Work In Progress: 5.16

The end of the line.

This morning, I received the final layout files from Other Worlds Ink, so The Larkspur Legacy is ready to go. Only three more days and I will upload it to Amazon, and the Kindle version should then go live on Saturday night/Sunday morning (GMT + 2).

Before that, you can find out more about OtherWorldsInk and their services, because we’re arranging a chat with them for Saturday’s blog. They arrange blog tours and publicity, do book formatting and cover design and are a great help to me. I’ve used them since ‘Negative Exposure’, and now no longer have to spend hours setting out my pages and doing the best I can, because they do it for me. More about that on Saturday.

As for the next work in progress,

I have already begun on The Clearwater Companion by gathering my notes, cuts, excerpts, images, and other ideas. Right now, I am typing up the notes from my bible (series notebook). We may not use all of them, but as long as I have them all in one digital place, I’ll be able to work with them much more easily. It’s a pretty thankless task, but a couple of hours a day and I should have both large notebooks transcribed in a month, and I can then set about seeing what’s what.

Meanwhile, look out for The Larkspur Legacy, the series finale to the Larkspur and Clearwater books. You should be able to get it from Kindle on Sunday (the print version may take a day or two longer to appear).

Work In Progress: 5.15

The Larkspur Legacy

You’ve been hearing about this work in progress for over 15 weeks now and must be getting pretty tired of it, so it’s about time I told you what the next WIP is to be.

First, though, a quick update on ‘Legacy.’

It’s proofed, all the extras are done (map, illustration, covers), and I have begun the process on Amazon, so it now has an ISBN number. I’ve contacted the layout guys and aim to have all the files to them in a day or so, so they can begin their work, and have it back to me well before ‘push the button’ day on March 26th.

Coming on March 26th

Nearly there.

Barbary Fleet and Other Matters

Meanwhile, I have started gathering information for The Clearwater Companion.

One of the major parts of this forthcoming book will be the story of Fleet and how he came to the Larkspur Academy, and I have a couple of chapters in draft form which I wrote some time ago. I am currently looking at them, and wondering if I haven’t got a novella here. Maybe. We will see, but ‘Barbary Fleet and Other Matters’ will be a short story within the companion, which will also have other information, ‘backstage’ news about characters and stories, facts and fiction, and all manner of things that might be of interest to anyone who has read both series.

So, that’s my current work in progress, a companion to the Clearwater and Larkspur mysteries for anyone who might like to know some things that are not in the 18-book double series.

Cover Reveal The Larkspur Legacy

Over the next couple of weeks, whilst we wait for The Larkspur Legacy to be published, we (that’s the Royal ‘we’, i.e. Jenine, my P.A.) thought it may be fun to look at the other professionals behind my books. Those people who help transform my file on a computer into a real life published and saleable book.

To start the ball rolling, and to coincide with my cover reveal today, we are talking covers and cover art with a chance to chat with Andjela, my very talented cover artist who has been working with me for over six years.

Let me hand over to Jenine…

Firstly let us meet cover designer, Andjela Vujic. Tell us a little about yourself, Andjela.

While I have a degree in scenography, my art extends to painting, dancing and graphic design. I have been designing book covers for the past nine years, and it remains my biggest passion. I am currently producing the majority of the book covers for Foreshore Publishing in London. You can find me on instagram https://www.instagram.com/agazar_design/

Now to Jackson, how did you initially find Andjela?

When I first started as Jackson Marsh, I went to People Per Hour and put up a work request. Something like:

I am looking for a cover artist to design the covers of my MM Romance and mystery books.

Out of the many offers, Andjela was the designer whose work I felt was most on my wavelength — the most professional — and she seemed flexible. Now, I contact her with a cover idea, and tell her a few basics, such as: What I imagine, what props are involved, the weather (if an outdoor scene), the date/period, and if there’s to be a model/face, I try and send her a similar looking person to the one I want.

At what point do you start imagining the cover? At what stage do you contact Andjela?

I usually start thinking about the cover once I have completed a first draft. By then, everything of importance is in the story, and from it, I extract either a moment as in the covers of ‘Fallen Splendour’, when we see Clearwater (or Andrej) rearing their horse on a clifftop,

or ‘Keepers of the Past’ when we see Joe racing to stop a murder.

Both involve horses, in the way ‘Twisted Tracks’ involve a couple running for a train.

In other words, a moment of excitement from the story.

