Lauren Roy: Five Things I Learned Writing Grave Matters

Night Owls bookstore always keeps a light on and evil creatures out. But, as Lauren M. Roy’s thrilling sequel continues, even its supernatural staff isn’t prepared for the dead to come back to life…

Elly grew up training to kill things that go bump in the night, so she’s still getting used to working alongside them. While she’s learned to trust the eclectic group of vampires, Renfields, and succubi at Night Owls bookstore, her new job guarding Boston’s most powerful vampire has her on edge—especially when she realizes something strange is going on with her employer, something even deadlier than usual…

Cavale isn’t thrilled that his sister works for vampires, but he’s determined to repair their relationship, and that means trusting her choices—until Elly’s job lands all of the Night Owls in deep trouble with a vengeful necromancer. And even their collective paranormal skills might not be enough to keep them from becoming part of the necromancer’s undead army…



When I originally wrote Night Owls, I wasn’t sure there’d be a sequel. I left the story open-ended enough for there to be one, or for it to stand on its own. So when Ace wanted a sequel, I had to revisit a cast of characters who’d been out of my head and off my desk for just about a year.

It was a wee bit terrifying – what if I’d forgotten their voices? What if I’d didn’t have a good story to tell? There came the Impostor Syndrome, right on cue: Everyone’s going to know you’re a terrible writer. A one-trick pony.

That awful little imp never truly goes away, but I learned that – at least when it came to finding the characters – it was wrong. I thought a bit about where everyone would be a month after Night Owls finished. How would they be processing (or avoiding processing) the events of the first book? The walk between the train station and my office turned out to be the perfect length for me to noodle on how different people would interact with one another. I paired ‘em up and watched ‘em go, and it was a bit like meeting up with a bunch of good friends you haven’t seen in a while – after the it’s-been-too-longs, it was like we’d never been apart.

Soon enough, Chaz was dropping f-bombs everywhere, Elly was ready to climb the walls, and I even had a plot.


Oh my god, you guys, I’m such a pantser.

Okay, not entirely true – I will plot a few chapters ahead, and when I’ve written up to that point, I look where the story’s going and plot a little more. If a scene comes to me out of order, I jot down notes. Even without a solid outline, I generally have an endgame in mind. But the squishy middle? I let it stay squishy.

When I was a wee writer, back in the days where I talked more about writing than actually, y’know, writing, I liked to trot out a quote from Stephen King about how outlines were for bad writers. Sweet zombie Jesus, that was pretentious of me. I can look back on those days and count the projects I actually, y’know, finished on no hands. I was lucky if anything got beyond the first 10,000 words.

So when my editor, the lovely Rebecca Brewer, asked for an outline of what would become Grave Matters, I spent a couple of weeks wibbling. Not because I still adhered to that King quote, but because it’s more planning than I usually do. But hey, your editor asks you for an outline, you give her one. She’s a professional. She knows shit’s going to change. It’s okay.

I put my butt in the chair and got it done. Sometimes my brain made sad whirring, clunking noises when I got stuck on a plot point, but part of the writing process, even for a pantser like me, is figuring out what comes next. I called on my RPG-writing and GMing skills, here. I imagined the characters as PCs, tried to figure out what I would do if I were playing them in someone else’s game. What questions would I ask the GM? How would I apply the knowledge I had gathered? On the flip side, if I were running a game for these characters, what wrenches could I fling into their works? It got me past those sticking points, and I was able to move ‘em along toward the endgame.

Neat things I learned: Writing an outline did not sap my soul. Nor did it kill the fun of writing the story. In fact, it helped me figure out the next two things…


In its original form, GRAVE MATTERS had an extra subplot. It wasn’t a terrible subplot. It followed on from things that happened in the first book, and it helped set up more terrible things for me to do the characters down the road. Writers are mean, you guys.

But it was also way too convoluted. George RR Martin I am most decidedly NOT, and in the 90-100,000 word scope of an urban fantasy novel, there simply wasn’t enough wordspace to pull it off – or, at least, not pull it off well.

So I made with the cutting.

