Winter Meets March Madness

It’s been a long cold winter here in Nashville.  Just as the ice and snow hit, my projects at work were completed, so I had a little spare time on my hands.  You’d think having this extra time would motivate me to write write write! Or edit edit edit! But being the master procrastinator that I am, I’ve found ways to spend hours on the computer (and Netflix) without even touching my completed manuscript, Warning Signs. Or the [untitled] sequel work in progress.  My time inside was literally making me stir crazy and depressed at the same time.

But just as the real March madness began this week, I returned to the world of writing. While surfing a few writer and publisher blogs, I realized this was the week of several critique contests and pitch wars.  So I was in.  That was the easy part.

The hard part has been looking at my manuscript.  I received a critique in late January and had been putting off the edits.  But when I re-read the suggestions it hit home.  My manuscript, which has been in edit mode for A VERY LONG TIME, still needs polishing.  A lot.  I knew that, but was so thankful to get precise comments from a published author on how to improve it.  Not that the usual “thank you for your query” rejection letter isn’t fun to read, but it’s so helpful to get an actual critique!  I had received a few before but this was the only one that gave me concrete suggestions.

Continue reading Winter Meets March Madness

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The Next Big Thing – An Author Blog Hop

I am honored, and a bit terrified, to have been tagged in an author blog hop. Especially an international one 🙂 Here’s how The Next Big Thing Blog Hop works: An author answers ten questions and then tags five authors (if you are able to find them – I am still working on that!) to answer the same questions on their blog the following week.

The funny thing about being tagged is how many coincidences led me to this place in my life. I was tagged by Elizabeth Carden, a historical fiction author and freelance writer, who I initially met years ago as the wife of a coworker (we were both lobbying the Tennessee General Assembly). We had both of our children within days of each other, and I chose a family name – Flanagan – for my son’s middle name which Elizabeth had chosen for her daughter’s first name (although the spelling is different). We subsequently learned we share the same hairdresser, both had children with peanut allergies, both were working on our first novels, and strangest of all, we are very likely related. Yes, over coffee we talked about our Irish heritage and found out we both hail from Considines in Ireland. Oh and did I mention that Elizabeth was runner up in the Historical Novel Society’s 2012 Short Story Award in London? See why I’m terrified?!

So here are the 10 questions:

What is the working title of your next book? Since I just completed my first novel and am starting my sequel, I’ll talk about my first real manuscript. The title that has stuck the longest so far is Warning Signs. I actually had chosen Boys Will Be Boys, but that was thoroughly assailed on some writer blogs because it gave rise to a coming of age book, not a thriller involving an animal cruelty investigator. Always good to check with others! The meaning behind the title is that many perpetrators start with animal cruelty and move onto human violence, usually against domestic partners or family members.

Where did the idea come from for the book? I lost my beloved Cato, a 14-year old Siberian husky, in 2005 and had more than a hard time coping. The saving grace was that I was pregnant at the time, so I knew a new life would be coming into the world just as I was saying goodbye to my canine best friend. Over that first year I began writing to help express my emotions and loss. I actually wrote a poem which is VERY uncharacteristic of me, and started thinking more about becoming a full time writer. I was an attorney/lobbyist at the time, and always loved the writing aspect of my job. I would volunteer to write grants, memoranda, etc. and it finally hit me after losing Cato that I really just wanted to write. After the birth of my second child in 2006 and facing several serious health challenges with my ailing father, I decided to leave my full-time job and focus on writing. The idea for the book just sprang into my brain one day. It was part tribute to Cato, and part tribute to all the animals out there who have been abused.

What genre does your book fall under? The book is a mystery/thriller. There is a bit of whodunit woven throughout the first part of the novel, and the second part is more thriller, as Eden chases down the perpetrators, trying to stop the escalating violence.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? I actually chose pictures of famous people, not all celebrities, when I was working with my writing coach on my first draft. Since that was so long ago, I have updated a few cast members. I chose Evangeline Lilly (but with red hair) for Eden Hayduke; Rooney Mara for Harris Hampton; Aaron Paul for Councilman Jeff Saunders; and a young Benicio Del Toro for George Fuentes. Still working on ideas for Declan and Jillian. Colin Montgomery (British golfer) was the visual I had in my head for Phil Hampton (I’m not his biggest fan), although Kelsey Grammer would be a great choice.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? A female investigator for the ASPCA battles Southern politics while solving local animal cruelty crimes and saving an abducted girl.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I do have agency representation and we are actively looking for a publishing home for my novel. So I am hopeful, but also realistic. Not sure where we’ll end up, so for now I’ll just optimistically say it will be published. Somewhere, somehow.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? This is embarrassing. It took close to 5 years to really finish the first draft. I had a rough outline of the novel in my head back in 2006, but it took months for me to really get started. I finally reached out to a great friend, Anne Guzzardi, who is a talented poet and writing coach. I hired her as my writing coach and we worked hard on the first draft for almost two years.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? This is hard because the unusual thing about my book, and the fascinating thing to me, is that I haven’t found any other mystery novel that has an animal cruelty investigator as the protagonist. So unfortunately I don’t have a close comparison, although I do look to authors such as Harlan Coben, Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson for inspiration.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? I have always loved animals since I was a child. I was part of a team who worked on changing animal cruelty laws in Tennessee (from a misdemeanor to a felony) and learned so much about how crimes against women and children often start with crimes against animals. I wanted to highlight this link, but also entertain because I do love a cheesy novel I can pour through while sitting at the beach.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest? In addition to the criminal aspect of the book, I weave in a lot of Southern politics and issues that are hot topics here in Nashville and throughout the country. And, of course, a bit of romance…

You’re next guys, I mean gals:

Vivian Slade recently published her beautiful audiobook and e-book the Dragon King, which truly was a family project. Her daughter Johannah illustrated the book, her younger daughter Sophia lent her voice to the townspeople, her husband Todd helped produce and sing on the project, and of course Vivian wrote the text and ALL OF THE ACCOMPANYING MUSIC! The score is so special, and Vivian (herself a talented singer/songwriter), pulled in so much of the Nashville musical talent to perform the songs it’s truly a work of art.

