Writing the Next One

Holland Bay

Holland Bay has only been out a couple of months, and yet the question always turns to “When’s the next one?” You could sell three copies a month or a thousand and still get that question.

The answer is it’s with the alpha reader. I expect it back at the end of February, after which I find three beta readers, then turn it over to Down & Out Books. And it already has a title: The Dogs of Beaumont Heights.

I have plans for an entire series set in Monticello, but I’ve found it best to focus on the first three only. That’s realistic given that no writer can really predict where they will be in three years. But with Dogs in the revision phase, it’s time to get the next one in the pipeline. So what’s that?

Actually, you’re probably asking what The Dogs of Beaumont Heights is about. Dogs takes place largely in the borough of Rock Ridge, Monticello’s west side. In fact, very little of this story featuring the Holland Bay Squad (officially “Special Investigations”) takes place in Holland Bay this time. Branson, Murdoch, and Taggart are drawn, ironically by a crime on the city’s east side, to Beaumont Heights, a neighborhood in Rock Ridge that is, shall we say, in transition. The titular dogs are there to guard stash houses for the successors to Ralph Smithers, the drug lord from Holland Bay. (Spoiler alert: Ralph has a really bad day in the final third of the first novel.)

Oh, and it features a former Amish man who dresses the part while running a salvage yard. Yeah. David Simon and Michael Connelly never thought of that. Then again, on the flip side, my cousin’s uncle, who is sheriff of Holmes County, Ohio, had to deal with Amish Mafia for five years. (Hint: The show was fake, but it still infuriated the locals.) So, for all intents and purposes, that story is told. It just needs revised. I’m working on the one after that.

And what is it about? It has the working title of Harbourtown, named for the borough where most of the action will take place. Harbourtown in the Celloverse is Monticello’s downtown area, plus three blighted neighborhoods, Monticello State University, a theater district, and gentrified district called Canaan. Holland Bay is part of this borough.

Again, what’s it about?

There’s a human trafficking angle I wanted to work, and it’s going to obsess Branson as she transitions to a new role in her squad. In the meantime, the MPD wants the sheriff out of the city once and for all, Kagan will have… issues, and the squad has to deal with reshuffling. That’s about as specific and as spoilery as I can get. Right now, it’s just notes.

The title will likely change before this reaches my first reader next winter. When I wrote Holland Bay, I had hoped to do a book in each of Monticello’s six boroughs. The Dogs of Beaumont Heights was originally entitled The Ridge. Unfortunately, Michael Koryta already wrote a book entitled that. Subsequent books have the working titles of Harbourtown, The Island (for Holland Island), The Heights (for Vodrey Heights), The Barrens (for Midtown), and The Wilds (for Edison). All of these names will have to change as there are well-selling books with those titles. Plus the story should drive the title, not its setting. (Yes, I know all about Dune. I’m rereading it at the moment.)

However, I don’t know much more about the story. I’m just now dividing up the four major plotlines: Branson, one of the other squad, the police politics, and Rufus King’s trying to go straight. Beyond that, it’s a jumble of notes – What to research, how to layout the outline. And that’s just the beginning. I wrote Dogs with the advantage of knowing this setting and characters better than I did when I wrote Holland Bay. I wrote an outline, then broke it into three chapter “episodes,” like a streaming series.

This is a lot more involved than when I write scifi. I don’t think one is particularly better than the other, but it seems I know my story more fully when it’s Suicide and the gang than I do a crime story. But then I can spin out crime short stories much faster and get them placed more often.

I am thinking ahead. I struggled with the story tentatively titled The Island. (Yes, I’m aware there will be a title change since there’s a Ewan MacGregor movie called that.) A recent documentary on a missing news anchor made that one crystallize. The beauty of it is it doesn’t have to be a Monticello story. So if this series prematurely ends, I can transplant it elsewhere and focus on a new set of characters. But that’s not Harbourtown. For now, I live in the Celloverse.

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