Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Long and Winding Road to UNSAFE HAVEN @LucyBurdette

RHYS BOWEN: Since it's my week to host I am honored to have the chance to introduce Lucy's new venture. It's breathtaking--absolutely true. It takes your breath away as you read it.

It's a tense, taught thriller, so different from the cozy lives of the characters in the Key West books that you might wonder how one writer can create such diverse books. 

Needless to say we are all very proud of her and hope she sells a gazillion copies!

 LUCY BURDETTE: Thank you so much Rhys! All of you Reds have been amazingly supportive and for that I am very, very grateful.

Today’s the day that my one and only thriller, UNSAFE HAVEN, is available to the world in hardcover, audio, and ebook versions. Hooray! I’m so pleased because my gosh it’s been a long haul figuring out how to make this book work. What was the nugget of the story? Who were the important characters? How do I get the right pacing? Today I’ll share a little bit of the (lengthy, interminable, agonizing) process…


As early as 2008, I was thinking about the question of why public figures take enormous personal, career-threatening risks:

The type of people we tend to elect to public office also are the type to take risks — big risks, says Frank Farley, professor of educational psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia. "They believe they control their fate," he says. "It's the thrill of it." If Spitzer had simply wanted to have an affair, "he could have done it in a less risky way."

Hmmm, somehow I had to work that into the story. I found notes from my earliest (very rough and sometimes ridiculous) brainstorming in 2009:

A woman finds a baby in the subway and no one claims the child. The police aren’t taking the case as seriously as they should.

(Homeless women are kidnapped or offered shelter while they carry a baby for wealthy couples who can’t conceive-a doctor is involved who is implanting pre-fertilized eggs (only in young homeless women who have no STDs), so no DNA from the women will ever be discovered.)

One of the homeless women escaped and left her baby in the subway where the protagonist found her. She goes undercover and interviews homeless women, gang members and others to find out the truth of how the baby came to be abandoned.

But the wealthy wanna-be parents aren’t about to let her uncover their secrets without trying to murder her to hide the truth, and they have some corrupt cops on their side.

Since these girls are runaways, no one reports them missing, and once they’ve delivered the child, they can easily be murdered with a drug overdose and no one questions one more homeless OD.

No, no, no! This was a mess of unruly ideas! No one in her right mind would read this...At that point, I took a few classes. Here were some questions from Bob Mayer’s class in 2010, focused on essential blurbs:

ME: What if a teenage runaway gives birth to her baby alone in a New York subway station. She presses the infant into the arms of a newly jilted bride who soon learns that the child could be the offspring of a well-known public figure and that the girl’s life—and her own—are now in danger. 

BOB: Big problem is your plot runs on coincidence. Jilted bride just happens to be there? It can work, but has to be well done. In danger how? The Pelican Brief Syndrome is when the bad guy does something worse than the original bad thing to cover it up. It’s an incident. I’m not seeing the whole story. Why does the bride care? Why doesn’t she turn the kid over to child services? 

ME: Oh brother, how will I ever write this??

There was a significant lull while I was writing the first seven Key West mysteries. Then, when the series was dropped by Penguin, I turned back to the “homeless baby thriller,” as the poor thing was called for the longest time. Here’s part of an editorial letter with suggestions from my agent:

PAIGE: My last string of comments brings me to another issue that readers may have, which is the timing or pacing of the novel. Pacing was both your greatest strength and your greatest weakness in the story. While the opening chapters achieved an excellent momentum that kept readers frantically turning pages, the middle lagged. This is because too much of the plot has readers watching Elizabeth unravel mysteries that we already know the answers to.

And then some very smart feedback from my pal Susan Hubbard in 2017:

SUSAN: I would start with Addy on the subway. All we should know is that she’s running away from someone called Georgia, whom she fears, and running toward someone named Rafe, who is supposedly going to help her. The reader should be concerned that Addy might not know who’s really got her best interests at heart.

Now I had plenty of good suggestions, but Crooked Lane had bought the continuation of the Key West series, so I had a lot of writing to do. The next thing I knew, last February, my clever agent had sold the book to an editor at Severn House. Here's what the editor said:

I’ve now had a chance to read UNSAFE HAVEN, which I found a darkly compelling and original read, involving a sympathetic and engaging young heroine, a well-paced plot and an emotionally powerful denouement. 

