Wednesday, January 9, 2019

How Our Bogus Bestseller Became a Real One: Guest Post by Cleo Coyle

Today I welcome back CLEO COYLE, a pseudonym for Alice Alfonsi, writing in collaboration with her husband, Marc Cerasini. Both are New York Times bestselling authors of the long-running Coffeehouse Mysteries. Alice and Marc are also authors of popular adult and children’s fiction and non-fiction, as well as media tie-in writers, who have penned properties for Lucasfilm, NBC, Fox, Disney, Imagine, and MGM. They live and work in New York City, where they write independently and together, including the Haunted Bookshop Mysteries, which was recently honored with a Best Book of 2018 selection by Suspense Magazine.

Cleo Coyle:
How Our Bogus Bestseller Became a Real One

No author knows for sure what will happen when a fiction series launches. You cast off and sail away with your ship of characters. The journey may be short—one book and you’re sunk. Or the trip may be somewhat longer.

After writing 17 books in 15 years, we consider ourselves fortunate that our Coffeehouse Mysteries are still steaming along. At this stage of writing (7,000 pages and counting), the dock where we launched is far, far away.

The world has turned plenty between our first Coffeehouse entry and our latest, Shot in the Dark. Technologies have advanced. Presidents have come and gone—and so have our editors.

We’ve changed, too. We still rely on our instinct for inspiration and experience for insight, but at times, as with all journeys into unpredictable waters, the right direction is not always clear.

One of the many things we’ve learned is that you’re not out to sea alone with your characters. The longtime fans are right there with you. Is that a blessing? Or a curse? Paul Sheldon of Stephen King’s Misery would say the latter.

While we understand Paul’s dilemma, in our experience (so far, anyway), the readers have been a blessing. Not that we’re suggesting series authors exclusively listen to fans. In this particular case, however, the readers were right.

Around a year after we created our Coffeehouse Mysteries (in 2003), we launched a second series. The Ghost and Mrs. McClure introduced our earnest New England bookseller to the world. Penelope McClure grew up reading her father’s favorite authors from the Black Mask school. One day, while under a great deal of stress, a disembodied voice speaks to Pen and never stops.

The voice claims to be the spirit of Jack Shepard, a PI famously gunned down on her shop’s premises in 1949. Pen isn’t entirely convinced that Jack is a ghost. At times she wonders if he’s a product of her imagination, an alter ego able to express the things she can’t. Whatever the truth of Pen’s haunting, her gruff and gutsy spirit comes in handy when cunning killers commit crimes in Pen’s hometown.

Readers enthusiastically embraced the stories of Jack and Pen. Most understood what we were going for in the risky blending of cozy and hardboiled genres. They saw the fun in our pastiche of an iconic character like Jack Shepard, the kind of ghost a fan of Chandler and Spillane might dream up.

Our publisher was happy with the sales, and we wrote four more Haunted Bookshop titles in steady succession. The Ghost and the Dead Deb (2005), The Ghost and the Dead Man’s Library (2006), The Ghost and the Femme Fatale (2008), and The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion (2009).

Then we stopped writing them.

Some wondered if the series was cancelled. It was not. We stopped intentionally for many reasons, one being the demands of our Coffeehouse Mysteries. Another reason, frankly, was the climate in the book trade.

At that time (2009), the rise of ebooks and self-publishing rocked the industry. Predictions about the “death of print,” the demise of booksellers, and the end of traditional publishing were all the rage. Speed of output began to make the market feel crowded and chaotic. Consequently, we decided that until the atmosphere surrounding the book business (a trade, don’t forget, that we were writing about via Pen’s profession) became a little saner, we would focus on a single series and let our hardboiled ghost rest in peace—for a while, anyway.

What we never expected was the outcry that ensued. Emails and messages flooded in to us (some nice, some not so nice) all asking us to continue the series. Would any of them, like Misery’s “number one fan,” have hobbled us and demanded a new manuscript? Let’s put it this way, we’re glad our car never crashed into a Colorado snowbank.

We assumed the pleas would die down, but they never did. Our readers’ steadfast devotion was the primary reason we made our ghost reappear. That and the fact that all those predictions about the “death of print” and end of booksellers like Penelope turned out to be monumentally premature.

The result was our decision to write the first new Haunted Bookshop Mystery in nearly ten years, The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller, which became an actual bestseller and a “Best Book of 2018” selection by Suspense Magazine.

To our longtime publisher’s credit—including and especially our new editor Michelle Vega—the gamble of reviving our PI ghost paid off, and we recently signed an updated contract to write three new titles in the series with an option for more.

We hope this ship will keep sailing, but nothing is guaranteed. Whatever we do, some readers will love us, some won’t. For now, we’re simply glad to thank the ones who believed in us and what we created.

You have to be grateful when people like that are on board for the ride.


No comments: