Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Deborah Coonts--The Hard Way

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I love the connection of two DEBS, both with a history in Dallas, both writing things that they were not "supposed" to write. (Not to mention that we come up next to each other in Google searches...:-)) But this DEB takes the cake in adventurousness. 

Here to tell you about it is the lovely DEBORAH COONTS

I’m not proud, I’ll admit it:  I have a problem with “shoulds.”

The moment someone said, “You really shouldn’t.”   I jumped in with an, “Oh, yes I think I will.”   

Consequently, I had to learn most important lessons in my life, the hard way. 

I’d like to think that maturity has tempered my rashness, but, in reality, probably not so much.
So, when I was a beginning novelist, and the people who ought know, those I refer to as the collective they, told me I really should only write what I know, I bet you can guess my reaction?
Why would I do that? I asked.  What I already know is boring. I want to write about something I don’t know.  I want to write about something I can imagine.

So I did.

And I had a great time.  I wrote a light, romantic mystery series set in Las Vegas—the first in the series was WANNA GET LUCKY?  At the time I wrote it, I knew very little about the hotel/casino business in Vegas.  The research was a blast—and no I won’t tell.   If I violated that whole ‘what happens in Vegas’ thing, I’d lose my Vegas card, for sure.

So, off I went…three books in the series.  Four.  Five.  Now seven, plus five novellas.  Seven!!
All that research!  And, guess what—now I’m writing what I know. 

That part of me that prods me to do stupid stuff is missing the guiding light of the unknown.  Don’t get me wrong—I love writing the Lucky stories.  And each story does teach me something new.  I will continue reporting her adventures until she stops talking to me and tells me to leave her alone.  Curiously, and I really didn’t make this connection until just now, but the latest Lucky book, the seventh, is titled…wait for it…

LUCKY THE HARD WAY.  I kid you not. 

And I didn’t plan it that way at all.

Clearly my subconscious knew what my conscious didn’t—that I need that thing I don’t know, that story that scares me, that is way outside my comfort zone.  Like Lucky was when I first started.  So, in LUCKY THE HARD WAY, I took Lucky and the gang out of Vegas and dropped them in Macau, China.

At the time, I knew nothing about Macau.  Research trip!  Fascinating place!

But, now what?

So, I started talking to fellow writers about what to do next, about how to find that divine spark of the unknown.   I bet you know what happened.

They said, “Well, to be successful, you should pick one genre and write just that.”

Oh, no, no, no, no, no.  Not that.  Not going to do that.  Not me!

Of course, their rationale was very sound, grounded in basic business principles…but, well… 

Now I bet I’m a lot like you—I read practically everything.  Across many, many genres, through different age groups.  Give me a good story and I’m in.  I don’t care if it’s this century or another, magical realism, fantasy, or real life.

So, if I read across the board, why can’t I write across the board?  They told me that of course, I could, it would just be a very hard way to build a career. 

How did the line from A League of Their Own go?  It’s the hard that makes it good?  Justifying, I know, but it’s my best thing. And, if I’m anything, it’s consistent. 

So, I wrote a contemporary romance, CRUSHED, it’s out now.  In researching it, I learned a ton about wine, and got to stay in Napa for a month.  Heaven. Next up, the sequel, BROKEN.  Artisanal cheese, Sonoma county…and horses, there have to be horses.

And then I wrote a romantic suspense, DEEP WATER, coming out in February or March, featuring  a female helicopter pilot and a Coast Guard Commander.  I already fly, but I don’t have too much time in helicopters.  And I’ve never flown over the Gulf Of Mexico and landed on an offshore oil rig.  Have now.  So incredible.

And then there’s the thriller, AFTER ME, which is up for preorder now and launches on the 27th.  I attended a stem cell conference, talked to tons of doctors treating the tangle diseases, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS.  And I explored the nooks and crannies of Portland, OR, a city I had never been to.  And then there was the whole motorcycle angle…

Exploring the unknown!  I loved it!

