In 2010, I published my first book, the start of a series about a San Francisco professional woman who keeps stumbling on art-related crime. Critics liked it, but I had bad publishing luck. The books kept being orphaned or licensed to new foster parents, and Dani O’Rourke had to pick herself up, dust herself off, and climb back on the horse more than once.
Meanwhile, for several years, I had been visiting friends who moved to France on a whim. On one visit, I heard about a local scandal. It was a minor thing by our standards, but in a tiny crossroads of a town, where residents are dependent on their neighbors for a social life, it became the only topic. It reminded me so much of a Jane Austen plot that I could hardly wait to get home and start writing.
I didn’t know where the story would go, and it wasn’t a mystery at first. I admit my head was often not where it was supposed to be when I sat down at the computer. When I finished a draft of the French book, imagining it to be a stand-alone work, I sent it to my agent and asked her what she thought. She loved it, but informed me it would be a best as a new mystery series, which stopped me in my tracks.
It took awhile to get my head around the idea of a new series. What about Dani, whose guardian I was? What about Dani’s bad boy ex-husband and the green-eyed cop she fancied? Was I ready to abandon them? That may sound melodramatic, but series writers will know what I mean. When we’re in the middle of writing, they are our families and are alive to us.
The third Dani came out right around the time I got a contract for two French village mysteries and I was like the parent who feels guilty leaving the infant at day care to go to work and guilty about skipping work to stay home with the baby. Lucky for me, the characters, the setting, and the plots are completely different, so 55-year old Catherine never sounded like thirty-something Dani, and I never got mixed up about where they were. But I was promoting the new Dani book (Mixed Up with Murder) and polishing the first village mystery (Love & Death in Burgundy) at the same time. What made it easier were two things: The Dani book wasn’t getting much traction, alas, from a publisher that had no marketing program to augment what I could do; and the characters in Love & Death were inspired by people I already cared about and whose real adventures animated the ones I invented.
Still, there were moments when I had mental whiplash. I confessed my dilemma to a successful author and friend, who gave me one word of advice: “Pivot.” Hard as it was, I had to go where the energy, the opportunity was greatest at the moment. It didn’t hurt that the French series was with a major publisher, an opportunity I knew I couldn’t waste.
Unlike a few of my favorite authors, I’m not writing both series at once, although Dani and friends are alive and well in my imagination. I’d love to write a fourth in that series and have an idea for it. Right now, the second French village mystery is in edits and the first is about to come out. Catherine, Michael, Pippa, and the other occupants of tiny Reigny-sur-Canne are rushing toward the next scandale in their disorganized and rumor-riddled fashion. And I’m noodling around with a caper crime fiction novel I wrote for Nanowrimo two years ago.
Author photo credit: Cheshire Isaacs