It’s been too long, but so much has happened

I just realized that I haven’t updated this blog for almost a year. Yikes! In my defense, it’s been a tumultuous year, punctuated by two deaths of people close to me.

I am working hard on All That Burns the Dark and hope to have it out within the next few months. Unfortunately, it will not have the touch of my long-time editor, Diane Mumpower, as we lost her a few months ago to lung cancer. Diane made a huge difference to these books; she understood my characters as well as I did, and she really helped me with Diana’s change of heart/rehabilitation in this third book.

Last November, for the first time, Diane asked me to tell her the rest of the story as I had outlined it. She had always said she wanted to find out what happened after I wrote it — she wanted to experience it the first time as a reader. I told her the remainder of the story (she had already worked on the first half), and she made a few suggestions about the direction one of the characters would take.

A month later, she was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, and we lost her 26 days after her diagnosis. I promised her the day before that I would finish the book, and I told her that I was dedicating it to her.

This is the dedication:


This is the permanent page on the Lindsey Forrest web site for Diane: Diane Mumpower

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Why All Who Are Lost ends where it does…

Or How I Turned One Book into Three!

When I decided to publish the Ashmore’s Folly story, I faced a problem: The story wasn’t even finished, and it was almost half a million words. My estimate was that it would end up being about 600,000 words — far too long for any traditional publisher these days, and too long for a reader to take a chance on. Pricing would scare readers off. Not to mention that I needed to get the first and second parts of the story out there so that I would have the gun at my head to finish the third. (I’m a terrible procrastinator.)

How did I know where to stop the first story? The second book? What creative decisions went into making Meg’s discovery the last chapter in All Who Are Lost? Why does All That Lies Broken end on a cliffhanger?

I am sorry to say that the Muses did not help (although listening to Muse probably did). I did approach this all along as one big story and not a series. The difference? The In Death books are a series. While character and narrative threads tie the books together, each story is self-contained. One big story? You need not look any further than Outlander. Imagine starting with Drums of Autumn or The Fiery Cross without ever reading Outlander. The stories in those books won’t make sense unless you start from the beginning. For that matter, some of the events in Dragonfly in Amber won’t resonate unless you know what happened between Jamie and Black Jack in Outlander. This is a story that you cannot read out of order. The In Death books? Of course you can read in any order you like. You might wonder at a reference to something that happened in another book, and if you start with one of the more recent books you won’t understand the anguish Eve went through over her childhood, but by and large you can read each story by itself.

I knew my story was one big arc, but it had to be divided up. For that, I used the idea of the three-act structure. Each book would be an act in a play, and each book would have three parts. This is a well-used structure that feels familiar and comfortable to readers. I’ve actually read some reviews of other books on Amazon where people complained that a story should have been a trilogy instead of five books. Three feels comfortable to readers; five does not. Strangely enough, seven is also a comfortable number (Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, even the structure of Tolkien).

So now I had to divide the story into a trilogy. How?

I read some warnings about never ending on a cliffhanger because readers don’t like them, and making sure that you end in a good place, and some other pieces of good advice that I’ve already forgotten. Then I thought — I like cliffhangers. I don’t mind leaving the characters in an uncertain position. I didn’t even scream when Diana Gabaldon left us in mid-conversation at the end of An Echo in the Bone (for three years!). I decided to do what felt right for the story and use whatever means worked, and to hell with the rules.

Tools? Excel worked.

That’s right. I created a spreadsheet, did a word count on each chapter, and (with the eventual goal of 600K words) roughly balanced the story into three parts. Once I had a word count down, I started looking at the character and narrative arcs. I wanted the first book to end with Richard and Laura sort of together, each accepting that they are now a couple. Richard in particular had to be brought along from his initial reluctance, and it’s at Monticello that he tells her that they are “well and truly caught.” I actually thought about ending the first book there, except that it left a piece of Diana’s story dangling to the second book. I wanted to get the back story of the Ashmore marriage out of the way before Book 2 so that everyone can stop concentrating on what happened then and start worrying about what is happening now.

