Given the recent release of Whiskey-Eyed Woman, the final book in the Soldiering On series, I thought now might be a good time to give a history of how the series evolved. Just in case anyone is interested!
The original genesis of the series was actually book 3, Zack’s book, now known as Dangerous Victor. Back then I was a full-blown pantser. I started from the opening image or scene and wrote from there without knowing what would happen next. So, I started writing a book where a scarred man sat in front of a bank of screens showing security camera feeds, when the woman he worked with—and who he’d become very attracted to—strode through those screens.
Those few thousand words that I wrote on this book a year before I properly started working on the Soldiering On series eventually became chapter five of Dangerous Victor.
But I didn’t want Zack’s book to be the first. I wanted to build his character as isolated and lonely before he got his own book, so that it would mean more when he finally found a woman who loved him, and who he loved.
Unfortunately, Zack didn’t end up featuring in the first two books of the series as much as I had intended. The books were tighter, with a lot more focus on the main couple of each. Which was fine. The series was evolving as I created it, and I was still trying to figure out what it would be.
The first thing I actually wrote in the series (apart from the very different 3,000 words I’d banged out on Zack’s book) was the opening chapter of Station Alpha. I’d had that scene in my head for a while, and I realised I could connect the two books, and started building a world. I came up with the idea of the other characters from Soldiering On—Duncan, Mandy, Blake, Sam, Destiny, since I already had Zack and Paul—but I only had a vague impression. Again, I was a pantser. (I have since corrected those ways!)
So I wrote the first chapter of Station Alpha, which turned into the first 10,000 words, which turned into a close approximation of the book you can read today. Originally, I thought the book would be much sexier, even kinkier. I didn’t intend for Paul and Christine to meet face-to-face until later in the book. I thought it would be more voyeuristic, with Paul watching Christine, and Christine enjoying that fact. I even thought there would be a phone sex scene before they even met. I don’t know if I lost my nerve, or if I just decided that the series would be different, but obviously (if you’ve read the book) that scene never came to pass. I never even wrote it. Instead, they meet much earlier.
Once I finished Station Alpha, I went back and wrote Soldiering On, the prequel novella, where I introduce Duncan and Mandy. The initial idea for their relationship is that it would carry through all the books. This was in part because I wanted an overarching plot and relationship that would keep readers coming back. In many romantic suspense series, there are scenes from the villains POV. I never really like that. I think it takes some of the mystery out of it. So, I replaced those scenes throughout the series with a bonus romance between Duncan and Mandy.
But also, I wanted a way to break up the action. I could cut between what was happening with the main couple, to what was happening with Duncan and Mandy. It expanded the books, particularly because they all happen over a compressed time period. It allowed for some breathing room.
After I wrote the prequel, I had a better idea of what the series would be. I had a large portion of Guarding Sierra written before Station Alpha was released. It was in the process of writing this book that I realised I had the potential for an overarching villain for the series, too. Beaton Security—corrupt rival for Soldiering On—began to loom large, eventually taking on great importance. Far greater than I imagined.
After Guarding Sierra, I started writing Dangerous Victor. I knew both books happened over the same two nights, so it made sense to release them close together. Only, Dangerous Victor wasn’t coming together right. I think I was too focused on my original vision for what that book was going to be, and not focused enough on what it now needed to be for the series.
Regardless, I took a break from writing it after a gentle comment from my beta reader saying ‘it’s not as exciting as the first few’. I, of course, had a major crisis over this. At the same time, I got the idea for Christmas Tango. My books have always been heavily influenced by the action movies I love, and Christmas Tango most of all. It is, of course, a loving homage to Die Hard.
So, I set aside Dangerous Victor, and quickly wrote Christmas Tango. It was a load of fun. Problem is, I now had a release dilemma. Christmas Tango obviously needed to be released around Christmas, but it is canonically set after Dangerous Victor. The issue is that it was coming up to Christmas, and I didn’t have Dangerous Victor ready. So I had to make a choice. In the end, I pushed back the release of Dangerous Victor, and released Christmas Tango first. I hope it didn’t confuse people too much.
Anyway, I obviously needed a villain for Christmas Tango, and that, of course, was Beaton Security. The events of Christmas Tango eventually became essential to those of Hotel Hideaway and Whiskey-Eyed Woman. Initially, though, it was meant to be a fun little side story, but I left enough threads that hadn’t been solved that I needed to tie up. And it was a perfect setup for the later books.
So, I eventually figured out Dangerous Victor and got the book written. I’m actually very happy with how it turned out, despite the stops and starts with the writing of it.
Once that was done, I was barrelling toward the conclusion of the series.
I wrote Hotel Hideaway comparatively quickly. By this point I’d become much better at planning and outlining my books. Which was a good thing, since Sam’s book needed to have its own arc, while setting up Duncan and Mandy’s book at the end of the series.
I was so close to the end.
But I had one more decision to make. Destiny was part of the series from the beginning, and I’d intended for her to have her own book. Originally, at the very beginning, it was going to be book five, making Duncan and Mandy’s book six. Then I thought that perhaps I would make hers a spin-off—she would start another series, set in the world of police and corruption. This would happen after the events of Whiskey-Eyed Woman.
But I had a dilemma. F/F romances don’t sell, according to popular knowledge. Originally, I was willing to test this theory, and yet Soldiering On wasn’t selling as well as I would have liked, and I wanted to move past the series. My heart was no longer in writing it.
But I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her without a happily ever after.
Which was convenient. For the plot of Whiskey-Eyed Woman, I needed a POV outside of Duncan and Mandy. I didn’t want to use a POV from one of the previous couples, like Blake, or Paul. Destiny was the perfect solution. Which meant I had a chance to give her a HEA. It wasn’t her own book, but it was a good solution in the end.
And that was the end of the series. It’s been fun reminiscing, but boy am I excited about this next series I’ve got coming! I haven’t finished writing it yet, so this one might evolve, too.
I’ll be excited to see what you think!