by Alex Kava
Spoiler alert! It’s a good thing.
It was nine years ago this summer when I decided to write a new series. The latest installment (#11, Stranded) in my long-running FBI profiler series was scheduled for release in August that year. Pre-orders outpaced previous books. The publisher even put together an impressive media blitz that included an eleven-city book tour.
So why change course, you might ask? It seems risky. Maybe a little crazy, right?
If only the publishing business was that simple.
To begin with, my editor retired early. The editor is the person who loves your work, is your advocate and guides the book from manuscript to finished product. When I learned my replacement editor was also leaving, I realized I would become what they call in the publishing industry “orphaned.” Plus, Stranded was the last book on my contract. It made sense to open negotiations and find a new “home.”
It happens all the time. Editors leave. Authors move from house to house. But here’s the rub: most publishers aren’t interested in an author’s long-running series if they don’t own the backlist. Even if it’s a popular series. They want something “new” and “fresh.” It’s a situation I avoided once before, but knew I wasn’t lucky enough to avoid a second time.
Ironically, I saw my new beginning inside that last book. In Stranded, I introduced former Marine K9 handler Ryder Creed. His favorite scent dog, Grace, is a scrappy Jack Russell terrier. She’s definitely not your typical detection dog. Creed found her abandoned at the end of his long driveway. He and his business partner, Hannah, rescue dogs and turn them into scent detecting heroes.
Having spent over a decade chasing killers alongside FBI agent Maggie O’Dell, I must admit, I found Ryder and his dogs—as well as the themes of rescue and redemption—very refreshing. I even came to realize there was something redeeming in this new adventure for myself.
The dogs provided a new perspective on writing a mystery, crime thriller. I saw threats and conflicts in places I’d never considered before. How blistering hot is the asphalt on a ninety-degree day? I watched out for spiders, snakes, and poisonous plants, because some of my investigators traveled close to the ground and on four legs.
There were new things to research. How can a dog detect a decomposing body buried underneath a concrete patio or at the bottom of a lake? That is their superpower. Dogs have 200-300 million scent receptors in their noses compared to our measly six million. To put it in simpler terms, we can smell a teaspoon of sugar in a cup of coffee. Dogs can smell a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
They also can sort, separate, and isolate smells. Have you ever come home after a long day away from your dogs, and the first thing they sniff is where the neighbor’s cat rubbed against your pant leg?
The dogs have opened a whole new world of ideas and scenarios for me.
In 2014, when the first Ebola patient arrived in Omaha for treatment, I started thinking about viruses. Could dogs detect them? And if so, could they stop infected people at the airports and prevent the spread? So, in Reckless Creed (2016), a fictional pandemic is spreading across the country, and Ryder is asked to train his dogs to detect the bird flu virus.
Fast-forward to 2021, a company called Bio Detection K9 has trained scent dogs to detect Covid-19. The dogs have traveled on the road with musicians Eric Church and Metallica as well as NBA’s Miami Heat. It’s faster, easier and less invasive.
Several years ago, I attended a conference with K9 trainers and handlers from across the country. I met teams that work for TSA, the White House, sheriff departments, and bomb squads. Scent detection dogs are used for so much more than finding the missing or recovering remains. They sniff out explosives, drugs and electronic devices. They also can alert to cancer, diabetes, C. diff, as well as predict a seizure.
At one of my annual luncheons for readers, all of us were introduced to Tripp, a medical alert dog in training. Now two years into his assignment, Tripp goes everywhere, including school with his girl. He even has his own Facebook page.
After seven books, I still see the opportunities as endless and fascinating. It’s nice to see I’m not alone. Readers seem to agree that Grace and the dogs are some of their favorite characters. And the series (including Stranded) has been awarded two Nebraska Book Awards and a Florida Book Award.
Sometimes we’re pushed to take risks when it would be more comfortable to stay where we are. But I can honestly say I’ve never regretted letting my career go to the dogs.