 The upshot is that we would be delighted to make you an offer!

Phew! Except I’d made so many false starts I wasn’t confident I had the story just right. Luckily, the editor at Severn House was fantastic and helped me figure out ways to tie up loose ends and tighten plot and character. 

Now it's flown the nest where it fledged for YEARS and I hope you'll give it a try

Have you ever worked on a project that took forever? How did you stick with it? I have one hardcover copy to give away to one commenter...



Ways to order your copy of UNSAFE HAVEN:





Plus signed copies at Key West Island Bookstore and Books and Books

"In a major departure from her lighthearted Key West mysteries, Burdette invites readers into the world of a chilling thriller. (Unsafe Haven is) a page- turner highlighting the problem of exploited runaways."

Kirkus Reviews

“Lucy Burdette shows us that she can write dark as well as light. Brilliantly plotted with characters we come to care about."

Rhys Bowen, NYT bestselling author of the Venice Sketchbook and the Royal Spyness and Molly Murphy mysteries

"Lucy Burdette's Unsafe Haven is a gripping rollercoaster of suspense—you will root for her characters through every twist and turn of this beautifully plotted novel."

Deborah Crombie, NYT bestselling author of A Bitter Feast

"Devastating, heartbreaking and completely immersive. This riveting story of fear and redemption, motherhood and second chances, and our responsibility to strangers is a powerful thriller proving one split-second decision can change our lives forever. Unsafe Haven has Hollywood written all over it!" 

Hank Phillippi Ryan, USA Today bestselling author of Her Perfect Life

RHYS: so lets all give a mighty round of applause and do tell your friends and helpful librarians about Lucy's new book!


96 comments:

  1. LUCY: Congratulations on the release of your thriller, UNSAFE HAVEN!

    Kudos to you for plugging away on your original story idea, and getting valuable input from teachers, agents and friends.

    Yes, I had one particular drought project that took many winding steps from a germ of an idea to being funded and completed. Most people understood agricultural drought and water availability impacts (crop losses and water shortages). But I wanted to document how URBAN drought issues were becoming more prevalent under a changing climate, even in water-abundant regions such as the Great Lakes. I did get verbal support and encouragement from my fellow drought experts in NE and CO in 2001 but I really needed research funding. Finally, the stars aligned and my research proposal for "The Tap Runs Dry: urban drought under a changing climate" was funded by Natural Resources Canada from 2005-2008. I assembled a team of 6 researchers to work on the Tap Runs Dry project. Reports, multiple presentations at national and international conferences followed. I even got some media attention about the research, which was unusual.

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    1. Grace, congrats to you on sticking with a very important project! that's the kind of topic people don't much like to hear about, so we need champions like you.

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    2. Awww thanks, Roberta.

      At first, people looked at me strangely and said "How can Chicago and Toronto run out of drinking water? We have the Great Lakes!".

      The issue was that lower Great Lakes water levels, caused by prolonged drought, meant some communities along Lake Ontario and Lake Erie were in the 2000s. Their drinking water intake pipes into the lake were not deep enough, so when the water levels dropped, they had no water, or poor water quality. Under climate change scenarios, larger urban cities all over North America could also be dealing with drinking water supply issues, but these scenarios were not really well studied.

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    3. Grace, I greatly admire the work you did in your field. I hope that young college students everywhere are considering following in your footsteps. Repairing the environment is going to be one of the biggest challenges of this century.

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    4. Grace, as someone who grew up along Lake Erie's southern shore, I know exactly whereof you speak! Preach, sister!

      WeE are fortunate to have Marci Kaptur in our corner as our US Rep in Congress. She has been a tireless fighter for the Great Lakes.

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    5. JUDY and FLORA: Thanks.
      FLORA, I am glad you have champions fighting for Great Lakes issues in your state. We hit a low point with your former president who gutted the US EPA and the climate change research program. We were also just starting to make significant progress on cleaning up the Great Lakes AOC (Areas of Concern). Our contribution was to add scenarios of how permanently lowered Great Lakes water levels (under climate change) would affect water quality and dependent wildlife.

