Saturday, April 14, 2018

Excerpt: Untitled Vampire Story 4

Excerpt: Untitled Vampire Story

Viktor is my second favorite character. He emerged late, beginning to blossom in my mind well after I'd begun writing. As a result, in the earlier scenes he was little more than a placeholder. Later, he differentiated himself from the others, with his own distinct personality and objectives. His character has required much editing of the story, and requires more still.

I haven't yet worked out what will become of Viktor. Obviously, my original ideas were voided when Viktor finally stepped out from the background and began to assert himself, demanding a more significant place in the story. And it was justified; my earliest efforts made poor use of him indeed.

Sometimes characters materialize in my mind and become fully fleshed and three dimensional almost instantly, revealing themselves to me through and through in one go. Others take their time, taking shape slowly, revealing themselves to me layer by layer. Viktor very much fell into the latter category. Frankly, I suspect there are many more layers yet to go, and that only once he has fully made himself known to me will I be able to understand his place in the story and get about the business of editing the manuscript to reflect it.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Excerpt: Untitled Vampire Story 3

Excerpt: Untitled Vampire Story 3

A lot of things happen in this scene, or are set up in this scene, that will be important in the bigger picture. Not the least of which is the tension between the various supernatural races. This is prevalent in most supernatural and paranormal stories, and it's something I've always hated. Essentially, it's racism, and I suppose we just accept it as normal because vampires and all the rest don't really exist anyway.

Part of this story, though, is Neasa's development. Not just her coming into her own power, but developing her as a person, which is be more and more important as the series progresses. She will need to decide who she is, what kind of person she is going to be, and then take a stand on some very significant issues. I started to get into some of that here.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Excerpt: Untitled Vampire Story 2

Excerpt: Untitled Vampire Story 

If you missed the first post regarding this vampire story, it would be worth going back to read it.

In this segment, we begin to get a better look at Ranulf, and the deepening, widening problems facing Neasa.

I love Ranulf. In this story, he's probably my favorite character. It's always interesting to me which characters are my favorite, and which are the favorites of readers. Almost without exception, the readers favor someone else. That's true with this one. So far, for early readers, Ranulf does not rank as the top favorite, though he does make the list for most.

I had quite a bit of fun with him, and I'm very much looking forward to growing him and exploring his depth and reach in the next book. I also love the relationship that begins to develop between him and Neasa, which I'm also looking forward to growing in the next book.

Hope you enjoy this scene.

Ranulf stuck mostly to back roads, and traffic was light. He cruised along at the speed limit and seemed to enjoy the drive. I watched the scenery through the windows, but my mind churned. It finally settled on our destination.

“Is the thing about vampires sleeping during the day true?” I asked.

Ranulf looked slightly surprised. “Honestly? I don’t know.”

I’d already eliminated the possibility of Ranulf being a vampire, but now that I was thinking about it, I began to doubt he was human. I didn’t know what the other options were, and I probably wasn’t ready to learn them. Still, he would have plenty of information about vampires, a subject on which I was woefully uneducated.

“How do you not know?”

He shrugged. “Their kind and mine don’t really mix, not in that way. I can tell you almost all vampire business is conducted after sunset and before sunrise.”

“What do you mean you don’t mix?”

He gave me a sideways glance. “That’s a conversation for another time.”

I rolled my eyes in frustration. “Odin keeps telling me that. You guys seem to forget I don’t have a lot of time left.”

He winced. And I felt that pain in my chest again. It had worsened, intensified. I clenched my fits to keep from clutching at my chest, and forced myself to breathe.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and he sounded sincere. “Look, I can tell you people do not go to a vampire’s house uninvited, especially not this vampire. This is asking for trouble. Suicide, probably.”

“Don’t be so dramatic.” My voice wasn’t as strong as it should have been, and I was still catching my breath, but Ranulf seemed not to notice. Instead, he seemed focused on what might await us at our destination.

Odin the Viking lived in a mansion in an unincorporated territory north of town, and that was ideal for him. The structures on his property were the only manmade structures for miles in any direction, and the only people were those in his employ. Thick trees lined the street in both directions from a long gated driveway, completely blocking the property from anyone who happened to drive past. The driveway itself was also lined with perfectly kept evergreen trees. I could only imagine how lovely this area was in the winter, covered in snow. Today, in the middle of summer, the thick trees blocked some of the light and I guessed the shaded lane was slightly cooler for it.