Other times, I feature the characters, as in ‘Banyak & Fecks’ because it’s more of a biographical story.

Sometimes, I take ‘props’ from the story, and highlight them, such as the cover for ‘Agents of the Truth.’

How easy is it to communicate your ideas, does she understand what you are looking for quickly?

It’s easy, and yes, she knows what I want even when I don’t!

For ‘the Larkspur Legacy’, I wrote,

A sailing ship with three masts, sails, (the year is 1890) in a storm, heading towards us, like the train in the cover you did for ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’. It’s during a storm, and needs to say ‘dramatic journey.’ The book is about a travel, adventure and mystery. So: stormy, the image suggests movement, maybe with a map and compass in the sea like the music was in the ‘Inheritance’ cover. How would that look?

I had another idea too, and she tried that, and I realised it wouldn’t work. She often does me several mock-ups and doesn’t mind how many times I ask for tweaks.

So, you are both on the same wavelength?

Yes, it seems we are. I only have to send the basics, and she knows what I like and, somehow, comes back with exactly what I was picturing, even though I didn’t explain it very well.

I asked Andjela a similar question…

When Jackson sends you his ideas for a cover is it easy to visualise what he wants?

Yes! We have been cooperating for years now, and we have always had great communication. He is one of my favourite clients-always clear on what he wants, which makes my job a lot easier. His initial idea is often the one we go forth with, in the final design.

You were nominated for a Goodreads award for the cover of ‘Seeing Through Shadows’. Congratulations!

I am so glad to hear that. That cover was a pleasure to create.

Which is your favourite cover that you have designed?

Seeing Through Shadows and Negative Exposure 🙂

Jackson, ‘Shadows’ was nominated for best cover by Goodreads, in your opinion is this Andjela’s best? Which one is your favourite?

I like all of them for different reasons. ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ is great because it gives us a ghostly atmosphere, features the owl, and is slightly misleading, which is what I wanted. The colours are also perfect for the mood of the story.

One of my favourites is ‘Negative Exposure’ because it shows the image of either a young male posing for an erotic photograph (a part of the story), or a body lying dead on a rocky shoreline, which is also appropriate. The colours are spot on too.

Mind you, I love the artwork for ‘Banyak & Fecks’, the black and white for ‘Fallen Splendour’, and the drama in ‘Starting with Secrets.’

As for the Larkspur Legacy, as you can see from that email excerpt above, the guides for the cover were:

  • A sailing ship with three masts
  • 1890 (1891)
  • A storm
  • Dramatic journey, travel, adventure, mystery
  • Map & compass

From that, we have the cover which suggests adventure and danger. Within it, however, are also important props from the story. Also, as this is the end of a series, I wanted to do what I’d done with the final Clearwater book; show a moving object, rather than a person. ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ showed a train ploughing through music in the snow. ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ shows a ship ploughing through rough seas against a map. What all that means will become clear when you read the book. Click the photo below to see the new cover…..

Don’t you think it’s fabulous? I’m nearly all the way through my beta read and I can say that it perfectly depicts the thrilling adventure you will be taken on!

Before we finish Andjela has an early birthday surprise for Jackson 🙂 Click on his face for another reveal…

(even Jackson doesn’t know what’s underneath!)

Work In Progress: 5.14

The Larkspur Legacy

The work in progress news this week. I have the proofed MS back, and am reading through it for the last time; still a few days to go with that.

Meanwhile, I have sent the back cover text to Andjela so she can make up the full cover, and I have estimated the page count to be around 500, including the author’s notes, front and back matter, map and an illustration. I expect to have the covers finalised in a week or so, and we are still on track for release on March 26th.

My next job, after my final read, is to set up the Amazon page and get the ISBN number, so I can add that to the front matter before sending everything off to be formatted.

Meanwhile, Neil read the full draft and had a comment to make. I’ll put it here to whet your appetite.

As with all the Larkspur books, The Larkspur Legacy catches the reader in a tale of mystery and mayhem, and twists and turns that will not disappoint. This last story is a book that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dan Brown could have written together.

Jackson Marsh is a gifted author who keeps his readers on the edge of their seats. There will be tears, and your blood will be thumping in your chest as the excitement unfolds.

My proof-reader wrote,

This one’s going to be a hard one to surpass!

What you make of it will be revealed in time, but there’s not long to go now. If you’ve not started on the Larkspur Series, then now’s a good time to begin the adventure with ‘Guardians of the Poor.

