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How do you top a North Korean Firing Squad?

IE-frontCover-Final-r2-72dpiThere is an ailment that afflicts some authors, popularly known as “Second Book Syndrome” in which an author struggles to write the next book after publication of their first novel (sometimes it strikes after a novel is viewed as a critical and/or financial success). I didn’t face this syndrome in the typical manner—it hit me as I began writing my 4th novel. At the time, none of my books were published, so there was no measure of success to trigger it, just my own neuroses.

For me, the syndrome surfaced because I’d just completed Body of Evidence and whenever I sat down to write, the vicious little voice in my head would say, “How do you top a book that starts with a North Korean firing squad?” And I couldn’t let go of the idea that I had to top it. In my head, the 3rd Evidence Series novel had to be more dynamic than the last.

But still, in spite of these doubts, I wrote. I finished the first draft, and I liked it. There were parts I even loved. But I knew it needed work, so I set it aside and started another book, which I planned to make the 4th book in the series. But still, that fear lingered even as I finished the first draft of the next book.

Then I had an idea for a novella that would tie the first 2 Evidence books to the 2 unpublished manuscripts, creating a stronger link across the series. That novella (which ended up being a short novel) is the 3rd book in the Evidence Series, Withholding Evidence.

Writing Withholding is what finally cured me of Second Book Syndrome, because I approached the work differently. Instead of trying to top a firing squad, I aimed for a funny and sexy opening to set the tone for that particular book. While some books require firing squads, others require a cocky half-naked SEAL confronting a curious historian, or a heroine on a quest for justice finding an injured former Army Ranger deep in the Alaskan wilderness.

With this clarity, I finally returned to that book I’d drafted while struggling with the Syndrome. I went to Alaska to research the setting, and started from scratch with the story, so the doubts that hampered me wouldn’t find their way into the new draft. In an instant, the vision of Isabel hiking through woods and finding Alec came to me, and I knew I had my opening. Does it top the firing squad? I have no idea, but that no longer matters to me. What matters is I was eager to find out what happens next, which is all we can ask from any first scene.

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Incriminating Evidence released today, and after reading about my struggle with the Syndrome, you can probably imagine my joy when one of the first reviews opened with: “I absolutely loved this book. It is the fourth book in this series, and in my opinion, it is the best.”

You can read on for an excerpt of Incriminating, or visit an online vendor to download a longer sample.

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This evening (Tues, March 24th) from 7 – 10 p.m. EDT, my critique partner, Darcy Burke, and I are having a party to celebrate the release of Incriminating Evidence and Darcy’s fabulous book, Yours to Hold, on Facebook. Stop by to chat with our great lineup of guest authors and enter giveaways to win lots of fun prizes (including several items that play a role in Incriminating Evidence)!

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 Incriminating Evidence Excerpt:

There was only one solution. Well, two. Either give him her blanket, or share it with him. The smart thing would be to share it. They’d both be warm. They’d both get the rest they needed to face the hike to her truck tomorrow.

But sharing a blanket, getting up close and personal with Alec Ravissant, definitely didn’t feel like the right thing. The right thing would be to give him the blanket and get the hell out of the cabin, head back to her truck alone. When she arrived home, she could call Raptor and tell them where they could find their boss.

“If you’re trying to decide if you should give me your blanket,” Alec said softly, “forget it. I won’t take it from you. I can handle a little chill.”

Crap. He was awake, meaning the right thing wasn’t an option. If she tried to leave, he’d follow, and he was in no condition to traipse six miles through the woods. “No, I was debating sharing it with you.”

His mouth curved in a slow smile. “You wanna get close to my body, Jenna?”

Isabel rolled her eyes at his tone even as she stiffened at the fake name. He was going to be so pissed when he found out who she really was. “No, but I don’t want you to die after I worked so hard to save your ungrateful life.” She grabbed the Mylar tent. “It’s not a regular emergency blanket, it’s the tent kind—a long tube. We’ll have to shimmy into it.” Read the rest of this entry

Gathering Incriminating Evidence in the Land of the Midnight Sun

MidnightSun-frontcover-final-r1-72This month I have two books out, Midnight Sun (a re-release after being published in the Twelve Shades of Midnight anthology, which is no longer available) released on March 1st, and Incriminating Evidence (Evidence Series #4), which will release on March 24th. By sheer coincidence, both books are set in Alaska. It may sound strange to say it’s a coincidence, but it is. I’ve had versions of Incriminating Evidence in my head and on on my computer since 2010 – and it was always set in Alaska. It was the perfect setting for Alec and Isabel’s story. The inspiration behind Midnight Sun was completely different.