Ranulf became hyperalert as we drove up to the house and into a massive circle driveway. I could see no one anywhere.

I blinked as I stared at the house, which was a veritable castle. I’d never seen anything like it, and certainly never in this country, in this century. It was three stories and maybe three city blocks long. No details had been spared, and it had as intricate a façade as any castle.

Off to the left stood a six-car garage with a second story above it. A couple of the doors were up on the garage and inside I could see the cars were parked two and sometimes three deep. Every car I saw I recognized as rare, vintage, and expensive.

The driveway circled a huge pond complete with fountain. As I neared, I caught flashes of color in the water and knew it also held fish.

When we reached the fountain, several large figures emerged from the garage. They stalked closer as Ranulf stopped the car at the front door. I noticed they moved at human speed, and so far I couldn’t tell if they were human or not.

“No turning back now,” Ranulf said, his tone flat.

“It’s gonna be fine,” I said.

I’d kept my tone light, but as I took in the dark eyes and hard faces of the men converging on the truck, I began to feel the first prickles of apprehension.

I hopped down and looked at each of them. Some of their faces were familiar. I’d probably seen them last night at the bar with the Viking. Or maybe they seemed familiar because so many of them looked alike, like cookie-cutter copies, differing only in small details like hair and eye color. Each was huge, built more or less like a vending machine. I wondered where the Viking had gotten them.

Ranulf quickly appeared beside me, and I noticed he now stood up to his full height with his shoulders squared.

Each of the guards studied me with hunger and glared at Ranulf with hostility. Ranulf replied in kind, and I now felt a very palpable tingle of static electricity in the air. I would learn later I had sensed their powers, and in particular, that of Ranulf, as he stood nearest to me. At that time, all I recognized was trouble.

“Hello,” I said, trying for friendly first.

One of the blond versions stepped forward. “What are you doing here?”

A dark-haired one actually licked his lips as he looked me up and down. “You shouldn’t have come here, little girl.”

That sensation of being the prey cornered by the predator I’d felt with Slade resurfaced. I resisted the urge to take a step backward, to back down, to show any more fear than I guessed they could detect.

The blond snickered. “And look who she brought with her.”

The dark-haired one sneered. “Odin’s lapdog.”

The tingling I felt surged then, and the hair stood up on end all over my body.

Ranulf puffed out his chest, fists clenched at his sides. The others responded in kind. I felt the tension rise quickly, to the point it was nearly so thick in the air it was hard to breathe.

“Look at you and these mutts,” Ranulf said, his voice mostly a snarl. “Domesticated.”

In response, the guards took an aggressive step forward, fists balled, teeth bared, growling. Growling?

“That’s enough!” The ring of my voice cut the tension, but did little else.

Ranulf slowly stepped back and let some of the aggression fall from his shoulders.

The dark-haired idiot barked a laugh. “Did you see that, boys? Ranulf called to heel. The big bad wolf is as obedient as the family dog.”

Ranulf opened his mouth to respond, but he never got the chance.

“Enough!” I snapped, planting myself between Ranulf and the minion. “You guys can work your shit out on your own time. I need to see Odin. So, would you like to go get him or shall I go inside?”

All eyes focused on me, no longer amused. I felt a painful twinge of fear in my gut, but I held my ground and somehow found the courage to stare right back at the dark-haired one.

“We don’t take orders from bitches.”

Ranulf jerked forward. I held out an arm to stop him.

“That’s right, Ranulf,” the blonde said. “Mind your keeper, even if she is a bitch.”

These guys were too tense to actually laugh, but a wicked sniggering rippled through the crowd.

Anger was quickly overshadowing fear.

Ranulf again tried to charge the minion, but again I stepped in front of him.

“You are amazingly stupid,” I said. “Go get Odin or get out of my way. And if you call me a bitch one more time, I’m afraid I’ll loss my temper.”

The dark-haired one growled and charged. “I don’t take orders from bitches!”

He grabbed my neck with his massive hands and shoved me backward, driving me past Ranulf and slamming me into the side of the truck. Distantly, I was aware of Ranulf beside me, his own growls deep and dangerous. I had also heard the front door of the house crash open.

But in that moment, I focused entirely on the man who had begun to resemble a wolf and had me roughly by the throat.

