Friday, 1 March 2019

Two-Natured London returns

It’s been over a year since I published a Two-Natured London paranormal romance. That was a collection of Christmas themed short stories called Moonlight, Magic and Mistletoes that came out for Christmas 2017. And it’s been much longer that I published a full-length Two-Natured London romance. So it’s high time I wrote one.

Crimson Warrior is the sixth book in the series, if you don’t count the shorter romance, Magic under the Witching Moon, and the short story collection. This one is about Gabriel Hamilton, the First Son and vampire warrior of the Crimson Circle. His book has been a long time in gestating. I began writing it almost two years ago. But I couldn’t quite finish it. I needed to write other books first, which put it into backburner. And then the story didn’t quite go where I wanted it to go. I needed to put it aside and let it simmer. For quite a long time, as it turned out.

The book is finally here, after a lot of wrangling that caused me to delete and reorganise full chapters even during what I thought was the last read-through before sending it to the editor. And I think it’s better for all that delay and rewriting. Some books simply take more time to turn out as best as they can be. Still, I’m sorry it has taken this long, if you’ve been desperately waiting for a new book. And I’ll try to write the next one faster. I make no promises though. Occasionally these things are out of my hands.

Here is the first chapter of the book. You can read the second one on my webpage. And the book comes out March 3. You can preorder it here.

“Why are you following me?”
He cocked one of his strong brows slightly. “Who says I’m following you? It’s a popular shortcut.”
“Then why did you stop when you saw me here?”
“I didn’t expect you. I was startled.”
Allegra sneered. “You’ve never been startled in your life.” 

Allegra Emery has protected her family for decades, but when they are targeted by foul, unnatural men, she finds herself out of her depth. So she turns to the first person who seems ruthless enough to help her: a huge man who has a strange ability to make her feel utterly safe. If only he weren’t a human, they might have a future together.

Gabriel Hamilton, a vampire warrior of the Crimson Circle, is definitely ruthless. Everything to achieve a goal: ridding the world of renegades, demon vampires, even if it means using a vulnerable vampire woman as bait. But pretending to be a human to gain her trust is new even for him. What will happen when she finds out the truth? For the first time in forever, the answer actually matters to him.

Allegra is willing to sacrifice everything to save her siblings, even herself. But what will it mean to the emerging bond between her and Gabriel. Will she save her brother and sister, only to lose forever with her warrior?

Chapter One
Gabriel Hamilton leaned deeper into the shadows of the portico that was shielding him from the rain. Getting wet wasn’t an issue; being detected was. It was mid-morning in central London after all, even if this was one of its more quiet corners. Fifty metres from his hiding place was an elegant dark green door. It led to a lawyer’s chambers where his target had entered into moments earlier.

He was on Clerkenwell Close, a winding one-lane street with low yellow-brick buildings on each side that gave it Old London charm despite some of them being new. The businesses here were lawyers, architects, and PR agencies that didn’t generate much traffic. It wasn’t often that he went out among the general population during the daylight hours, and he felt odd out of his fighting leathers, unshielded by the darkness. The well-loved black jeans he was wearing didn’t have quite the same feel, nor did the black trench coat over his black T-shirt. He didn’t need the coat for warmth, even though it was November, and not a very balmy November at that. He wore it to hide the long knife at the small of his back he never left home without. Just because he didn’t anticipate trouble didn’t mean he wouldn’t prepare for it.

It wasn’t the woman he had followed here that worried him; it was who might be after her. Renegades. Demon vampires. Gabe almost spat when the name brought a foul taste of rotten eggs to his mouth.

He called up a bit of magic to create a camouflage around him and blended into the background. He didn’t sense any renegades nearby, but there was no need to scare the few passers-by with his presence either. He was large and frightening—even to humans who couldn’t sense his immense impact in Might—and he was so by birth and by design. He was a vampire warrior of the Crimson Circle, and the First Son of their leader, Alexander Hamilton. He had a legacy to live up to, and he did it well. He’d had over five centuries of practice.

Renegades were a fairly new enemy in the long history of their organisation, but they had proven difficult to conquer. Not impossible though, and the Crimson Circle were determined to put an end to their practice of turning humans with promise, the vampire gene, to their unnatural kind.

The enemy had become overly ambitious lately, and that would be their downfall. They had targeted one Ryan Warner, a member of a high-ranking vampire family, and made him one of their own. The warriors had meticulously tracked all Ryan’s contacts, humans and two-natured alike, and had kept an eye on them even after the bastard had been killed. Then they’d built a round-the-clock operation around the most promising target, Beau Emery.

The Emeries were an old and respected vampire family, if diminished in power during the past century. The current generation in charge was young, the older generations having died during the Blitz. They were still well connected, but without its strongest and oldest members they were more vulnerable, and therefore could be more susceptible to renegades’ lures.

There were three siblings. The eldest was Allegra Emery. At two centuries old, she had already won the sun when her parents perished, and she had taken charge of her two younger siblings, Adeline and Beaumont. Of the two, Adeline’s promise had been fulfilled a couple of decades before the parents died, and at a hundred and eighteen she should emerge within a decade if she was strong, maybe another century if she wasn’t. But Beaumont—Beau, as he was called—had been only a child during the war and still human. He was now into the sixtieth year of his fulfilment, and would live in the night for at least another four decades more.