As I’ve mentioned before, things that happen in this novel have their roots in previous books, and in ‘Legacy’, the skies are darkening with the wings of chickens coming home to roost, as an old friend of mine used to say. (If only chickens could fly; I think he was being ironic.)

Upwards and onwards, and less than three weeks to wait.

Looking Ahead

Now that the last in the Larkspur series is almost ready to be published, and I have sent it away to be proofed, what next? 

I’ve still to complete the blurb and author’s notes which will also need to be proofread, and I will be working on them later today. As for the next book, I have a few ideas, and I’d like to ask you for more. 

The Clearwater Companion 

My next job is to put together a companion to go with the Clearwater and Larkspur series. For now, I am calling it ‘The Clearwater Companion’, but I also have an idea I might call it: 

Barbary Fleet & Other Matters
A Guide to the Clearwater and Larkspur Series 

When I set about writing the Larkspur series, the first book was to be titled ‘Barbary Fleet,’ and I wrote the first couple of chapters to see how it would go. It didn’t go very far. Not because I didn’t have a good idea, but because I was keen to get the Larkspur Academy up and running, and this book was to be about Fleet, his past, and how he came to be in charge of the academy. It was to be a prequel, I suppose, and like ‘Banyak & Fecks’, would lead to the first of the new series. However, I soon realised I didn’t know enough of what was to happen in the Larkspur world, to give it a prequel, and the time wasn’t right for Barbary Fleet’s past. As Fleet would have said, ‘My past must remain in the future.’ 

I even had an idea for the cover: 

That’s actually my husband photoshoped into a picture and created by Andjela, my cover designer. It was a Birthday present for Neil. 

Instead, as I wrote the Larkspur series, I kept trying to find a place where I could put Fleet’s past, how he came to Larkspur and what his story was, but I never found the chance. There’s a large twist in his story, but it never fitted comfortably into any of the others. 

I’m saving it for the Companion, and it is one of the unpublished sections and stories from the Clearwater and Larkspur worlds that will appear in the finished book. 

The book, by the way, will contain a spoiler alert and I will suggest that people only treat themselves to it once they have finished reading both series.  

As for ideas, so far I have: 

  • Cut sections from some of the books. 
  • Anecdotes and backstories, such as the one mentioned above. 
  • Drawings of some of the characters like I have in the Larkspur series, but didn’t put in the Clearwater ones. 
  • Maps. 
  • Some of the author’s notes / information that, again, I didn’t put in the Clearwater books. 
  • Quotes from some of the characters. 
  • An explanation of titles. 
  • Threads through the books that readers may not have noticed. 

That list is the result of a quick brainstorm, and there may be more ideas to come. I started a folder for this project over two years ago, but there is little in it. I started writing character biographies, but frankly, that became dull. So, I don’t think we’ll have ‘fact pages’ about each of the main characters. It’s a companion, a bit of fun and an extra, not a Haynes manual. 

So, my shout out to you is this:

If you have any ideas, or if you want to suggest what you would like to see in the book, please send them to me either via email or through my Facebook page. Perhaps you have unanswered questions, or want to know something about one/some of the characters that’s not been explained, let me know and I will see what I can do. 

My contact details are on the Connect page: http://jacksonmarsh.com/connect/  and you are more than welcome to join Jackson’s Deviant Desires, my reader group for more discussions and perusal.

Work In Progress 5.13

The Larkspur Legacy

This week I have a brief work in progress update for you.

Yesterday, I sent the first half of the MS off to be proofread. I am having a final read through, and when that’s done, the rest will be ready for proofing.

I’m still on track for publication on March 26th (or as soon after that date as Amazon releases the book), so there is not long to wait now.

Currently, my days are taken up with writing, re-reading, editing, and re-reading again.

The cover is ready but I must work on the back text and blurb, and the author’s notes which have proved popular in the Larkspur Series.

Once all this is done, and the book is out, I can turn my mind to The Clearwater Companion, the collection of series-related information and short stories I intend to put together for anyone who has read the entire two series. But that’s for the future. For the moment, it’s back to re-reading.

Made me chuckle

Work in Progress: 5.11

The Larkspur Legacy. Editing.

This week’s update on The Larkspur Legacy is encouraging. I am now about to start trawling through each chapter to check for better ways of writing things, obvious errors, grammar, characters’ speech patterns, and inconsistencies.