I shoved the palm of my hands forward, driving the heels into his chest as I called on the light. With spectacular results, the blow landed with an explosion of brilliant white light. The guy was knocked off his feet, flying backward nearly thirty feet to land in a pile on the front porch steps, at the Viking’s feet.

The fighting around me stopped. Ranulf shoved two men away from him then stepped over beside me. The minions stared, gaping at their fallen comrade and me. Confusion and fear now dominated their small minds.

“Would anyone else care to stand in my way?” I asked, looking at each of them in turn.

In answer, they took several steps backward.

I walked up to the porch were Odin still stood, a look of amusement on his face, despite the horrible burn on his right shoulder. I hadn’t noticed it before, and I didn’t think it had been there when he’d stepped out of the house.

“What happened?” I asked, reaching for him.

He caught my hand and squeezed it. “Let’s talk inside.”

I followed him inside, stepping over the dark-haired guy.

“Who’s the bitch now?” I said, resisting the urge to kick him in the head.

Ranulf chuckled behind me.

Inside, the Viking closed the door, and Ranulf crossed straight to the nearby window, looking out onto the front yard.

“Don’t worry,” Odin said. “They aren’t permitted in the house.”

“But they’re permitted to attack your guests?” Ranulf shot back, still angry and on edge.

The Viking gave him a sharp, cold look. He was slightly less authoritative, however, because his shirt hung in burned tatters across his shoulders and his skin was blackened. Now that we were inside, I could see it appeared to be smoking. I hoped it was the fabric, but I didn’t think it was.

“They will be dealt with accordingly,” the Viking said, an sharp edge to his voice. “You watch your tone.”

Ranulf seemed to think better of pushing the issue.

“This isn’t Ranulf’s fault,” I said, glaring up at the Viking. “Why did that happen?” I stepped closer and reached for the shoulder.

Again he caught my hand. “The sun,” he answered.

“What happened to your powers?” Ranulf asked, his voice so soft he seemed to dread the answer.

I gaped up at the Viking. “They’re not back yet? How can that be? Slade—he had his powers back much sooner, didn’t he?”

The Viking reached for me, catching my hands. “It’s nothing to worry about. Slade’s powers were much weaker than mine—”

“If yours are stronger, you should have them back sooner.”

“Please, Neasa.” He gently squeezed my hands. “Don’t worry about this, okay? It’s going to be fine.”

“Who knows?” Ranulf asked, moving away from the window, his hands on his hips.

The Viking looked over to him. “Viktor. A few others here.” He tipped his head toward the door. “They may figure it out.”

Ranulf looked pained. After a moment he said, “You shouldn’t stay here. It’s too dangerous.”

“As dangerous as it is, this is the safest place for me right now.” He looked pointedly at Ranulf. “You should not have brought her here.”

Ranulf scoffed. “Like she isn’t powerful enough to have exactly her way.”

“You don’t understand, the—”

“Stop talking about me like I’m not standing right here,” I snapped, shooting both of them an angry look. I glared at the Viking. “This is not his fault.”

The Viking seemed to want to say something then thought better of it.

“Will you let me look at your shoulder, please? I’m a nurse; I know how to tend to burns.”

“It’ll heal,” he said dismissively.

“When?” I shot back. “Tonight? Tomorrow? A week from now? If your superhuman healing abilities are on the fritz, then you need to treat the wound so infection doesn’t set it. Plus, it has to hurt like hell.”

The Viking stared at me long and hard, his features inscrutable. Finally, without looking away or raising his voice he said, “Viktor.”

A moment later, the thin man in another impeccable black suit strode into the entryway. “Yes, sire?”

Still looking at me, the Viking said, “Please take Ranulf to the kitchen and get him whatever he likes.”

“Yes, sire.”

“Ranulf?” Odin looked over at him. “Please stay alert. I anticipate I will have guests before the day is through. When they arrive, I’d like you to stay with Neasa.”

Ranulf considered for a beat then nodded. “Okay.”

“This way, sir,” Viktor said, raising an arm and indicating Ranulf should follow him.

“I’ve been here before,” Ranulf grumbled as he fell in behind the thinner man. “I’m sure you remember.”

“Yes, indeed, sir,” Viktor said, his tone noncommittal.