Young in vampire terms, he’d formed a friendship with Ryan Warner. And it was this friendship that worried the warriors. Though Ryan was gone now, the seeds of their friendship might have a lasting impact. One lure that the renegades had for enticing vampires was the ability to face the sun right away. What if Beau was tired of waiting and wanted a fast way out? Ryan had.

But it wasn’t Beau that Gabe was after today. After all, the man couldn’t leave his house during the day, if he was even awake. It was Allegra. She wasn’t their main target, because renegades generally left women alone, but she had been behaving strangely lately, slipping out of her place of work at odd hours, visiting the chambers of a lawyer who didn’t handle her family’s affairs—a human lawyer, as far as they’d been able to determine.

“Maybe she’s having an affair with the lawyer?” Marcus Hamilton, Gabe’s right hand man and cousin, had suggested when Gabe brought her behaviour up during a meeting with him and Zach, his younger brother, earlier that week. “The world’s changed and vampires and humans are pairing up.”

A foul taste had risen to Gabe’s mouth at the suggestion, and he had shaken his head. “She doesn’t look like a woman in love.”

“What do you know about women in love?” Zach had sneered, amused. And while Gabe would be the first to admit that his brother had the greater experience in women—in love or out—he hadn’t budged. He had kept an eye on her for days already, and had come to recognise her moods.

“She’s not smiling when she goes to meet him, like she’d be happy to see her lover. And … I don’t know, there’s no spring in her step. She looks worried and drawn. Reluctant to see him.” She had been quiet and drawn in general, but the meetings with the lawyer truly upset her.

“Maybe she’s having financial trouble she doesn’t want to tell her own lawyer.”

Gabe nodded. “That’s possible. But what if we’re wrong and she’s been targeted by renegades?”

“Why would renegades target her?” Marcus had asked in his reasonable manner. “She’s a woman. They can’t turn her, not without killing her.” They’d all grimaced, remembering the series of dead women that had been left in the wake of renegades’ experiments the previous spring. “Besides, the lawyer’s a human.”

“For now he is. He could be an unwitting accomplish to renegades.”

Zach lifted a quizzical brow. “We’re already keeping an eye on Beau. Why are you so hung up on Allegra?”

Gabe hadn’t been able to explain his need to keep an eye on her, or his uneasiness when he saw her so troubled. “What better way for renegades to hide than behind a respectable vampire woman?”

That argument had finally won his brothers over to his way of thinking, and they had let him handle this any way he saw fit: by himself. He would follow Allegra and he would find answers. If it turned out to be a lover, he’d leave her be; if it was financial trouble, well, he was here to help, wasn’t he. But if it turned out his worst fears were confirmed, he would act, swiftly.

His eyes trained at the lawyer’s door, secure in his knowledge that he was well hidden, he was outwardly relaxed. But he never let his guard down; wasn’t even sure he knew how. After centuries of keeping a constant eye on the enemy, it was as natural as breathing for him to be aware of his surroundings at all times. He knew well in advance when someone was about to walk past his hiding place, even though humans barely made an impact in Might, his vampire senses fine-tuned to even the slightest change in the energy surrounding all living beings.

Or, rather, his rider was always vigilant.

Most vampires barely acknowledged their second nature, the entity inside them that gave them all their abilities, once they grew strong enough to keep it in rein. And he couldn’t really blame them. The rider was difficult to live with even in optimal conditions. Suppressing it was the best most vampires could achieve. That it made them weaker in magic as a result was no concern of his, although it made it imperative that the Crimson Circle watched over them and kept them safe.

But his rider was as essential to him as a shifter’s animal nature was to a shifter, the two of them working in tandem. It was never off duty, always there to provide him with a constant feed of what was beyond his already superior senses. Not even his fellow warriors relied on their riders as much as he did. He had come to an agreement with his second nature ages ago. Together they were stronger, better.

There was no stronger vampire in the country, bar his father, but then again, Alexander Hamilton, Lord Foley, was in a league of his own. Physically, Gabe could overtake his father if needed—though he couldn’t imagine such need emerging—but when it came to the ability to wield magic, he didn’t come even close.

Gabe preferred it that way. As the leader of the Crimson Circle, Alexander was supposed to be above them all. As his First Son and heir to the centuries-old organisation, it was Gabe’s duty to make sure his father didn’t have to bother himself with the day-to-day operations anymore. And he did it well, he was proud to say—even if he was currently allowing a surveillance operation to take most of his time.

The door Gabe had been watching opened and he perked when he saw Allegra exit. Like all vampires, she looked sort of ageless, somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-five. She was tall and slender, with the kind of dainty bone structure that made Gabe fear he would break her if he so much as stood too close to her. She was too thin and he studied her with a critical eye, like a fellow warrior. The knee high boots she was wearing had space in them even with the jeans tucked in, and the well-cut mackintosh seemed at least half a size too large. Had she lost weight? Exactly how bad was her situation?

Her delicate face was drawn and there was a deep crease between her brows. If the lawyer was her lover, they were going through a breakup. If it was about money, the news hadn’t been good. She didn’t register the light drizzle, not even to lift the collar of her mackintosh up, and in mere moments her shoulder-length chestnut hair, usually so neatly combed, began to fizz and curl.

