Thursday, July 19, 2018

From the nuclear option to champagne!

Stanley - Thursday

Earlier this week, Orenda Books published our stand-alone thriller DEAD OF NIGHT in the UK! Needless to say, we are delighted, not only because it is always exciting to have a new book see the light of day, but also because it was a long and often difficult path from inception to publication.

For a long time, Michael and I wanted to take a break from our Detective Kubu series, which now stands at six books and counting. We wanted something very different. Young adult? No. Romance? We didn't think so. So we decided on a stand-alone thriller with a protagonist as different from Kubu as possible with a backstory dear to our hearts.

And we wanted to challenge ourselves with respect to the writing.

So, in 2012 we started working on what became DEAD OF NIGHT - featuring a female protagonist with an exotic background, written in the first person - not only first person, but first person present. Aargh!

And for the back story, we decided to use the appalling and frightening arena of rhino poaching and rhino-horn smuggling - something we are both familiar with since 80% of the world's rhinos are in South Africa, and over 1000 of them are slaughtered each year for their horns.

These horns are more valuable than gold in Vietnam - fetching a street price of US$150,000/ kg. A decent size horn is worth nearly half a million dollars. And all it is is keratin - the same material was your fingernails. It has no medical benefits, yet is taken in powdered form as a cure for cancer and other ailments, or snorted like cocaine at the parties of the nouveaux riches. Some use it as an aphrodisiac, where almost certainly it has been laced with a Viagra look-alike. In reality, what is sold at exorbitant prices as powdered rhino horn is probably powdered some-other horn.

The rhino horn trade has everything a thriller writer is looking for: greed, violence, exploitation, conflicting ideas for how to solve the problem, and more greed.

So we started writing.

About 20,000 to 30,000 words later, we ground to a halt. We couldn't figure out where we were going, what should happen next. What was meant to be thrilling was beginning to drag.

For the next three years, we restarted the process several times, switching from first person present to first person past; from first person to third person. All with the same result. We ground to a halt.

Eventually we decided that the problem was that we didn't really understand our exotic female protagonist - Crystal Nguyen, an investigative journalist from Minneapolis, a refugee of the Vietnam war. So I decided to write a short piece about her life in Duluth, MN, where she was working at a local TV station, reporting on environmental affairs.

The short piece expanded, then expanded again, until I had written a 60,000- word novella, which I titled Wolfman. It was written in first person present, which worked well.

Then, with a contract from Orenda Books, we set to write the whole book, again in the first person.

When we submitted the manuscript in mid-March, the pushback was immediate. 'Aaargh,' the editor said. 'Not of your usual quality.'

So we revised it and resubmitted. 'Aaargh,' the editor said again. We revised again. After a couple of more iterations, with the publication date looming and no acceptable manuscript, the editor said we had to embrace the NUCLEAR OPTION - rewrite in the third person. Sound familiar?

In a marathon lasting three weeks, Michael and I rewrote the entire manuscript, changing the focus from Crystal doing a rhino story to Crystal trying to find her potential partner in life and doing a rhino story. The editor nodded. Michael and I collapsed.

And the book was published on time last weekend.

And now we and the book are on a blog tour. Here are some of the reviews so far:
A gripping and devastating novel about an important subject, with a feisty protagonist and more action, twists and thrills than you can handle. It made such an impression n me that I have donated to Save The Rhino in thanks.  (Read the whole review at Live and Deadly blog.)
Dead of Night is more than crime fiction. It’s a breath-taking mix of adrenaline and current affairs brought to life by colourful characters. (Read the whole review at chocolatenwaffles blog.)
And finally, The Writer's Block created two movie trailers for DEAD OF NIGHT. You can watch them here.

So join me in a toast - to DEAD OF NIGHT.  Thank you.


An update: Thanks so much to those of you who responded to my call for donations to help Books for Africa send a container of 22,000 books to South Africa. So far we've raised about 40% of the target. If you would like to contribute, you can donate here using your credit card. Tax deductible in the USA.


1 comment:

  1. I feel your birthing pains. AND LOVE THE COVER. Can't wait to get my hands on DEAD OF NIGHT. Congratulations M&S.