Tag Archives: Darcy McClain Thriller Series

Why Did You Self-Publish Your Thriller Series?

Self Publishing Brainwash
Time was my primary reason for self-publishing the Darcy McClain thriller series. 
When I began writing thrillers, I focused on doing just that—writing. Many years later, and after countless revisions, I had four novels I felt were ready for submission to literary agents. But for one reason or another—and many times no reason was given—the books were rejected. My reaction to these rejections? Disappointing, but they only reinforced my commitment to write the next book in the series. Blind Revenge and Genocide were rejected because of their length, and justifiably so. However, back then, as a novice writer, I was in a quandary as to how to cut the word count, so I enrolled in a self-editing class—one of the best investments of my writing career. Our professor, Don Whittington, made it a course requirement to attend one meeting of the Dallas/Fort Worth Writers’ Workshop, a read and critique group. I was a member for ten years, and the knowledge and direction gained was invaluable.

Of the book rejections I received, one stands out as the most constructive, and it steered me in the right direction. The handwritten note came from literary agent Elizabeth Pomada of Larsen Pomada Literary Agents in San Francisco. “Dear Pat—Thanks very much for sharing Genocide with me. The idea is intriguing, but more pacing and pruning would help. Keep at it.” After Ms. Pomada’s comment, I enrolled in Don’s class.

As for Gadgets, one agent wrote, “You write well . . .  no question about it, but this isn’t what I am looking for right now.” Regarding Brainwash, the general consensus was that agents didn’t like me “sticking my toe into sci-fi” when the book was labeled a thriller. Undeterred, I kept honing my craft and I pressed on with my writing, occasionally taking time for submissions, but my main focus was working on the next book in the series. Bottom line, I was hooked on Darcy. In 2001, Gadgets won the Betty L. Henrichs Award for Best Publishable Mystery Novel, bolstering my confidence in my writing skills. In 2004, Brainwash failed to make the cut but didn’t miss the mark by much, and the critique proved helpful. In my estimation, the deficiencies cited were minor because they could be easily fixed. For example, an argument between Darcy and Charlene took center stage at the beginning of the book but fizzled toward the end with no solid resolution. I never intended for there to be a resolution. After all, how do you resolve a lifetime rift in one book? However, I did tone down the conflict, and the long-standing divide between the two sisters will explode in a heated argument in Clonx and a decisive resolution will occur, as I had originally intended. The judges also wanted to see, hear, and smell more of the New Mexico landscape. From reader reviews, I’ve gathered that this has been corrected as well. Many readers have commented that they felt as though they had been to New Mexico even though they have never set foot in the state. Others who knew the area said I captured its essence, and my love for New Mexico was apparent.

Self Publishing Gadgets by Author Pat KrapfAs the years passed and I wrote one thriller after another, still more consumed with writing than pursuing publication, I realized the time had come to do something with the seven Darcy McClain novels I had, and the two others that were firmly planted in my mind. I toyed with the idea of, once again, going the traditional route but weighed the time involved. At lunch one day with several fellow writers, I listened to someone say they had waited months for a reply to their query, while another had waited almost sixteen months for a response regarding her manuscript submission. Another said his novel had sat on a desk for over two years, and when pressed, the literary agent finally admitted the box containing the manuscript had never even been opened—and the agent had personally requested to read the book. None of this was news to me, for I had been through similar experiences. For weeks, I mulled over the time issue and finally made the decision to self-publish.

I came to this conclusion by weighing the following considerations: Publishing is a subjective business with agent and publisher wants/needs always changing, which makes predicting what they want, need, or find marketable at any point in time an impossibility. Besides, my goal was to write what interested me and not to write simply for commercial appeal. Publishing is also a slow industry. It takes weeks, sometimes longer, to get a response to a query letter, and months to read a three hundred- to four hundred-page manuscript. I waited over a year to hear about Brainwash. When I did, the response was encouraging: “You write well and you have a compelling concept for a thriller.” However, the editor did not like my crossover from the thriller genre to science fiction, even though the step was, in my opinion, minor. She agreed to “take on the book” if I deleted any sci-fi references. I pondered this request for over a week and relented, only to learn that she no longer worked for the publishing house and was “pursuing other interests.” Around this time I began to ponder why any writer needed to look to the publishing industry for validation. Why not self-publish and let readers determine the outcome of your series? Either it sold or it languished on Amazon. And as far as promoting the series, with a degree in advertising and post-grad work in marketing, I stood a fighting chance of seeing the series sell, and sell well. Would it take a lot of work to self-publish and to promote the books? You bet. But how rewarding to promote your own creation. And another upside to self-publishing? You have control. You can’t control someone else’s time, but the more you are in charge, the more you can control.

