Whoa, There’s a Man On My Cover!

By Alexandra Sokoloff

I have a new book out this week, The Shifters, which makes my third this year, if you count my non-fiction Screenwriting Tricks workbook, which has been selling really well on Amazon – maybe everyone should be paying a whole lot more attention to Joe Konrath than they already are. 

So I guess the year wasn’t the complete and total black hole it felt like as I was living through it.   Things got done, even if I can’t exactly remember how that was or even how it could have been, under the circumstances. 

I think maybe this book was a bit more of an out of body experience than usual because, yes, I went over to the dark side, that is, the not-as-dark-as-my-usual-dark-side side, of paranormal romance.   Which I am hoping the discerning reader will be able to discern from the cover, which indeed, has one of those alpha males on the cover.   Truth in advertising, people.


Despite challenges, like having to write a love plot that actually ends well, this has been a fun thing in every way.   I am constantly urging new writers to go to the conferences and workshops because Good Things Happen there – whether it’s getting the inspiration for the next book or getting a great agent or getting a great feature article in a great magazine or  – even – having friends ask you to write a book with them.

In this case the phenomenal, and I mean phenomenal, Heather Graham, author of I think around 175 books now, all with her distinctive blend of paranormal romance, thriller, and traditional mystery,  asked me if I’d be interested in writing a book for a trilogy that she’d be headlining for Harlequin Nocturne.   For the record, there is no possible answer to  a question like that but “When do I start?”

And I have developed an interesting dilemma.   I have a growing contingent of readers who want to read me but who are too scared to read my books.    (If there is such a thing as doing a job too well, I guess I’ve achieved it).    So this was a chance to write something that the people I meet at the romance cons, and at a lot of workshops that I teach, can actually read.   And then of course maybe, just maybe, they’d go a little further and read one of the others…

I’ve been very interested in Nocturne’s business model, which seems to be mostly about developing trilogies:  either three interconnected books by three different authors, or three interconnected books by the same author, that are generally released quickly, one per month for three months, to build maximum momentum for the series.   (All of us know how well that worked for Our Allison as a debut author.)

And our third author is Deborah LeBlanc, another horror writer (President of the Horror Writers of America, in fact) who also sidelines as a paranormal investigator.    So I knew even though a happy ending was required, I could also get pretty dark with these two. 

We decided immediately we wanted to write three sisters, and while we were at one of our favorite library events:  Jubilee Jambalaya, in Houma, LA, we were able to sit down and brainstorm out a story.  All great – except when we discovered that even though Nocturne had initially said, “Anything you guys want to write,” in reality that translated to “contemporary setting with vampires or werewolves.”   

So it was back to the drawing board at last year’s Bouchercon in Indianapolis, where the three of us sat down in a quiet alcove in the lobby and in a shockingly short time came up with the idea of The Keepers, three sisters with an ancestral duty of keeping the peace between the communities of paranormal beings which hide in plain sight in our mutual favorite city of New Orleans.    This way each sister could have charge of a different set of beings: Heather could write the vampires, as she has done so well before; Deb would write the werewolves, which she’d always wanted to do; and I, the least comfortable with creatures, was assigned the shapeshifters, with whom I have long acquaintance.   Men, mostly….

We decided that each book would focus on a murder within one of the communities, and the Keeper sister of that community would have to team up with a male vampire, werewolf, or shapeshifter from that community to solve the crime before the human population of New Orleans got wind of the murders… and discovered the existence of the paranormal communities.   And that teaming up of course provided the love plot and also the relationship conflict – Keepers aren’t technically supposed to be involved with their charges.

Now, for those of you reeling at the idea of collaborating on interconnected books – remember, I worked in Hollywood and in improvisational theater, so collaboration is something I actually miss.   And this situation was the perfect blend of independence and teamwork – we were each off writing our own books, but the rules of each paranormal community were developed by the author writing the corresponding vampire book, the shifter book, and the werewolf book.    So we could take each other’s rules and characters and weave them into our own books.   And the three of us have spent significant time with each other in New Orleans, and we were absolutely committed to portraying that city in all her outrageous glory.   It really did work shockingly well, and whatever we missed, our terrific editor Leslie Wainger was there to bring things into focus and continuity.