Because the story takes place over a period of ten weeks or so, and because there are various threads, with characters reporting back to a central place, I need to make sure I have all the dates and locations correct and feasible.

I have two weeks before I must send at least the first half to be proofread if I am to make the March 26th deadline for release, so any free time I now have has to be spent on the book.

Meanwhile, other elements are coming together:

  • The cover is 80% ready for approval.
  • I have had a map created.
  • I have an illustration I may/may not use.
  • Proofreader’s time is booked.
  • I’m also working on the blurb and author’s notes, though they come last on my list.

And so, to work…

If you are new to The Clearwater World then now is a good time to start binge reading the series. You have a month until the two interconnecting series are completely finished. Download Deviant Desire today, happy reading!

What is The Smoking Gun?

The Smoking Gun, Definition and history

According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary,

a ‘smoking gun’ is

Something that serves as conclusive evidence or proof (as of a crime or scientific theory). In legal terms, the smoking gun is the term is most often used to describe a piece of circumstantial evidence that will lead to a person’s conviction.

Cornell Law School.

Looking at other sources, we also discover that the term refers to the strongest piece of circumstantial evidence, as opposed to direct evidence, and the phrase, or one very like it, was coined by Sir Arthur Connan Doyle in the Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of Gloria Scott. In 1893, he used the words, smoking pistol, which was much more in keeping with his time and characters than ‘gun.’ The gun version seems to have come about in the 1970s, and may first have been used during the Watergate affair, because reports referred to one of Nixon’s tapes (June 23rd, 1972) as ‘the Smoking Gun’ tape, perhaps borrowing from Connan Doyle.

Examples of the Smoking Gun

Watch any of today’s action thriller films, and you will see examples of the smoking gun. The best ones are those which turn out to be something that’s been staring us in the face all this time, and when you realise, you say, ‘Oh, of course!’ At least, those are my favourite times, and I’m now trying to think of a classic one… The trouble is, they are also plot spoilers, so I can’t even give you an example from any of my books, in case you’ve not read them all. (And if not, why not? Lol.)

An example which is not a plot spoiler, might be: You walk into a room to find the last chocolate biscuit has been snaffled away, and your young child protesting his innocence… with chocolate all over his face. (That’s circumstantial evidence. ‘Real’ evidence would be him holding the last piece of the biscuit.)

How to use a Smoking Gun

I like to use the device as a twist, a revelation, or a key to unlock a mystery, but you have to be careful how you go about it. In one of my stories, I was aware from the start that I was going to rely on the smoking gun as the final ‘Ah ah!’ moment towards the end of the book. I had that in mind before I even began writing. Therefore, I was able to write the novel with that moment in mind, and made sure I laid the path to the smoking gun revelation with care.

Why? Because, when writing a smoking gun scene, you can’t reveal something that has never been there.

It’s like the classic error in dodgy thrillers and mystery plays, particularly those written by children to present to weary parents on a Saturday afternoon. Our hero battles the evil villain but is trapped, so he whips a magic potion from his pocket, throws it in the villain’s face, makes his escape and, ‘Curtain!’ Or, as happened in a play I once saw: The final showdown was taking place, the leading lady was about to be slaughtered in Act Two. The drawing room one afternoon in late spring, when our hero said, ‘There has to be a revolver here somewhere…’, dived into a bathroom cabinet, pulled out a gun and shot the baddie.

The message there being, always foreshadow your twists, handy escape implements and smoking guns. By the way, why were drawing room thrillers always set among chintz covered furniture in late spring? I worked on several back in the 80s, and never thought to ask. Nor did I think to ask how the character knew that particular cabinet would contain a gun, because a gun had never been mentioned. I also never found out why there was a bathroom cabinet in a drawing room.

Of course, where you want to avoid falling into the trap of ‘handy ways out of a crisis’ and ‘smoking guns that have not been foreshadowed,’ the opposite is true. There’s an old writers’ maxim that says,

If you’re going to show the reader a gun, you’d better damn well use it.’

Imagine if the hero, or detective, or both in one character, is halfway through an interview when he says, ‘That’s a very interesting sketch, Mr Snoot. Not everyone owns an original Da Vinci.’ How disappointed or bewildered (or both) are you going to feel when, after ploughing through the rest of the novel, you’re left wondering what the Da Vinci reference was all about?