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    6. JUDY: The younger generation of environmental activists are certainly more organized and engaged than ever before. That's because they are the ones who will be living with the consequences of a changing climate. And I hope some of them will continue on with much needed research. But we still generally lack government leaders who have long-term visions (and policies) on how to shift their countries into a sustainable way of doing business. That includes preventing/repairing environmental damage that will affect both our quality of life, and maybe even our existence!

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    7. Grace, I would love to read some of this. Can you share a citation or a direction to find it. As you are likely aware, we are again in a fight for the watersheds around urban Toronto and most of Southern Ontario. I can use all the information and research I can find.

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    8. CDMOULTON: Since Natural Resources Canada funded the urban drought research, I can't send you the technical reports without their permission. Same was true with all my agricultural drought research that was funded by Agriculture Canada.

      Since this urban drought research was done over a decade ago, all Government of Canada climate change web sites no longer exists. But feel free to contact me via my personal email (grace dot koshida at gmail dot com), and I should be able to send you some of the shorter conference papers/proceedings that were published internationally.

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  2. Happy Book Birthday, Lucy!

    How fortunate for all of us readers that you never gave up on your story . . . “Unsafe Haven” is one of those books that pulls readers into the story from the very beginning. Tense and thrilling; complex, compassionate . . . it’s simply amazing. Congratulations!

    I can’t say that I’ve ever worked on a project that took a long time to come to fruition, but there’s been a time or two over the years when I came to realize that continuing to work on some more difficult thing was smarter than giving up and walking away.

    Readers will be thrilled with your wonderful book . . . .

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    1. thanks so much Joan for the kind words! I thought of another long-term project that definitely applies to you--raising kids:)

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    2. Lucy, I was thinking the same thing!

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    3. Definitely a long-term project . . . a truly rewarding and quite wonderful project!

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  3. Happy Book Birthday Roberta/Lucy!

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  4. Happy book birthday, Roberta. My signed copy is on the way. Yay!

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  5. Lucy / Roberta, congratulations on the release of UNSAFE HAVEN!

    I'm hoping to either pick up the book in person today or at least order it if the store doesn't have it in stock.

    As for working on a long project, there's my job. We have a foreign customer who ordered quadruple what they usually order. It took nearly a year to do it all and get it shipped out. I stuck with it because that's what I get paid to do but gawd what a punishing time that was.

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  6. Big Congrats Roberta, I love, love the book and will tell everyone. Thank you Foord sticking with the idea and then completing it. It’s a story worth waiting for.

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  7. What a process! I seem to always have some project going that takes longer than I'd hoped/expected. Unfortunately life gets in the way sometimes but it's very rewarding to finally see the finished product.

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    1. Oh yes, life definitely throws up obstacles, so it is rewarding to finally see the project!

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  8. Happy Book Birthday Lucy Roberta! I ordered this long ago, and it landed on my Kindle at midnight, so satisfying to wake up to a new read at the top of the pile! Sgt Pepper, Penny Lane, and I plan to curl up with UNSAFE HAVEN this afternoon.

    Long project? That would be my children, and it will never be finished.

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    1. Thanks Ann. Yes exactly, kids are a huge ongoing project (even if they start to think WE ARE THE PROJECT LOL.)

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  9. Congratulations!

    I recently looked into Safe Haven baby boxes at fire stations in Ohio. We're up to five in the state, plus the option of police and fire stations and emergency rooms.

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    1. Wow Margaret. I wonder if the current political climate might have something to do with that increase?

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    2. There is a Safe Haven law in Connecticut, but I wonder if the women who need to know about it can find out about it. There should be posters in every bus station and notices on every bus, train, etc.

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  10. Congrats on this big achievement. It truly takes a village to branch out into a new sub-genre. I'm so glad I was able to make a small contribution to this one :)

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    1. Dear Susan, for heaven's sake, you should have a byline on this one. Thank you!

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  11. Congratulations! I'm so thrilled (pun intended) for you! I can't wait to read Unsafe Haven!

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  12. What a long but productive journey Lucy.
    Congratulations on Unsafe Haven !

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  13. Congratulations on this long-gestated book, Lucy! Your persistence is a lesson to any of us with ideas that just don't seem to come together -- at first. I'm looking forward to reading Unsafe Haven. I've already roared my way through chapter 1.

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    1. Thanks Amanda, I'm hoping the next one isn't quite so challenging!

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    2. Imagining gentle Amanda “roaring “.