Oh, and by the way, my dogs are not as well trained or well behaved as Ryder Creed’s. Here’s how Finn gets my attention outside my writing room:
I knew that dogs could detect impending seizures (learned that from the TV show Royal Pains!) but I didn’t know they could detect so many different illnesses! That’s amazing.
It is amazing. I’ve read articles about dogs waking up parents in the middle of the night because their child’s blood sugar dropped to a dangerous level.
What a great list of a dog’s amazing abilities!!! I love dogs too and love your books about them as well. Thanks for a great post!…Karna Small Bodman
Thanks Karna! I never realized how much difference it made to write about what you love.
Had the opportunity to meet Tripp. Such an excellent experience. Plus what insight in to why authors change/start writing news series. Ideas blossom anywhere.
He was/is such a chill guy. And he looks so happy with his girl.
Thanks for sharing your story of starting over. It’s a reality in this business, and it’s great to hear about such a successful pivot. Love to read about the dogs and all the amazing skills they possess.
Your fur babies are adorable, by the way!
Thanks Isabella! It’s a tough reality that the readers never hear about. And as a reader, I often wonder whatever happened to some of the series I love when they disappear.
I am a huge Alex Kava fan and have read all her books and hunger for more! I love dogs; especially working dogs that do so much in so many different fields, as well as with their personal owners! I am thankful that Alex writes about these amazing working dogs to allow us to learn so much from them and the characters that they live and work with. Continue on doing the amazing work in your books that shine this amazing light on the new fields where dogs are trained & utilized for so much good!
Thanks Anne Marie! That’s the best part of writing this series is sharing what I learn with my readers. So glad you enjoy those details.
I agree 100%! I’m a huge fan, have read all and look forward to the next. So many interesting facets of the characters, the amazing K9s.
I never thought I could love a series as much as I love the Ryder Creed series! Ryder and his dogs are the best characters! Every book in the series I read teaches me something new about dogs, and I absolutely love it!! I’ve been a huge dog lover my whole life, so I always love to learn new things about them! Like you said, I also see the opportunities as endless with Ryder and his dogs! I can’t wait to read about many more of their adventures!
Thanks, Katey! Grace really has become one of my favorite characters.
I’m so glad your editor retired. The Creed books are my favorites and it has given Maggie new life as well. Learning about what amazing things dogs can achieve has been fascinating.
Thanks, Linda! Sometimes new beginnings are exactly what we need. And I think you’re right about Maggie. It has brought out a whole new side of her.
I too love your K9 series, I have read them all and look forward to the next one. Have always been an animal lover and read voraciously. I remember learning about animals able to sense cancer and other illnesses from other books, too. I hope you are easily able to find a new editor/publisher and continue the Ryder Creed series. I also have friends in Nebraska (Omaha) and have driven through there many times. Took my horse with me three times (from Colorado to Western New York). I currently have a puppy that we picked up at eight weeks old. She is now one year old today. My husband and I love her. Our three cats love to drive her crazy, lol.
Colorado to New York with a horse trailer! That is an adventure.
I was introduced to the Maggie O’Dell books by a friend in Pensacola Fl. I love your books and I am already waiting for the next Ryder and Grace adventure.
Rita, I do love Pensacola! Thanks for reading.
Love your books, especially Ryder Creed series, can’t get enough. Please keep this series going.
I have read and re-read all of your books Alex. Have also turned a few friends on to them as well. I love how you get into some of the darker crimes ie: sex trafficking. Personally I am more of a cat lover but I love Bolo and Grace to no end. Hannah too. I picture Viola Davis as Hannah. Thank you so so much for writing both Maggie and Ryder series.
I love dogs, well all animals but dogs especially and love your writing. Can’t wait till Stranded is released. Go you good thing.
I have loved all your books and always look forward to the next one!! But no more Maggie O’Dells? Sigh. Oh well, just keep writing!
How I love your books! I have just finished re-reading the entire Maggie O’Dell b00ks and then went on to re-read all of the Creed series. I can’t wait until “Midnight Creed” comes out.