Friday, April 21, 2017

"Meg & Linus" by Hanna Nowinski

Meg & Linus
by Hanna Nowinski

Meg & Linus by Hanna Nowinski is currently on tour with Xpresso Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my review, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

Can friendship, Star Trek, drama club, and a whole lot of coffee get two nerdy best friends through the beginning of their senior year of high school?
Meg and Linus are best friends bound by a shared love of school, a coffee obsession, and being queer. It’s not always easy to be the nerdy lesbian or gay kid in a suburban town. But they have each other. And a few Star Trek boxed sets. They’re pretty happy.
But then Sophia, Meg’s longtime girlfriend, breaks up with Meg. Linus starts tutoring the totally dreamy new kid, Danny - and Meg thinks setting them up is the perfect project to distract herself from her own heartbreak. But Linus isn’t so sure Danny even likes guys, and maybe Sophia isn’t quite as out of the picture as Meg thought she was ...
From crowdsourced young adult imprint Swoon Reads comes Meg & Linus by Hanna Nowinski, a fun friendship story about two quirky teens who must learn to get out of their comfort zones and take risks - even if that means joining the drama club, making new friends, and learning how to stand on your own.

“Meg?” he asks and stops walking, and when I turn to him he looks worried. “Is everything okay?”
I give up, shoulders slumping, and hang my head to stare at the dark ground of the parking lot beneath my feet. Sometimes it just really sucks having a best friend who actually knows you. “Not really?”
“What happened?”
I brush my hair from my face and can't quite make myself look up at him. I haven't actually told anyone other than my mom, telling people will just make it real, but Linus is my best friend and it's not like he isn't going to find out either way sooner or later.
“Sophia dumped me.”
He stares at me as if I've been speaking Elvish. Except, he'd probably have understood that. “Um. Excuse me?”
“Look, it's not really hard to understand at all: Sophia broke up with me. It's really a very simple concept. We were together. Now we're not. Do you need me to write it down for you?” I wince a little, shocked at myself for talking to him this way. I have no idea what's wrong with me today. But because Linus is the sweetest person alive, he doesn't turn on his heel and walk away from me like I would have deserved. Instead, he looks really worried, takes a careful step closer to me.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
"Every queer kid in high school needs to read this novel. ... It’s exactly the sort of relevant and positive portrayal that is needed." ~ Teen Vogue
"Told in short chapters with alternating points of view, Meg & Linus is a story of friendship, stable families, and sweet romance. The fact that the protagonist and supporting characters are gay is a nonissue, which makes this a refreshing read." ~ VOYA
"Meg and Linus’s romantic lives take center stage, but first-time author Nowinski also addresses the difficulty of being queer in a small town, where pursuing a relationship requires confidence, and can involve a fear of outing or offending—all of which comes into play as Meg reflects on her past and Linus considers the possibility of a future with Danny." ~ Publishers Weekly
"Readers experience [Meg's] pain and Linus’ uncertainties as the story moves back and forth between their respective perspectives. ... this is one of the rare LGBTQ books to feature both a gay boy and a lesbian who are friends." ~ Booklist
"I also love that friendship takes center stage in this story. ... I didn't want the story to end! Such a beautiful story." ~ Rita, Swoon Reader

