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NORTH OF NOWHERE
The Story Behind the Story, Discussion Guide, and More!
My first stand alone thriller released this week and I’m super-excited and super-nervous.
I’m excited because I love this book. It was a book of my heart in so many ways — it took me years to write, I cared about these characters, and I wanted to tell a story of family, forgiveness, and redemption — and how no one is truly all good or all bad. I’m also excited because it’s my first stand alone. While I’ve written loosely connected trilogies and many “stand alone” short stories, this is my first full-length thriller where I have no plans to revisit the characters.
But I’m also nervous because North of Nowhere is my first stand alone. It wasn’t easy to write — I completely rewrote it, beginning to end, then majorly revised it to make sure it was the story I wanted to tell. And I worry that my readers don’t want a stand alone, only a series. Or that I failed in some way and will disappoint my readers, which is the last thing I want to do. And of course, the general worries about sales in this current book-selling climate.
Ultimately, though, I’m proud of this book and hope you love it.
The Story Behind the Story
In 2016, I wrote the first solid draft of North of Nowhere. I wanted to write a story about a father estranged from his kids, who he sent to live with this grandparents after the death of his wife. He was distraught, a workaholic, and unable to cope with two young children and his grief. His parents lived in a quiet community in the Adirondacks and he felt they were better suited to raise his children. Five years later, his father died and his mother, in early stages of Alzheimer’s, could no longer take care of the kids. I wanted to show his redemption, how he regretted his decisions, how the decisions he made affected his children, all against the backdrop of a thriller where bad guys were after his kids for witnessing a crime.
The idea was good — the execution was not. I sent the book to my agent and while he liked the concept, he felt my characters were flat and didn’t stand out, that the bad guys were two-dimensional, and the action started too late. Too much set-up, too much description, too much … blah. That wasn’t his word, but I understood his meaning.
He was right.
I shelved the book. At the time, I was contracted for several books in two other series, and I was writing this thriller “on my own time” so-to-speak. Meaning, the book wasn’t contracted so I could only write it during my limited down time between books I was being paid for.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, especially the characters. I knew there was a story here … I just hadn’t found it yet.
Then in the summer of 2020, a year after our family moved from California to Arizona, I had a lightbulb moment. That’s the only way I can explain it. I could SEE the story and looked forward to every break in my writing schedule so I could write it. Exactly five years after my agent said, “It’s not working,” I finished the rewrite. It was completely different … but surprisingly the same. When he read it, he said, “This works.”
What did I fix?
The primary complaint in the first version was that the action started too late — the plane crash was after page 100. So I wrote with the idea of STARTING with the plane crash — or as close to it as I could reasonably get while still introducing my characters in an organic and interesting way. Now, the plane is hit by gunfire on page 19. Before then we meet most of the main characters: Tony, Kristen, Ryan, and Boyd.
The second problem was character, specifically the bad guys. I needed a more personal reason for someone to be chasing the kids. What if … what if … what if it was their father? What if their own dad was the bad guy trying to find them? That opened up a whole new world for me. I needed to know why. Who was he? Why were his kids running from him? Where was their mother? What was the worst thing that could happen if their father actually found them and brought them home? Was there someone more dangerous to them than their father?
I also needed to better understand the motivation and conflict of the other characters — the why’s. Kristen, the 16 year old who hates her father; Tony, who used to work for Boyd yet kidnapped his kids; Ruby, Boyd’s sister, who escaped the family and lives alone; Nick Lorenzo, the ranch owner and Tony’s boss; Detective Lance Jackson, the cop who has been pursuing Tony for five years for murder. Even the secondary characters needed believable motivation.
And, finally, location. While I could write about the Adirondacks (I’m very good at research), I am a girl of the west, when I moved the story to Big Sky, Montana everything fell comfortably into place. I tapped into my husband’s brain since he’d gone to college in Montana and could help with details (I’ve never been there in the snow!) I also relied on my friend Barbara Heinlein who writes as BJ Daniels and my brother-in-law Kevin who both helped with local flavor.
Everything steamrolled from there as I wrote. I had so much fun writing this book — literally, the only thing that stayed almost completely the same was the plane crash itself. Everything else changed … except for Kristen and Ryan, the kids on the run. They were the same … but different, too. Because new story, new motivations, new conflicts.
Advice to Writers
If you love a story but it just doesn’t work … put it aside for awhile, work on something new. Come back to it, figure out why it doesn’t work. Ask yourself, what story do you really want to tell? Is the pacing off? Are the characters flat? Are the bad guys two-dimensional? Do not be afraid to slash and burn. Cut, rewrite, flesh out, trim back. Whatever you need to do to make the story shine. Writing IS rewriting. There is no shame in editing — even if editing means a complete and total re-write.
North of Nowhere brings up a lot of thoughts and feelings about family, forgiveness, redemption, mistakes. I put together a list of discussion questions for book clubs, so if you have a book club and decide to read my book, this is a good place to start!
Praise for North of Nowhere
Asking authors to read and offer a quote for a book is one of the hardest things writers have to do. I try to avoid it whenever possible. There’s a lot of reasons for this, but the primary reason is I know how hard it is to say no … and I don’t want anyone reading my book because they think they have to.
I’m busy (five kids, one grandkid, husband, animals, and writing …) and I don’t have time to read a lot of books. While I read every day (usually in the morning I listen to an audiobook while walking), I don’t have a lot of time outside of that and I really don’t like reading anything on my computer or iPad. (I spend 6-10 hours at my desk every day writing.) So I assume that other authors have similar constraints, and I don’t want to impose on them.
I am asked to read and blurb a lot of books. My usual answer is “I’ll try to get to it” but most often I don’t have time and don’t get to it. I try and prioritize debut novels because first books are so important for a multitude of reasons. I feel guilty if I can’t read, and then I feel bad because authors have helped me in my career. Yet I have to read the book — I can’t just write a blurb saying something is great if I haven’t read it.
My advice to writers? Ask authors who write in your genre for a blurb but don’t take it personally if they say no. It’s not personal. They will never hold it against you if you ask. They won’t even hold it against you if you nudge them after you sent the book if they said, “I’ll try, send it.” But everyone has a life and reading sometimes falls to the bottom of the list. So please don’t hold it against them if they don’t get back to you or say they didn’t have time.
I am forever grateful for all the authors who have blurbed my books over the years — believe me, it pained me to ask (I hate asking for favors) and sometimes I was lucky and my editor or agent had a relationship with the author and asked for me. Mariah Stewart gave me a blurb for my first book and I am forever grateful.
I asked three authors I admire if they would read my first stand alone, and I was thrilled when they offered their names and endorsements. A special shout out to these three amazing storytellers: Kelley Armstrong (The Poisoner’s Ring, Haven’s Rock series); Heather Gudenkauf (Everyone Is Watching, The Overnight Guest); and Hank Phillippi Ryan (The House Guest, the Jane Ryland series). Once you’re done with North of Nowhere, pick up any book from these authors and you won’t be disappointed!
A special thank you to my readers. Without you, I wouldn’t be able to do what I love: write.
Let me know if you’ve read North of Nowhere or plan to! Or if you have a question for me, ask away. If you want to take one of the graphics from this page and share on social media, please do! Word of mouth matters. In fact, readers telling readers about the books they love is the best advertising for any author.
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