The process was not without its quirks.   I was writing the second book and mine was due just two weeks after Heather’s – which posed a problem for me because Heather writes at the speed of light and I just – don’t.   So I couldn’t bear to wait to read what she was going to write… instead I ended up joining her on the Florida Romance Writers Muse Cruise, from Miami to Mexico,  and when the group left the ship to take a side trip to the Mayan ruins of Tulum, I trapped Heather in the back of the bus and we bashed out a lot of both our stories.   It was probably the most surreal writing experience I’ve had to date, but we got what we needed out of it.   (Writers have the most amazing lives – I know we’d enjoy them completely if it weren’t for that constant adrenaline rush of panic.)

And Harlequin has been wonderfully supportive of the series, including creating this great website for us:  ReadTheKeepers.com   (You can read first chapters of all three books in The Keepers trilogy there).

I wanted to talk about this experience partly for all our aspiring author ‘Rati, because I know as a new author I had this idea in my head that I would be writing a book a year, on my own, in the same genre.   I didn’t have any idea that opportunities like this would exist, or that I could create my own unique projects, like another collaboration I did this year which I’ll be able to talk more about shortly.    But publishing really is a whole huge world, and you never know what great experience is just around the corner.  Or even on a Mexican bus trip.

So, authors, I’d love to hear about quirky writing opportunities that have come up for you.  And readers – how do you feel about following authors you like into a different genre?


26 thoughts on “Whoa, There’s a Man On My Cover!

  1. J.D. Rhoades

    As for the question: One of my favorite writers, Dan Simmons, can seemingly write in any genre: huge epic SF in the HYPERION CANTOS , horror (sorry, paranormal) in THE TERROR, and hard boiled PI fiction in the Joe Kurtz books. I've often said if I could have anyone's career, I'd have his. I've mentioned Victor Gischler here before. He's made the leap from noir to sf and fantasy with great success.

    OTOH, I found that John D. McDonald's attempt at SF, BALLROOM IN THE SKY, didn't work at all for me.

  2. PK the Bookeemonster

    As a reader following an author to different authors, I'd give it a solid yes and no. It depends. In general, I'd say the genre doesn't matter, readers read and if they like an author they read the author. Even though Nora Roberts uses a different name for her Eve Dallas series, I read both (though I found the JD Robb books with the first book before it was known who the pseudonym was for — and pseudonyms don't matter and is a a silly practice). I think very highly of CJ Sansom as one of the best historical mystery authors but I wasn't interested in his stand alone but not because it wasn't in the genre I prefer but because the storyline didn't appeal to me. Or another example, I've loved Dennis Lehane's series and stand alones but wasn't drawn to his historical one (and I've stated before how I love historicals) because that storyline also didn't appeal to me, not that it wasn't in the style that I knew from him. And I think it's perfectly fine that authors venture into other projects. Sometimes I'll tune in, sometimes I won't, as long as the writers I enjoy continue to write and be published. 🙂

  3. Barbie

    Alex, I *try* to follow authors I love into different genres, but it doesn't always work. It really, truly depends on the a) genre and b) author's voice. For example, I don't do paranormal, at all. I've tried. I've tried reading paranormal books from authors I LOVE in other genres, but it didn't work for me. It just doesn't appeal to me, doesn't matter how good is the author and their voice. From Romantic Suspense to Thriller, I'll follow. I love my happy endings, but I can deal with some hard reality if I have to. I have some Thriller authors I adore. From Historicals to Contemporary, it's usually easy enough to follow, but from Contemporary to Historicals sometimes it doesn't work. I don't know, but I guess the Historical part seems a bit phony sometimes. Depending on the author's voice, Romance to YA, and vice-versa is easy enough!

    I'm quite a picky reader, as you can see. And, sometimes, I feel SO bad when I really want to like a book by a favorite author in another genre and I don't!!! :/ I feel guilty and that I'm not a loyal fan anymore. I swear I try my best, though! 🙂

  4. pari noskin taichert

    Like the others, I'll try to read an author I love in any genre she or he writes. But sometimes it just doesn't work b/c I find that I don't like the genre.

    Quirky writing opportunities? None really yet. Except that one of my gigs as a freelance features writer came about, in part, because of my fiction.

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    PK and Barbie, I'm the same way. Sometimes even with an author I adore, a story line or a story world just isn't pulling me in. But sometimes I can also go back a year or five later and really love that book that wasn't doing it for me before.

    And different genres have very different promises to the reader. I wouldn't expect every reader to cross genre lines.

  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Pari, maybe quirky is the wrong word, but that freelance features gig coming from your novels is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about – the paid writing opportunities that are part of the author life that people don't necessarily know about going in.

