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The Reincarnation and Reimagining of the Hightower Trilogy

If you’ve been with me from the beginning, you know that the Hightower Trilogy began as the Moonlit Trilogy, first releasing in 2012. I will always have a love for that first edition. It made me an author. Traveling and pounding pavement forced me to work through severe post-partum anxiety and a growing, crippling phobia of leaving home. That first book saved my life.

In 2016, my husband and I moved to rural southern Oregon. By then, I was a mother of three kids ages five and under, my husband was working long hours building a new practice, and my nearest relative was 3000 miles away. That winter, it literally rained every day for one hundred days. The voices of Blippi and Dora the Explorer constantly blared from the TV and echoed from wall to wall. Some days, we would drive around winding back roads so my kids could moo out of the windows at pastured cows, just to go see something else besides the inside of our house.

Lonely and on the brink of losing my mind, I was given the opportunity to republish the entire trilogy with Parliament House Press as one of the publisher’s fledgling titles, and I jumped at the chance. What I thought would be a quick and simple turnover became a significant revamp of the first book. I discovered new pieces of Tanzy’s journey, new depths to her character, new moments in her life. She was deeply sad, isolated, and drowning in proverbial open water, and her despair became my life raft. The innocence of Tanzy’s beginning was traded for an honest – if not bitter – grit. As a writer, I learned more about plot and story from those revisions than any lesson before or since. I also won my first award – WILDWOOD (book #1 in the second edition of the trilogy) took home the title for the best fiction category at the Equus International Film Festival the year it was released. Too nervous to leave babies behind to fly to NYC and with little expectation for winning, I hadn’t gone, and wasn’t there to accept the award. The regret still haunts me.

Soon after the third book went to press for Parliament House, I found myself more at home in Oregon, but a little lost about what to right next. I was sitting at the counter in my kitchen, Blippi blippi-ing away on the TV behind me, my kids pushing each across the vinyl floor in a plastic laundry basket, and the voice who would become Michael Jeffery Walton whispered his first scene into my mind: a juvenile defender in a courtroom, a defense attorney who is so secretly scared of her client that she is horrified when he’s found not guilty, and the moment he watches her walk away, patiently certain that their journey together is just beginning. Random fun fact: the book went through a couple major revisions and more rounds of edits than I can count, but that first scene never changed.

Exploring the bleak depths of Tanzy’s heart and her mother’s mental unraveling in the second edition of the fantasy trilogy gave me the courage to deep dive into what scares me most about this world we live in: other people, the randomness of life, and how chance encounters sometimes create butterfly effects that echoe across years and miles. Braiding these fears together, I wrote what became SILENCE ON COLD RIVER, which sold to Pegasus Crime in 2019 for a spring 2020 publication. The cover for that book was the cover for the publisher’s fall catalog. The distributors at Simon and Schuster were in meetings with my editor to assemble a marketing campaign and tour. Excited and wildly hopeful, I began drafting my next thriller, feeling pretty sure that my days writing fantasy were behind me for good, and that the path forward in my suspense career was looking pretty smooth from where I stood.

As it turns out, I was wrong on all fronts.

First: 2020. It’s an explanation in itself. A serial-killer debut launching into the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and into an already terrified world was almost surely going to drown, and mine absolutely did. Then my editor left Pegasus Crime and my agent left agenting all together, and just like that, I was alone and adrift in publishing’s ocean once again.

And once again, Tanzy tossed me a lifeline. But she had to fall into the water with me this time.

This past summer, fellow author and critique group partner Heather Ransom was asked to help fill a spot for a fantasy author panel about how to effectively use magic in warfare at the Rose City Comic Con, and she chose me. She found me in a bit of a tailspin. The week before had been a whiplash of news. I learned my audiobook publisher (Ground Cherry Press) was so happy with SILENCE ON COLD RIVER that they nominated it for the 2023 Audie Awards. I also learned Parliament House was undergoing a massive restructuring, and that many of the original titles whose contracts were aging out would not be offered a new agreement, including mine. I’d felt like a “real” author days before, but after losing an agent, an editor, and a publisher (which meant the fantasy books would no longer be in print,) I wasn’t sure what I felt like anymore.

At Comic Con, Heather’s publisher – Ben Gorman of Not a Pipe – offered to let me sell my books at their table. With Heather’s encouragement, I worked up the nerve to mention to Ben that the Hightower Trilogy books were now free agents, and I asked him if he would be willing to check them out to see if he thought they were something he’d consider publishing. In a plot-twist in every way imaginable, he was not the only one excited by the chance. Word spread that publishing rights to Tanzy and co. were available, and by the end of the con, another publisher approached me with interest in the series.

The excitement and stress were different than anything I’d experienced yet. As I met with representatives from both presses, talked strategy, gaged long-term potential, and looked up business histories, I thought of a quote I’d recently seen that had stuck with me: when you start over, you’re not starting from scratch, you’re starting from experience. In the beginning, I felt like I wanted to move forward with the deal that seemed the smoothest and most seamless: get the books back out there and minimize disruption in availability. They’d been published twice before this – three times if you count the very brief lifespan as a self-published trilogy when I thought I could handle doing it on my own (in summary: I cannot,) and had been a finalist for the Frank Yerby fiction award and had won the biggest category at an international film festival. Surely this all meant that they were clean and good to go, no major revisions required this time. Then I met with Ben one more time to discuss his vision for publication should I choose Not A Pipe, and oh, was I wrong.

As Ben pointed out some of the structural weaknesses of the trilogy, particularly in the first book, I realized he could see more clearly what I’d subconsciously been trying to do with the stories than I had realized on the surface of things. Further, he called me out for breaking my own rule. I’d been flinching all the way, tiptoeing up to a truth I wanted to shine a light on and peering at it from the peripheral in the dark. I hadn’t meant to soft-shoe hard issues, but I was guilty as charged. Yes, he wanted the trilogy, but he wanted me to take it back to bones and rebuild it with the toolbox that I’ve been amassing since the beginning of my career. Even though asking for a massive revamp was absolutely not the news I wanted to hear, it was also spot on and undeniable. Tanzy deserves the world in Ben’s vision. So do her readers. My mind was made up before the call was over. Tanzy was going to Not a Pipe.

What does this mean for the Hightower Trilogy? It is getting a complete renovation, start to finish. Tanzy’s world will be her own, a vivid and tangible experience where her story will headbutt the topics I’d tiptoed her past before. I’ve dealt with my own demons, unpacked the history that led me to write hers for the first time when I didn’t even know I was doing it. She and I were surviving back then, and I would’ve called it fighting for our lives. Now, we’re both ready to turn trauma into tools and go to war.

The new editions will be vastly different than their predecessors, and for all intents and purposes, they will be a completely new series, including new titles, a total reimagining. It is important to note that the books will not be interchangeable with previous editions. It will also take time to do them proper, unflinching justice. I ask patience as we rebuild them. It’s taken me ten years to get here, but it won’t take that long to get them out, and I’ll keep you posted every step of the way.


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