It’s a disappointment to me that my least successful book so far is Cold Winter Sun (the sequel to Scream Blue Murder). The main reason being that, in my view at least, the book includes some of the best characters I’ve created. The main two, Mike Lynch and Terry Cochran, were explored and developed in the first book. However, CWS introduces a sheriff and a Native American fixer from a county in New Mexico, a couple of gangsters from Reno, and two FBI agents, in addition to an array of supplementary characters who all have a role to play in the unfolding story.
To speed up the pace of the book, in the edits I unfortunately had to reduce the page time for my gangsters and FBI agents. I have to say that was a painful process, because I loved those scenes. However, when assessing the flow of the book they did not propel the story forward, and so with great reluctance on my part they had to go.
However, Sheriff Dwight Crozier and Joe Kane – my Native American – were hardly trimmed at all. I actually think I’d rather not have published the book than cut their scenes or sanitised them somehow. There is a minor scene featuring Joe Kane in which he has a violent encounter with a drunk, and for reasons I can’t really explain I consider it to be one of the best scenes I’ve ever written. Certainly it features one of my favourite lines, in which Kane tells the man he could skin him where he stands and he’d not know it until he moved and shed his skin like a snake. To me it was all about presenting the characters, and it’s one of many scenes in that book which linger long in my memory. I think it’s likely that one of the reasons why I enjoy a series is the development of character, and now that I think about it, I’d add another one into the mix from that book – New Mexico itself. I got almost as much pleasure from writing about the US state as I did any actual character in the book. Indeed, one of my favourite comments came from a resident of New Mexico who assumed, based on my descriptions, that I also lived there.
It’s hard to know why it’s the least popular of my books, although I suspect it may be the genre. Compared to Scream Blue Murder, this is more of a mystery than an all-out action-adventure novel, perhaps a bit more complex and indirect. But it just goes to show that you can never really tell what will work for readers, because I loved writing this book and I was absolutely thrilled with the outcome. Still, I do accept that it was quite possibly a vanity project, perhaps more about the characters than the story they were involved in. Even so, when these people are trapped inside your head, you have to find a way to release them. I enjoyed the Joe Kane scenes immensely, as he allowed me to delve into a different culture and create both light and shade. But I became so enormously fond of the sheriff during the writing stage, that I reached the point where I never wanted to let him go.
There is always a balance to strike between the story and the characters you create to help you tell it. I try hard to provide the best of both, but I suppose I am driven more by the characters, and I think I always will be. I genuinely consider Cold Winter Sun to be a better book than it’s given credit for, but its sales and reviews – though by no means bad – suggest otherwise. As ever, it comes down to personal taste, and I think a writer can become so personally invested in their characters that they become a little blinkered in the process. I’m certainly open to the possibility that I may be guilty of that with CWS, but you know what..? I stand by it. I stand by the story, and I stand by the cast of characters in it. And no matter what, I always will.