To all appearances, she was oblivious to her surroundings, but Gabe wasn’t taking any risks that she’d notice him as she walked past his hiding place. He diminished his impact on Might to almost nothing. It was a neat trick Alexander had taught him that allowed him to pass as human, though the drawback was that it forced his rider to become inoperative, cocooned in Might. It wasn’t easy to make his second nature stop and lie low, the reason why only vampires as strong as his father—and him—were able to pull the trick off, but his rider understood the necessity of it. He let Allegra disappear behind the corner of the lawyer’s building. Then he went after her.

She was halfway down the gravel path through St James’s Church Garden, and he had to walk on the lawn to prevent making noise. The park was empty, but he kept a vigilant eye on the shadows, needing to rely on his sight, smell, and hearing now that he couldn’t reveal his presence by scanning the area. She didn’t look left or right, and he didn’t sense her scan her surroundings at all, but he couldn’t say if it was because she was so absorbed by her worries or because it wasn’t her habit in general. Civilian vampires probably weren’t constantly vigilant.

There were more people on the street on the other side of the park, but Jerusalem Passage, a pedestrian street to the south, was empty, forcing him to keep his distance. She appeared to be heading back to her place of work, a private institute conducting research on genetic diseases, located at the edge of the enclosed Charterhouse area, so he didn’t have to stay close.

But instead of taking Clerkenwell Road east, which would have taken her straight there, she continued south down St John’s Square. She didn’t once look back to indicate she suspected she was being followed, and her steps were steady. Was she not paying attention to where she was going? Or was she heading home?

That wasn’t far either; she lived on the south-side of the Charterhouse area, in a Georgian house her family had owned since it was built in the eighteenth century. Warriors were keeping an eye on it and Gabe wouldn’t be needed once she was at home. She would be safe there, but he found himself hoping she wasn’t headed home. She was his to look after.

He shook his head, baffled. Where did that thought come from? She was a target in an important operation, nothing more.

Past St John’s Gate, an imposing remnant of the Tudor era that arched over St John’s Lane, she dove into Passing Alley. It wasn’t an entirely logical choice, as there was no access to the enclosed Charterhouse area from St John’s Street, where it led.

Gabe didn’t like it. The alley was little more than a low, dark tunnel running through the houses, and so narrow that two people couldn’t pass without turning sideways; at least, they couldn’t if they were his size. Not only was it a perfect place for an ambush, should renegades be targeting her, it would be difficult for him to follow her unnoticed. His steps would echo, perceptible to vampire hearing no matter how silently he tried to tread, on top of which everyone coming towards them would certainly pause when they saw him approach, giving his presence away.

Gritting his teeth in frustration, he allowed her to walk deep into the alley before entering himself, making sure his steps remained as silent as possible. The tunnel was dark and empty, and he couldn’t detect her now that his rider wasn’t helping. Had she run through the alley? It was an eerie place and a lone woman would probably find it scary. Cursing, he hastened his steps.

Through the first house, the alley opened into a small garden, squared in by the tall buildings on all four sides and closed off from passers-by with a tall stone fence. His eyes trained at the tunnel opposite, he hurried past the fence, taking care not to run so as not to alarm her. As he passed the closed iron gate that led into the garden, he glanced there, more out of habit than curiosity—and paused, stupefied.

Allegra Emery was standing in front of the gate, leaning her shoulder against its stone post, facing him squarely. And she looked royally pissed.

* * *

If you liked the sample, you can buy the book on Amazon, iBooks and B&N among others.

Monday, 14 January 2019

The art of appropriate ending

I’m a bit late to the party, but I watched La La Land (2016) the other day for the first time. Lovely movie, though I wasn’t quite as taken with it as I expected to be based on the praise the movie got when it was in cinemas. Perhaps it’s one of those films that should be viewed on a big screen to get the full scope of the colours and scenery. If you haven’t seen the film, major spoilers coming up, so be warned.

La La Land is marketed as a romantic movie, and that’s what it very much is. It’s a love-story between two characters and a love-story with Hollywood. A poor jazz pianist meets a poor cafĂ© worker. Both have dreams. They fall in love and try to support one another to reach those dreams. At the end of the movie, both have what they wanted: he owns a jazz club; she’s a famous movie star. A happily ever after, the trade mark of a romance. But here’s the twist: they don’t achieve their dreams together. Love doesn’t conquer all in the end.

Genre fiction is often scorned for its formulaic nature. A book that follows pre-set rules cannot possibly be good. And, obviously, that can be true too, but not necessarily because of the formula, but because of the poor execution of it. There’s a lot of room for good storytelling even within a formula; it’s up to the author to make the most of it.

But there is one part in genre fiction that doesn’t offer much room for soloing: the ending. When we pick up a certain type of book, or set out to watch a genre movie, we expect the ending to be according to the formula. In crime fiction, the crime is solved in the end. In romantic fiction, the couple gets each other and lives happily ever after. When the ending doesn’t follow the silent agreement, the work belongs to a different category. For example, books labelled as ‘women’s fiction’ often have a romance at their core that then doesn’t end with happily ever after. And the readers know this, too, and expect the outcome.

