Release Day High
by Annette McCleave on December 1st, 2009

Releasing a book is a strangely conflicting experience—or at least it was for me.

On one hand, it’s the fulfillment of a dream. The story you poured your heart and soul into for untold months is officially on store shelves, available for one and all to read. You run to the local bookstore and take pictures. You blog and twitter and email to share your happiness. You accept congratulations from family, friends, and peers. You celebrate (in my case, my sister had me over for a middle-of-the-week feast that included champagne).


Drawn into Darkness in store

But on the other hand, you also wake up to find all the build-up, all the tension, and all the fearful anticipation are suddenly over. This book is complete. It’s done. Yes, there’s still more marketing to do in order to get it the attention it so richly deserves, but all the really hard work has been done. As my colleague Kathryn Smith said, it’s a little like Christmas morning after all the presents have been unwrapped. The gifts are still wicked awesome, but the edge of anticipation is gone.

I floated on a terrific high most of my release day, beaming at strangers, telling people I met in the dog park that I was an author, and signing my books at the bookstore with a shaky hand. But I also had a contract in place for a second book, and by the time Drawn into Darkness hit the streets, I was already deeply entrenched in the second story and jotting down notes about the next.

First Book Award from ORWA

My First Book Award from ORWA

Lachlan and Rachel will forever hold a special place in my heart because they were the heroes of my first book. And I’m keeping a copy of Drawn into Darkness in pristine condition, so I can easily look back and relive the excitement. But I’m looking forward to the day Brian and Lena take center stage, too.

I wonder if the next release day will be as surreal as this one was?

Everyday Heroes, Sort Of
by Annette McCleave on November 3rd, 2009

I enjoy torturing my characters. I get a kick out of making them face impossible challenges, battle sinuous evil, and survive harrowing events that threaten to rip away everything important to them.

Which is why I force many of them to have day jobs.

Admit it, didn’t I just describe your average day at the office? From what I’ve observed, sinuous evil takes many forms: Bag lunches disappearing from the communal fridge; photocopiers that jam just when you’ve got a hundred reports to produce; brown-nosing co-workers who always manage to snag the free tickets to the baseball game. Not that I’m pointing fingers.

As Jessa mentioned yesterday, being an immortal demon slayer has a save-the-universe urgency that can’t be contained to pre- and post-work hours. But the world of Drawn into Darkness is a lot like the world we live in, and people are all too eager to tell the tabloids about that weird guy who lives next door. Thus, even immortals need to LOOK normal.

Some of my characters stick to standard job fare, like my heroine Rachel in Drawn into Darkness, who works a 9 to 5 job (Ha! I really mean 8 to 6 with homework) at a local high tech firm. She has a boss who—as Rachel puts it—“stalked the halls like a lion, pouncing on the slightest pause in activity”. Rachel’s job causes her a lot of extra conflict when she’s forced to take on a powerful demon to save her daughter. Let’s face it, even after the demon’s dead, you still need to pay the rent. Poor Rachel, tortured by her author.

Painting landscape

Other characters, especially the ones who used to have jobs as sword-wielding knights, have fake jobs, just for appearances. Lachlan MacGregor, the hero of Drawn into Darkness, disguises himself as a priest. He’s got a couple of reasons why he chose that profession, but dressing the way he does certainly simplifies his explanations when he’s caught hovering around a dead body. Which, as a Soul Gatherer, is a daily risk.


Brian Webster, the male lead from the second Soul Gatherer book, Bound by Darkness, used to be a stockbroker (back when he was alive). Now, he uses his investment skills to keep himself in designer suits. Conveniently, investing is not a job that requires regular office hours, so he can pause to battle evil whenever and where ever it pops up.

The heroine in Bound is a thief. Lena steals ancient artifacts and sells them on the black market. She’s got her reasons, which I won’t reveal here. Problem is, being a thief isn’t a job you take on to ‘fit in’. In fact, she doesn’t mention her little hobby to her neighbors—the business card she hands around at block parties labels her an antiquities dealer.

Personally, I love imagining people’s alter-egos. Got anyone at work who you’re certain moonlights as a vampire? Can you imagine the woman in the next cubby with a lab in her basement worthy of Dr. Horrible? A mild-mannered co-worker who might be save the world in his spare time? No need to name names. Just tell us what you think their secret persona is…good or evil.

The Art of Short
by Annette McCleave on June 23rd, 2009

Right from the beginning, I’ve written novel-length stories. Perhaps because I grew up reading books and not magazines, I never attempted to write shorter tales. Or perhaps it was a snobbery of sorts—being a novelist has a certain cache that I’m not sure can be said of essayist or short story author. Either way, I hopped right to the 400 page gorilla.

In hindsight, I’m not sure that was the wisest course.

As Jessa so aptly described in her article yesterday, it doesn’t take a lot of words to tell a story. The advantage to learning the art of the short tale first is that you develop an infinite respect for the value of each and every word. When you only have a few to work with, each one must truly pull its weight.

I also believe a shorter medium forces the author to focus on the critical elements of the story: character, plot, conflict, resolution. You don’t have room to wander into convoluted subplots or lecture the reader on the world you’ve built to house your characters.