Self Publishing Genocide by Author Pat KrapfSomeone once asked me, “Why does it take so long for you to write your next book?” First of all, writing is not a footrace, which is another plus to self-publishing: working to your own deadlines and not those mandated by a contract. And my goal is to produce quality, not quantity. I have no interest in adding to the glut of poor-quality books already in the marketplace any more than I wish to surpass my fellow writers in the number of books they have on Amazon, or any other book outlet. Producing a quality book from cover to cover is what I am striving to do with the series. I recently read an interesting article titled “Dear Self-Published Author: Do NOT Write Four Books a Year” by Lorraine Devon Wilke and thought you might enjoy reading it as well.

Discussing how many books an author has written brought to mind a conversation I had with a woman at a recent party I attended. She said, “So, you’re an author. Tell me, how is that working out for you? Are you selling a lot of books? Making a lot of money?” I replied, “The goal was to write and produce the best book I was capable of publishing, not to see how much money I could make.” As she walked away, she said, “Well, we all have different expectations.”

Next week: “2016: New Year, New Website, New Books.”

Book Research

Moonrise Over Taos

Main Character

Darcy McClain is a former FBI agent-turned-private investigator. Although her former position with the FBI plays a minor role in my thriller series, I still researched the subject in detail. I started at the library, poring over nonfiction material. Then I conducted research on the FBI’s website. I was also fortunate to interview several agents at writers’ conferences. There is an FBI agent named Jack in Clonx, and I will definitely contact the FBI field office in Dallas to learn more about how local agents work as I flesh out Jack’s character. As for private detectives, Darcy is licensed in the state of California. Years ago, prior to writing my thriller series, I attended several courses at the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles, along with a friend who happened to be a retired LAPD detective. He gave me some unique insights into the daily lives of officers and detectives that work street crime. I’ve used his information as a foundation for Darcy’s experiences.

Bullet

Nothing compensates for writing about a giant schnauzer like owning one, but I do not advocate buying or adopting a giant unless you have owned one before or if you are well educated on the breed. Please do your homework prior to even considering a giant schnauzer. I’ve been asked to “include more of the dog” in my series. I intend to do just that. In Clonx, Bullet plays a major role as a scent detection dog. How will I do my nose work research? I’ll begin with online sites and books dedicated to the subject, and then I will attend nose work classes. In addition, I plan to consult with fellow giant schnauzer owners who are active in the nose work field, as well as confer with a friend whose lifework has been search and rescue. The greatest reward that comes from all of this research is knowledge, on so many subjects.

Secondary Characters

I was once asked what I disliked the most about research. I don’t like researching topics such as child abuse. It ruins my day and drags me down emotionally, but I stuck with it, doing so in small doses, until I felt I had an understanding of Paco’s hatred toward his abusers and his need for revenge. After several self-edits of Gadgets, I gave the book to a fellow writer to read. She had “some insights into child abuse,” she informed me, but never went into detail and I did not pursue the subject with her. My research and her editorial comments proved invaluable. As for Charlene, her character is based on a combination of research, personal observations, and direct interaction with teenagers.

Settings

I rely on firsthand experience. Brainwash and Gadgets are set in New Mexico because I love the state and have traveled extensively throughout the area, and we own a vacation home there. The setting for Genocide is California. I lived in the southern part of the state for over sixteen years. Clonx is set in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, where I’ve been a resident for more than twenty-five years. I plan to set several novels in certain locations abroad, places I’ve lived in or have visited on many occasions. While online research might be a good place to start when scouting out settings, nothing substitutes for walking in the footsteps of your characters. Google Maps is a great tool, but it covers only the visual. For instance, after I wrote my first draft of Blind Revenge, I spent a week in Palm Springs, California, where the novel is set. I ran the exact route my main character ran every morning. In my first draft of the manuscript, I made no mention of the pungent smell of manure that permeated the desert air as I neared the horse stables that bordered the drainage culvert. Nor did I write about the distant hum of vehicle traffic from the main thoroughfare. Some things Google just can’t capture.