So I shifted the last chapter about the Ashmore marriage to the first book. Then I had to decide: did it go before or after the Monticello chapter? In fact, the placement of some of Diana’s chapters gave me a great deal of trouble as I tried to figure out the optimum narrative flow. I finally decided that, even though the last Diana chapter does not put either Richard or Diana in the best light, it should come after Richard and Laura talk in the Monticello summerhouse. I used the argument prosecutors use when they have a witness with a less than sterling past: Bring out the bad in direct, because it dilutes the impact when the defense brings it up later. (Thanks to the late great Vincent Bugliosi for that idea!) Richard does say that, in the last big fight he and Diana had, neither one of them had ever behaved so badly in their lives, so when Diana remembers their last fight, the impact of some of his unforgivable comments is diluted by his prior admission to Laura. Placing the last Diana chapter after Monticello allowed me to place the penultimate Diana chapter (the discovery) before Monticello, so that the reader gets Diana’s version of the Francie affair first (putting Richard in a bad light), and then Richard gets to tell his side of the story. So you know that he has accepted responsibility for what he did and that he feels a great deal of shame over it, but — I hope — you don’t hate him for it.

Still, ending All Who Are Lost on Diana’s declaration of War on Mr. Perfect didn’t feel right. The next chapter up was Lucy’s meeting with Diana in the coffee shop, and that was definitely not the place to end the book. So I looked at the timeline and tried to decide when and where Meg discovers the truth of her parentage, and I realized that it had to occur sometime on the weekend that Richard and Laura spend together. I pulled some narrative I had already written for the next two books, wrote the “missing moment” of Meg’s discovery, and created Chapter 24. Since Meg is also an important character whose actions affect the future plot line, I thought it important to give some insight into what makes her tick.

The other consideration was the character growth of both Richard and Laura from the beginning through Monticello. As the story opens, Richard is a reserved man who keeps everything about his personal life to himself. He does not “kiss and tell.” He has never kissed and told. But Laura and the reader still need to hear his side of the Francie affair, and he has to come to a place where he feels comfortable enough, and is willing to take the chance, to tell her (and us) what had happened. We all know a lot more about Richard after Monticello, and we now know that this was a big turning point in his life. He screwed up, big time. But it led to a spiritual awakening on his part and, eventually, Francie ended up making him a better man. He was a self-righteous prig when he was younger; he did sit on his moral high horse with Diana. Francie brought him down a peg, and he’s a better man for his monumental moral failing.

He’s also been in stasis most of his adult life, as far as women go. He’s had a few relationships, but while he cared for the women, he kept them at arm’s length. This man has kept his emotions and passion in a deep freeze. By the end of All Who Are Lost, he is partially defrosted (the rest will occur halfway through All That Lies Broken), and he is at least open to a relationship with Laura.

Laura has also been in stasis. She stayed in a marriage with a man she never loved enough until it ended for them both. She has consistently put the welfare of her daughter before her own. Cam wanted to keep Laura to himself, and she let him to the point where she has never learned how to exist on her own. As the book progresses, Laura begins to grow up and out. She lives by herself for the first time in her life. She makes decisions. She stands up to Richard (as Diana said, where would Laura get the nerve to fight with him?). She stands up to Lucy, an even scarier prospect! She admits her feelings to him — not only her love for him, but her fury against him for Francie. She finally allows herself to remember what she did to him at Ash Marine. And, at Monticello, after getting so jealous of Francie’s memory that she makes a complete fool of herself, she realizes that she isn’t her seventeen-year-old self anymore. She doesn’t have to be jealous of a girl, because she is a woman. The boy Richard had been is not enough for her now; she wants the man with the nicked soul and banged-up heart. She still hasn’t told him the truth of what she did — we have two-thirds of the story to go — but Laura is now on an emotional par with Richard.  She is ready to deal with the man as a woman.