For readers/viewers to appreciate the known ending, the road there shouldn’t be easy. In crime fiction, there are all sorts of false leads and criminals cleverer than the detective, forcing the latter to truly work for the desired ending. In romantic fiction, the circumstances often oppose the couple. Shady or tragic past that makes love difficult for one or both parties, or one or both parties of the romance have goals in life that they consider more important than love. During the course of the book they then realise these goals aren’t as important as their life together. It’s the author’s job to make the transition seem believable. Modern readers are especially concerned that it isn’t the woman who always gives up her dreams for love and marriage. (If you read old Mills&Boon/Harlequin romances, the handling is quite different in them.)

La La Land breaks this silent agreement of a pre-set ending. Mia and Sebastian make a lovely couple, they have achievable dreams, and they should be able to have it all, love and their dreams. The viewer absolutely wants them to have everything. But just as things begin to align their way, they break up. The next time we meet them, five years later, they have what they have dreamed of: Sebastian his successful jazz club, Mia her careerand a husband, who isn’t Sebastian, and a child. So, no happily ever after for them?

The disappointment I felt for the ending would suggest that the movie failed in its pact with the viewer: a romantic movie ends with happily ever after. But there are two romances in the movie. The other is the love-story with Hollywood, and its promise of and lure with success. Both Sebastian and Mia have entered this love story separately, and though their lives briefly meet, the original love is stronger. And it’s this love story that ends happily: through difficulties they both find the fulfilment they were looking for. They wish they could’ve done it together, but in the end it wasn’t possible, and they seem happy with the way things turned out. As a viewer, I might have hoped they would’ve had happy ending in both love stories; as a writer I try my best to make it possible for my characters. But I don’t feel cheated. The ending was as it should be.

“Here’s to fools who dream.”

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

My experience with Amazon adverts, so far

I began to advertise my books on Amazon in October 2017, and after fifteen months, it’s time to take a look at how that’s fared. There were two kinds of advertising options available when I began, sponsored products and product display ads. I have tried both.

I don’t have a large advertising budget—I don’t have any budget for itso I began small. Only one sponsored products ad, with a two dollar daily budget and the smallest possible per click cost that was suggested by a blog post that I read in preparation, 15 cents (though it suggested a much higher budget). Theres a tight word limit for the ads, and it took some tweaking to get the ad approved; for example, em-dashes and other special characters cause the advert to be rejected. The ad didn’t bankrupt me, mainly because people weren’t clicking it, so I tried another ad, and another. Within a month, I was advertising most of my books, the assumption being that more visibility brought more sales.

The results were mixed. I gained more visibility, and people began to click my ads, but there was barely any follow-through, especially with the ads for later books in a series. Only one ad performed well, that for The Wolf’s Call, the first book in my Two-Natured London series, but since the book is free, I was basically paying for the readers to download it.

I tried product display ads too, but those didn’t perform at all. I had read that it could take a month for those to go through the process and start showing on readers’ devices, but even though I let them be active for months, they didn’t start showing at all. The only exception was the ad for Tracy Hayes, Apprentice P.I., which had 3,500 impressions during a six month run. In comparison, the sponsored product ad for the same book has had 58,000 impressions during the same time. It got only 16 clicks, and ended up costing me three dollars of the two hundred I had reserved for it. Perhaps I should have set a much larger budget, and then terminated the ad when it went over what I was willing to pay for it, but I didn’t have the courage to try. I have given up on product display ads, and so has Amazon, because from February, they will be switched to lockscreen ads—whatever that means. I’ll maybe try one of those when the time comes.

An old product display ad of Tracy Hayes, Apprentice P.I.

During the fifteen months that I’ve been advertising, the ads have become more expensive and less visible due to heavy competition. The 15 cents per click that I started with have changed to 60 cents per click, and that’s being frugal. With my 2-3 dollar daily budgets, I get 3-5 clicks a day where I got 13-20 before. But since I only get 70 cents per book for Apprentice P.I., which doesn’t sell enough to cover the daily costs, and nothing for The Wolf’s Call, I’m not willing to go higher than that, or amp my budget. I have tried running simultaneous ads for the same book with different taglines, but the results werent promising, so Ive given that up for now.

Instead, I culled the number of ads I was running to only three, The Wolf’s Call and Apprentice P.I., both because they are the first books in the series, and The Assassin, because that’s the only ad that has actually performed well, bringing me money instead of costing it. The Wolf’s Call is still my best performing ad, and it’s constantly out of its daily two dollar budget. I believe I could raise the budged quite a lot, and it would still all be used, but I don’t find that a sensible course of action for a free book. It would be a different matter entirely, if the book generated sales for the other books in the series, but that hasn’t happened so far—at least not in numbers that would compensate the cost of the ad. I’m fairly sure people who download free books on Amazon don’t really read them, but thanks to the downloads, my book hasn’t disappeared into obscurity on Amazon ranks, and occasionally performs very well. The same is true with the other books: the ads keep them visible, and thats a good enough reason to keep them going.

As I prepared to write this post, Amazon helpfully unveiled a new feature on the ads page, a graph that allows me to see with one look how my ads have performed since the beginning. According to it, I’ve spent $1,175 in fifteen months, which has gained me 2,347,413 impressions, and $394 in sales, which doesn’t seem very cost effective. If I was relying only on Amazon sales, I would soon be bankrupted, but luckily those numbers aren’t the whole truth, even if I ended up in red last year. I have tried other advertising too, with Facebook proving time and again to be a waste of money, and BookBub being not as good as I’d hoped, though I’m going to give it another try. And this year I’ll concentrate on those three books alone, with a couple of exceptions when I advertise a new release. That should cut my costs and bring at least the same results, if not better. I’ll let you know what happens.

