Threatening Sky – got a cover, still writing the novel

I was all set to publish the sequel to my debut novel on April 5th. However, discussion with a writing coach left me feeling oddly side-swiped. and that date became far too soon.

Changing the date was the best thing to do. Stress rolled away just like that and I could “forget” about the novel for a couple of weeks. I say “forget” with quotes because it took at least three days before the characters quietened down and before I did too. Some of the coach’s suggestions had stupidly annoyed me but through that annoyance my brain was already working out how to action those suggestions. So I had to force myself to shut that down too; I really did need a break.

By this time, the cover creation was already in motion. I wanted to keep going with it because having the cover would hopefully invigorate my enthusiasm. I’d settled on a “threatening” sky (thanks, Mum), and chose a misty image of the John Hancock Building (it’ll always be this to me) on Michigan Ave to go with it. Fog rolling around skyscrapers is an eerie sight. Just the sort of image I wanted.

The cover, by the same wonderful designer of Mackerel Sky‘s cover, is now finalised and I’m really pleased to reveal it here.

This novel is so much darker than Mackerel Sky, and I wanted that reflected in the images just as much as the title. The peace, happiness, and love that Owen and Andrew had found sits on a knife edge this time. They’re going to have to put up a hell of a fight if they want to survive.

Threatening Sky is now due to be published for Kindle on June 27. Print later in the year.

Finding a Threatening Sky

I wanted to keep the sky theme for the sequel to Mackerel Sky, because originally these two novels were just one giant novel under the working title, Watching Clouds. That title because I love watching clouds and, naturally, so does the main character, Owen.

Up until the end of 2016, Watching Clouds was still going to be the title of the first book. It changed to the mackerel version because that cloud formation happens to be one of my favourites and it has a pivotal scene in the novel.

Threatening Sky came about as the sequel’s title to represent the darker nature of the story within. And, as with the mackerel sky, the threatening version plays a physical part too.

The Clouds

What I didn’t quite realise, when coming up with this title, was how hard it would be to find a sky that could be considered threatening. Or to articulate what ‘threatening’ meant to me. Big? Black? Streaky? Rainy? Flat? The following three images are top of my list at the moment, and they’re all rather different from each other.

Sky One

From 2016, this was taken on my way from Denver to Houston. Houston at the time had been suffering heavy storms and was dealing with the aftermath of floods. We skirted around this monster cloud, allowing me to see quite a lot of it. It’s totally gorgeous, but now that I’ve looked at it again, I can’t see that it’s threatening enough for a cover image (even if it was to have a change of colour).

Sky Two

Part of my daily commute consists of a beautiful coastal train journey, and I’ve taken countless photos of the sea and skies at dawn and at dusk. The view is different daily and I just love it. I like the grey/black of this photo (March 2018) but perhaps the peeking sun might rule it out of being considered threatening.

Sky Three

Ever since I told my mum what the title would be, she has been on the look out for threatening skies. She lives in an area that’s plains on one side and mountains on the other, and temperatures can be extreme. This particular photo was one of a series (December 2018) just before the storm arrived, and I really like it. It’s angry and patchy and promises rain.

The Full Cover

I envisage the cover taking the same format as Mackerel Sky because I want the pair of novels to be recognisable as a pair. So it’s all about clouds and Chicago.

However, because the John Hancock isn’t as significant as it was in the first novel, I don’t need such a close-up view of it. And, with the clouds I’m considering, I’m not sure that their threatening nature is visible enough when half the cover is of buildings.

When I visited Chicago in April/May this year, I walked along the wonderful waterfront trail. I did this because Owen walks there and I needed to see how far he could go from the downtown area and still see the John Hancock. Well, the building can be seen from Evanston, which is a perfect miracle for both novels. I have some good images of the building and general skyline from different distances that I think will work on the cover.

The novel, itself, is going through yet another edit/rewrite/reposition phase. (How many times can you reposition scenes? Turns out, a LOT.) Though I’m sure on the title and the general cover design, I won’t speak to my cover designer until nearer the end of January. The novel should be in a more stable position by then and I should have settled not only on the cloud image but also the novel’s blurb.