At the beginning of the story, Laura still sees Richard through the prism of a childhood crush: she refers to him several times as Prince Charming, she thinks of him as the prince of her childhood, she is nervous and horrified that he might know her feelings about him. That’s infatuation. By the end of the first book, she is meeting him as an adult woman, an equal. She no longer sees him as a fairy tale prince; she sees the lonely soul who has stumbled and fallen and picked himself up. She sees him as a man.

So All Who Are Lost ends with Richard and Laura in a better place than where they started off and Meg learning the truth about who she really is. We can now launch into the events of All That Lies Broken.

Whew! This is a long post! More later on how I assembled All That Lies Broken.

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Diana and Laura play dress-up

In All Who Are Lost, Chapter 14, “Ancient Crimes,” Laura and Diana find the old couture clothes of their mother stashed in the attic of their father’s house and play dress-up.  Laura buys the dresses from Diana and plans to wear them in the upcoming benefit she is giving for Lucy’s cause.

Here is the Pinterest board I created with ideas for some of the dresses. I particularly like the couture of Charles James, who created mini works of architecture in his dresses. So what should Laura wear at the concert? (We will see in All That Burns the Dark.)

       Follow Lindsey’s board Haute Couture on Pinterest.

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Cam St. Bride

I’m not going to add a character sketch for Cameron St. Bride, but I did want to post his picture. I have always thought he looked like the young Brett Cullen (actor from TX who had a supporting role in Apollo 13). Here is the link to the headshot that I put in my writing notebook for Cam. It’s the third headshot in the fourth row. If you click it, you’ll see a larger version of the photo.

Brett Cullen

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What’s in a Name?

Or how I got to name people who couldn’t complain!

While I’ve been asked many times where I got the idea for Ashmore’s Folly, no one has ever asked me how I came up with the names for my characters. I have agonized over each and every name — and only two characters have had the same name all the way through.

Naming a character is as fraught with anxiety as naming a child. With a child, however, you don’t know ahead of time whether or not the name will suit him/her, and she can always call herself Liz instead of Beth later on! In fiction, the name must fit the character; it is actually part of the personality of the character.

No insult to the Freds of the world, but Richard was never going to be Fred (maybe Frederick, if I liked the name). Laura was never going to be Mary Sue. Diana was never going to be Jane. There’s nothing wrong with those names, but they don’t convey what I wanted in the respective characters.

Laura Rose Abbott St. Bride

Laura had so many names over the years: Christabel (from Coleridge’s poem), Pamela (no! that never would have done! even though a Pamela is a very dear friend of mine), Catherine/Cat, Marianna (after another dear friend), and Diana. None of those worked, although Cat survived as her stage name. I wanted a soft, feminine name, and I came up short until one night I watched the old film noir Laura. The name signified a woman who was an enigma even to those who knew her best. My heroine has been Laura ever since. It also helped that Laura was Plutarch’s muse, so the name had a classical appeal and fit in with the other names for the Abbott sisters.

The Rose of her middle name came from a Louisa May Alcott book I loved when I was a girl called Rose in Bloom.

Originally, St. Bride was St. John. However, there is a musician named Lara St. John, so I decided to change it to a name that I read somewhere in a book a long time ago. St. Bride is not a common name at all, so I settled on that.

Richard Patrick Ashmore

Richard has been Richard for most of his existence. I’ve always loved the name, and it was the name of my favorite Mary Stewart hero (Richard Byron). When my sister Lauri said last year that she was sort of squicked out by him having that name (because we have a brother named Richard), I thought of changing it to Brandon, since I was no longer using that as a last name. Then, Twihard that I am, I thought of the very attractive vampire Garrett played by Lee Pace in Breaking Dawn, Part II, so I tried Garrett Ashmore on for size. That name even went out to my beta readers. However, no matter what, my hero was still Richard to me. It just suited him — aristocratic, dignified, not trendy. A lot of Virginia scions have had the name Richard.

The middle name Patrick came about because (1) I love the name, and (2) I had long since decided that Richard’s mother came from Ireland.

