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What's the Motive? Chris Patchell on Deception Bay

Deception_Bay_Cover

I'm happy to bring back the popular "What's the Motive" series here on the blog. Author of pulse-pounding thrillers, Chris Patchell goes well outside her own comfort zone with her latest novel, Deception Bay.

Here's Chris Patchell:

My fifth novel, Deception Bay, is about mystery writer Austin Martell, who is called away from his life in New York to return to his hometown on Whidbey Island when he hears that his mother has suffered an accident. It doesn’t take long for Austin to find out that his mother’s accident may have been something more ominous. Austin soon finds himself in the center of a real-life murder investigation, with a killer who will do the unthinkable to keep the truth from getting out.

Here’s a bit of what’s in store for my readers…

The boat pitches and he loses his footing as he scrambles toward the cabin’s opening. He grabs hold of the ladder and climbs down into the darkness below. The water is already thigh-deep—as heavy as wet cement as he struggles toward the red light.

The radio.

Teeth chattering, he drives his legs forward, gathering the last bit of strength. Stumbling. Reaching. Grasping until he makes it. He tears the radio microphone from its perch. Thumbs the button. He screams the words out in a torrent of panic hoping somebody will hear.

“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is the Dreamcatcher. We’re three miles east of Deception Bay. We are sinking. Repeat. We are sinking.”

And that’s just the beginning…

What’s the Motive?

There I was, heads-down working on my next psychological thriller, when one of my author friends pinged me on Facebook with an idea. She and a few of her other author friends were putting together a boxed set of romantic suspense stories. Would I be interested in joining the fun? As an author, it’s good to stretch your wings and try something outside of your comfort zone, so I stopped what I was doing and gave my good friend Fiona Quinn a call. 

Not only is Fiona a good author, but like me, she has a keen eye for business. We chatted about the project, and it didn’t take me long to decide that this was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss. The boxed set Love Under Fire has been a whirlwind kind of a project. There are 20 authors besides me who have written original stories for the set.

Working with so many talented authors has been a fun and instructive experience. But what makes this project extra special, is that we’ve teamed up with a 503(c) organization called Pets for Vets. My dog, Sasha, was a rescue from a high-kill shelter. She was a mom at a puppy mill who was never properly socialized, and when she was finished delivering puppies, they dumped her. She’s a sweet little Yorkie just brimming with anxiety from living in a box for so many years. She’s a total nutter, and I couldn’t ask for a more loyal friend. What I love about Pets for Vets is that they pair shelter animals up with Veterans in need of support animals. It is a total win-win.

Pets4Vets

This project presented some unique challenges for me as a writer.

  1. There was a word count limit! Not to say that I’m pathologically long-winded, but my novels usually weigh in ~98,000 words. Deception Bay came in just under 60,000 words. While this may be easy for some authors, for me, this was no easy feat. I had to cut sub-plots and slash sections to stay within my limit. In doing so, I learned a valuable lesson that every writer should know—keep only what matters.
  2. The protagonist for the book, Austin Martell, is smart, funny, and a little on the narcissistic side. Smart and narcissistic? No problem, I’ve got that covered. But funny… I think I’m capable of being funny in person. I mean, if you and I are having a conversation, I may be able to come up with a witty line or two, but doing it on paper… That’s a whole other thing. Some days funny is a foreign language, and it takes time to layer humor into a scene. Then there are those magical days when as Jim Rennie from Under the Dome would say, you’re just “feeling it” and being funny comes naturally. Those days are pure gold, and I made the most of them when editing this book.
  3. And then there’s romance… Typically, I write hard-core suspense, so this story had me exploring my “softer side.” I’m really excited about the result. While Deception Bay is a departure from the dark suspense my fans are used to getting from me, I think they’re really going to love this story. The humor in the book is offset by some wicked intense scenes, and when Austin falls for the one woman who seems immune to his charms… Well… It makes for some pretty fun reading.

Challenges aside, writing this story was a labor of love. I started writing it a few years back. It was the thing I wrote when I was between other things, and though I loved the characters and the premise for the story, it didn’t fit in with my other books, so I set it aside. I never could fully shake the story though. Every now and then, I would pull it out and tinker with it. There were days when I would be hunched over my laptop giggling to myself while I was editing because spending time in Austin’s head was an awesome place to be. I hope readers agree. 

