We are happy to welcome Stephanie Black to Guest Author Thursday. Stephanie is the author of several mystery-suspense novels as well as the winner of FOUR Whitney Awards in the Mystery-Suspense category. Her lastest novel, SHADOWED, was released last month.
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I started trying to write a novel when I was seventeen—“trying” in the sense of playing around with a story, writing scenes that interested me. I took that approach for many years, just having fun with it. I didn’t do a whole lot with it in college, but after I graduated and was at home with my first baby, I retrieved the folder containing my writing from my parents’ house and got into it (tangent: that infant daughter is now APPLYING TO GRADUATE SCHOOL. AAAAAAAAAAAHH! Where did the time go?)
Okay. Whew. Back to the topic at hand. At first, I was shy about my writing. I would work on it when my husband wasn’t home, and (this is a little silly) I even gave some computer files fake names like “letter 9-19” or whatever it was, so if he stumbled across the files, they would look like letters to my family (this was in the pre-email days, so I occasionally wrote an actual letter. Dark ages, huh?). My sister (who is now the Evil HR Lady and a business blogger for CBS) wrote some fiction too, so she was the first person I showed my work to.
Even when I got further in the process of writing a novel, I was still shy about it. I didn’t want to write if anyone could see what I was writing (unless the person was a child too young to read). If someone walked past the computer screen, I could minimize that screen at the speed of light. But eventually I got to the point where I was seeking feedback on full drafts—but only from my family. Some experts may say that family members don’t make good feedback-givers, but I haven’t found that to be true. My family has been extremely helpful. I should give them chocolate.
I suppose it’s kind of a funny thing that I was so private about what I was doing when my goal was to publish the book so a bunch of strangers—the more the better!—could read it. But I’m betting I’m not the only writer who was shy in the early stages. Heck, even in the later stages, there’s plenty to be shy about, don’t you think? Creating stories in our minds and at our keyboards, shaping them as best we can with dialogue and semicolons and verbs—then taking those stories and putting them in the public eye, vulnerable, inviting comments from anyone who wants to praise or criticize. But when you love to write, that risk is worth it, and the “I loved your book! It kept me up until three in the morning!” makes it easier to weather the “This book stunk on this, this, this, and THAT level.” And believe me, once you publish, you will get some negative reviews among the positive, no matter how good your book is. Gone With the Wind has 10,175 one-star Goodreads ratings, for goodness sake. Yoooouuu willll noootttt esccaaappe (Oh, sorry. Went all Halloween there for a moment).
In some ways, I’ve become a lot less shy about my writing. When I’m working on a project, I usually leave the file open, minimized at the bottom of the screen—gasp! I’m not too worried about someone picking up my computer and sneaking a peek—I don’t think anyone in my household is that curious about my current work-in-progress. I usually don’t send my manuscripts out for test reads until the third draft. Of course, if I got really mad at someone, I could torment him or her by sending a first draft (Me: “Read this. You’ll love it. Bwahahahaha!” Test reader, after a few chapters: “Noooooooo! Aaaaaaah! What is this?” (flees shrieking to Barnes and Noble and builds a protective fort out of copies of The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them) and annotated editions of War and Peace). But I’m usually not THAT mean—at least not in real life. My characters might have a different opinion.
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Find SHADOWED (just in time for Halloween, too!)
Gifted musician Catherine Clayton was born into a life of wealth and privilege. Following the death of her father, she makes a bold decision she hopes would make him proud: she’s using the family money to establish a music school and offer free lessons to the underprivileged. A providential suggestion from an old college friend leads Catherine to select Riley, New York, as the perfect location for her new school. Hit hard by the economic downturn, Riley personifies economic hardship: peeling paint, overgrown landscapes, and damaged buildings. But the damage runs much deeper than Catherine first realizes.
Two years ago, Riley was rocked by weeks of vandalism, followed by the brutal murder of beautiful elementary school secretary Olivia Perry. Everyone in town loved Olivia—but especially the two men with whom she was caught in a love triangle. Though the murder remains unsolved, Catherine receives ominous warnings that one of these men, Adam Becket, is responsible for her death. Unimpressed by the lack of evidence against him, Catherine is drawn to the shy but endearing Adam. Could he really have been involved in Olivia’s murder?
Just as Catherine is settling in and getting to know Adam, a vandal strikes again, and it’s eerily reminiscent of the events surrounding Olivia’s murder. The death threats splashed on the walls prove that the killer is back—and this time, it’s Catherine who wonders if she’s come to the wrong place at the wrong time.