say is true. Writing the second book really sucks.
Strange times. Strange times, indeed. A few months ago, I posted a blog here discussing all the spring events I was looking forward to. A few weeks later, I had to delete it because every single one of those events was canceled.
We are all sad, I know. All mourning the loss of something and struggling to adjust to this new (hopefully temporary) way of living. For me, I’m very sad that my son won’t go back to 2nd grade to finish out the year with his friends and teacher, all of whom he loves. I’m sad that the writing conventions, readings, and festivals I was going to attend are all vanished—poof!—some of which, like the Edgar Awards, I was so very much looking forward to. I miss my colleagues at work, I miss my favorite restaurants. I miss having lunch dates with friends. I miss the luxury of wandering around a store for an hour or so and just browsing for random things that I don’t need.
But in this moment of profound anxiety and loss, I know I need to find things to be grateful for and things to look forward to. So I thought I’d share with you a few cool things that I’m part of, since I can’t go to events and shout about them.
First, on March 16, an anthology launched that I’m very excited about. It’s called The Swamp Killers, and it is a novel-in-stories by a great group of crime fiction writers and edited by Sarah M. Chen and E.A. Aymar. I’ve got the first story in the novel, called “Birthday,” about a depressed hit man who has to attend a child’s birthday party at, basically, a Chuck E Cheese kind of place.
Contributors include: E.A. Aymar, Sarah M. Chen, Hilary Davidson, Alex Dolan, Rebecca Drake, Gwen Florio, Elizabeth Heiter, J.J. Hensley, Susi Holliday, Shannon Kirk, Tara Laskowski, Jenny Milchman, Alan Orloff, Tom Sweterlitsch, Art Taylor, and Wendy Tyson.
You can find more out about the book and order yourself a copy here.
Another anthology I’m a contributor for hit the (virtual, I guess) shelves on April 7. The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell, edited by Josh Pachter, features 26 stories inspired by Joni Mitchell songs. My husband Art Taylor and I wrote a story together for this book, based on Joni’s song “Both Sides Now.” The story we wrote is a series of letters back and forth by a husband and wife while he’s in prison. We included secret codes in the story, so we make you do a little work while you read.
If you purchase a copy of the book, one-thirds of the author royalties will be donated to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation in Joni Mitchell’s name, so snatch it up now!
Speaking of Art and me, we also did a podcast together recently at the popular Dark and Stormy Podcast, where we each talked about our Agatha-nominated works (Art’s up for Best Short Story for “Better Days” and I’m up for Best Debut Novel for One Night Gone.) You can hear us chat about our work right here, and check out the other podcast interviews they’ve done for other Agatha nominees.
I also am excited to have published my first creative nonfiction flash piece over at The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. It’s called “Stochastic,” and it’s about my mom and grief and the randomness of life. It takes about 45 seconds to read, so I hope you’ll give it a go.
Finally, I want to give a shout-out to my favorite small press publisher, Santa Fe Writers Project. Publisher Andrew Gifford is tireless in shouting about his authors and getting their works out to as wide an audience as possible. SFWP has been around for more than 20 years now, and you can find a title in most any genre you love. You can find my two short story collections there, Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons and Bystanders.
A little over three years ago, I opened a Word document on my computer and started working on this little idea I had.
And now she’s here, this beautiful book. She’s here! She’s finally here!
Today is launch day for my debut novel of suspense, One Night Gone!
Come on over here and read more about One Night Gone. You can also order it at your favorite bookstore.
Or, better yet, check out my tour dates and stop by and say hello!
Happiest of Octobers to you!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go unearth all of my most favorite Halloween decorations to make my house boo-tiful.
Enjoy this, the Season of the Witch!
Surprise! Just when you thought I had a cover….I have a new cover.
The smart, lovely team at Graydon House/Harlequin decided that my original cover didn’t quite speak enough to the suspense/thriller genre that my book really fits in. So they gave it a facelift! And a beautiful one at that.
For those of you who were fans of the creepy house in the original–good news! It’s still there. But we’ve shifted focus slightly to the stormy night sky instead of the sandy beach, giving the overall look one with more menace and intrigue. Check it out!
The wonderful Kristopher Zgorski is hosting my cover reveal at BOLO Books today. Click through to check out the cover of ONE NIGHT GONE, my debut novel. And once you do, stay a while at BOLO Books. Kris has introduced me to many amazing writers with his insightful book reviews. It’s an honor to launch my cover with him!
Here’s a little bit about it:
One sultry summer in the 1980s, a teenage girl arrived in the wealthy vacation town of Opal Beach to start her life anew—to achieve her destiny. But before the summer was up, she vanished.
Decades later, when Allison Simpson is offered the opportunity to house-sit in Opal Beach, it seems like the perfect chance to regroup and start fresh after a messy divorce. It’s the off-season, after all, which means peace and quiet, and more importantly for Allison, safety.