My Review

By Lynda Dickson
Meg and Linus are best friends who initially bonded over their mutual appreciation of Star Trek. They both also happen to be gay. Meg starts her senior year of high school just as her girlfriend Sophia breaks up with her and leaves for college. Meanwhile, Linus fancies Danny, the cute barista at his favorite coffee shop, who later shows up in his history class on the first day of school. When Meg realizes that Linus has a crush on Danny, she decides to set them up. Tutoring and joining the drama club are just part of her plan. Meanwhile, Sophia starts messaging Linus, and he doesn't tell Meg. As the secrets and lies between them mount, so does the tension. As one relationship ends, another is beginning, and these two friends need to learn to cope with the changes it will bring to their friendship.
Alternating chapters tell the story from the points of view of Meg and Linus. The chapters are really short and the constant change in viewpoint is disorienting. Both characters have the same voice, and I often found myself forgetting whose story I was reading. The narration is awkward and repetitive, with too much introspection and self-doubt, and full of unnecessary comments - almost as if they are telling us everything as, and when, it comes into their heads. It's phrased like they are speaking directly to us, which feels a bit odd, especially in the present tense. Both the narration and the dialogue are lacking in contractions, making the writing stilted and unnatural. The author should try reading her work aloud to hear how it sounds. The dialogue also suffers from an extreme overuse of exclamation marks! Nevertheless, there is some really insightful writing throughout, as you can see from the "Some of My Favorite Lines" section below.
It's nice to see a bit of ethnic diversity among the characters (Danny is Indian and Sophia is African American), and the gay best friends angle is a nice touch. However, Meg herself is too unlikable for a protagonist. She's extremely naive, talking first about her prospective marriage to Sophia, and then about Linus's marriage to Danny - when they haven't really met and we don't even know if Danny is gay! Meg's behavior and treatment of Linus doesn't correspond to that of a best friend. I found her very annoying and was amused when Meg herself later said, "I’m seriously starting to annoy even myself." She's also always feeling sorry for herself; even she admits it: "And now I’m feeling sorry for myself again." The constant shoulder bumping between all characters also gets a bit tiresome.
What I did love was Meg's relationship with her mother. I also enjoyed the interactions between Linus and Danny. Their first conversation is adorably awkward. And the reactions of Linus's parents are priceless. Meg and Linus learn to take risks and try new things as a prelude to their life after school, and it's nice to see them grow throughout the course of the book. I just wish these so-called best friends would learn to talk to each other a bit more.
A light and fun, if slightly disappointing, read.

Some of My Favorite Lines
"... no matter how much tonight feels like a good-bye, I know it isn’t one ..."
"He almost seems a little shy. Like me. At least we have that in common. I like having something in common with him, even if it’s just the inability to chat with strangers."
"I just miss her so much I can’t breathe sometimes, and it hurts."
"... this last first day of school is the worst first day of school ever."
"... maybe details like this will help explain why I don’t want to dwell on any of this - life is different enough without her, without me constantly reminding myself of just how different it really is."
"People sometimes seem to assume that just because you like learning about things, you don’t like being around people. But you can like books and people at the same time!"
"I guess I just always thought that if you found someone who’s willing to put up with all your crazy just to make you happy, it must be the real thing."
"He looks up as I enter and smiles at me; I don’t even have to make a conscious decision to smile back. It just sort of happens to my face."
"He keeps looking at me for a moment, then quickly leans over to give me a hug. Just a brief one, and I don’t really know what it’s for, but hey, free hugs. Not gonna turn them down."
"I’m seriously not built for this level of excitement and sneakiness. Good thing I’m not considering a career in politics."
"Maybe he’s never going to be my boyfriend, but he can still be my friend, and that’s a really nice thought."
"I just want my friend back. Nothing’s the same without him."
"I guess there is a really fine line between helping someone and sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong."

About the Author
Hanna Nowinski is a language enthusiast and trained translator for German and English who lives in the middle of nowhere, Germany. She has wanted to be a writer since she learned that books were made by real people. As a kid, she made up her own bedtime stories, mostly sending her stuffed animals on adventures around the world. She loves books, music, coffee, and getting way too emotionally invested in TV shows. Meg & Linus is her debut novel.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a print copy of Meg & Linus by Hanna Nowinski (US/Canada only).


Thursday, April 20, 2017

"Fixing Sydney" by Diane Zparkki

Fixing Sydney
(Branson's Kind of Love Trilogy Book 1)
by Diane Zparkki

Fixing Sydney, the first book in Diane Zparkki's new Branson's Kind of Love Trilogy, is currently on tour with Reading Addiction Book Tours. The tour stops here today for an excerpt and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

Sydney Sommer’s world fell apart after senior prom. Since then, her life had become a constant loop of unfortunate scenarios that kept her in constant fear of what might be lurking around the next corner. Her trust in others was at a standstill. Even those who were closest to her were held at a distance.
After serving active duty overseas, Jaxon Triggs moved away from his hometown, hoping the change in scenery would help him build a new future for himself. What he wasn’t expecting was to fall for a girl who was broken.
From the first moment Jaxon laid eyes on Sydney, he was curious. He became determined to do everything he could to break through the armor Sydney held around her so securely. His instinct to protect her and keep her safe kicked in as the dangers she encountered became more personal.
With dread always looming close by and secrets discovered, would Sydney be able to handle the new changes in her life yet heal at the same time?