When they were gone, the Viking brushed his fingertips over my cheek. They were cool, but there was no tingle. “You shouldn’t have come here.”

“I’m sorry. I—” Why had I wanted to come here? What had my plan been? I couldn’t remember it, if I’d had one at all. Just coming here had been the only clear thought in my head. I felt a little embarrassed. “I wanted to see you.”

He grinned. “No sweeter words have I ever heard.”

I smiled. Then I sobered. “I’m sure that’s not true. A man your age has surely heard lots of sweet words. Now, do you have any dressing supplies in this castle?”

“Was that a dig at my age?” he asked, taking my hand and leading me down a long hallway.

“Geez, don’t tell me you’ve got a sensitive ego after all these years.”

We went into what turned out to be a small suite with two bedrooms and a large shared bathroom. I faltered at the size of the bathroom, realizing it alone was nearly as big as my entire apartment.
In the bathroom, the Viking rummaged through some cabinets, coming out with a pathetic assortment of items.

“This is all I’ve got,” he said, setting everything on the counter between the sinks.

“Guess you guys don’t treat a lot of human wounds here, huh?”

“Not this way, no.”

“Well, lucky for you I’m a good nurse. I’ll make do. Take your shirt off and sit down.”

There was a disgusting sound that caused me to shiver as he pulled the shirt off. Then he sat on the toilet lid. His shoulder was no longer smoking, but it hadn’t healed either.

He had the well-honed muscles men gained from long hours of hard physical work, that kind that could not be replicated in the gym. And he was covered in scars. I guessed these had been made before he’d been turned, likely earned in battle.

“Why don’t you have your powers back yet?” I asked softly as I began to clean the wound. I knew it must have hurt, but he didn’t even flinch.

“I don’t know,” he said after several long minutes.

I patted the wound dry. After smearing a generous helping of antibiotic ointment on some gauze dressings, I applied them to the worst parts of his shoulder and wound gauze around them to keep them in place.

“I haven’t needed tending to in a very long time,” he said so softly I almost didn’t hear it, and I imagined he wasn’t speaking to me.

“Since back when you got these?” I asked, gently running a finger along a long scar under his collarbone.

“Yes.” He watched me as I gently touched several other scars. I could only guess at the weapons that had made them.

“These are from before.”


I looked at him. I wanted . . . Well, I don’t know what I wanted. No, I did know what I wanted.

Instead, I turned away and began packing up and clearing the counter. “If your own venom isn’t supercharged right now, what about someone else’s venom? Could Viktor or someone bite you?”

From his laugh I knew I’d said something wrong. I closed the cupboard and turned to him. He still sat shirtless on the commode. He had a wonderful chest.

“That isn’t done,” he said. “The only vampires that bite one another are mates.”

“And you don’t mean friends.”

“No. Life mates. It is very taboo to drink from another vampire outside of those circumstances.”

“Couldn’t he just inject some venom and not drink?”

“If it is technically possible, it is not done.”

“I’m just trying to think outside the box,” I said, leaning against the counter, unable to keep my eyes from straying to his bare skin. “If healing you isn’t an option, then let’s figure out how to recharge your powers.”

He took my hand, bringing it to his lips and kissing the palm. “So far as I know, there isn’t a way to do that.”

“Please tell me I did not permanently fry your powers.”

“You didn’t.” He kissed my hand again and pulled me closer, wrapping an arm around my legs and laying his head against my abdomen.

“How do you know?” I asked, automatically curling my arms around his head and holding him close.

“Because I don’t think it’s possible.”

“That doesn’t make me feel better. Until I shot a light beam out of my hand, you would have thought my existence was impossible.”

“Improbable, certainly, but not impossible.”

I sat on his knee, one arm draped around his neck, the other stroking his cheek. “I’m sorry I did this to you.”

He cupped my face and leaned closer. “Don’t be.”

He touched his lips to mine. That tingling sensation wasn’t there this time, but I felt everything else. Heat raced through me, filling me from the inside out. My nerve endings danced with electricity that must have come from me, since it couldn’t have come from his power. The hunger and need that had stirred to life yesterday came alive again, swirling through me, fanning the flames low in my belly.

I pulled him closer, my hand twined through his hair, our kiss deepening quickly. He crushed me against him, my breasts against his chest, making me wish they weren’t covered in clothing.