Originally, Richard’s family name was Brandon. This is an old Virginia name, and I thought that Richard Brandon was exactly right for the scion of an aristocratic Virginia family. There is even a plantation called Upper Brandon. Then my friend Patti Burroughs pointed out that it was one letter off from Richard Branson, who couldn’t be more different from my hero. I needed a name that sounded like a family that might have come over from England and settled in Virginia in the early 1700s, and I went through a number of ideas before I thought of James Monroe’s home, Ash Lawn, which is adjacent to Monticello, and the name Ashmore popped into my head. I ran it by a few people, who approved it enthusiastically.

So Richard became Richard Ashmore.

Julia (Julie) Ashmore

Originally named Judy. Wouldn’t have worked at all. (Oh, and originally Richard and Diana had had three children, with the other two being named Search and Ross. Not only were those two completely unnecessary, but Diana was never, ever going to have three kids. The Ashmores could barely stand being married to each other long enough to have Julie. So Search and Ross vanished into the ether.)

Philip and Peggy Ashmore

They were always Philip and Peggy. Peggy’s maiden name, O’Brien, was my grandmother’s maiden name.

Diana Renée Abbott Ashmore

Diana was one of the names I thought of for Laura, but it never fit. Diana herself was originally Leslie, and I still think that might have worked. Then I must confess, I read a biography/tell-all about Diana, Princess of Wales, that was not at all complimentary about her mental state and, indeed, implied that she was a borderline personality. My Diana is not borderline, but she is definitely a little whacked out. So the oldest Abbott daughter became Diana, for the Princess.

Lucia (Lucy) Gianna Abbott Maitland

I always knew that the second sister would have an L name, and I went through so many: Lacey, Libby, Lizzie, Lydia. Then I thought of what I had established as Dominic Abbott’s penchant for Italian names, and Lucia came to mind. Lucia, of course, led to Lucy in the space of a second. Perfect! I thought the name illuminated Lucy’s girl-next-door persona and emphasized her friendly, outgoing nature.

Francesca (Francie) Mariah Abbott

Oh, if I had trouble with a name, this was it! She had so many iterations: Felicia, Fernanda (not sure where that came from), Catherine, Christina, Patricia, Annabel, Francine. Again, the Italian came to the rescue, and Francine became Francesca. Francesca implied mystery, a touch of the exotic — perfect for Francie’s wild-child, bad-girl persona.

As for the Mariah — I can’t say too much yet.

Dominic Abbott

That was not his original first name, although Abbott was ALWAYS the last name. I decided he was an ex-monk, and I thought first of St. Francis of Assisi. No, this man was no St. Francis. Then I thought of St. Dominic, which suggested the idea of domination. Dominic certainly attempts to dominate his daughters.

Renée Dane Marlowe

In the interest of not committing libel, I will not divulge where I came up with the name Renée. Marlowe is from Christopher Marlowe. In early drafts, the girls’ mother was so unimportant that I didn’t bother to name her.

Cameron St. Bride

Originally Gavin St. John, the Gavin being a homage to Barbara Michaels’ first book and one of my favorite Gothics, The Master of Blacktower. But Gavin is just too much of a romance hero name. I don’t know where Cameron came from, but one day it was just there, and it was perfect. Plus, I liked the nickname Cam.

Margaret (Meg) St. Bride

Originally Gayla, after a college roommate. It didn’t work. I had already decided that Richard’s mother was named Peggy, so it wasn’t a stretch that Laura would have named her daughter for the only woman who had ever mothered her. Why Meg? See Little Women.

Mark St. Bride

An old, unlamented boyfriend who was rather rigid in his approach to life. ‘Nuff said.

Emma St. Bride

I actually like the name Emma.  I wanted both of Cam’s siblings to have short names, and Emma popped into mind. I’ve never met an Emma that I dislike, but I do dislike Emma St. Bride.

Tom Maitland

Started off life as John Paul, because I so admired John Paul II. Then I changed him to Tom for Thomas Jefferson.

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