Staring at myself in the mirror propped up in the corner of my bedroom, I wondered, How the hell did I get here? I stood there for another ten minutes, thinking I better contemplate My outfit included black jeans, converse, and a black tank top. My wardrobe mostly consisted of jeans, hoodies, sneakers, and boots. No dresses. In fact, the only formal dresses I had owned were the two I had worn to prom. The first one was to my best friend Shannon’s prom. Billy asked me to be his date after his girlfriend dumped him two days before to go with one of the football stars. Bitch. I donated that dress to a local charity. The other dress was worn to my own prom the following year. That dress was now long gone, buried at the bottom of some garbage landfill, being wormed back into the earth. Good riddance.
I was ready for my parents’ famous Sunday barbeque—well, my mom and stepdad, but I just called him “Dad” now. They loved having the family over for dinner. I didn’t know why they thought it was such a big deal when one of us was always there during the week, mooching dinner. If I were honest with myself, the real reason they had these dinners was to check on my mental stability. Over the past few years, those dinners had become a regular occurrence after I moved out to attend college.
I had taken a year off after high school to get myself back on track after I’d had a major meltdown that would have taken out three towns. Now I was coming back at a turtle’s pace, but I was coming back.
High school was so long ago, filled with great memories of football games, soccer games, pep rallies, dances, drinking, and school pranks. It had been the ultimate high school experience…until I had started dating Steve. Prom night had destroyed all those happy memories. That evening had twisted me up inside, shut me down so tightly nothing was going to penetrate my Teflon wall. It was the closest I had ever felt to death.
Death…Maybe death had occurred, just not in the physical sense.
I knew what death looked like, and I knew how people acted around it.
My father died when I was four. My memory was cloudy of him, but I remembered that day clearly.
My father lay in a plain mahogany coffin, wearing his favorite blue, checkered shirt. I had no idea why I knew it was his favorite; I just knew. He also had on a pair of black jeans, his boots, and his leather vest that had patches on it, like the other men at the funeral. To this day, every once in a while, I would get a whiff of worked-in leather, and it would remind me of him. I didn’t know why I would remember that above all else, though.
I also remembered a man at the back of the parlor, dressed similar to my dad. He had several tattoos, as did the rest of the men who stood with him and shook his hand.
“Mommy, is Daddy sleeping? Why can’t I wake him? Why won’t he wake up? Daddy, wake up!” I remembered saying.
My mother took my hand and brought me over to the casket where she laid her hand on my dad’s. “Daddy died, sweetheart. His soul is already in Heaven. His body is here so that all his friends and family can say good-bye.” As she explained death to me, it was the first time I saw tears stream down her saddened face.
I had no idea what a soul was, so she tried explaining it again to me. “It’s like when your daddy would ride his motorcycle. He was the soul of the bike; he controlled it. He brought the bike to life and made it move. When he got off the bike and turned the engine off, the bike stood still. His body is like the bike, and his soul is the engine.” She looked down at me and gave me a big sigh because I stood there with big doe-eyes in confusion.
“Daddy’s a motorcycle?”
That was when a blonde lady came up behind me and asked if I needed to use the bathroom. My mom nodded her head at the lady and hugged me before sending me off to the bathroom.
The lady came into the stall to help me fix my tights. Even as a child, I hated getting dressed up.
While we were in there, we heard two women speaking in the bathroom.
“Poor Sara. What is she going to do with that little girl now, raising her alone so far away from her family? Maybe she will move back home,” one woman said.
“She might when she realizes her husband’s so-called family will no longer take care of her,” added the other woman.
I looked up at the blonde lady, trying to make sense of what my little ears were hearing. She just continued to fix my clothes until the women left. Then we walked out of the stall and washed our hands.
I remembered looking up into the reflection of the mirror and seeing the blonde lady’s eyes held anger in them, but she also wiped a tear away from her cheek. I never asked the lady about it.
She brought me back into the funeral parlor, and I noticed a lot of people I had never seen before, most of them dressed in black, hugging my mom and speaking in another language.
I had no idea my mom spoke another language until that day. I always thought she spoke gibberish when she was angry. However, I later learned that she was actually speaking Italian and cursing like a sailor.
Mom always said families were great, but you couldn’t pick your family. Sometimes, the families you built with friendships were the greatest ones. They knew how to support you the best. I would guess that was why we never spent much time with my mother’s family.
We rarely saw her family, only a few phone calls on birthdays or Christmas. As the years moved on the phone calls started to dwindle. We were on our own.
The next few years were hard on us. We moved from our home to a small two-bedroom apartment not too far from my school. Mom worked a lot of hours as an accountant and took on new clients, working late into the night after putting me to bed. I was always in before and after school programs. Regardless, my mom made sure I never went without, and she absolutely made sure I knew I was loved.
We had teddy bear picnics in the park, put lick and stick tattoos up and down our arms, or on rainy days, built forts in the living room. She never made me feel like I was missing out on anything.