But when Allison becomes drawn into the story of a girl who disappeared from town thirty years before, she begins to realize that Opal Beach isn’t as idyllic as it seems. Beyond the walls of the gorgeous homes hide dark secrets. And as Allison digs deeper into the mystery, she uncovers not only the shocking truth, but finds herself caught in the middle of a twisted plot.
Part electric coming-of-age story and part breathtaking mystery, One Night Gone is an atmospheric, suspenseful novel about power, privilege, and ultimately, sisterhood.
I’m excited to be working with the editorial team at Harlequin/HarperCollins on this book, especially my excellent editor Melanie Fried. Thanks most of all to my wonderful agent Michelle Richter and the team at FUSE Literary for believing in this book and finding what I believe is the best home for it!
Stay tuned for more details as the year progresses, and consider signing up for my (very, very occasional) newsletter for any giveaways, readings and other events, as well as random ramblings.
Ok, now for the freak-out: EEEEEEEEEEKKKKK!!!
My story “Coal Girl” was published at Jellyfish Review as part of the Stories for the Dead special issue. It’s about ghosts and teenagers and coal banks. At its heart, it’s a love story, despite it’s weird creepiness.
I was thinking about all this yesterday when my husband and I were at our favorite coffee shop in the area, De Clieu, where I ordered one of their specials–a delightful drink called Honey Charcoal Latte. When it arrived, the first thing I thought of was, well, my story:
The digestive charcoal bits look like coal, and the white foam and mug reminded me of ghosts. And, of course, when I tasted it, it had an underlying sweetness like the love story that emerges out of the darkness. It was dark and delicious and a tad sweet, just like I hope my story is.
I love the idea of pairing drinks with stories, such as Deborah Lacy does with her Drinks with Reads column at Mystery Playground. When Bystanders came out, we invented a drink to go with it (The Bystander, which is basically a whiskey sour with a little bit of red wine drizzled on top.) But a pairing has never come so easily or naturally as this one, and I’m still a little spooked by it, to be honest. Seems like a little magic on what was a dreary rainy day. I’ll take it!
What a lovely post-Thanksgiving story to wake up to! This morning, The Guardian released part 1 of their Best Books of 2017 story–asking authors to discuss their top favorite reads of the year. I’m honored–and oh so thankful–to discover that Jennifer Egan named Bystanders as one of her three recommendations.
You can read the selections here and shop for all the book lovers on your list.
Once upon a time I thought of a title for a story: “The Etiquette of Adultery.” I liked that title so much that I wrote it down on a piece of paper and carried it around in my wallet with me for about a year. One day I decided to write the story, wondering what an etiquette guide for adultery would really look like. I sent it off to Necessary Fiction, and editor Steve Himmer wrote a nice note back saying he loved the concept but thought I should expand the story a bit more.
That note made sense to me and sparked something inside me that became the catalyst for this book. An editor’s job is mostly thankless–I know, having edited SmokeLong for almost seven years now–but I also don’t think that editors often realize how much impact a kind, encouraging, honest rejection letter can have on a writer. Sometimes a sentence or two or a quick suggestion can help solidify an idea or start someone off on another path with a story. In this case, Steve’s note didn’t just help make “Adultery” a better story, but it also started me on the trail of a series of etiquette stories, which eventually created a book.
The thing is, the stories were so very fun to write. Most of them teeter on the edge of flash-fiction-length–the longest story tips just over 2,000 words, I believe–and the form allowed me to play around with all sorts of fun experiments, creating an unofficial guide to our darker selves.
The first edition of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons was published by Matter Press in 2012. It sold out of its print run and was only available as an ebook for the last few years, but now–now!–my friends, it’s back. And cuter than ever.
The newly revised Modern Manners, published by Santa Fe Writers Project, includes two new etiquette stories (“The Etiquette of Voyeurism” and “The Etiquette of Gossip”) and comes in paperback in an adorable, stuff-it-in-your-pocket size.
Here are some kind things folks have said about it:
“Sly, clever, original take on the sad, bewildering, dead-on truths of being human.”
— Kathy Fish, author of Wild Life and Together We Can Bury It
“The anxiety-ridden instructees of Laskowski’s stories tap dance their way through various awkward situations ranging from adultery to dementia. It’s fun to laugh at them, but by the end of each story, you can’t quite remember why you thought they were so dumb in the first place; these characters have problems and deal with their problems with dignity. Each of these stories start out in a sarcastic vein, yet the problems they address are heartbreaking, and each and every one of them realizes a protagonist, fully formed, with a past, a present, and a future.”
— L.W. Compton The Collagist
I’ll also be celebrating Modern Manners‘ birthday at the AWP conference Feb. 9-11 in Washington, D.C. Check out my events page for more information about readings and panels and things. Hope to see you and your inner demons soon!