A little over a year ago, the fabulous Robin Perini approached me and asked if I wanted to participate in a paranormal romance anthology with her and ten other authors. Because the story would be paranormal, it couldn’t be connected to my existing books, and I began considering what my contribution to the anthology would be. My first inspiration was a story set in Hawaii, about an archaeologist who comes face-to-face with Night Marchers. The story excited me and I was ready to move forward with it, as we as a group were discussing via email potential titles and themes for the anthology. We settled on the name Twelve Shades of Midnight relatively quickly, and all agreed that something important in each of our stories had to happen at midnight. My Night Marchers story was perfect. I lived in Hawaii for three years — I know the setting well, and my husband worked as an archaeologist there, so the research would be a snap, and the story would be fun to write.

View of Denali National Park

Then one morning, I woke up with the kernel of the plot for Midnight Sun in my mind. Maybe I was inspired by the word “midnight” — I really don’t know — but in the space of five minutes I went from planning to write a novella set in Hawaii to one set in Alaska. Once the idea grabbed me, I couldn’t let it go. I’d only ever visited and conducted archaeological survey in Sitka, Alaska, but fortunately, my husband had worked in Barrow, and he knew other archaeologists who’d worked for a length of time in the Arctic Circle who were willing to answer even the most ridiculous questions (yes, I do need to know what the airport terminal in Kotzebue looks like, and if the vegetation is primarily muskeg…). And so Midnight Sun the story of Sienna and Rhys and an ancient Iñupiat mask, was born. The Hawaii story will be the second in the series, featuring Sienna’s sister, Larkspur (look for it in late 2015).

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As I mentioned above, I’ve had the story for Incriminating Evidence in the works since 2010. It was supposed to be the 3rd book in the Evidence Series (and I finished a draft of it in 2012, long before I wrote Withholding Evidence), but one problem I had with the execution of the story was the setting. It was clear to me that I needed to visit central Alaska if I wanted to get it right, so last summer, before tackling a major rewrite, my family and I visited Alaska and explored the area where the story is set.

One of the things I wanted to see while I was there was the forest at night–I knew in the summer it wouldn’t really get dark, but I wanted to see the phenomenon first hand. This photo was taken at midnight in mid-July in Fairbanks – without a flash.

Fairbanks forest at midnight

We were in Alaska for eight days and drove from Anchorage to Fairbanks in a loop, exploring Denali National Park on the drive north (we saw lots of animals including bears, caribou, moose, and a wolf!), and went east for the drive south, where we passed through the setting for Incriminating Evidence.

Denali National Park

En route, we saw salmon spawning, went whitewater rafting–necessary because a glacial silt-laden river plays an important role in the story–panned for gold, and hiked on a glacier.

Matanuska Glacier

I came home from the trip buzzing with ideas. There is no way to see something as magnificent as Alaska in just a week, but we tried.

The final story of Incriminating Evidence is very different from that first idea I plotted in 2010, but it is so much richer, so much better, for having visited the setting which plays a central role in the story. Also, even though there wasn’t supposed to be a connection between my paranormal romance and my 4th Evidence Series book, because they were both set in Alaska (even though hundreds of miles apart) I couldn’t resist slipping one thing in. I can’t wait to hear from readers who catch the connection…

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Midnight Sun

A woman on the edge…

Museum collections specialist Sienna Aubrey is desperate. A prehistoric Iñupiat mask in her client’s collection is haunted, and it wants her to return it to Alaska…now. Tormented to her breaking point, she steals it. But when she arrives in the remote Alaskan village, the tribal representative refuses to take the troublesome mask off her hands. Even worse, the manipulative artifact pulls the infuriating man into her dream, during which she indulges in her most secret fantasies with him.

A man in search of the truth…

Assistant US Attorney Rhys Vaughan came to the Arctic Circle to prove someone tried to murder his cousin. When Sienna shows up at his cousin’s office with the local tribe’s most sacred artifact, she becomes his prime suspect. Then the mask delivers him into Sienna’s hot, fantasy-laden dream, and his desire to investigate her takes an entirely different turn.

An artifact seeking justice…

But the mask has an agenda, and it’s not to play matchmaker. If Sienna doesn’t do what the artifact wants, she may pay the ultimate price, and only Rhys can save her.

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Incriminating Evidence

From enemies to allies…

When archaeologist Isabel Dawson stumbles upon an unconscious man deep in the Alaskan wilderness, her survival skills are put to the test. She tends his wounds and drags him to shelter, only to discover she’s saved the life of Raptor CEO Alec Ravissant—the man who may have covered up her brother’s murder to save his senatorial campaign.

With no memory of the assault that landed him five miles deep in the forest, Alec doesn’t know what to believe when he wakes in the clutches of the beautiful redhead who blames him for her brother’s death, but he quickly realizes he needs her help to uncover the truth about his lost hours.

Isabel never imagined she’d find herself allied with Alec, and he’s the last man she ever expected to find attractive. But the former Army Ranger-turned-politician proves seductively charming, and he’s determined to win much more than her vote. When their quest for answers puts Isabel in the crosshairs, Alec must risk everything—his company, his campaign, and his life—to protect her.

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