Just as I was thinking about ripping my shirt off, there was a polite knock at the hallway door.

With a growl that could only be frustration, the Viking barked, “What?”

“Excuse me, sire,” Viktor said, loudly enough even I could hear him. “You have visitors.”

Something significant shifted within the Viking, though if I’d not been so close to him, I wouldn’t have noticed it. A tension I could almost feel vibrating through him caused me to become apprehensive.

“Who’s here?” I asked. “Who are your visitors?”

“Viktor, please send for Ranulf,” Odin said as he stood, carefully setting me on my feet.

“He’s here, sire.”

I glanced at the open bathroom door then back at the Viking. “What’s going on?”

“I’m not sure yet.” He held my face in his hands. “Please, go with Ranulf upstairs and wait. Do not draw attention to yourself, and stay close to Ranulf. I will come up when they’ve gone.”

“But, wh—”

“Neasa, please.” There was an urgency in his voice I’d never heard before. “I will explain later. Go. Now.”

He kissed me quickly, then took my hand and led me out of the bathroom into the hallway where Viktor and Ranulf stood. I noticed Viktor held the shirt Ranulf had been wearing, which he passed to the Viking without a word. Ranulf now wore a new shirt.

Odin nodded at Ranulf, who then put a hand on my back. A surge of fear swelled in me and I instinctively shoved Ranulf off. He took a step back, both hands raised in front of him, as he’d done earlier at my breakfast table.

“No, wait—”

“Neasa,” Odin said urgently, his voice low. He held the shirt behind his back and he didn’t touch me. “Please, stay calm. Remember what I told you last night about your scent. It is imperative these men do not catch whiff of it. You must stay calm and stay near Ranulf. Ranulf will mask your natural scent, but not even his scent will mask your fear. Please, darling, trust me.”

I looked at him for a long beat, taming the emotions that had flared up inside me. Distantly, I noted Ranulf watched me warily, hardly daring to breathe, while Viktor eyed his shoes as if he were merely waiting in line at the bank.

“Okay,” I finally said. I thought maybe I knew why these visitors had come. And I thought it might have been fear I saw in the big Viking’s impossibly blue eyes. Fear did not suit him. “Okay, I’ll go.”

“Please, use the rear staircase, madam,” Viktor said, ever polite. “Ranulf, do you remember?”

“Yes,” he said, lowering his hands and taking a couple of steps in the direction Viktor had indicated.

I held Odin’s eyes for a beat longer, wanting to say more but unable to find the words. His eyes held mine for a long beat, then the corners of his perfect mouth tipped up in a tiny smile, and he nodded. Maybe I hadn’t needed words after all.

I nodded back and followed Ranulf from the room.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Excerpt: Untitled Vampire Story 1

Excerpt: Untitled Vampire Story

Some of you may know this, others may not. In recent years, I've been more open about it, though I don't speak of it often.

Vampire stories are my guilty pleasure.

I can't remember when it began. Probably with Anne Rice and Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a preteen. Either way, the damage is done now. I love vampire stories. Love them.

I love all the different versions of vampires, all the different rules authors make their vampires play by. Everything from "classic" Stoker-era Dracula vamps to Twilight's glittering ones to one version that explained vampirism was the result of nano bites in the blood which ensured the health, vitality, and youth of their host and which fed on blood. Jim Butcher's Dresden Files has yet another take on vampires. I enjoy almost all of them. (I fully admit some versions are better than others. I mean, really, glitter?)

For years and years I've been secretly toiling away, turning out dozens and dozens of vampire stories, some of them good, some of them just for fun. Some of the most interesting characters I've ever written can be found in these stories. But I've rarely told anyone that I've written them, much less had anyone read them.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Excerpt from a new novel 4

Excerpt: Untitled Serial Killer Story 

If you missed the first few posts regarding the serial killer novel, you should go back and read them first. They introduce many of the primary characters and include some background information on the story itself.

This scene squarely introduces the main story arc, which is the serial killer murders committed by the killer dubbed "The Sandman." Previously, the police believed they'd apprehended the Sandman, but with this scene, we see the killings have resumed. Obviously, this presents a host of new problems, and tensions immediately run high.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this is the first serial killer murder mystery I've written. Serial killer stories are very overdone, and it's one reason I've stayed away from them, sticking with either one-off murders or a string of related murders that do not qualify as "serial." But every murder mystery writer has to write one, right? Anyway, there were parts of it I really did enjoy, parts that presented new challenges.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Excerpt from a new novel 3

Excerpt: Untitled Serial Killer Story

In this scene, we meet Emery Taylor and Sam Pawwannee. I love the character of Sam. And, actually, he's a combination of two other characters I've been playing around with for some time, searching for the right story in which to insert them. The right story never has come along, but blending them together to get Sam and to put Sam in this story seemed perfect. His entire storyline flowed perfectly, easily, and was as narrow and specific or as wide open and flexible as I needed it to be. That almost never happens and it makes me love Sam that much more.

Of all the characters in this story, Emery Taylor is the one most on the chopping block, so to speak. Or at least her storyline and background are. Initially, she filled a hole in the story. I liked the potential I saw and began fleshing her out, developing her into a bigger more substantial character, fitting her into larger story pieces. I'm not at all through with her, and in a second round of editing, I imagine much of her will change. I can't cut her entirely, at least, I won't. But her evolution is not yet complete, and while I have some ideas of what changes need to be made, I'm never entirely sure what the final outcome will be. These characters often have minds of their own and make their own demands during the writing and editing process.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Zoe Grey Novella: The Making of the Cover

Zoe Grey Novella Rookie: The Making of the Cover

As many of you know, Sabrina, my dear friend and exceptionally talented photographer, moved from Colorado to Texas several years ago. Sabrina took the photos for the cover for the first book I ever published, and thus began a wonderful and very successful endeavor. We’ve done four book covers, two novella covers, and two boxed set images since.

Here are the first three stunning book covers:

Book 1 - original cover (left) and updated cover (right)

Book 2 - original and updated

Book 3 - original and updated

The Novellas

Rookie (Zoe Grey 1.5)

Guardian (Zoe Grey 3.5)

Novella cover needed

The first novella I released came up kind of quickly. I had never planned to write any short stories as part of the Zoe Grey series, so I’d never given much thought to it—and I’d certainly never thought about a cover. For several reasons, the idea of a novella became a serious consideration in early November 2015. When it became obvious to me the story would come together and be publishable, it became equally obvious I would need a cover.

Someday, I sincerely hope to become a jetsetter, someone who can just hop on a plane and fly any place that is needed, for inspiration or for other reasons, say to shoot a book cover. But as that time has not yet arrived, there was no way for me to reach my beloved photographer. This left me in a bit of a bind.

I spent a week scouring the internet looking for images to buy, anything that would even remotely work for the story the novella had become. I can’t even begin to count how many images I looked at—thousands, tens of thousands, maybe; I looked until my eyes crossed and my brain couldn’t tell the difference between them anymore. I ran out of ideas to search, and places to search them. To be sure, I found a lot of really cool images; there are some very talented folks out there. But none were right for my story. None were right for Zoe Grey.

Two Problems

The issue of the novella also raised questions I hadn’t considered before. Chiefly: What to do about the titles? What to put on the cover?

When I chose the title sequence for this series, I did so with the thought in mind that it would allow me to be consistent throughout the series, and that it left a lot of options, so it would see the series through quite a ways. Nothing would be worse than to start a series title sequence and then run out of title options before the last book was written. What to do then?

But I’d never considered between-the-novel story titles, because I never thought there would be any stories apart from the novels themselves. So now I had a title problem.

Second, I had no idea what to put on the cover. When I began to conceptualize the first book cover, I knew I wanted to have a man on the front. I don’t know why, and this even seemed counterintuitive, because my books have a female protagonist—and are told in the first person, no less! But I was very set on it being a man. So the idea evolved into the man being the bad guy. I begged and coerced my dear brother into modeling and voilà, a cover was born.

Now we had a pattern we could stick to. For book two, the “bad guys” were a male and female double act, so my wonderful and never shy friend Nancy instantly agreed to model. (She has made me swear a blood oath that should Zoe Grey ever come to film, a part for her will be written into the contract.) Finding a male model was a bit more challenging. I knew only that I wanted him to be taller than Nancy. Apart from that, I’d take anyone willing. My brother was not, and this time, no amount of bribery or begging would suffice. So we spread the word, and it was a true blessing that Patrick, a wonderful, long-time friend of the family agreed.