If you’ve ever tried to distill a novel-length book into a log line, you know how big and complicated a story of that length can be. Yet, I find the most memorable books are those that never lose sight of their core story, that never forget the true nature of the main character, and that tie up the trailing story threads—not neatly in a bow, but satisfactorily, with a reader’s sigh.

Learning the art of the short tale must surely help in honing those talents. Or so it seems to me.

I’ve since tried my hand a few shorter pieces. I wrote a 40 page Christmas story and 120 page medieval novella (which made it to the finals of the Brava Novella contest). I still have miles to go in perfecting the shorter story, but the experience was great. As you can see from my response to Jessa’s challenge yesterday, I find the concept of short-story-telling very intriguing, and I suspect I’ll make other forays into the genre. If for no other reason than to round out my skills.

Have you read short stories you fell in love with and found were delightfully complete and whole? Have you read others you wished were longer? Or (laughing) novels you wished were shorter? Feel free to share.

p.s. In the spirit of proving short can be good, I’ll offer up my brand new book trailer for DRAWN INTO DARKNESS, which is a mere 1 minute long. Enjoy.

Scenes and scenery
by Annette McCleave on March 10th, 2009

Sigh. Jessa shouldn’t have mentioned Viggo/Aragorn in her post yesterday … I fought an almost unbearable urge all day to sneak away from my writing to watch my LOR movies.

It was actually therapeutic to revisit scenes from my first novel, trying to find the right one to share.

My upcoming release, DRAWN INTO DARKNESS, involves angels, demons and and the battle for human souls. My hero, an immortal Soul Gatherer, lives among the human race disguised as a priest. My heroine, Rachel, doesn’t know the outfit is a disguise, nor does she know her daughter is mixed up with something far worse than a bunch of teenage hoodlums, but she does know Lachlan MacGregor isn’t like any other priest she’s ever met…


Hackles up, Rachel stepped around the tree trunk, only to have her path blocked by a very big and very formidable . . . Lachlan MacGregor.

“Don’t,” he said quietly.

His sudden appearance in the dark should have frightened her. Instead, the sight of his handsome face, etched with obvious resolve, filled her with a feeling of deliverance so intense she was tempted to throw her arms around his neck and kiss him. Of course, she didn’t. Despite the ease flooding her chest, she huffed her disagreement and attempted to dodge around him. Someone had to stop that creep from kissing Em.

He blocked her advance. “He knows you’re here. He’s just doing it to goad you.”

“How do you know that? She’s only fourteen.”

“Trust me.”

He took a firm step toward her, forcing her to back up, but also conveniently occluding her view with his large body, protecting her from a sight he knew would upset her. Constrained by darkness, with only a few visual elements to focus on, her senses clung to other things such as his scent, subtle and free of cologne. It was a breathtaking swirl of warm wool and spice—very sexy . . . and damned inappropriate for a priest.

“He looked right at you,” Lachlan pointed out. “And it’s pretty obvious he’s never kissed her before. It’s just a show.”

“How can you be sure?”

“I can’t,” he admitted. He took another step, again encouraging her to retreat. “But I’ve learned to trust my gut.”

Rachel dug her heels in, refusing to let him herd her any farther away from Em. He closed the gap in one decisive stride, his broad shoulders towering over her, crowding her. But if his intent was to intimidate, he failed. Despite his size, she felt no fear. “I can’t leave her here. Not with them.”

“I suspect they won’t hang about much longer, but just to be certain, I’ll go back and watch them.” He stared into her eyes with an oddly intimate look, as if they shared more than just a common goal to protect Emily. It made Rachel’s heart pound. “I need you to go home, Rachel.”


“You’ll want to be home when she gets back.”

Or face the consequences of Em finding out she’d followed her out here. Valid point. Still, she squirmed. “If he—”

“If he goes further than a kiss, I’ll take care of it.” He brushed a lock of hair back from her face, tucking it behind her ear. “I promise.”

Before she could point out there were seven of them and only one of him, he was gone.

Quiet on the set…
by Annette McCleave on January 20th, 2009

I have a love of all things Scottish, and when I thought of my favorite settings, Scotland was the first image to pop into my mind. I’ve set several of my manuscripts there and never fail to sigh over the stark beauty of the Highlands.


But I didn’t stop at my first thought. I dug a little deeper, asking myself if there was a common thread between the varied locations I’ve chosen to set my stories and scenes. And there was, sort of. The common thread turned out to be contrast. Familiar, comforting places that are invaded by danger, ordinary grass and trees that mask cliffs and bogs, a garden or park that changes into a deadly arena for demon battles at nightfall.


I’ve had some fun with this. I once wrote a fight scene that took place in the vegetable aisle at a grocery store. Why? Because grocery shopping is a familiar, almost thoughtless task. People do it on auto-pilot. They aren’t expecting to fend off demons at the Safeway. In one of my scenes in DRAWN INTO DARKNESS, the setting is an ordinary city street just before dawn, and the risk comes from two McDonald’s employees armed with cups of coffee.


Seriously, though, my favorite settings depict dramatic contrast—from a scene that takes place in a calm blue oasis on the coldest, driest continent on Earth to a confrontation with evil that takes place in a schoolyard surrounded by parents in parked minivans. Contrast keeps my characters off-balance, and I think that’s a good thing.

When reading a book, what do you enjoy most—visiting new and exotic locales, or walking along real streets and into places you’ve actually been?