Graph of how much I've spent on my ads and how much I've made.

Have you tried Amazon ads? What’s your experience been? Should I spend more to make more, or is prudence wise? Let me know.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

What I read last year

The year 2018 was a fairly good reading year for me, quality-wiseat least the books I finished. Quantity-wise, it could’ve been better, even though I reached my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of fifty-five books. What slowed me down was that I seemed to pick more than usual number of books that I couldn’t finish for one reason or another. They were mainly books that I picked for free and then found boring. When there are social media and streaming network services that the books have to compete with, a book has to be above ordinary to hold my interest. I started a number of romantic books, for example, where after the first four or five chapters I was heartily bored with the couple for whose happily ever after I was supposed to root. That’s something I need to learn from for my own romantic books.

The reading list that I’d composed in the beginning of the year had fifty-six books, of which I managed to read twenty-one. That means more than half of the books I read came from outside the list, including the books that I couldn’t finish. Most of my reading was urban fantasy, with twenty-three books, and two of the three young adult books could be listed under urban fantasy too. Fantasy was a good second, with eleven books, then sci-fi with seven, historical romance with six, and contemporary romance with four. I only read one mystery last year, but some of the urban fantasies I read, especially Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant books, are mysteries too.

I tried to write a review of every book I read on Goodreads, however short. I gave seven books full five stars. Most books I gave four or three stars, but none less than that, likely because I didn’t finish reading the books that would’ve deserved a poor rating.

The best book I read last year was White Rabbit, Red Wolf by Tom Pollock. It’s a young adult book about Peter, a highly intelligent boy with sever anxiety and other issues that are described and handled wonderfully. His mother is kidnapped which leads to events that force him to question his entire life. It’s a mystery that lives up to its slogan, and its US title, ‘this story is a lie’. It kept me guessing to the end, and I’m still not sure readers were given the truth in the end. I highly recommend it to everyone, not just people who generally read YA books. Read my review here.

Two books by Holly Black, The Darkest Part of the Forest and The Cruel Prince both got five stars from me too. They are very similar stories of human teenagers interacting with the fae, so much so, that the first book reads like a rehearsal version of the latter. The first is set in the ‘real’ world and features siblings of a very dysfunctional family that live in a town with connection to the fae. It would’ve been an excellent YA story even without the fantasy element, with the way the protagonist is forced to take stock of her childhood that she’s mostly supressed. Read my review here. The Cruel Prince is set in fairyland, and the protagonist, Jude, is a human with a fae father, who’s kidnapped to the fairyland with her siblings and is forced to cope among the cruel fae. She is highly ambitious, and she doesn’t let anything come to her way, which makes her slightly unlikeable character that you end up rooting for despite. Read my review here. The next book in the series, The Wicked King, comes out this month, and I’ll be definitely reading it.

The Archived and The Unbound by Victoria Schwab are other examples of excellent young adult urban fantasy that I read the past year. Mac is a teenager whose job it is to fetch the ghosts of the dead that have somehow managed to escape the library they’re kept in. In her ‘real’ life, she has to cope with a death of a sibling that has pretty much destroyed her family. The strength of the two books lies in Mac’s growth story, as she comes to terms with her loss. Read my reviews here and here.

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman returns the readers to the world of His Dark Materials series, and does it wonderfully. I had my doubts that a book without Lyra could be interesting, but I was wrong. Malcom was a wonderful protagonist, and the story held my interest from the beginning to the end. I’d link to my review, but it’s very short and repeats pretty much what I said here.

The last five star book on my reading list is Planetfall by Emma Newman. It too featured a protagonist with a broken mind, and the gradual revelation of the depth of her illness was brilliantly done. The setting, a remote planet with its firstpresumablyhuman colony was interesting, but in the end the story was more about Renata. The ending wasn’t really to my liking, but the book was so good, I could overlook it. Read my review here.

There were a couple of new acquaintances on my reading list. Kate Locke with her Immortal Empire steampunk trilogy was a great find. I read a few Tessa Dare’s historical romances, which were a hit and miss with me, and I didn’t finish all the books that I started. Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season was a good book, but I couldn’t get behind the second book in the Bone Season series, and so didn’t continue with it. The Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho was a delightful first book in a series, a mix between Georgette Heyer’s Regency romance style and fantasy. The second book in the series comes out this year, and I’ll definitely read it.

The rest of my list pretty much comprised of my favourite authors and the latest instalments of their series, none of which disappointed. They’ll remain my stables this year too. The new list has sixty-six books, and I hope to read most of them this year. I’ll let you know how that goes. Stay tuned.

Friday, 28 December 2018

The year draws to an end…

The year 2018 is ending, and it’s time for the traditional ‘what I’ve managed to do’ this year post again. I have no idea where the year has gone; it seems I was reflecting the previous year only yesterday. If you count my blog posts (6), it looks like I’ve done nothing this year. But that’s an illusion created by my laziness to write blog posts.