I have found my stride as a writer.  I’m all over the board, learning so much new stuff, that I’m constantly energized and engaged.  Both very good things when trying to write stories that are both.
But, as I venture into this sort of schizophrenic approach to my writing career, I’m a bit worried—readers expect one thing from me, the Lucky stories.  My other stories…aren’t Lucky.  They are different in tone and voice, but they still are my stories, written in my style.

As readers, will you follow an author you like when she writes out of her normal genre?  Or do you want an author to stick with what she knows?

DEBS: I'd like to do half the research Deb has done, and I'm fascinated by her subjects and her settings. (Wine? Sonoma? Horses? And helicopters???? I love it!) But AFTER ME touches on a subject that's very personal for me--I lost both my parents to forms of dementia.  Deb, I want to know how you imagined what life seems like for your heroine, Kate.

READERS, are you willing to jump genres for an author you love? I certainly am.

More about Deborah Coonts!
My mother tells me I was born a very long time ago, but I’m not so sure—my mother can’t be trusted.  These things I do know:  I was raised in Texas on barbeque, Mexican food and beer.  I am the author of WANNA GET LUCKY? (A NY Times Notable Crime Novel and double RITA™ Finalist), its six sequels, LUCKY THE HARD WAY, the latest and just out, and four between-the-books novellas.  Currently I’m stretching my writer muscles working on a women’s fiction/contemporary romance series set in Napa—the first novel, CRUSHED, is out now.  Next up is AFTER ME, a thriller incorporating cutting-edge science and a protagonist who literally can’t remember why everyone wants her dead.  In the pipeline is a romantic suspense series featuring a female helicopter pilot, as well as the next Lucky adventure—all very different projects. So, if you see me with a glass of Champagne in hand, you’ll understand.  I can usually be found at the bar, but also at

 And here's more about AFTER ME:

Kate Sawyer, a former NYPD undercover cop, injured badly in a takedown gone terribly wrong, is living in Portland, Oregon safe in the Witness Protection Program, while she undergoes experimental stem-cell treatment for a genetic case of early-onset Alzheimer’s.  Everyone thinks Kate can provide vital evidence that will lead to the recovery of twenty million dollars of diamonds that disappeared during the takedown.
If she could only remember.  
One night, Kate returns to her condo to find a dead man in her bathtub with a note stuck in his pocket.
I know what you’ve done.
Her cover blown, Kate runs, knowing the clock is ticking.  Chased by shadowy figures she can’t remember, Kate must solve the mystery before it’s too late.  People close to her are being killed.  Shadowy memories tease her.  Some she recognizes as her own.  Others don’t seem familiar at all.
Running from people she can’t remember, dogged by a past lost in the haze, Kate discovers no one is who they appear to be, perhaps not even herself.



  1. Congratulations on all your series . . . I can see I have some serious reading to catch up on.
    Having an author tell interesting stories in so many different genres is not something I’ve ever really given much thought. But, yes, I’d follow a writer whose work I enjoyed if she wrote in a different genre. As long as it’s a good story, I’m there . . . .

  2. Goodness, so much energy! Of course I will switch genres for authors I love (thinking about Catriona McPherson as an example). And good for you, Deborah, for listening to your own voice instead of the "shoulds." I'll be looking for After Me.

    I also write several series, and do research in areas I never expected to learn about. But I must say the mind spins sometimes keeping track of it all. Do you have a good method - Scrivener notes, actual note cards, notebooks, an assistant, or a photographic memory? Please share!

  3. Fascinating story Deborah, and I can't wait to hear the answer--because I'm branching out too! I have favorite authors who write series that I love and I've followed them wherever they go.

    I'm thinking the "should" is mostly a marketing question-- there are some readers who like to stick to a certain kind of book, so it's important to make sure they know what they're buying or borrowing.

    Edith, have you found that your fans will follow you across all the series?

  4. I follow authors because I like their writing--not because of genre. So, if I like your mysteries, I'm definitely going to check out anything else you write--other fiction, nonfiction.... And who was it who said, 'Every story is a bit of a mystery"?

    P.S. If you can bottle some of that energy, Deborah, you could be richer than Trump. Deborah for president 2020!!