A writer must make sure to justify prominent props, characters, and any suspicions put in the reader’s mind. Unless, that is, you are purposely intending to mislead your reader.

Some great murder mysteries to watch – look out for the ‘smoking gun’!

Something About Fish

Yes, you can mislead the reader, that’s allowed, and it’s called a red herring. However, my advice would be to make sure you don’t leave your red herrings to go off. Always tie them up, and hang them in the smokehouse, but don’t leave them there to rot. By which I mean, make sure your characters and readers know that was a red herring.

An aside. The term, red herring, may date from the late 17th century, when a publication suggested ways to train hounds to follow a scent trail. Herrings, when smoked and reddened, are particularly whiffy, and irresistible to hunting dogs. (More successful than other fish and dead cats, apparently.) The expression, as it relates to crime novels, became a widely used idiom in the 19th century, but if you try and look up exactly when, you will find many different theories. Most of them, I suspect, will be red herrings.

Back to the Smoking Gun

Apart from to offer my thoughts on this plot device, the reason I am posting this day, is because I am at the part in my current mystery where the smoking gun has just made its appearance. Actually, it’s been there since the book before, and throughout this one, as I peppered in references to it, but now, it’s just taken centre stage in the first draft. I’m not going to tell you what it is or even give you a clue, because that would spoil ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ for you. All I will say is, if you can wait until the end of March, and read the longest novel I have yet written, you will find out.

There will be an update on ‘Legacy’ in my Wednesday work in progress blog, by when, I hope, I shall be announcing that the first draft is finished.

Work In Progress: 5.09

The Larkspur Legacy

Here’s a brief update on The Larkspur Legacy. I am now at 162,000 words of the last book in the series, first draft. I’m averaging about 3,000 words per day, and estimate I have another four chapters to go. Two of them will be the rounding off of the story, and the last two will be the rounding off of the rounding off; the epilogue. Then, I will go back to the beginning and start my read-through for consistency and story. After that will come the edit-and-read line by line and the final read or rewrite. I will, during that time, start putting together the author’s notes section, and begin thinking about the blurb and cover. Maybe a map if I can afford one.

I am still on track to have the book published by the end of March. It would be good to have it out on the 26th of that month, as that’s my birthday (and Clearwater’s birthday), and as that’s less than eight weeks away, I better get a move on. It helps that it’s currently cold and windy here on Symi, and I’m not much inclined to go walking, but doesn’t help (that it’s cold and windy) because I am more inclined to sit on the sofa under my dressing gown playing SimCity and/or Sherlock on my tablet. My office is currently at 10 degrees, and it can take a few hours to get up to a decent temperature, and sitting at the kitchen table isn’t much warmer.

So, today, I will finish the climax action sequence, because such scenes are a staple of a Larkspur novel, and hopefully, tomorrow, I will have brought the main throughline story/stories to a conclusion. At this rate, I should have the first draft finished by Sunday.

Work in Progress: 5.08

It’s been a slightly disrupted week in the writing den and is set to become more so. We had the decorators in yesterday as the ceilings in our two work rooms needed painting. They are about ten feet high, so I wasn’t going to be doing that myself. It only took a few hours and the chaps did a great job, but it did mean complete disruption, moving furniture out, taking away everything except the bookcase, covering the desks… you know the drill. A couple of hours shifting stuff on either side of the actual work added to the delay, but I did manage to edit one and a half chapters I’d written the day before.

That’s what I usually do. I write a chapter or part of one each day, usually between 2,500 and 4,000 words depending on time, and the next day, I run through it, tidy it up, remind myself where I was, and then plough on with the next one.

The disruption will continue as we have scheduled power cuts for maintenance between 7.30 and 16.00 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week. For the sake of sharing a topical photohere is the announcement on social media of our power outages.

They may not affect us all that time, but I must be prepared. I can write for four hours on my laptop battery, but after that, I’m in the dark, as it were. We’re also in for force eight or nine winds on Thursday which could get noisy, but the weather is otherwise still amazingly mild for January in the Southern Aegean. We’re up to 16 degrees during the day, and down to twelve at night.

Still, the next book is coming along. At the last count, I was at 140,000 words with around another 20,000 to do. After that, there will be a lot of editing (my favourite part), but I am still on track to finish the Larkspur Series by the end of March.

Hopefully, I will be able to get a blog up on Saturday before we get plunged into darkness; if not, look out for a delayed weekend post on Sunday.