January 18, 2022
Note From Rochelle
How’s your writing going? Do you need help to jumpstart your creativity?
Next week, I am teaching a workshop to help you overcome blocks and write. In “Defeat Writer’s Block” you will learn proven tools to bust through writer’s block. The class will be held on Wednesday, January 26 at 5:00 PM CT/6:00 PM ET, and I will post the recording for a limited amount of time. Here’s the link to sign up. https://writenowcoach.as.me/writersblock
I am delighted to welcome my friends Jocelyn Cole and Sharon Nagel to the blog. They write together as Juneau Black, and Vintage Crime bought their indie published Shady Hollow trilogy. Talk about a success story! If you’d like to learn more about them and the Shady Hollow series, sign up to attend their virtual book launch with Boswell Books.
Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach
How an Indie Series Got Picked Up
by a Big Publisher
An Interview with Juneau Black
Congrats on your new book series! Can you tell us about the series and your first book, Shady Hollow?
The series is about a village called Shady Hollow where woodland creatures live together in (relative) harmony. The main character is a fox named Vera Vixen who is a journalist and an amateur detective. Her best friend, Lenore Lee, is a raven who owns the local bookstore called Nevermore Books. In the first book, the peace of the town is disturbed when Otto, a local toad, is found murdered in the pond where he lives. The police department investigates, as does Vera. As the investigation proceeds, the reader is introduced to many of the residents of Shady Hollow, who are all anthropomorphic animals. We’ve got Joe, a moose who runs the town’s coffee shop, to Lefty, a raccoon who dabbles in petty crime (but also local theater). We wanted to capture the quirkiness of small town life.
Shady Hollow began as a #NaNo project that you revised and then indie published. After that, you wrote and published two more. Now this big release from Vintage Crime. Can you talk about this writing and publishing journey?
It’s been unusual, to say the least. We were both booksellers at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee when we started writing Shady Hollow, and the connections we built there have been essential through the whole journey. First, Boswell’s owner Daniel Goldin has been a huge supporter of the books, handselling them with his trademark enthusiasm. Then just after we published the third book Mirror Lake, one of Penguin’s regional book reps was in town, grabbed the books, and asked if we’d be ok with him sending them along to an editor (unsurprisingly, we were indeed ok with it). A few months later, we got an offer from an editor at Vintage Crime/Black Lizard to republish all three books! With a traditional publisher, there’s much more capacity to share Shady Hollow with a bigger audience, so we jumped at the chance. The folks at Vintage have been spectacular, and the upcoming editions feature all-new cover art and a thoughtful design.
If there’s a lesson in this, it’s that communities like independent bookstores really do matter. I don’t think the Shady Hollow series would exist if we hadn’t had the experience of being with and working with booklovers at every stage of writing these stories.
Can you talk about the process of writing a book together?
We wrote the first book during NaNoWriMo. We each wrote on alternate days. The goal of NaNo is 50,000 words, which requires the writer to write 1667 words a day in the month of November. We didn’t really have an outline for the first book, but rather let the story take us where it would. I (Sharon) would write one day, and then email the manuscript to Jocelyn, and she would pick up where I left off and write the next day. The collaboration worked well for us. I tend to think that we are much cleverer together than we are individually. Fortunately, we both seem to have the same snarky sense of humor. So, our voices blended well. After all this time, I can’t always remember who wrote what.
When it comes to writing the cozy mystery, setting, character, and plot all matter so much. What were some of the tools you used to develop each of these? (Writers like to know your secrets!)
Truly, we write what we want to read. Shady Hollow is a tribute to the old Agatha Christie mysteries, where the crime might be dastardly, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some nice meals while solving it. As for plot, we didn’t even know who the murderer would be when we started the draft. So we had to be detectives ourselves, figuring out alibis and finding clues along the way. A lot of the work came in the editing phase, when we had to make all the pieces fit in the right places.
The setting grew very organically as we wrote the first draft. Our sleuth is a reporter, so that meant she needed a newspaper office to work at (and an editor, and other reporters in the mix). Everyone knows reporters live on coffee…so we made up a coffee shop (with great pie). And hey, that apple pie is local, so we had to have an orchard, which ended up growing into the setting for the second book, Cold Clay.
Just be willing to walk with your characters for a while and the world will grow up around them. Not everything in our books is dictated by the plot. Sometimes we just want to see what it would be like if a raven ran a bookstore. And we’re hoping that readers will enjoy that flight of fancy just as much.
What are you reading now?
Jocelyn: I just finished The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell. It dials the “atmospheric mystery vibe” up to eleven.
About the author. Juneau Black is the pen name of authors Jocelyn Cole and Sharon Nagel. They share a love of excellent bookshops, fine cheeses, and good murders (in fictional form only). Though they are two separate people, if you ask either of them a question about their childhood, you are likely to get the same answer. This is a little unnerving for any number of reasons.
Shady Hollow, the first book in the series, will be available on January 25, 2022. You can get it in print, audio, or digital format. Buy it from your local indie bookstore if you can or ask your library to order it!