In book three, I was once again dealing with a male and female bad guy duo, so when it came time to shoot the cover, I called on Nancy and Patrick once more. Bless their hearts, they both agreed, even after the grueling experience that was the last photoshoot. No, securing a venue was by far the most challenging part of shooting cover number three.

For the fourth cover, which we’ve already shot, we were again able to stick to the pattern of putting the bad guy on the cover. And that is all I’ll say about cover number four for now. I lied. I’ll add one more thing: the photos are stunning. This cover has the potential to be my favorite. I can’t wait to show it to you!

But wait we must. So let’s get back to the novella.

What to put on the front? Do I stick with the pattern of putting bad guys on the cover? Do I put someone else on the front? The protagonist? Maybe the victim? No one at all? If I use a person, do I go for another silhouette, as is the pattern of the other covers?

I eventually realized I wanted to break pattern with the title. “The Trouble with . . .” pattern just didn’t seem to fit the novella. And I wanted to differentiate the novellas from the full-length novels. So I still had no idea what to title it, only what it wouldn’t be. In eliminating the pattern title, I also eliminated the idea of a silhouetted bad guy on the cover.

Enter Zoe Grey 

It took quite a while to finally decide to go for a black and white image, to put Zoe Grey on the front, and how to pose her. It took even longer to come up with the title, which will form a new pattern for the mid-series novellas.

Deciding what to put on the cover wasn’t even really the hard part, because now I needed to get the image. With my trusted photographer in Texas, which, incidentally, was where my female model was at the time, too, I was left with few options. If I were already the jetsetter I want to be, I would have just flown down to Sabrina and flown Nancy over to meet us.

The realistic options were to hire another photographer or—deep breath—take the photos myself. I did seriously consider the photographer option, but where to find one? And then it would be like starting over, trying to impart all the things Sabrina and I have learned along the way . . . And the few I did find either couldn’t (or wouldn’t) provide me with any samples of their work—huge red flag—or else didn’t have work I really liked. I’ve said it a thousand times, because it’s the simple truth. There is something about Sabrina’s photos. Not being an art person myself, I can’t even put my finger on it, but I know I’m not alone; all of us who have seen her work, and especially those who have been the subject of her work, agree on this point. She just takes wonderful photos.

So I knew there was really only one thing for it. I needed to try taking the photos myself. So much easier said than done!

An Experiment

First I called Sabrina to make sure she felt like she could edit any photos someone else (me) might take and then insert them in the template she'd developed for this series. To my surprise, she was relieved to learn I planned to take the photos! Either she had unfounded faith in me, or it is more difficult to edit another (read: real) photographer’s work.

Second, I needed a venue, and, more importantly, a model. I knew I needed a female, and with Nancy gone the way of Sabrina, I wasn't sure where to turn. And I didn't have a lot of time. Thank heaven for family. I called my new sister-in-law, pitched the model idea, and she was in. I stressed the entire exercise would be an experiment, that I had no idea what I was doing, and that modeling is a tedious and mind-numbing experience. She agreed anyway. Bless her. 

The Prep

I took about fifty practice shots at home in preparation, none of which turned out. 

I will totally admit I kinda forgot that any image could be turned into a black and white image, so I had it in my head it needed to be dark. Don't ask me. Looking back, it made no sense. 

So I dragged my very patient and not terribly photogenic dog with me and started in this hallway. It leads to a storage area in my basement and is nearly pitch black when the door's shut. I do think the long hallway makes for a cool shot, but only now that I'm looking back. At the time, all I thought was "too much light! There's too much light!"


So I tried turning off the flash and opening the door for some backlight. (Jack was totally over it by now, and we're only about two minutes in. Poor guy.) But of course this only got me closer to the silhouette I didn't want.

So no flash, closed door. That just got me all black. Then I thought, "Well, I need light from somewhere. Oh! Spotlight!" 

I kind of like this concept, but it's obviously poorly executed here, and not what I was going for. So then I thought maybe the problem was the subject was too low. I'm serious, I considered this as real possibility. Light? What? No, the problem is clearly that the dog is sitting on the floor. 

So I took our little experiment upstairs into this room, which has blackout curtains. I dragged this kennel in here for height, then used this fall scarecrow as a model. Anyway, this is with the room completely dark and a flash. Well, of course, that's just too bright.