All in all, it’s been a good year for me. I published two new books: The Assassin, a longer thriller set in MI5 in London, and Tracy Hayes, from P.I. with Love, the fifth book in my cosy mystery series. Both took off well, I’m happy to say. I also wrote two more books that aren’t finished yet, so those will see me to a good start next year. One of them, Crimson Warrior, the sixth book in Two-Natured London series, even has a publishing date already, and will come out in March.

The biggest change this year was giving up my second penname, Hannah Kane, under which I wrote contemporary romances. I had pondered the decision for quite some time, as you can read in this blog post, and I finally did it at the beginning of the year. I gave the books new covers, brushed up the contents for typos, and re-published them as Susanna Shore. I also created a bundle edition of three of the books, which I published this fall. I can’t say the move was a great success; the books still don’t sell. But it has made my life easier to maintain only one penname, so I’m happy with the decision.

Another rebranding I did was with my thriller The Croaking Raven. I had originally wanted to call it Personal, but Lee Child was publishing a Jack Reacher book with that name just then, and I wasn’t brave enough to take advantage of it. This year, as I prepared The Assassin for publication, I redesigned the cover of The Croaking Raven and gave it a new name. It’s now called Personal, but I can’t say I’ve got any advantage of the more popular book with the same name.

I redesigned the covers of my Two-Natured London and Tracy Hayes books too. The changes were mainly small, and had mostly to do with fonts and their legibility in small sizes. But a couple of the Two-Natured London books went through a larger redesign, especially the first book Ive ever published, The Wolf’s Call, which has gone through more redesigns than my other books.

My website got a new look this year. My sister was studying web designing and kindly created the pages for me as a practice job. I’m very happy with the result, and even if html has changed quite a bit since I studied it, I’m still able to update the pages myself. I redesigned this blog too, but by the time you read this post, it has probably changed looks again. I have that kind of a year-end itch...

I opened two new social media accounts this year. First one was BookBub, which is a community of readers that offers advertising opportunities for authors too. You can find me here if you like. I occasionally recommend books there. Another new account was Instagram. I’ve resisted joining, as I couldn’t really see how I could operate there as an authorand how I could avoid posting photos of every interesting meal I have. I’ve been there for about three months now, and even if I don’t feel quite at home yet, I’m happy to tell you that I haven’t posted a single food photo. You can find me here.

One big new thing in my author life this year has been advertising. I was hesitant at first, but Amazon has made it fairly easy to try, so I gave it a shot. After a full year, I’m fairly happy with the results, even if I’m basically spending every cent I earn in advertising. It has helped me to keep the first books of my two series in readers’ attention, and that is good enough for now. During this year, advertising has become gradually more expensive, as new authors join in, but I still hope that next year the advertisements start generating more income than I spend on them. I also tried BookBub adverts, with mixed results, and Facebook adverts, which I’ve decided never to try again. Its a waste of money.

I didn’t write any blog posts about the books I’ve read this year, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped reading. I managed to read fifty-five books, which was my goal in Goodreads reading challenge. I’ll do a separate re-cap post on my reading later.

I didn’t find great success as an author this year, and with the advertising costs, the year will end in red. But for the first time in years things are looking brighter. Tracy Hayes books are gaining traction one book at the time, giving me hope that readers will eventually find my other books too. So next year I’ll work harder to bring more books to my readers. Hopefully you’ll be among them too.

Happy New Year to you all.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Tracy is back!

It has taken me awhile, but I’ve published a new Tracy Hayes book. Did you miss her? It didn’t seem like such a long stretch between this and the previous book, but it’s been a full year. For me, that is. For Tracy, it’s only been about four weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

If you’re not familiar with Tracy, she’s a Brooklyn waitress who, after losing her latest job to almost no fault of her own, becomes an apprentice to a private investigator. Jackson is everything she’s not: enigmatic, calm and competent. He also yells a lot, but Tracy usually deserves it, like after almost getting shot. Other characters include Tracy’s family, her two brothers and a sister who all are over-achievers, whereas she’s a college drop-out; Cheryl the office goddess and her dog Misty Morning, and Jonny Moreira, a mafia henchman Tracy can’t help liking even though they’re on the opposite sides of law. The stories are fast-paced and funmost of the timeand more cosy than hard-core.

In the latest book, Tracy Hayes, from P.I. with Love, it’s a couple of days before Christmas and Tracy is one present short of starting the holidays. But when she finally finds the exact thing she wants, the vendor turns up dead. And it may be the killer wants the same item she does. She also has to solve a number of thefts from old people in retirement homes, and go to her first date in six years. If you’ve read the previous books, you’ll know it’s kind of a big deal for her. You can read the first chapter here. And if you haven’t read the previous books, you can start with the first one, Tracy Hayes, Apprentice P.I. And the latest book you can find here.

Chapter One
I love Christmas in New York. It’s loud, colorful, and bright, and it fills me with energy and good-will that carries me through the darkness and dreary weather. I’d thought I was a real early-bird for starting my gift-shopping and putting up decorations in my small apartment the first day of December. But I’d met my match in Cheryl Walker, our office goddess at Jackson Dean Investigations where I worked as an apprentice P.I.