AdobeBio 
Chris Patchell is the bestselling author of In the Dark and the Indie Reader Discovery Award-winning novel Deadly Lies. A tech worker by day and a writer by night, she pens gritty suspense novels set in the Pacific Northwest.

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The End of the Dream(slippers): Year in Review

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Image courtesy of Pixabay.

When I set out to write the Dreamslippers series back in 2012, the self-publishing business was still bright, shiny, and promising.

Still, I wasn't sure if I'd go that route. I had to be convinced, and I was, in the end--by research that showed you had a better chance of making a living as a fiction writer if you went indie. Around a very demanding day job, it took me two years to write the first book. During that time, I shopped it around to agents and editors in traditional publishing, and I had an incredible amount of interest--just no follow-through. I worked on the book, getting a ton of feedback from alpha and beta readers--as well as some of those agents--and revising over and over. It wasn't my first book; I'd had an agent back in 2005 who shopped a short-story collection around. I'd honed my skill since then and felt confident about the manuscript. I talked to a lot of people, authors and agents and marketers and others. It seemed to make the most sense to take a leap into self-publishing.

Cat in the Flock performed well, enough to warrant further attention. A celebrity Hollywood director reached out to me about rights, I was interviewed by the Seattle Weekly, and I won my first indieBRAG medallion. This despite a homemade book cover and struggles with Amazon's category algorithms, which plunked the book in "pet noir" because of the title. 'Cat' referred to the protagonist's nickname, a shortening of her full name, Cathedral. There are no felines in the book.

FINAL COVER ART CATINTHEFLOCK

The original cover for Cat in the Flock.

Perhaps most important to me, the book was reviewed well by people whose opinions I trusted. The writers Jon Talton, Mary Daheim, and Corrina Wycoff all contributed praiseful blurbs. None other than the venerable Kirkus Reviews called it "a mystery with an unusual twist and quirky settings; an enjoyable surprise for fans of the genre."

According to some successful indie authors I've talked to, what I should have done right then was release two more books that year and keep going as fast as I could.

But I didn't. Writing and releasing Cat around the day job (and my own wedding, by the way) had been exhausting. So instead, I took a poetry manuscript out of a drawer and published that, too. Half the poems in Broom of Anger had already appeared in literary journals, and for some of them, I'd won awards. I was curious to see how it would do.

Broom of anger

It probably won't surprise you to learn that sales were pretty much non-existent. Poetry is a tough enough sell for traditionals, and self-published poetry, no matter the quality of the work nor the stature of the authors contributing blurbs, is a non-starter.

But I persevered. My husband and I had a change in our living situation when he was offered an opportunity to steer a grant at a small college in a small town... And the semi-rural life held appeal for us both. I stepped down from my management position at the day job and dropped to four days per week, which I would work remotely, from the small town. I hoped this would provide more time for the novel series.

I'd published Cat in late July of 2014 and followed it with Framed and Burning in the fall of 2015. From first draft to release, it took me nine months.

There's a lot that goes into self-publishing that takes up time. You could think of an iceberg, how you see only 1/3rd of it, the part above the water. The other 2/3rds of being an indie is everything ranging from reviewing voice actor demos for your audiobook to formatting the actual manuscript to writing a marketing plan. Most of it has nothing to do with the actual writing.

Framed and Burning garnered a good deal of critical success, most notably as a finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award. A huge fan of the celebrity librarian, I was awash with honor over that nomination. But the top prize went to a traditional author who already had a long list of such awards. I won a second indieBRAG and was nominated for a RONE Award, but sales were just okay.

FRAMED AND BURNING IndieBRAG 2

I'd worked diligently to professionalize my novel-writing business, forming an LLC and hiring professional editors, a book cover artist, marketing consultants, and so on. I researched social media, tried to get good at it, and bootstrapped as much as I could, making lovely connections in my small town, where people still treat writers as if we're at least minor celebrities.

Meanwhile, I'd made the decision to exit from the day job. It had been a heady, exhilarating, and at times, challenging, five years. I'd created a narrative design team, basically a group of game storytelling experts, and together we raised the bar on storytelling in the company's collector's edition games. Passionate about game storytelling, I wanted to continue to write and design games, but a no-compete clause in my contract kept me from any work that could be construed as "materially similar" for a blackout period of one year. So I tried my hand at some new genres, such as Smash Squad for WG Cells, and I wrote about games for several publications and my own blog.