Next I tried the spotlight thing again. Why? I don't know. It didn't work in the basement, so I have no idea why I thought it might possibly work in this room. Oh, yeah, because I raised the subject up off the floor. That's right.

I still wasn't getting what I wanted, and I was beginning to catch on to the idea it had to do with the light. So I tried a couple of filters over the light source. Sabrina has had good luck with this before (cover three is a prime example) so I decided to give it a try here. Closer maybe, but still no cigar.


Finally, I got wise and asked the expert for advice. Sabrina's text: “A balanced light will give a more balanced scene.” Right. What the hell does that mean? She clarified: “Don’t have too many hot spots (bright light) or anything too dark.” She further advised I worry more about spacing than lighting.

As you may have noticed, I didn't take spacing into account for one instant in any photo I'd shot up to this point. On the one hand, when my mind did touch on that idea, I quickly pushed it aside telling myself the focus was to get the lighting right. Once the light was right, then I'd worry about spacing.

One thing to note here: I didn't actually look at any of these photos in black and white prior to the actual photoshoot. Looking at them now in black and white beside the original images, it's pretty easy to see which ones had me closer to my goal. And, of course, those were the ones in which the light was balanced, whether it was high- or low-light. I shouldn't even own a camera. It's ridiculous.

The First Photoshoot

Yes, the first, meaning there was more than one. Oh, my poor sister-in-law. Lauren, you're a wonderful person with a benevolent soul. Thank you.

In case there was any question that I was not qualified to be taking these photos, it became apparent here. Even after Sabrina's advice, I was still so focused on the light! Background? Spacing? Positioning? Pfft. No. Light! The light has to be right!

One of the first photos I shot:

So, I kind of do like the shadow, but what a terrible photo! Ugh. 

Here we were getting one of those hotspots Sabrina warned against. I think this happened because I'd moved the camera. 

Then we occasionally got these reddish images. When this happened, all I did was move the camera a few centimeters. Nothing about the light changed. It was kind of a cool phenomenon. And, I found out later, these reddish images turn out okay in black and white.

My camera doesn't have a setting for black and white. Or if it does, it's pretty well hidden. So I took a few photos with my phone. Once I saw the photos would look okay in black and white (Sabrina was right about the light!), we finally turned our attention to the pose and positioning. 

Which pose to choose?

Handcuffs out?
 Handcuffs back? Weight on right hip?
 Weight on left hip?
 Handcuffs dangling?

No gun?
Gun on hip?

Gun behind back?
 Maybe like this?
What about a white shirt?
 How about some glint off the cuffs?
 Maybe less glint.
Hair up?
 Hair down?
We need a black background!

Four Hundred Photos

The first night, we got nearly three hundred photos. Most of them weren't useable, and no one, including you, is surprised by that.

I wish I'd realized the problem with the background sooner. Some of my favorite shots are on the door and white wall. Once we figured that out, we threw up a blanket. With Lauren standing on the floor, I couldn't get the shot without the edges of the backdrop visible. So we had her stand on the milk crate I keep all my photoshoot lights in. Those were better, but she looked slightly awkward, as if she wasn't sure of her feet. And I'm sure she wasn't. That crate probably didn't feel too steady.

Trooper that she is, she agreed to let me come back. So I hung sheets on the wall and used the blanket on the floor. This gave us more room to work with and allowed Lauren to keep her feet on the ground.

In total, we had over four hundred photos. All of the photos that came under serious consideration were from the second shoot.

Ultimately, we narrowed it down to these:

Sabrina went to work, did her magic to fix what I'd given her, and then we had these three:

Zoe Grey is Born

A new pattern has been established. The mid-series novellas will feature Zoe Grey on the cover, and they will be black and white. And my dear sister-in-law, the doll, has agreed to take up this mantel. She makes a fantastic Zoe Grey. I can't thank her enough. I do hope one day she can experience a photoshoot with a real professional, though. 

Bottom line? I do not have a future as a photographer.

Sabrina, when are you and your husband moving back to Colorado . . . ?

Rookie: A Zoe Grey Novella

If you haven't had a chance to download the novella, you can do that here. It's totally free, and can be downloaded onto any eReader you use.

The second Zoe Grey novella, Guardian, is also available for download. That cover was much easier. We just pulled a salvageable photo and Sabrina worked her magic. 

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