Saturday, October 01, 2011

Exposed - A Thriller Novella (Chandler Series) by J.A. Konrath & Ann Voss Peterson

I get a lot of email, and a lot of comments in my blog posts, from people thanking me for helping them out on their self-pubbing journey. If you really want to thank me, there's an easy way: buy my books.

That said, here's my latest. And it's a lot of fun:

EXPOSED by J.A. Konrath & Ann Voss Peterson

She's an elite spy, working for an agency so secret only three people know it exists. Trained by the best of the best, she has honed her body, her instincts, and her intellect to become the perfect weapon.

CODENAME: CHANDLER

Before special operative Chandler was forced to FLEE, she executed the most difficult missions—and most dangerous people—for the government. So when she’s tasked with saving a VIP’s daughter from human traffickers, Chandler expects the operation to be by the numbers…until she uncovers a secret that will endanger the entire population of New York City, and possibly the world.

EXPOSED - Death is in her blood.

EXPOSED is a 35,000 word novella (roughly 150 pages) and is part of the Codename: Chandler series. It also contains an excerpt of SPREE, the next Chandler novel coming this winter.

Available for $2.99 on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords.

To talk a bit about Exposed, here's my collaborator, Ann Voss Peterson.

Joe: So three years ago, I had this cool idea about a female covert operative whose cover gets blown and she goes on the run. It was called FLEE. I wrote a quick outline and the first few chapters, and then shelved it because I had too many other projects going on and didn't have time to finish it.

When did I ask you to collaborate?

Ann: Right before Bouchercon in Indianapolis, 2009. You sent me some pages you'd written, and I thought it seemed like a lot of fun. Then we carpooled to Bouchercon and later Romantic Times together in my 1988 Chevy Nova and talked about it on the drive. Because both of us were busy with other books, we didn't do much more on the project until last winter when we brainstormed over burgers on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building.

Joe: Right. A key scene took place there, and we wanted to check it out.

I remember how shocked I was when I heard how low your advances were from Harlequin. You called it "the golden handcuffs", because they kept offering you contracts, and you kept taking them because you needed the money. I called it "working for the company store." They kept you so busy that you didn't have time to work on any of your own personal projects, which no doubt would have earned you more money. Your feelings about HQ?

Ann: To be honest, the "golden handcuffs" is stolen from a comment Morgan Freeman made about the years he was on the TV show "The Electric Company." He'd landed a steady acting job on a fun show, but that show prevented him from branching out and taking other roles would progress his career.

I've enjoyed writing for Harlequin. My 25th book for Harlequin's Intrigue line will be released in November. But although I made enough money on the books to quit my day job and write full time since 2000, I've never made enough to do anything more than live royalty check to royalty check.

In addition, I've always written on the plot-intensive side of romantic suspense, and on more than one occasion, my stories have stepped too far to the suspense side for some romance readers. Self-publishing has given me the opportunity to explore my more violent tendencies.

Joe: So now you're flying solo...

Ann: Not really. Now I'm writing with you. But I am working on some solo stuff as well.

Joe: We're working on SPREE, the next Chandler adventure, which begins right when FLEE ended. I'm hoping for a November release. What's up with that stand-alone you've been working on for the past 18 years?

Ann: While you're finishing the sequel to Timecaster, I'm trying to sort through what I have on this story. The downside of working on it so long is that it's changed so much, I'm no longer sure what I have.

That's nothing new. Unfortunately my creative process can be a bit messy at times.

But I haven't been working on it for 18 years, Joe. That's a gross exaggeration.

Joe: It's been longer than 18 years? Wow.

Ann: (shakes her head sadly)

Joe: We wrote FLEE pretty much based on my original outline, though you had a hand in crafting many of the scenes. We divvied up the actual writing about 50/50, using Dropbox and Google Docs. It went pretty quick once we committed to it, and it's one of my favorite books. I love the character of Chandler, and she's as much your creation as she is mine.

Ann: I love Chandler, too. She's kick-ass but she's also vulnerable, and that's what makes her so interesting.

It was a lot of fun working with you. Over the years I'd gotten used to always being the best plotter in the room. But I have to say, you're better. Which, of course, is one of the reasons I wanted to write with you in the first place.