Technical Material

While doing scientific research for a particular thriller, I am not only delving into one specific topic but am also constantly on the lookout for the next technological advancement that will appear in the book. So my research efforts are ongoing. I read a lot of nonfiction, most technical in nature, subscribe to several science magazines, conduct extensive online searches, interview experts on the technical subject matter I have chosen for a book, and I draw upon personal experience, as I did in Gadgets. While working for CooperVision Surgical, an ophthalmic company, I held the position of product manager for their laser line.

Firearms and Knives

I learned to shoot at a fairly young age and was taught, early on, about the responsibility and safety issues of gun ownership. But writers who aren’t inclined to own a firearm should visit a gun store and ask questions, talk to weapons experts, and interview police officers and/or FBI agents. Many writers’ conferences and writers’ workshops host speakers and panel discussions by various law enforcement agencies. Attend those courses and ask questions. Another resource is The Writer’s Guide to Weapons, by Benjamin Sobieck.

CSI

Author Pat Krapf's ResearchIn Brainwash, Darcy and Ed Clark, a forensic scientist, investigate a crime scene in an arroyo (a steep-sided gully cut by running water in an arid or semiarid region) on Darcy’s land in Taos. As a starting point, I read Forensics: A Guide for Writers by D.P. Lyle, M.D., as well as Police Procedure & Investigations: A Guide for Writers by Lee Lofland. Both books are part of a Howdunit Series published by Writer’s Digest Books. Another good source was sitting in on panel discussions and listening to qualified speakers at writers’ conventions who gave workshops and talks on CSI work. Fascinated by the topic, I spent months researching anything CSI related, most of the information gleaned from material I found online or from books I had purchased on the subject. Only then was I ready to break down the information that applied to the scenes in Brainwash. As for types of crime scene searches, I researched overlapping zone searches, strip searches, spiral searches, and grid searches. I opted for a grid search as the most thorough technique for hunting for evidence in the arroyo. I did some in-depth reading on lifting shoe prints, dusting for fingerprints, collecting evidence, and how best to protect that evidence from contamination until it could be analyzed by a test laboratory. Because I anticipate that Darcy will be involved in future CSI work, my research is ongoing. Another valuable site has been the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and last month I read Marilyn T. Miller’s book, Crime Scene Investigation Laboratory Manual. Ms. Miller is a former crime scene investigator and forensic scientist. And lately, I finished digesting the Texas Law Enforcement Explorer Training Guide. In closing, true firsthand knowledge can’t be beat, but acquiring it isn’t always practical, and today via certain social media sites and other online resources, there is a wealth of information at your disposal. All you have to do is seek it out.

Glossary/Photo Blogs

I plan to devote several blogs to a glossary. I will give a detailed description of each term and include a photo for easy identification. I also plan to do a series of photo blogs showing the exact locations I chose for scenes in my novels, such as the Brainwash crime scene in the arroyo on Darcy’s land in Taos. Until then, Happy New Year and best wishes for 2016!

Next week: “Why Did You Self-Publish Your Thriller Series?”

Houses of Worship: Charleston, South Carolina

Houses of Worship in Charleston SCWe started our second day in Charleston with a houses of worship tour. There were many more sites than the ones I had chosen, but time was a constraint, and we planned to return for a longer stay in the future. Our tour had actually begun the previous day on Sullivan’s Island when I spotted the steeple tower of Stella Maris Roman Catholic Church projecting high over Fort Moultrie. See photo of the fort and the church in my post about Fort Moultrie.

The current Stella Maris Roman Catholic Church is the second Catholic church on Sullivan’s Island, and is one of the oldest in the Charleston area. The first church to sit on the site was the Church of St. John the Baptist. Miraculously, it survived the extensive bombing of Fort Moultrie by federal troops and was the only public building left standing after the Civil War. The initial plan called for a restoration of the small wooden building. But Father Bermingham, vicar general of the Diocese of Charleston, decided to build a new church. He bought the present-day lot for $100 and was granted permission by the secretary of the war to use bricks from the ruins of Fort Moultrie to build the new church. Working side by side, Protestants and Catholics, most of them Irish immigrants who had come to the island to work on projects carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers, helped with the construction of the church. Upon completion, an elaborate ceremony was held to celebrate the dedication of Stella Maris. In attendance were both Protestants and Catholics.

St. Philip's Episcopal Church

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church

First on my list was the Circular Congregational Church on Meeting Street, originally called the White Meeting House. Founded in 1681 by early colonialists, it was the city’s first non-Anglican church. The colonialists were labeled “dissenters,” and therefore forbidden to call the church a house of worship, only a meeting house. In 1804, the wooden meeting house was replaced with a circular brick building, which was destroyed by fire in 1861. In 1890, bricks from the ruins were used to create the present-day church. A stroll through the church’s cemetery is a must. One tombstone dates back to 1695.