  5. Roberta, readers following me from one cozy series to the next is easy, even though I use different names. But I think a lot of those also picked up the historical - which is really pretty cozy at base, too, so it's not too much of a stretch.

  6. How have I missed any new Deb Coonts books? This is a serious problem that must be remedied quickly. And Lucky and crew are off to Macau? How fun.

    Like Joan, if I like an author's books I don't care what she's writing, I'll at least sample it to see if I like the new genre as much as the others I've enjoyed. Charlaine Harris has several different series, but the one she's best known for, the Sookie Stackhouse paranormals, is the only one I've not read. However, I wish she had continued writing the Harper Connelly books, also paranormal, but very different.

    John Grisham doesn't seem to have had any problems switching genres, all under the same name.

    Publishers often don't give readers enough credit. There are many other ways to tell what genre one is reading than the author's name.

  7. Deborah: I have enjoyed several of the earlier Lucky books, but it looks like I have to catch up with the novellas and latest ones. Lucky is such a fun person to read and follow. And I never would have known that you started the series without knowing much about casinos and Vegas life!!

    I follow many mystery authors across different mystery series and sub-genres. I did not know about your thriller and romantic suspense books. Will check them out!!

  8. Deb--you new book is terrific--it has movie written all over it!

    Tell us more about how you imagined your heroine thinking--was it a lot to juggle? What she knew and what she didn't?

    And congratulations!

  9. I read all over the place, but I admire someone who can WRITE all over the place. Congratulations, Deb! And traveling "for research" is a great excuse. Where else are you planning to go? For your art, of course.

  10. As a reader, I'll at least sample a story from a beloved author because I trust that author to give me a good story.

    And I also believe the "should" is usually about marketing and that publishers need to trust readers a bit more.

    Just who to "they" think they are anyway? Enjoyed the LUCKY books. Good luck (ha!) with the new ones!

  11. Welcome to JRW, Deborah Coonts!

    Like you, I have a problem with "shoulds". I could write chapter and verse about this topic. LOL

    Your novels sound so interesting! I put them on my TBR list.

    To answer your question, I agree with the other commenters about reading stories by a favorite author. It depends on what "outside" the normal genre is. For example, I am not a big fan of certain genres, though I would say that if one of my favorite authors was writing a novel in that genre, I keep an open mind. I am willing to give it a try! And I surprise myself in liking the book despite the genre because the author created a wonderful story.

    Joan said "As long as it is a good story, I am there".I agree with Edith about listening to your voice. Like Lucy, I have followed authors outside their genres. Like FChurch, I follow authors because I like their writing. I agree with Karen in Ohio when she said "if I like an author's books, I do not care what she is writing." Like Grace, I have followed authors across different mystery series and sub-genres.

    Great question, Hank! Agree with Hallie that authors who can write all over the place. I know that I will read anything by my favorite authors because they write so well! I can read these books again before their new books are published. Like Mary Sutton, I trust that author to give me a good story.

    Deborah, can I ask you what you meant by "sticking with what she knows"? I am asking for one or two examples. Thank you.

    - Diana

  12. Congrats, Deborah! Your research sounds fascinating!

    I read in a lot of different genres, and I'm trying to think of an author I've followed across genres and coming up blank. To be honest, I think I would be hesitant to read across genres only because there are some genres that really don't appeal. For instance, fantasy is not an area I gravitate to, and it would not be my first choice when there are so many other genres I do enjoy.

    In terms of shoulds, someone once told me, "Don't should on me, and I won't should on you." Seems like good advice.

  13. Wow! I love how adventuress you are, Deb. Helicopters, motorcycles, wine, and the biggest adventure of all - jumping genres. I am preparing to jump from traditional mysteries into romantic comedy so your post is incredibly timely for me. I do follow authors all over the place - whether it's Rowling writing as Galbraith or Peters writing as Michaels or Christie writing as Westmacott - if I love an author's voice, I follow. It's easier when they don't change their name, however, so thank you for that. Because you do seem adventure driven, I'm curious - what's comes first in the story for you - the daring adventure (plot) or the characters?

