By Debby Giusti
Shortly after my first book was published, I banded together with a number of Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense authors to discuss brainstorming our own continuity series. The challenge, we soon learned, was to create an overall story told in a six-book format. While each book contains its own suspense, a larger problem weaves through the entire series, which negatively impacts the characters and must be satisfactorily resolved at the conclusion of the sixth book.
Those of us who were new to the line didn’t realize the complexities unique to this type of long-term project and were hard pressed to imagine the twists and turns necessary to create a suspense that could sustain itself through six books, each written by a different author. Before long, we decided creating a continuity storyline was harder than we had first imagined and should be left to someone else.
With that background, last year when I was asked to take part in Steeple Hill’s 2010 continuity, PROTECTING THE WITNESSES, I knew I had a lot to learn. Luckily, a number of the other authors selected for the project had worked on continuities before and helped me through the process. I thought you might be interested in a behind-the-scenes peek at how our series developed.
PROTECTING THE WITNESSES, as the back-of-the-book blurb states, revolves around "new identities, looming danger and forever love in the Witness Protection Program." Chicago Mafia don Salvatore Martino is dying and his son Vincent takes over the family operation. Years earlier, the testimony of a green-eyed woman named Eloise Hill sent Salvatore to jail for murder. For her own safety, she was placed in witness protection in Montana, but the mob’s after her now, and in their attempt to find Eloise, innocent women end up dead.
Steeple Hill Assistant Editor Emily Rodmell was in charge of the project, and I applaud her patience in keeping us on track and ensuring each book fit into the overall vision for the series. Shortly after she invited us to take part in the continuity, Emily sent out the “bible,” a 31-page, single-spaced outline for the series. Packed with information, it included an overview of the stories as well as the major threads, settings and brief character descriptions. The continuity elements and teasers needed in each book were part of the bible, as well.
In an attempt to keep everything straight, I read and reread those pages, underlined important information, made notes in the margins and highlighted the traits of specific characters with colored markers. Incorporating the needed information and making all the pieces fit in a way that flows naturally from the story proved to be the most challenging part, in my opinion.
Luckily, my story was the second in line so I had fewer threads to pull together, in comparison to books at the end of the series. The final author has the most challenging task of wrapping everything up in a satisfying conclusion.
We set up a yahoo loop to ease communication and, after weeks of brainstorming, submitted our synopses and first three chapters to Emily. Once the proposals were accepted, we started writing, yet continued to keep in touch, often asking advice, clarifying information or specific details as well as determining when clues would be revealed and by whom.
The deadline for each book depended on its placement in the series, with book 1 being the first in line. Changes or rewrites affected the other stories so everyone needed to be kept up to date on revisions.
Looking back, I learned a lot about the continuity process and how to take an established story and make it my own. Working with the great lineup of authors was an honor and the highlight of the entire process.
I hope you'll enjoy reading the series as much as we enjoyed writing the stories.
Wishing you abundant blessings,
Got an idea that might make a great continuity series? Leave a comment and your email address to be entered into a drawing for an advance copy of KILLER HEADLINE.
Look for the following PROTECTING THE WITNESSES stories wherever you buy Steeple Hill books:
TWIN TARGETS, by Martha Perry, Jan 2010
KILLER HEADLINE, By Debby Giusti, Feb 2010
COWBOY PROTECTOR, By Margaret Daley, Mar 2010
DEADLY VOWS, By Shirlee McCoy, Apr 2010
FATAL SECRETS, By Barbara Phinney, May 2010
RISKY REUNION, By Lenora Worth, June 2010
By Debby Giusti
WHO WILL BE NEXT?
Two women in the witness protection program have been murdered in Montana. The connection? The mob…and the victims' green eyes. Coincidence? Not according to journalist Violet Kramer, who's counting on her exposé to reveal the truth, protect women in danger—and establish herself as an ace reporter. Undercover cop Clay West thinks she's making a deadly mistake that could bring the mob to her door. And when the lawman with the piercing black eyes insists on protecting her himself, Violet knows she's already in danger.