Ruthie Mason is working on her first novel, and is a loving talented teacher. We had the pleasure of getting to know Ruthie as she taught our oldest son, and have never met a more compassionate, thoughtful teacher. She now lives in Massachusetts but we are secretly hoping she will return to Nashville 🙂

Signing on the dotted line….

Contract

I’ve been out of the loop for a few weeks now mostly due to the entire family’s bout with the flu (on spring break believe it or not). Then the flu again once we were home. Then strep throat, then full body rash accompanied by a recurrence of strep throat – these last few were all suffered by my poor six year old 😦 Fingers crossed we will be returning both children to school tomorrow. But I have news….I am officailly signing my contract with a literary agent as we speak!

I am so thrilled to have come to a place where I will have someone advocating on my behalf. Kind of ironic since I have spent years as a lobbyist advocating for others.  Even if nothing happens I feel a small personal triumph. And no, it’s not a huge NYC agency, but perhaps more importantly for this unpublished author, it comes highly recommended from a friend and fellow attorney who has been in the publishing industry for nearly 30 years. The honest, personal recommendation meant a lot to me, in addition to the fact that this agent totally gets my book and thinks combining animal issues with a modern mystery is a great idea. I think so too 🙂

The best part of my news is that it has truly freed me to focus on my sequel which is finally in the works. It took me a while to find motivation (I am a professional procrastinator) but now I have a new plotline (well almost), and have some research ahead of me, which is what I love to do. After working for years on my first book, it’s a welcome relief to move onto something else. I honestly don’t know if I could have reviewed that darn thing one more time!

I’ll post more news if and when I have it, and will keep updates going on my books.  I’m getting more and more attached to Eden Hayduke, Animal Cruelty Investigator and of course her best friend/Siberian husky Buck (aka Cato) each day.  This is a new world for me so who knows what changes lie ahead?  Just hope that someday I’ll be able to post a link where you can purchase a copy of my first novel Warning Signs!  And if not, I am sure I will be happy to email copies to those who have a few spare hours on their hands.  Just like other things in life, hopefully the first time is a great learning experience, and the second time is…at least better written and more interesting???!!!

Happy April 24th!

WARNING SIGNS…my new and improved title!

I have been round and round on my title but think I’ve landed on something.  Since animal cruelty is obviously a difficult subject, I wanted a softer title that would grab attention but not scare people away.  Going back to the impetus for my protagonist to become an animal cruelty officer – to prevent other abusers from evolving into full blown murderers or violent criminals – I think Warning Signs best describes Eden’s motivations.  If we miss the early warning signs of animal cruelty, we may let another Jeffrey Dahmer or Columbine happen.  Scary thought…

How a Siberian husky and baby girl names inspired this mother of 2 boys…

Strange to think back on the first time I laid eyes on my Siberian husky Cato.  I was a second year law student, desperate to adopt my own dog.  Despite my parental warnings to not bring a long haired dog home for the summer, I saw an ad for a blue-eyed siberian husky.  Curious, I went to see it.  Of course, by the time I opened the door the deal was sealed.  Brutus as he was named, was a a six-week old husky, already potty trained and eating big dog food.  He went home with me and was renamed Cato – after the Pink Panther character who attacked Inspector Clouseau each time he came home.  That’s the greeting I would get and I loved it!

Fast forward several years.  My husband and I are starting to plan a family, searching for baby names.  One of my all time favorites was Eden.  Boy names were harder, but Eden was it for me.  While we were lucky to have two beautiful healthy babies – they were both boys.  So Eden never quite fit!  But the name meant so much to me. 

Once I started writing my novel, it made perfect sense that my protagonist would be Eden.  So I did give birth to an Eden after all! 🙂   

My hook combines two of my passions – animal advocacy issues, and quick, easy-to-read (some might say cheesy) mystery novels.   

Eden is not the average detective or coroner you find in a mystery/thriller.  She is so much more – an animal cruelty investigator who spends her time defending and protecting animals.  Which, of course, leads to the second part of the story.

The other missing link  – her dog.  It’s the only plot item I will never change – Eden MUST have and love a Siberian husky…

Funny how events in your life, separated by years, can later have such an impact.

Jumping off a cliff into a brave new world…

Cato in the park

Cato in the park

With this first post, I am officially a blogger and (no longer secret) author!  Very excited to join the community…

I was inspired to write my first creative (i.e. non-legal or political) piece after losing my beloved Cato back in 2005.  Cato was a Siberian husky and the most wonderful friend or pet I could imagine for over 14 years.  Now I am polishing my first novel, have started my second, and am trying to enter the brave new world of publishing.  Emphasis on TRYING.  My novel is a mystery/thriller but with an important underlying theme – exposing the horrors of animal cruelty and its common link to domestic abuse.  I’ll post excerpts in the future and welcome any and all feedback.

So here’s to you Cato, my first canine inspiration!

p.s. – Please excuse the bad quality of the images – I don’t have any digital photos of him 😦