What she didn’t know was that I could hear her crying in her room at night. Her cries were muffled, probably because she was sobbing into her pillow, but I could hear her. Still, she never showed her heartbreak over the loss of my dad to me or anyone else. Instead, each morning, she would get up and start her day with a smile. She had done better than I was doing now.
When I was seven, Mom started dating Brad. I wasn’t sure how I felt about him, but I knew he made my mom happy. She laughed more, her smiles were genuine, and her late night cries were replaced by phone calls that had her giggling.
Mom had met Brad at a singles mixer—well, that was the story they told everyone. They actually met at a bereavement group for widows and widowers raising children on their own.
Brad had lost his wife Jenny due to a freak complication during childbirth. She had been giving birth to their second son, Logan, when something had gone wrong. Logan had only met his mother for a short few seconds before she had lost consciousness and died.
Just before Mom and Brad moved in together, the man from the funeral home came to the apartment. I remembered how nervous Brad was, pacing the floor and rubbing his hands up and down the front of his jeans. Mom, on the other hand, was as calm as a Hindu cow. It was rare that she would get flustered.
The boys and I played video games in the living room while Brad, Mom, and the man talked in the kitchen. The boys had just looked up at him when he had first come in, seeming unaffected by his presence, and continued playing.
The man had sat with his back to me, so I couldn’t see his face. They talked for a while, and once the man finished his beer, he shook Brad’s hand, hugged Mom, and then left. He never came back to our home again.
The following month, Brad, his boys, Mom, and I all moved in together. The house they bought had two huge oak trees in the backyard. They were so big I couldn’t put my little arms around the trunks. We had tire swings hanging from them, a tree house built in one, and Mom even made Brad rent the tallest ladder he could find to climb up the tree and carve our deceased parents’ names in them—Thomas in one tree and Jenny in the other. She said, that way, as the trees grew, they could watch over our growing family, too.
Mom was raised Catholic, but she had become more spiritual than religious. She often would say their spouses had brought them together. I thought that was a little morbid but sweet in a bizarre kind of way. That was my mom.
It was a week after we moved in that I met Shannon. She walked right up to me, wearing a little pink summer dress with white sandals, and her dark brown hair was pulled up in a ponytail with barrettes holding the strands in place.
“Hi, I’m Shannon. What’s your name?” she introduced herself.
There I was, lying on my belly on a floral blanket in the front yard, coloring. My messy, curly red hair was all over the place as I looked up at her and blew a strand out of my face, swearing I had put it up in a ponytail that morning. I was wearing my favorite purple tank top and little jean shorts with a purple flower on them, and I was barefoot.
“Hi…I’m Sydney,” I said. “Why are you all dressed up? You going to a party?”
Shannon smoothed out the front of her dress, looking at me with confusion in her eyes. “No, this is my summer dress.”
Oh, boy, were we in trouble, and trouble we were from then on.
We were inseparable and as opposite as opposites could be, but she was still my best friend, and I knew she was also worried about me.
Shannon was a year older than me, whereas my new brothers and I were all two years apart. Therefore, I had to spend my last year of high school without my best friend. Meanwhile, my brother Holden was in his third year of college away from home, and Logan had enlisted and was deployed overseas in Afghanistan. That whole year, it was just me, Mom, and Brad holding down the fort.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
"I so enjoyed Fixing Sydney! [...] I liked the growth of Sydney's character...she became stronger but still remained vulnerable but open to new ideas and relationships. The author described the settings so well, that I could visualize the loft, school and variety of locations. Sydney's flashbacks were well written, giving me just enough details to keep me guessing, until all was revealed. I liked the intensity of the relationships and how they were intertwined between the main characters, the MC, and the secondary characters. Including the play list was a great idea! I am looking forward to the continuing story of Sydney and Jaxon!!" ~ Amazon Customer
"I love this book! I couldn't put it down. I finished it within 24 hours, reading it until 6 am. Fixing Sydney is a suspense with twists and turns you actually didn't see coming. A love story that makes you addicted to reading on as Jaxon and Sydney's relationship develops. A friendship that reminds you of your best friend, and a family that you wish you could be a part. With that being said, it's a unique story that I haven't read in other novels. Can't wait for the next book to come out!!" ~ Amazon Customer
"Fixing Sydney by Diane Zparkki is a sensational read! I couldn’t put it down. Falling deep in the minds and inner thoughts of the characters was perfectly portrayed by the author. This love/romance suspense story, takes you through a journey of difficult experiences, finding love and the challenges of a young girl trying to heal while putting the past behind her. A surprising twist, which leaves you wanting more. I was pleased to learn this is the 1st of a Trilogy. So looking forward to the next book!" ~ Amazon Customer
"Just finished reading Fixing Sydney. What a great read. You will be gobsmacked at the end when all the twists, turns, and betrayals reveal themselves. The story takes you through a gamut of emotions as you follow Sydney's journey to heal herself and start fresh. The book will leave you wanting more so luckily it is the first in the trilogy." ~ Amazon Customer
"Fantastic book! Can't wait for the next one in the series!!" ~ Amazon Customer