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    3. Ann: We clearly need to meet in person if you think of me as 'gentle' Amanda! I'm told I can roar pretty good for a small (short) person ;)

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  14. Lucy, this brought tears to my eyes--honestly! What a journey! How easy it would have been at any point to just push it out of sight--you had all those other book successes, right? But clearly this story wouldn't let you go--congratulations! The way I read thrillers is like this: opening few pages or chapter, then read the ending to make sure the characters I'm already fearful for make it to the end! Then go back and see how it all plays out....

    I have a story that began for a little boy who wanted a tale with a dragon in it. Then there was another little brother, then another, until there were nine little boys. And the story grew into four stories, intertwined. I'm still working on them--it's a gift I want to leave them--but I want the stories to be the best I can make them.

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    1. Nine boys! Not nine brothers!!

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    2. Thanks so much Flora! I love the way you read thrillers--totally manages your anxiety and I should try that. Good luck on your story--keep plugging!

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  15. Congrats! I have my Kindle version and it’s on the top of my TBR list. Great backstory on the long journey for this book.

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  16. Congratulations, Lucy/Roberta! So pleased for all the good buzz and kudos this book is getting!

    It takes patience galore to see ideas like this to fruition, sometimes. You can so easily visualize the end result, but so many things are in the way. Our house project was like that, and now the film my husband is working on is taking the same two-three years, and that is almost done. (A documentary about his pioneer color nature cinematographer father.)

    We were just talking about that last night, how there was a burning need to see these projects to the end. I think the sticky parts, the places where you have to adapt to a change in perspective, make the projects stronger.

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  17. Lucy, I have my copy and I can wait to read it!

    I wrote my first Laurel Highlands book in 2013. I rewrote it four times (and renamed it at least that many times) before I finally sold it in late 2017 (right after Christmas). When people ask if that's the first book I wrote I always laugh and say "Yes...and no."

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  18. Congratulations, Lucy! Your book is finally in readers' hands where it belongs and I cannot wait to read it. I'm so glad you stuck with it. I have several knitting projects I need to get back to but that is not even close to your daunting project. I do applaud you!

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  19. By the way, Rhys, did you see the BBC News article this morning about US billionaire Michael Steinhardt, an antiquities collector run amok? Could have tied right in with yesterday's blog post.

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  20. LOVE that reviewer comment: "darkly compelling" - that's exactly what I thought when I read it. Plus it really is a page turner start to finish. The longest project I ever worked on, aside from my first novel (10+ years) and then couldn't publish... was my PhD which took years to complete. I also once tried to crochet a bedspread and ended up with a pocketbook.

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    1. LOL on the pocketbook Hallie! And yes a PhD is a HUGE project.

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  21. Congratulations on never giving up on that idea. I love the collaborative process that helped you sort it all out. I never want to share an idea that I don't think is perfect. The lesson here is that it never gets to be perfect without help. I look forward to reading it.

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    1. I know there are people who are much more private as they go through their process, but I thrive on input!

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  22. So many congratulations, Roberta! My copy is waiting for me to pick it up.

    And thanks for sharing your long process. What great comments you got. I'm working on a project right now that is seeming to take forever, but I have no plans to abandon it - except temporarily when I have to get back to the work under contract.

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    1. Yes that's it Edith, you have to do the paid work first! I'm certain you'll get back to your big project, you're very determined.

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    2. I'm actually giving myself from now until March 1 to immerse myself in it!

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  23. You have provided us a glimpse before today, Lucy. Now I can get past the subway restroom. Can't wait.

    I've made many crocheted items. Almost all take longer than I think they will. I currently have three blankets in the works that I just stopped working on. I haven't had that creative vibe in a while, so they sit there in their plastic boxes reminding me to stop procrastinating every time I do a load of laundry.

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    1. Thanks Deana--that subway bathroom was a terrible place to leave you! I hope your creative vibes return. With writing, sometimes I have to make myself start whether I feel it or not. And then it's like lubricating the gears, and things creak back to life.

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  24. Lucy, I'm SO excited UNSAFE HAVEN is out in the world! Readers are going to be so excited about this thriller - it has all the deep characterization you love from the Key West books, combined with a pulse-pounding plot that will keep you turning pages into the wee hours of the night!

