Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Bold New Heroine

by Ellen Crosby
Author of Multiple Exposure

My husband warned me. I did listen.

But to be honest, I was unprepared for the number of e-mails and comments on sites like Goodreads and Amazon when the word got out that after six books in the Virginia wine country mysteries, I was switching gears and writing something different.

Here’s what I was thinking: it’s time. I’d written myself into the proverbial corner because The Merlot Murders was originally supposed to be a standalone and I’d always planned to do something different after finishing that book. In fact, what I planned to do was write Multiple Exposure. Yup, it’s true. When I found my old notes in a couple of yellowed notebooks, I blew dust off papers from 2003. 

After six wine country mysteries it was getting harder to play fair with my fans, harder to keep you guessing whodunit, because by now you knew who-didn’t-dun-it in the small-but-charming town of Atoka, Virginia. What I learned from writing those books is a lesson I now pass on to anyone who hopes to be published someday: don’t do what I did. Write on a big canvas and think about a big story with lots of possible arcs for future books—in other words, a series. Make sure you create complex, richly developed characters in a vivid, evocative setting because you’ll probably be spending years of your life with these people and they’d better be worth your time investment. Don’t write just one book where you tie everything up neatly at the end . . . and then have to un-knit it for future stories.

For those who’ve read my wine country mysteries—all of them—how many of you remember Lucie’s sister Mia? To refresh your memory, she drifts out of the picture after The Chardonnay Charade, the second book, and gets a brief mention without actually appearing in The Viognier Vendetta, the fifth one. Enough said.

So back to my dilemma. Sure, I knew people would be unhappy if I stopped writing the wine country mysteries. People loved Lucie—and so do I. But I’m not Arthur Conan Doyle writing about Sherlock Holmes and don’t we all wonder when, not if, J.K. Rowling is going to succumb and write Harry Potter Returns or maybe Son of Harry Potter? What I figured was that you guys liked my writing, my voice, my style, the way I told a story well enough that you’d come with me down a new road with a new character named Sophie Medina, an international photojournalist, a restless, inquisitive, intelligent woman who’s been in war zones, slept in tents in the desert, ridden camels if that was what it took to get where the story was.

Multiple Exposure is darker and edgier than my previous books, so reviewers are calling it a “thriller.” And if I may be permitted to brag (when Sandy asked me to write this post she didn’t tell me I couldn’t, and I’d rather ask forgiveness than permission, anyway), it’s getting some pretty terrific pre-publication reviews about being fast-paced, well-plotted, and, best of all, well-written. But if you’ve read Moscow Nights, my out-of-print British book—occasionally you can find it on UK or Australian used bookstore websites—you’ll know that with Multiple Exposure I’ve come full circle, writing about a journalist in an international setting, because I know about it firsthand.

Why a photographer rather than a journalist? Years ago, I wrote feature stories for The Journal, a now-defunct newspaper that was circulated around the Beltway to the entire Metro Washington, D.C. area, and just before I started writing fiction full-time, I wrote regional features as a freelancer for The Washington Post. Both papers always assigned photographers to my stories and it soon became obvious that the combination of my words and someone else’s picture—I had fabulous photographers—usually landed us on the front page of the metro section. More often than not we were above the fold, which is prime real estate in journalism. Okay, now I’m really done bragging, but when I decided to write Multiple Exposure—take note, and future books—I knew I wanted to write from the perspective of the journalist who was looking for exactly the right picture to tell the story, rather than the right words.

My husband teases me that this new series has been the perfect excuse to call all purchases of camera equipment and books on photography “business expenses,” because I’m such a photography geek, but, hey, who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth? However I’m serious about doing research, just as I was in the wine country mysteries, because the journalist in me wants to get it right. Plus I gave Sophie an amazing grandfather named Charles Lord (much like Lucie’s French grandfather), a man who was one of the original photographers from the iconic Magnum studio, so Henri Cartier-Bresson hired him and he was friends with all of Magnum’s legendary post World War II founders. If you read my books you know I’m also kind of a history nut, so Charles’s background gives me the chance to weave the history of a fascinating era in photojournalism into Sophie’s story.

To answer one final question that I’ve been asked a lot: no, I haven’t closed the door on writing more wine country mysteries. But I sure am having fun writing Sophie Medina’s story.

Ellen Crosby is a former foreign correspondent who now lives in the Washington, DC, area. Learn more about Ellen and both her series at


Rhonda Lane said...

Hi, Ellen - Very excited about your new series. Congratulations! I'm looking forward to meeting you at Bouchercon since we share a fascination with globe-trotting photojournalists. I used to be a photog, but only with a small daily's suburban bureau, which suited my and my worried husband's awkward low tolerance for personal risk. :)

Speaking of risk, I'm very impressed with your bold decision to switch subgenres, especially from one that's a much safer bet commercially these days. Did any aspects of your writing process change as you made the switch? Did you feel your Voice change?

Thank you for coming to PDD! :)

Robin C said...

Ellen, I think it is awesome that you are branching out into different subgenres (thanks Rhonda Lane). I appreciate an author who has multiple stories and characters. Bravo!

Sandra Parshall said...

Thanks for being with us today, Ellen.

In answer to your question: I remember Mia! She was a brat, but I wouldn't have minded seeing more of her. I like all your characters, and I'm sure I'll enjoy the new book and series too.

Katreader said...

I certainly don't mind when authors branch out and write other books in other genres. However, I will admit that I'm disappointed about the end of the Wine Country series. I really loved it.

cncbooks said...

Well, I'm just glad we got to do the Wine Festival here in Richmond before you decided to take a different road ;-) Cheers to you and Sophie!

Lelia Taylor

Ellen Crosby said...

Thank you all! And no, Rhonda Lane, my writing process is still the same as it always was . . . if you have read MOSCOW NIGHTS, my very first book (published only in the UK), you would see that I've more or less gone back to my journalism roots.