Cheryl had filled every available surface in the two rooms of the agency with decorations—complete with a large plastic tree in the corner next to Jackson’s desk—the day after Thanksgiving, and had played her favorite Christmas songs non-stop ever since. Three days before D-day—or C-day?—I was heartily bored with even my favorite carols, and the office good-will would’ve been in serious jeopardy, if I hadn’t deleted the most annoying tunes from her playlist when she was in court one afternoon.

That was Jackson’s idea, by the way. He even provided the list of songs he wanted removed.

This morning, however, I welcomed the music. I was browsing the internet for one last Christmas gift that had eluded me for weeks, and I needed all the inspiration I could get—excluding All I Want for Christmas, which was mercifully no longer on the playlist. Also helpful would’ve been the use of all my fingers, but my hands were currently covered in thick mittens that I wouldn’t remove unless I absolutely had to, so I had to settle with following a link after another by clicking the mouse.

We were experiencing unseasonably cold weather that had reduced all but the most foolhardy fashionistas to walking advertisements for winter clothing if we hazarded the outdoors, and occasionally indoors too—like at the agency today. We were located in an old but fairly nice building on Flatbush Avenue near Barclay’s Center that the management generally kept in good repair. But they hadn’t anticipated this weather. The heater had decided it didn’t like the extra work the cold spell put on it and had stopped operating completely. It was the second morning of no heat and it was freezing in there.

In addition to the mittens, I was wearing a black down coat several sizes too large for me. I’d salvaged it from the closet of my brother Trevor, who was quite a bit bigger than me. It wasn’t at its peak of usability anymore, but I could fit a thick sweater Mom had knitted for me underneath, plus a couple of other layers too. I also wore a colorful woolen scarf around my neck and a tasseled beanie in my head.

The last piece of clothing really annoyed me. I wasn’t hipster enough to pull it off, and it hid my one distinguishing feature: my hair, shoulder-length and fire-engine red again after a brief period of cotton-candy pink. Wearing it, my average face went unnoticed, except for the slightly frost-bitten nose and cheeks, which it emphasized. Not an improvement. But I was freezing even with it on, so it would stay.

Jackson’s concession to cold was to wear a black, long-sleeved T-shirt instead of his usual black, short-sleeved T-shirt. I swear that man had to have hot lava running in his veins to be able to sit by our frosted-over windows and not freeze to death. That, or his muscles created kinetic energy even when he was in repose, keeping him warm. They were very fine muscles, so who knows what sort of feats they were capable of.

Lately, he’d begun to hint that I should start working towards similar muscles too, just so I would able to tackle a bad guy if the need arose. He’d even promised to buy me a membership in an inexpensive gym near his home that he went to. So far I had heroically resisted, preferring my hard-earned round parts, even if some of those stubbornly clung to my waist. It was bad enough he made me jog regularly.

When he went out, he didn’t wear a hat, even though his dark brown hair was currently very short after Cheryl had made him have it tidied and the cold had to bite his scalp particularly sharply. He would occasionally put on gloves, but he only remembered to close his winter parka if I or Cheryl reminded him of it. But at least he wore the coat.

Cheryl, for the first time that I’d ever seen her, was wearing trousers. Pink, naturally, like pretty much everything she wore. Honest-to-God Ugg boots protected her feet—also the first time I’d seen her in flats. The pink angora sweater she had on today was so fluffy it practically doubled her already ample girth. Misty Morning, her Border terrier-Yorkie mix, wore the cutest pink down coat and boots when she went out, but she refused to wear them indoors. She was currently sleeping next to me on the couch that was my workspace, leaning against my thigh and warming it nicely.

On top of the cold spell, the snowstorm of the century—because we’re not at all prone to hyperbole—was predicted for Christmas Day, causing everyone to panic and creating a hoarding frenzy. The latter included my mother. Her pantry was so well-stocked by now that the entire family, spouses and grandchildren included, would survive until after the New Year.

I wasn’t panicking. Mom would feed me, and even if the storm hit earlier than predicted, paralyzing the city, I had all my Christmas preparations done—apart from that one gift. My sister Theresa and I had done our traditional Christmas shopping trip to Manhattan two weeks ago. I had helped her select her presents, and in return she had paid for mine. It’s not quite as exploitative on my part as you might think. Tessa is a brilliant doctor, with a clinical mind, but she absolutely lacks imagination and the initiative to buy presents. She doesn’t quite understand the need for the ritual of exchanging gifts, and in her opinion only practical gifts should be given. Since she earns well as a doctor—and doesn’t have any student loans—whereas I had barely survived on minimum wage and tips when I was waitressing, the arrangement suited us both. I was doing better now as an apprentice P.I., but I saw no reason to alter the arrangement. I might need that money later.

The presents that I’d paid for myself, for Jackson, Cheryl, and Jarod, my roommate, I’d bought online well in advance. Jackson would get a T-shirt with a picture of Sherlock Holmes and the text “On par with the best” on it. I thought it described him perfectly. Plus it wouldn’t put undue strain on our boss-apprentice relationship. Things had been slightly weird since Thanksgiving, largely because he’d kissed me. He’d been worried to death for me, which explained it, and though it was a great kiss, I needed things to be back to normal. He hadn’t even yelled at me lately—much.

