October 3, 2023
Note From Rochelle
As you know, I took on a teaching gig this fall. I’m learning tons and having a blast. But it’s taking lots of time. Between that, my editing, and the two coaching groups I run, I’m swamped. For that reason, I’m cutting back on this newsletter. I’ve published weekly since 2007. For the next three months, I am going to play around with publishing on the first and third Tuesdays of the month. I hope you’ll stick with me during the transition.
And a surprise deal! MockUp Shots is having a sale again. Get book promo videos, memes, animated gifs, testimonial graphics, book cover reveal images, and quality mockup shots of your book in seconds. MockupShots makes it all possible. Check it out!
Today’s tip is an interview with my friend and fellow writer, Jeannée Sacken. The third and final book in her series has just come out. Learn about the new book and what it’s like to wrap up a novel series! If you’re in the Milwaukee area, come see her at Shorewood Library on October 11 at 6:30 PM.
Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach
Wrapping Up a Novel Series
An Interview with Jeannée Sacken
by Rochelle Melander
Welcome to the blog and congrats on your new book. Can you tell readers a little bit about The Rule of Thirds?
Thanks so much for inviting me to your blog. It’s been great to talk with your readers about each of the three books in The Annie Hawkins Series. The Rule of Thirds tells the story of seasoned photojournalist Annie’s return to Afghanistan in August 2021 to photograph what promises to be the story of her career: the return of the Taliban to power. While on assignment, she also tries to help some of her Afghan friends and colleagues escape likely imprisonment and possible death by getting them out of the country. She quickly discovers that she, too, is in the Taliban crosshairs. With her longtime love, U.S. Navy SEAL Admiral Finn Cerelli in Washington D.C., Annie has to rely on her Afghan fixer and her own wits to escape.
Last time you were here, you talked about the challenges of writing a sequel I am curious about the challenges of wrapping up a novel series—especially a popular one like yours. Can you talk about that?
Before I wrote The Rule of Thirds, I envisioned the series continuing for about six books, but once I wrote this third book, I knew the story was complete. A year ago, when I was on book tour with Double Exposure, an interviewer asked in all seriousness, “Do you honestly think you can say good-bye to Annie and Cerelli?” “Of course, I can! They’re fiction. These characters are the product of my imagination.” But when I actually finished writing the book, I realized he was correct. I couldn’t bring myself to write “The End” on the final page.
The really great thing about writing a novel series is that an author gets to dig deep, deep, deep into their characters, exploring all their foibles and flaws—there are a lot more pages in which to do this than in a standalone. Although Annie and Cerelli are fiction, they’ve also become a huge part of my life. Annie has kept me awake countless nights, talking about how guilty she feels leaving her daughter to be raised by her ex-husband and his new wife. We’ve drunk a lot of bourbon together, and she’s been known to correct my camera settings out in the field. For his part, Cerelli likes to join me in the shower. And he writes the most romantic poetry! Say good-bye to these two? Impossible! But during edits, my very wise editor finally made me write the “The End.”
What’s the best way to get over this profound missing? Write another book. Which is exactly what I’ve done. A standalone or another series? We’ll see.
You have done a lot of speaking on behalf of your books. I’ve really loved your photo talks—because it helped me to see Afghanistan. Can you talk about how you make your speaking engagements interesting and relevant to readers?
I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the photo talks. I really like bringing together the two halves of my creative life: photojournalism and novel-writing. As you may have guessed, I’m a very visual and cinematic writer—so the photo talks allow me to “show” my novels. Since I set my novels in places that most readers have never been, I want them to be able to have as authentic and immersive an experience as possible. Also giving slide presentations allows me to “talk” the presentation more informally and engage with audience members in a free-flowing conversation or question-and-answer format. There’s a lot more audience buy-in. While on book tour, I’ve done presentations on how I used my own photographic images and experiences to create the character of Annie Hawkins and how I’ve fictionalized many of my own shoots into scenes in the books. On this year’s book tour, I’ll be doing photo talks about the research I’ve done to create the place, social, and cultural settings (worldbuilding) of Afghanistan.
For all of your books, you’ve had sensitivity readers. Can you talk about the process of doing that and how using their feedback has helped you with your writing?
My goal is to write novels that are authentic. It’s critical to me that I “get it right.” I start my process by doing some initial research (the internet has become my best friend). With the Annie Hawkins Series, I then met with members of Masjid al-Hudahere in Milwaukee to make sure the storyline was plausible and feasible. They loved it and were tremendously encouraging, giving me several different Qur’ans and a lot of other information. From there, I did a lot more research, always assessing the authenticity of what I was finding and double, then triple checking everything. Once I had a solid draft, I located a fabulous religious and cultural sensitivity reader through the Hollywood Branch of the Muslim Public Affairs Council—a fabulous experience. We worked closely together, and my reader corrected erroneous interpretations of Islam and the Qur’an, providing me a much better and deeper understanding. In several instances, she also helped me create better and more suspenseful scenes. I’ve also worked with a psychotherapist and massage specialist on PTSD treatments, lawyers about a legal problem in which Annie gets entangled, physicians to vet medical conditions and treatments, and a retired U.S. Naval officer to help with all things Navy. Yes, this is time-consuming, but all this consulting assures me I “got it right.”
What are you reading now?
Confession: I tend not to read others’ books when I’m writing. There’s just too much interference. But I do love series and while on a recent photoshoot in Scotland, I read two of Anna Lee Huber’s books in her Lady Darby Series: A Perilous Perspective and A Fatal Illusion. Set mostly in Scotland, Huber’s books involve a wealth of research which she integrates seamlessly.
About the author. A former English professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, Jeannée Sacken is now a photojournalist who travels the world, documenting the lives of women and children. She also photographs wildlife and is deeply committed to the conservation of endangered species. When not traveling, she lives with her husband and three cats in Shorewood, Wisconsin, where she’s hard at work on the next novel in the award-winning Annie Hawkins series. Follow Jeannée at jeanneesacken.com.