  7. PK the Bookeemonster

    And Alexandra, it was nice to meet you too at Bcon. I still chortle though at the first thing you said to me: "You're so young!". Actually, having met your beautiful self, I think I'm older than you. 🙂 (and getting older next week).

  8. Debbie

    Alex, thanks for the amazing blog. Great news about Shifters, and another without 'the' in the title! Somehow I thought that it came out last week, so let me say again, congrats. You've been busy.
    This might sound childish, but it was JK Rowling that got me into fiction again, after a solid decade in nf. Takes me a few chapters to get into a book and with owls flying during the day (I thought the author to be uneducated(, cats reading (too much of a stretch for my imagination), and the term muggle (I'm too out of touch with teen lingo to understand the book), I figured that maybe I was no longer a fiction candidate. Gave it too more chapters and was hooked. HOpelessly, to the point that I rode a public transit system dressed like a witch in Canada's largest city (no, people don't regularly do stuff like that here), and attended the book release party for Deathly Hallows which was a load of fun!
    I'll now read any genre, any author, I love to be immersed in a world and perhaps HP being my indoctrination back into fiction, nothing well written (and sometimes not-vampires!( will draw me in.
    Cross genres,? Sure, why not? Jest give me the backdrop, make it believable, add depth or fun, and I'm there. As a writer, I'd hate to be tied to a genre and I've got material both completed and in mind in a variety of genres.
    I love what you said about the potential out there. I currently know a writer who has several incomplete MS's. I think they are high concept with publishing potential. I'd love to work as a team with her to complete them. I wonder what she'd think! (of course that assumes either one of us has any talent!)

  9. Kaye Barley

    "how do you feel about following authors you like into a different genre?"

    II have a hard time even figuring out exactly what genre means any more, so I'm just dumb and happy reading all over the map. And can't wait to read this trilogy! Sounds just like my cup of tea, actually!

  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Debbie, I've learned that there's no such thing as "a" release date.

    Interesting idea to team up with your friend – collaboration isn't for the faint of heart, but has lots of rewards.

  11. Becky LeJeune

    I think for the most part I'm willing to follow authors into other genres. In fact, I can't think of any that I have yet to do so with. Once an author hooks me, I'm generally open to anything they release. It's a side-effect of being a book junkie, it's something of an equal opportunity genre affliction 🙂

    Alexandra, I literally just bought the trilogy — after a fast from book buying, I binged and found your's in the bookstore yesterday, ordered Heather's, and pre-ordered Deborah's. (BTW, I used to work at the bookstore where Deborah's writing group met. I never worked one of their meetings, but we had a grand party for her first release with lines out the door for the signing.)

  12. KDJames

    Late to comment, as usual, but I had to work at the day job today. I'm one of the people who really hesitate to read your "scary" books, Alex, although I loved The Unseen (had to go look at your website to remember the name, I'm SO bad with names) even though it scared the crap out of me. And I'm really looking forward to reading Book of Shadows (which I will always think of as the blue elephant book)(sorry) once I'm done with this damn final draft and can read something serious again. I consider it a compliment to your talent that I refuse to read the first two. Yes, I'm a total wimp.

    But I absolutely CAN NOT WAIT to read this Shifters book. HA! Alex wrote a romance! That makes me smile and when I got the email about it last week I immediately went over to Amazon and bought it. Once my budget recovers a bit, I'll get the other two.

    I read across several genres, so yeah, I'll happily try anything by a favourite writer. As others have said, sometimes it works, sometimes not so much. But a different genre sure won't stop me. Unless, you know, it's something that's going to make me lose sleep. Or want to hire chainsaw wielding bodyguards [I'm looking at you and your gory Draculas book, Konrath]. 😉

    No unusual writing opportunities to report, but I love your positive optimistic attitude about being open to possibilities — with regard to writing and everything else in life.

    Hmmm. I bet you managed to make it a scary romance, didn't you? Of course you did. Going to love it anyway, I can tell.

  13. Reine

    I like most genres, but the author is more important. What I don't like is when an author suddenly writes like a different author altogether. I like to recognize something, not sure what precisely, but if it doesn't feel at all like the author I know and love… mm… I am usually disappointed. This is probably terribly unfair of me, because a writer could turn some magically brilliant corner and I would be unhappy! Then there is the issue of "assistant" writers – horrible – hate that.

    I have a writing opportunity now that came about as a result of a couple of TV interviews I did about ten years ago– figure that out! And here I am still trying to NaNo.

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