Our next stop was St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, home to the oldest religious congregation in South Carolina and the first Anglican church south of Virginia. The first St. Philip’s Church was built between 1680 and 1681, a modest wooden building located at the corner of Board and Meeting streets. It was damaged in a hurricane in 1710, and a new St. Philip’s Church was built a few blocks away on Church Street. After several setbacks, the church was finally completed in 1723, but it burned to the ground in 1835 and was reconstructed.

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church

What lured me to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church was its iconic 186-foot-high massive white spire with eight bells imported from England in 1764. Of note, it was here in the cedar-box pews that George Washington and General Robert E. Lee worshipped. The first church to sit on this site was the first St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, the wooden building damaged by the hurricane of 1710.

A friendly woman welcomed us as we climbed the steps to the French Huguenot Church. I first learned about the denomination while living in South Africa. The church traces its beginnings to 1680 when French Protestants—Huguenots—were sent by King Charles II to the new colony as artisans and tradesmen. In 1685, when the Edict of Nantes (1598) was revoked, Huguenots arrived in numbers in America, where they could freely practice their Calvinistic faith. The Gothic Revival-style structure was built of brick and covered in rose-tinted stucco, complementing the roof’s black iron finials. I was quite captivated by the church’s appearance.

French Huguenot Church - houses of worshipThe Edict of Nantes was, in my opinion, Henri IV’s greatest achievement. The terms of the edict ensured the peaceful coexistence of Catholics and Protestants and ended religious hostilities in France after thirty-six years of civil warfare. But in 1685, Louis XIV revoked the edict, and a Protestant exodus began. The French Huguenots who fled France for South Africa arrived in the Cape of Good Hope between 1688 and 1689. These French immigrants and their descendants made important contributions to the Western Cape’s viticulture and oenology industries, and to this day, a number of wine estates still bear their Huguenot surnames.

The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist has dominated the Charleston landscape for over a hundred years and is one of the many churches that gives Charleston its nickname “The Holy City.” The Gothic Revival cathedral is home to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston and is considered the “mother church.” It was built in 1854 on a less-than-holy site—Vauxhall Gardens—a post-Revolutionary “pleasure garden.” The cathedral burned down in the Great Fire of 1861 and was rebuilt on the foundation of the previous church. The structure is a Connecticut brownstone with a five-light window copied from Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and a beautiful rose window.

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim SynagogueFounded in 1749, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE) Synagogue is the second oldest Jewish house of worship in the US and the oldest one in continuous use. Charleston was known for its religious tolerance, so people of the Jewish faith began emigrating to “The Holy City” as early as 1695. The oldest synagogue in the US is Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island.

Across the street from KKBE is St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, the first Roman Catholic church in the Carolinas and Georgia. By the late eighteenth century, Charleston had a sufficient number of Catholic immigrants to warrant building a church. In 1788, Reverend Ryan, an Irish priest, arrived in Charleston, and in 1801 construction began on the church. In the meantime, the congregation worshipped in the dilapidated Methodist meeting house that was on the site. Most of the church burned during the Charleston fire of 1838. It was rebuilt and completed in 1839 in the Classical Revival style.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church

The last church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, brought tears to my eyes—tears for the nine fatally shot on June 2015 during weekly Bible study. The Gothic Revival building with its signature steeple was built in 1891, replacing a wooden building from 1872 that was damaged during the Charleston earthquake of 1886. The church dates back to 1816, when Morris Brown organized a withdrawal of the Charleston Methodist Episcopal Church’s black members over a burial ground dispute. The newly formed congregation soon established themselves as an AME, a denomination founded in Philadelphia by Reverend Richard Allen, and it is the oldest AME church in the South.

Side note: I had no idea how many fires Charleston had experienced until I dug into the city’s history. Learn more here on the Preservation Society of Charleston website and click on “Fires.” Also of interest is this article on “The Great Charleston Fire of 1861.”

We spent the rest of the day soaking up Charleston’s history, enjoying its charm, and admiring its architecture, ending with dinner at SNOB (Slightly North of Broad)—shrimp with grits and peanut butter pie. On December 3rd, I will begin a series of blog posts on the topic of writing.

Next week: “Let’s Talk Writing.”