Joe: Thanks. I wanted to write with you because you're good, and fast. One of the advantages of collaboration is: two people working on a story can get it done twice as fast, which means more work released, which means more virtual shelf space, which means more sales. In other words, you can actually make more money by co-writing. If I can put eight novels out a year with a collaborator, vs. four on my own, the eight will spread my brand and name recognition twice as far. At least, that's the theory.

With EXPOSED, you did the heavy lifting. The concept, and about 75% of the writing, was all you. So it's only fair you get 75% of the royalties.

That said, the story reads a lot like FLEE, with a consistent tone and voice. And like FLEE, I'd challenge anyone reading EXPOSED to figure out who wrote what part. It's pretty seamless.

Ann: Agreed. I got a kick out of peoples' guesses as to who wrote what in FLEE. No one was correct. But then, we tended to bounce off one another quite a bit as we wrote, so a lot of it is a true mix.

Another interesting thing to me was that I never felt like my vision for EXPOSED was realized until you added the Joe parts. It was as if Chandler didn't really feel alive to me until then, as if she was missing half of her personality...or at least 25%. ;D

Joe: I'm frankly shocked how much you can write like me. Or maybe it's how much I write like you. A mutual friend of ours just read EXPOSED, and he thought I wrote most of it. You even had a few jokes in there that he attributed to me.

EXPOSED began as a short story, then blew up to mini-novel length, about 35,000 words. We also managed to fit a sex scene in there. What's your feeling about all of those folks who get mad about sexual content in books?

Ann: Fiction is about the extraordinary moments of human life, the highs and lows, the events that exert the most pressure and force change. Sex is one of those moments. To refuse to use it in a story that calls for it is dishonest and cowardly.

Of course since sex can be so powerful, it carries a burden as well. Intimate scenes are the dramatization of a character's inner conflicts. Everything from the tone, to the dialog, to the actual sex acts involved are a window into a character's deepest fears and greatest hopes. That's why sex scenes are so difficult to write. Whether they are about love or not, they carry an emotional wallop.

But difficulty and personal discomfort are not bad things to face when you're a novelist. More often than not, they are signs that you're on the right track, that you're touching on real emotion. That can be disconcerting, but it's also the heart of what fiction is.

I fully expect some people to hate the sex scene in EXPOSED. It will likely make others feel uncomfortable. That's fine. The scene itself is neither comfortable nor safe. But anyone who says that scene doesn't change everything for the characters, that it isn't a glimpse into who they are,
that it isn't necessary to the character growth and plot is either clueless or fooling themselves.

Joe: I've heard that every scene in a story should do at least two things, or else it really isn't needed. Moving the plot forward and deepening character are the two obvious ones, but I also like to provoke base emotions as well. Laughter. Tears. Fear. And, in the case of sex, if it isn't turning the reader on at least a little bit, it isn't a well-done scene.

Ann: I absolutely agree. Readers read fiction for the vicarious emotional experience, especially popular fiction. That's the biggest part of our promise to the reader.

Joe: What is your view on legacy publishing? Would you take a Big 6 deal if offered? Or a Thomas & Mercer deal from Amazon?

Ann: If a legacy deal was good enough, I'd take it. But I'm not seeking one at this point.. I have to admit, I'm intrigued by Thomas & Mercer.

I became a novelist because I wanted to write fiction, not to become a publisher. I'm having a lot of fun doing the indie thing--the freedom, the control, the never going out of print again--so I would be hesitant to give that up, but the actual writing is what turns me on.

Joe: Same here. Now that the money is coming in, my goals have changed. I'm trying to limit the non-writing aspects of this business so I can write more. I don't want to run a company. So if I can afford to hire out and let others run the company, that means I can devote more time to my love, writing.

EXPOSED was a lot of fun to write. Crazy action, some laugh out loud humor, car chases, hot sex, insane violence, a big twist. It's like a female James Bond on amphetamines. It isn't necessary to read FLEE first, because this comes before FLEE.

And for those who don't have an ereader yet, I heard the Kindle is now just $79...