And I continued to write novels. I released the third book in the series the week of the presidential election in 2016. 

The country was in upheaval with Trump's victory, and no one paid any attention to Bound to the Truth. I won a third indieBRAG for it, though. The medallion represents the top 10 percent in independent publishing, so it's a strong achievement, especially considering the volume of self-published works. I still think it's the best book in the series, but it launched to dismal sales and never recovered.

Brokenhearted, I had long conversations with two successful authors--one indie and the other a hybrid of traditional and indie--who both proclaimed the self-publishing bubble had burst. The hybrid author has gone back to 100 percent traditional. The indie is aggressively pursuing a career in scriptwriting, which she believes is the next big opportunity.

I pulled back on investment in the Dreamslippers series and made due with one final pro cover, for the boxed set. After a year, it's still sitting on Amazon without a single review, and sales have been poor. It's tough, because I know some indies who are still making an all right living. But they tend to serve niches (such as a Christian apocalyptic writer) that are ignored by New York publishing. They also usually have military pensions or are kept financially afloat by their spouses' incomes. 

Boxed set

But frankly, it would have surprised me if I'd been able to make a living on indie books alone. I'd already survived the collapse of the journalism industry, and I understand that we are in the throes of a digital revolution that places primacy on the visual. I approached the entire enterprise with the idea that it was a huge experiment, and a gamble. While there are many things I might have done differently, on the whole, I learned a lot, acquired new skills and further honed old ones, and grew as a writer. The result is an award-winning novel series to my credit and scores of articles written by and about me and my work.

On balance, I'm glad I tried to become a full-time novelist, though commercial success proved to be an elusive beast. 

What continues to do extremely well for me is my work in games.

The one-year blockout from my no-compete clause ended in February 2017, and it was as if the floodgates opened. Without having to actually look for any work, it has consistently found me. By spring, I was already at full-time capacity, writing and designing games for Daily Magic, an old partner of mine from the day job, as well as a few studios new to me that were trying innovative game formats. 

I wrote and co-designed what could be considered a "game novel" or "interactive novel" called Sender Unknown: The Woods. It released in the "New Games We Love" section of the App Store and has been a top 10 in several categories. Gamezebo calls it "the next leap forward in mobile." Another writing/co-designing title for me, Matchington Mansion, has pretty much blown the doors off mobile with its popularity. I'm just now finishing up a "visual novel" for Pixelberry Studios, and it will release in March of this year. Additionally, I'm at work on a project for GSN Games, releasing in early 2018, and in talks with Jam City, a studio I've admired for some time. I'm also designing and writing levels for G5's hit game, Survivors: The Quest.

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It was into this exciting vortex that Webster University entered last summer, and with it, an opportunity to return to my roots--in two ways. One, as a professor of games and game design, as visiting faculty for the 2017-18 school year. Two, in St. Louis, where I'm, as we say, "from."

Some of you know I used to teach English at Pierce College, back in the early 2000s. I had tenure but left to pursue a writing career on my agent's recommendation and because I struggled to pay off my student loans on that faculty income. But I feel the classroom never really left me; I was destined to return and had already as a guest-lecturer at University of Florida and Seattle University.

My family is here in the area, on both sides of the river. I earned my bachelor's degree at Saint Louis University, and I cut teeth early in my career as a writer for the St. Louis Science Center and various city publications. I wasn't born here, having grown up a child of the Air Force with its mandate of frequent moves, but I attended part of junior high and all of high school in Illinois and still think of the Lou as "home." 

Honestly, I wasn't sure I could take on full-time faculty duties with the game work ramping up so quickly. But I hit it off with the faculty there, and it became an opportunity not to pass up. I knew of Webster University's strong reputation, and since the program is new and in need of leadership, there's a chance to put my stamp on something that could be key to the success of not just the school but the whole St. Louis region. What impresses me most is the seed of entrepreneurship being sown here by a small but quickly growing local game industry.

I've had to say no to some work, which is regrettable, but I feel reborn in the classroom. Teaching game design is in many ways a dream-come-true, and a fitting transition from all that dreamslipping.

Game-design

Image courtesy of Webster Today.

So here I am at year end, a novelist, game designer, and teacher. All the best to you in the New Year, and I'd love to hear from you by email or in the comments below.