Everything I’d ordered had arrived as advertised and in good time, and was now wrapped nicely. Online shopping was so easy that I hoped Tessa would never learn about it. Not solely so that she could keep paying for my presents, but because the shopping trip was the only time we went anywhere as sisters, and I didn’t want to lose that. We seldom saw each other as it was, if you didn’t count my all too frequent visits to her ER since I started as an apprentice P.I.—which, sadly, I did.

Tessa was the cause of my frantic browsing this morning. The one last Christmas present that eluded me was hers for her live-in partner, Angela. I’d known Angela for such a short time that I had no idea what she would like. The only facts I knew about her were that she was a pediatrician, Italian, and Catholic, none of which helped me to figure out what she might like from the woman she loved. Tessa, obviously, was no help. She would’ve wanted to buy her an espresso machine, and couldn’t understand at all when I said it wasn’t romantic enough for their first Christmas.

I tried to imagine what I would want from the person I loved, but my ex-husband, in addition to being a bastard band-leader who cheated on me, had been utterly negligent when it came to presents. I would’ve been happy even with the espresso machine, just as long as he would’ve remembered. Frustrated, I sighed loud enough for Jackson to give me a questioning look.

“What are you giving Emily for Christmas?” I asked, a true testament to how stuck I was.

A panicked look spread on his face. His was a manly face, clean lined, with dark brown brows and eyes, and it could express a wide range of emotions from amusement to anger and then revert to curiously plain and unnoticeable. But what it never, ever expressed, was panic. He was thirty-five, eight years older than me, and a former Marine turned homicide detective turned private eye. He had seen it all, and had the eyes of a seasoned cop to go with it. Nothing ever fazed him. Except, apparently, the thought of buying a Christmas present for his girlfriend.

“I don’t know. Why do you ask? Could you suggest something?”

I rolled my eyes, blue and as seasoned as any Brooklyn waitress’s. “If I had any inkling, I wouldn’t ask you. But never mind. Cheryl!” I yelled through the open door to the reception area. “What should Tessa give Angela for Christmas?”

“A locket,” she immediately answered, and I perked, excited.

“Excellent idea.” I instantly googled for lockets and inspiration abounded.

“Can I give Emily a locket too?” Jackson asked hopefully.

“No!” Cheryl and I answered simultaneously, and he pulled back, baffled.

“Why not?”

How to explain? “It’s a more intimate gift than what your relationship seems to be,” I said carefully. They’d been together for about three months and he’d intended to end the relationship many times already. Why he hadn’t, I had no idea.

“So no jewelry?” he asked, not terribly upset by my estimation.

“You can give her earrings,” Cheryl consoled him, entering the office in her pink gorgeousness. “And I know just the place where you can get both your presents. Bundle up, and follow me.” 

* * *
 You can read the next chapter on my webpage. And if you liked the book, you can find purchase links here.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

The Assassin: excerpt

I’m taking a bit of a jump start to my upcoming thriller The Assassin by publishing a small sample here. I had intended to wait until I have the edited version, but I got impatient and wanted to share it with you instantly. All the typos and grammar mistakes are therefore mine.

The Assassin by Susanna Shore

The sharp retort of a ball hitting the centre of the tennis racket reverberated around the court. The sound was much like a single round from a marksman’s rifle with a silencer on. His rifle. And he’d timed the shot perfectly to coincide with the women’s number one returning the first serve of the third best player in the world. It was the women’s final at the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament. No one would pay attention to the strange echo. And as his mark didn’t collapse and the dark colour of his shirt covered the entrance wound, he would be well on his way before anyone even noticed that the man was dead.

As it was, he was in the service area on the ground floor when the ruckus began, audible through the loudspeakers that broadcasted the game to the dressing rooms. He was carrying a tennis racket shaped bag like so many others there, dressed in fashionable tennis clothes, with wrap-around sunglasses and a cap pressed deep in his head. He didn’t look back when people around him reacted to the sounds from the court, but just put the bag into the booth of the car that was exactly like at least a dozen cars on the players’ parking area. What was it with tennis players and black Audis anyway?

He drove calmly to the gate where the security waved him out, the news not having reached them yet. It was only coming in that they’d payed any attention to his right to be there, but his credentials were sound—if fake. After the gate, he blended into the Saturday afternoon traffic, heavy, but not congested. He’d scouted beforehand a route with the least CCTV surveillance, and followed it to an anonymous rental garage in Kingston, ten kilometres west of Wimbledon. Securely in, he took out the racket bag containing his rifle, spent ten minutes cleaning both, and shelved the bag with its rifle among all the similar innocent-looking items.

He removed the number plates from the car and replaced them with the originals, careful not to scratch them. The fake plates went on the shelf in their box with others. A quick change of clothes into a dark, tailor-made suit, a removal of the blond surfer wig he’d worn over his short black hair and adding brown contact lenses, and he was indistinguishable from the couple of million suits filling London.

After the last check that the garage was neat and the car was in pristine condition, and wiping the door handles and the steering wheel clean with his gloves on, he drove out. Forty minutes later, he was in a car rental at the Heathrow airport, chatting up the pretty receptionist as he returned the key, leaving her an impression of a charming Frenchman. A television mounted on the wall behind her showed breaking news from the Wimbledon tennis court where a high-level Saudi diplomat had been assassinated. The police had no clues.

Did you enjoy the sample? You can continue reading on my webpage. The Assassin will be published on September 23. You can preorder it here.