I first came up with the Carrie Shatner and Jerrod Hardy characters when I was a senior in high school. This was way back in 2005/2006. At that time, I was reading a lot of mystery novels starring strong, female sleuths, and I decided I was going to attempt creating one of my own. I also liked the idea of writing a series. Even as a teenager who was still trying to figure out this novel writing thing, I instinctively knew that, once I've created a character, I am invested in his/her life. I want to give my characters more than 300+ pages to tell their story. To grow and change as people as they carry on in their adventures.
I don't really remember when or how Carrie Shatner exactly came to life. Like Athena, who came kicking and screaming into the mythological world directly from Zeus's forehead as a full-formed and armed adult woman, one day Carrie Shatner was there. And I immediately knew that she wouldn't be leaving anytime soon. This kick ass woman had a story to tell, and it was up to me to put that story into words. Not long after Carrie sprang from my brain, Jerrod Hardy appeared by her side.
Over the years, Carrie Shatner and Jerrod Hardy have gone through many transformations. In every version, they were in some form of law enforcement, but their job and place of employment changed more times than Cher would change outfits during her shows. Carrie's and Jerrod's relationship to each other, and their work situation, also changed as well. Sometimes they already knew each other prior to the beginning of the story; other times they only met in the first chapter. Sometimes they were partners (whether established or brand new), and other times they were in different fields and were brought together to work on the case. Sometimes they worked for large police departments in big cities, and other times they were in small towns. Finally, after bouncing around all over Texas (because these characters came to life as Texans and there was no removing them from the Lone Star State), Carrie and Jerrod finally found a home in the Piney Woods of East Texas. Carrie works as a detective and crime scene technician at the sheriff's department in the made up Wyatt County. And Jerrod has landed himself a job with the Texas Rangers stationed out of Tyler. Prior to the beginning of the novel, Carrie and Jerrod have not met. She doesn't even know that a new Texas Ranger is covering Wyatt County until he shows up at her crime scene.
If this all sounds really confusing and frustrating, trust me, it was. At this point, the only thing about Carrie that hasn't changed is her name. Even Jerrod was christened with a new first name for a few years before I switched back to the name I had originally come up with. For years, I labored over Carrie's story - sometimes taking extended breaks as college and life got in the way. But I always came back to her because I believed in her story. And because Carrie was both the angel and the devil perched on my shoulders, constantly reminding of my obligation to her.
As the years progressed, and Carrie Shatner’s character continued to change and develop, I realized I had to provide her with something that made her unique. Something that made her stand out from all of the other female characters who were solving all sorts of crimes in between the book pages. I started out by giving Carrie a small family of eccentric individuals to act as a foil to her no-nonsense attitude, and also to provide some comic relief. That eccentric family soon began to grow, and they slowly became a band of criminals whom Carrie feels obligated to keep out of jail. Carrie’s desire to do the right thing clashes with her responsibility to protect her family members not only from the crimes they commit, but from themselves.
It was in January 2011, while I was working on a Master of Arts in Creative Writing, that I began to write the novel that would become Criminal Misdeeds. By this point Carrie and Jerrod had found their homes and their jobs. And Carrie's criminally inclined family members were driving her nuts. That's not to say there have not been major changes in the story between the first draft and the version that will soon be going into print. Characters came and went, whole scenes (some of which I still really like) were relegated to the "Dead Darlings File", and the killer changed multiple times.
During the spring of 2014, I finally felt like Criminal Misdeeds was ready to be sent out to agents. Looking back, the novel wasn't quite ready, but the timing was perfect. I began researching agents who work with mystery novels, hoping one of them would be the one who would fall in love with my novel and my characters. As I was looking over the list of agents, there was one name that stood out - Jessica Alvarez with the BookEnds Literary Agency. I don't know why, but my gut feeling was that she was the one. My gut was right. Jessica saw potential in Carrie Shatner, Jerrod Hardy, and the rest of the gang. I signed a contract with BookEnds in July 2014, and, after some revisions, Jessica began to send out Criminal Misdeeds to publishers.
Then began the frustrating, and sometimes heartbreaking, wait as we muddled through rejection after rejection. It's not that these publishers didn't like Criminal Misdeeds, they just didn't think their publishing house was the right home for my novel. I'll admit that the stream of rejections left me bitter, and I began to question whether or not I should give up on my dream of being a writer. I had already written a second novel for the Carrie Shatner Mystery series, and I had ideas for more books. But there was no point in working on them if the first book was never going to get published. Unless I self-published, which I was beginning to consider. Jessica was pushing for me to start work on something new, something that wasn't about Carrie Shatner, but I just couldn't seem to move on. Carrie was still sitting on my shoulder, whispering her stories in my ear and keeping me from coming up with a new idea that didn't involve her. After ten-plus years of hard work, I wasn't ready to give up.
By January 2017, Jessica felt like we were reaching the end of our options. She'd sent my novel out to nearly all of the houses that publish mystery novels, and none of them were willing to take a chance on it. On January 20, 2017, Jessica emailed me to let me know that she had sent Criminal Misdeeds to one more publisher - probably the last publisher since we had exhausted all of our other options. Ten days later, Jessica called me. When I saw her name pop up on my caller ID, it hit me that she and I have not spoken on the phone since I signed the contract a year-and-a-half earlier. I knew there could only be one reason she might be calling - we'd finally found a publisher! One of the publishers/editors at Camel Press, an imprint of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc., had fallen in love with Carrie Shatner and her story. I should have been screaming and celebrating, but all I could do was collapse into my chair in relief. And not only did Camel Press want Criminal Misdeeds, they also want two more novels for the Carrie Shatner Mystery series. Two more novels in which I can tell her story.
It's been twelve years since Carrie Shatner sprang from my brain as a kick-ass, crime fighting woman with a Texas drawl.
Twelve years of labor, love, and sacrifice spent telling the first part of her story.
Twelve years of doubt, insecurity, and frustration as I constantly questioned whether I was wasting my time or if my novel would ever be worthy of publication.
Twelve years of Carrie Shatner sitting on my shoulder, telling me her story and convincing me to keep going and not give up.
And, I'll be honest, that crazy bitch still won't shut up. Not that I want her to.