Threatening Sky will be published 5 April 2019.

Finding a home in Chicago

Well, first thing, I don’t live in Chicago. My characters do, but up until just recently they lived in an ‘imaginary’ part of the city. All because I had them in a neighbourhood that is a New Zealand neighbourhood and they just don’t really exist in the US. Definitely not in the spots in Chicago where I’d imagined my characters living.

By a New Zealand neighbourhood, I mean individual houses (single or double-storey) on their own land with fences between and fences in front (though not always the latter, but always very much an individual plot). Sidewalks and off-street parking (with or without a garage), letterboxes. Front lawn, back lawn. (Yes, US neighbourhoods have these things but Google what they both look like and you’ll see what I mean.)

The Tremayne house exists in my head (and on paper) with a full layout, and is obviously a major setting for the novel. The outside has more of a role in the second book but that’s such an important role that I couldn’t change the imagined layout of the house or grounds.

When I visited Chicago back in 2014 I thought I’d found the perfect street. It was close enough to walk to Lincoln Park Zoo (which had a small but important role) and there was a community park down the end of the street (which has a recurring role). Thought I had it made, and everything was just perfect. However, when I got to see the street with my own eyes I knew immediately it wouldn’t work. And… and none of the streets around it would work. The houses were multi-story apartment blocks with a communal entrance and no front lawn.

Not feasible at all.

I thought then that it didn’t matter so much, I didn’t need to actually state a street or even a suburb. But I also want this novel to know where it is. It has to be true to Chicago and its environs. I can make things up but I need to be real too.

So… I’m here in Chicago now (two months before publishing) to make things real, and to find a ‘home’ for my characters that suits what I’ve already written.

Yes, sounds like I’m being stubborn – a setting has to fit with my story and not the other way around. But that’s not how it has turned out! I mentioned Lincoln Park Zoo above; well, that’s totally gone. My characters just cannot live close enough to it. I used Google Maps to look at some of the more northern suburbs and streets/houses and spotted both a location that could just work.

Evanston lies lake-side, about forty minutes’ drive north of Chicago. It’s home to Northwestern University, great beaches and some stunningly huge mansions! For a bibliophile like me, it’s got several bookshops! It is, of course, home to a lot more than that: Visit Evanston to find out more. This little park sits between Elgin Road and Clark Street.

The street shall remain nameless. This is because, though it has all the elements I want, I’m going to tweak it just a little bit. Actually, I’m mostly going to tweak the park nearby just a little bit. And, anyway, would you like your street named???

The neighbourhood around my street actually has a New Zealand feel to it. Or that could just be because I’d found my characters’ home. Not sure, but I can very clearly imagine them living there. There are schools close by, shops, main roads, little roads, easy walk into Evanston itself, just as easy walk down to Howard, where the red line starts.

The ability to get out of ‘home’ is important, as is the ability to get into Chicago. The red line takes you all the way in and there are a number of buses that head in too, including a couple that go right past where I’m actually staying. They offer a hop, skip and a jump over to the lake and Owen will use them a lot as he seeks ‘alone’ time far far away from his brothers and sisters!

Calvary Cemetery
There’s one other tiny thing that helped me decided Evanston was their home town – Calvary Cemetery. Yep, a cemetery. The fog was rolling in when I visited last week but it was a lovely peaceful spot, and many of Chicago’s mayors are resting here. A few of Chicago’s architects too, as well as Charles Comiskey of the White Sox.

This quiet spot has taken the place of Lincoln Park Zoo in the novel. I love visiting cemeteries and I’ve imparted that to Owen, though I do think he goes there because he knows his brother won’t follow so quickly.

Mission Accomplished
One of my primary ‘must do’ activities while visiting Chicago and experiencing it first-hand was to find Owen and his siblings a home. It’s an activity I can tick off the list. When I envisage the kids now I can ‘see’ the surrounds and put them out into a wider scene – getting groceries, going to school, public transport, walking about ‘downtown’ – which I couldn’t quite do before.

I just need to re-visit on a sunny day to experience what Evanston’s like during a bright spring day, because the day I visited it was foggy and damn cold!