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  25. Congratulations! I have your book on my Kindle and it’s next on my TBR list, after I finish reading a book that was an early Christmas gift. I look forward to reading Unsafe Haven. I remember that you mentioned wanting to write this book when you did a signing at Barnes and Noble in Milford several years ago. Right from that point, I was intrigued!

    DebRo

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    1. I'm so glad we met at that booksigning DebRo--that was quite a long time ago!

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  26. Congratulations! A project that was obtaining my BA. Ten years of night school and finally received this long wished for diploma.

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  27. Congratulations and thank you for sticking with it. I read it straight through. My projects that take years are usually crochet projects, such as the sweaters I started for the twins and ended up finishing 4 years later for 2 other children.

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    1. Thanks so much Ann! I'm glad you had other children for your sweaters...

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  28. Congratulations and best wishes. Unsafe haven sounds captivating and amazing. Such perseverance.

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  29. Oh gosh, Lucy, I love reading about the progression of your story over the years.

    Every time I start a short story, I keep a diary of all my vague thoughts and wild ideas as it progresses (or doesn't). Looking back, I'm always amazed at how it morphed from where I started to something completely different by the time I finally note "submitted."

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    1. Susan, that's so clever to keep a log of your thoughts. I wouldn't have any of that if it wasn't for saving emails.

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  30. Congrats on the new book and taking a big risk - in a good way.

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  31. Happy book birthday! When it comes to big projects I'm reminded of Orson Wells' commercial: I will drink no wine before its time. I tend to poke at a project a while, stand back, let it stew for a while, go back and see if anything has changed, poke some more, etc. It either happens or if doesn't.

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    1. That's interesting that you let it stew. I often find if I'm not working on something actively, my subconscious isn't working either:)

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  32. Huzzah! Hurrah! It's here!
    Well done. That's quite a long haul you managed to persevere your way through.

    Long projects? When I was painting every one seemed unending with a point part way through where I looked at it and thought, "What on earth am I doing?"

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    1. I'd forgotten you painted Libby. It's always reassuring to hear other artists talk about their agony along the way!

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  33. Huge Congrats, Lucy, for your book birthday and for sticking with such a great storyline. Your information and experience in writing Unsafe Haven is invaluable. Will there be a follow-up?

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    1. I don't think I will bother these characters again Mary, but never say never!

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  34. Adding this to my immense TBR list! It was fascinating to read your book journey--let's us all know it's ok if we take a while and veer a bit along the way.

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  35. What a fantastic inside look at the process, Lucy! Congratulations for sticking to it and writing such a masterful thriller!

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  36. Hooray, Lucy!! Many, many congratulations on the publication of Unsafe Haven!! And thank you for giving us a window on your process. It was fascinating, and I'm sure it will encourage us all to stick with things that are worth doing. It is a terrific book, and we are all so proud of you!!

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    1. Oh thank you Debs. Your support and encouragement means so much to me!

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  37. Congratulations on the new book, Lucy, and on taking a risk to stretch yourself into new storytelling territory!

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  38. Brava for branching out to a new, exciting area, and hurrah for good editors to help pull it together. Taut and full of surprises, indeed. I could hardly put it down.

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    1. thanks so much Mary, and thank you for your fab reviews EVERYWHERE!

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  39. Lucy, congratulations on Unsafe Haven and for weathering the struggles to get it to its best form! I'm so looking forward to reading it. I already know what an amazing writer you are, and I love that I get to read another side to your writing.

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  40. Lucy, thanks for sharing "the road" to this new book (big congratulations and best of luck with it!) It hit home as I am in somewhat the same situation, starting over after my publisher sold itself after fives books with them ( I never had an agent) General advice is to write something completely different. Yikes. It's going very slowly. Some of it seems...not bad. Promising, even. But yes, there are way too many ideas and a plot that is all over. B Thanks for the encouraging example, that if I keep at it I might just end up with a book. (How does it feel to be a role model? :-)

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    1. I'm perfectly happy being a role model, though I don't wish ten years on you! It's such a hard business...good luck finding some great ideas!

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  41. Popping in very late to share it is a wonderful read. All the best, expect great reviews.

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  42. Running in SO late--but STANDING OVATION! You know I love this book--and I am in AWE that you wrote something so different--and with such skill! Hurray! And cannot wait to hear ALL about it at the Poisoned Pen on Thursday at 7ET!

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