I was a bit scared, since it meant mostly cutting the Jackals from the first book out of the second. Part of me insisted they had to be there, doing evil, Jackally things. Yet, when I pulled their threads out of the synopsis, the rest of the plot didn’t unravel. What emerged, in fact, was a better story, one that made more sense. Bonus – my editor didn’t set the revised outline on fire and send it back to me.


It wasn’t all about excision, though. Another thing I learned while outlining was, I had to put something in. Someone, actually. Book one had three point-of-view characters: Val, Elly, and Chaz. That was plenty, thought I. (see “not-GRRM,” above). Those three, I knew, were absolutely coming back for Grave Matters. I had their shenanigans all planned out.

But looking back at my beats of what-needs-to-happen, I realized I had events jotted down that no one in that trinity would be present for. I could, I supposed, have the character who did witness them explain it all after the fact (which put me in danger of Too Much Exposition). OR. Or! I could do that thing I hear writers ought to do and show the audience.

Just a scene, I thought. Just to try it out, see if it works. I had this warlock, you see, Elly’s brother, who’s been through a whole lot of bullshit and hardship in his life. He’d finally started building a life for himself, when suddenly his estranged sister shows up on his doorstep at the start of Night Owls. How’s that working out for him? For both of them?

Turns out, boy did I like writing from Cavale’s POV. You get a little more worldbuilding, access to another facet of Elly’s background, and, as one of my beta readers pointed out, MORE FEELS.


Okay, I’m cheating on this one a bit. I mean, it’s something I already knew, and I’m utterly and completely biased about the subject anyway, but the last year of my authorly life has only reinforced my love for booksellers. I have a folder in my email labeled “Awesome,” and it’s filled with congratulations from the people who work their butts off day in and day out to get books – sometimes my book! – in readers’ hands. Bookstores, and the booksellers who staff them, are essential, important parts of our community. Any new city I visit, you can be damned sure I’m visiting one of its indie stores. Which always makes checking baggage on the flight home a game of how close to the weight limit can I get without going over but… worth it. It’s been a little surreal to stop in at a bookstore I don’t have a personal connection to and see Night Owls on the shelf, or have a friend tweet a picture to me of seeing it out in the wild.

Plus, booksellers get all the bookstore jokes I’ve sprinkled through the series.

(And hey, if you have a favorite local bookstore, maybe give ‘em a shoutout in the comments?)

Lauren M. Roy: Website | Twitter | Tumblr

Grave Matters: Indiebound | B&N | Amazon


  • This is SO helpful! I’m about to embark on a sequel journey, and so many of the tips you laid out are exactly what I need to hear. I love the bits about outlines and oh how I relate to the squishy middle. Thanks so much, I’ll be checking out Night Owls first!

  • It’s always more interesting to know the story behind the story maker. Thank you for sharing your internal struggle. What is about writing that makes it so very, very hard to do sometimes?

  • March 5, 2015 at 11:17 AM // Reply

    Hah! I was reading this, nodding along at specific points. One-trick pony. What if I forgot their voices? Whaddya mean, outline? I can’t OUTLINE. Nooooo! OMG, there’s too much going on here, something has to go…

    It was as though someone was leaning over my shoulder, watching me hash out my own sequel/next in a series. So relieved to know I’m not the only one!

    Better yet, I’m going, “Wait, wait, who is this person and why haven’t I read any of their work yet??”

    I’m off to rectify that now–sounds like a great, fun series!

  • I loved this post, thank you. So refreshing and inspiring to hear. It’s one of these posts that take you out from behind your computer screen where you’ve spent your day wondering why the hell am I doing this to discover, “Oh! There’s other people like me! I’m not alone!”

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Now to find that book….

  • Great post, thank you. And one little tip…when you travel and buy all those books (been there) go to the post office and mail ‘em home at media rates. It’s cheap, and beats the hell out of lugging them through the airport.

  • I hate outlines. Just ask my high school English teacher. However, after seeing a photo of J.K. Rowling’s characters’ story arcs and all of their relationships to each other, I realized I should at least pencil in a skeletal outline for my novel. Your post just reinforced that. But first, I think I’ll read Night Owls and Grave Matters. I used to think taking a break to read instead of writing was slacking off, but then I decided it’s research, and therefore allowed. Thanks for a great post!

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