  14. Jenn, I've followed all those authors your mentioned across genres. Another one I thought of is Jim Butcher. I love his Harry Dresden books, and while I haven't managed to get into the sword and sorcery fantasy novels, I have read the first book in his new steampunk series and enjoyed it.

    Deb, I'm also curious about what Hallie asked. How do you keep all your research straight? And do you work on more than one book at a time?

  15. Hi all! I love all your comments and I have been trying to respond but all my comments are not posting. I will try again. Need more coffee....

  16. Mary Sutton~ Thank you! Yes, the publishers tend to like to sick to what is working--strictly a function of money, I should think. But, with greater risk, one has the potential for greater reward. At least that's what i keep telling myself:)

    Diana~ Sticking with what she knows. Well, when I first started writing I was practicing law. Everyone wanted me to write legal thrillers. I just couldn't--I was immersed in the legal world all day, I didn't want my fun time, my writing time, to be mired in the same muck. But, there are countless lawyers who have very successful careers writing what they know--the legal thriller. Then they wanted me to make my protagonist a single mom--yep , I was that, too. Couldn't do it--that was my own happy place I didn't want to share. Now, to be honest, I do put things I know into my stories--especially the flying. I'm a pilot and love to fly. And I look for opportunities to stick that in:)

    Ingrid: Don't should on me! LOVE IT! Now, if someone would just tell my mother.... I agree about an author wandering too far afield. I'm not a huge fan of fantasy or magical realism, but I have followed authors into those realms and actually loved the books--because they were terrific stories.

    Jenn~ A fellow genre-traveler! Take the leap, I think you'll find it energizing and fun. And, I know it made me grow as a writer--put new tools in the toolbox--which is fun. Plot or character? It really depends. With Lucky it was the character that came first. With the thriller, AFTER ME, the same held true. With CRUSHED as well. Can you tell I'm thinking as I writing this:) I hadn't really analyzed it before. With DEEP WATER, the helicopter pilot book, that one was plot first, characters came later. I guess each story sneaks u on you in its own way. Good luck with yours!!!

  17. Hallie~ Hmmm, Kenya? Paris? Tuscany? Oh I do love to travel. Do you?

    Hank~ Thank you! I LOVED writing AFTER ME! But it was the most difficult story ever. I found it a huge challenge to tell the story from the POV of a young woman suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's. A fine line and delicate balance. I consulted many professionals as well as caregivers and I tried to present that world fairly and accurately, but I had to take some creative license as my protagonist needed to be able to function to solve a mystery and save herself and those around her. The whole process taught me so much about storytelling.

    Grace~ I'm so glad you've enjoyed Lucky, thank you! Yes, when I started the series, I'd just moved to Vegas, so Lucky helped me learn about my new home. Great fun and some wild escapades!

  18. Karen~ Thank you for following Lucky! I appreciate it very much! Yes, Lucky in Macau was terrific fun--a whole new place, new rules for her to navigate. Very exotic. Publishers aren't very brave--they tend to want what has been successful--a matter of money, I should think. But with risk come the greater chance for reward. at least that's what I keep telling myself.

    FChurch~ yes, each story is a bit of a mystery, that's what makes them so fun. Even when I sit down to put words on paper I'm never exactly sure what path the story will take.

    Lucy/Roberta~Yay for branching out! It's fun and scary at the same time isn't it?

    Edith! Congrats on write wide:) As to your question, I used to keep it all in my head--then my head exploded. Now I use a Moleskin to jot notes, plot and write character descriptions and bios. However, I'm thinking I need to transition to Scrivener, but I've heard the learning curve is high. Do you have any experience with Scrivener. If so, any thoughts? If not, how do you keep all your worlds straight?

  19. Nothing like "no, you can't do that" for motivation and inspiration!
    Well done, you!
    The newest story sounds quite trilling.

  20. Joan~ I'm with you, a good story and I'm in. If I may ask, how do you find stories to read?

  21. Libby~ Exactly! Just tell me no.....go on, I dare you:) Yes, a bit immature on my part but it has led to some interesting adventures:) No jail time, thank Heavens.

  22. Deb, I use Scrivener and I highly recommend it. Also David Hewson's book, Writing a Novel in Scrivener

    The book is available now in Kindle Unlimited. It may be a bit dated but will give you the basics. And I'll be glad to offer advice, too.

  23. Deb~ Bought the book and will dive in. I've been resisting--no time to learn a new program. But I can't avoid it any longer. thanks for the suggestion! and thanks for you offer of may regret that:) As we've discovered this morning, I'm a technologically challenged....

  24. Deb, Scrivener is much more complicated than most writers need, which is why David's book is so terrific. And if you're a Mac user it may work even better for you, as it was originally designed for Mac. (I wouldn't know, PC girl that I am.)

  25. Deb, hopefully I can cut through to the chase:) And I'm a Mac gal--once you go Mac you never go back:)

  26. Deb Coonts - I'm another Mac and Scrivener user. After so many years I just can't even imagine writing in anything else. Yes, there's a lot there you don't need, but I find it really offers opportunities for me to organize and structure in a way I'd never thought of. Of course, I've been using it long enough to get the "basics" down.

    I also recommend Gwen Hernandez's book Scrivener for Dummies. And I'm happy to help if you need it!

  27. Mary~ Thank you so much for the suggestion! I will check it out. And, I'm determined to dive in, though I can't promise there won't be a bit of whining involved:)

  28. Deb, I do use Scrivener and LOVE it. Couldn't write without it any more. But I know I don't use half the functionality I could, and that's fine. The best thing for a series writer, other than having everything on one screen - character bible, research folder, synopsis cards, the actual text - is being able to finish a project (a book, that is), save the project as the next book, delete all the chapters, and bingo - you are still all set up with your series characters and research. Fabulous!

  29. Edith~ thank you! You've convinced me! I'll give it a go and I'm sure I'll love it.

  30. Deb, you asked how I find my books. In addition to following my favorite authors, sometimes it’s just happenstance when I run across a book, but most of the time I’ll either check out what’s on the shelves in the library, visit Goodreads, LibraryThing, and publisher websites, or read author newsletters and blogs . . . especially here at Jungle Red Writers.

  31. I'm alway so interested how other readers find books to read. Thank you for telling me how you do. Much the same as I do.

  32. I truly believe that readers fall in love with a writer's voice—and will follow them ANYWHERE. Having read the LUCKY series, CRUSHED, DEEP WATER and now AFTER ME, I don't think your readers will be disappointed. Just keep writing!

  33. Oh dear, Deb Coonts, you books sound wonderful, but your note on Deep Water punched my feminist button: a "FEMALE helicopter pilot" but just a "Coast Guard Commander". Male or female? The question popped into my head immediately.
    I apologize for being snarky on our first meeting. Trusting my future reading will find this a momentary lapse on both our parts. May you continue to write what scares you.

  34. Ah, dear Josie! Your readers certainly follow you! You are an inspiration...and a fabulous writer!

  35. Elisabeth! You are absolutely right. That sort of thing punches mine, too. Mea culpa. Normally most of us don't associate women with being helicopter pilots nor Coast Guard Commanders and, I, of all people, should not fall into that trap. A female helicopter pilot and a male Coast Guard Commander. As a lawyer, I used to brace the other attorneys(male) when they would crow about having a women lawyers group, so I should have been more aware of the stereotypes I was perpetuating. Thank you for calling my attention to my transgression!

  36. Deb, a retired lawyer here...oh, I know that male lawyer braying about women layers. Also an ex-Coastie wife since 1973, just about the time that women were coming into the service. Thanks for your good words.

  37. Thelma, where have you been. I feel like I've met my never had sister! Off to Amazon.

  38. Kait~ LOL! I do love the way you express yourself, Louise:)

    Elisabeth~ Thanks for your kind words and understanding. We've traveled a similar path!

  39. Deborah,

    After reading your JRW interview, I discovered your books at my library! Since I am allergic to cigarette smoke, I can visit Las Vegas through your novels :-)


  40. Hi Diana! Yay! that's wonderful! Thank you for giving me a read! Ah, cigarette smoke--I'm allergic as well, so I feel your pain. I can't sit in the casinos at all--barely walk through and my eyes puff up.