About the Author
Diane Zparkki lives in the greater Toronto area. She is a working mom, and with her husband, she has raised three great kids. She is a thrill seeker who usually drags her family along with her.
She was never a big reader or writer in her youth - Coles Notes were her best friend through college. Her enthusiasm for reading came later in life when she joined a book club. She loved those books, but she wanted raw, simple, and happily ever after with a bit of get down and dirty. That was when her love for bad boys on a Harley was set in motion.
After reading so many books, her mind started to create her first story, and she needed to get it out.
Fixing Sydney of the Branson’s Kind of Love trilogy is her first book, and she hopes you enjoy it as much as she has enjoyed having these characters running around in her head.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win one of two $25 gift cards from Chapters.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"Two Heads are Deader Than One" by Elena Hartwell

Two Heads are Deader Than One
(Eddie Shoes Mystery Book 2)
by Elena Hartwell

Two Heads are Deader Than One is the second book in the Eddie Shoes Mystery series by Elena Hartwell. Also available: One Dead, Two to Go.

Two Heads are Deader Than One is currently on tour with Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours. The tour stops here today for a guest post by the author, and excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

Private Investigator Eddie Shoes is enjoying a rare period of calm. She’s less lonely now that Chava, her card-counting mom from Vegas, is sharing her home. She also has a new companion, Franklin, a giant dog of curious ancestry.
Hoping for a lucrative new case, Eddie instead finds herself taking on a less promising client: her best friend from her childhood in Spokane. Dakota has turned up in Bellingham in jail, where she is being held on a weapons charge. Eddie reluctantly agrees not only to lend her friend money for bail but to also investigate who is stalking her. Soon after Dakota is freed, she disappears again, leaving Eddie to answer to the local cops, including her ex-boyfriend Chance Parker. Has Dakota been kidnapped? If not, why did she jump bail? What are Eddie’s business cards doing on the bodies of two murder victims?
The key to these mysteries lies in Dakota and Eddie’s shared history, which ended when Eddie left home after high school. As a person of interest in both murder cases, Eddie is forced to go in search of the truth, digging into the past and facing her own demons. Book 2 in the Eddie Shoes Mystery series.

Pulling into the lot in back, I noticed a car I didn’t recognize in the spot where I usually parked my Subaru—against the building, closest to the door. Ordinarily the lot was empty this early in the morning, but maybe Dakota had borrowed a car and was waiting for me. I parked in the row facing the side street. Despite my private, internal assurances I didn’t care one way or another whether Dakota skipped out, I’d felt let down yesterday when she didn’t show, so I hoped it was her. Had someone asked a few days ago if it mattered if I ever saw her again, “no” would have been my answer. But, now that she had resurfaced, I wanted her to be the best friend I’d loved, not the best friend I’d come to resent.
This time I locked the back door behind me, hoping Dakota was already here. Franklin ambled ahead of me down the hall but came to an abrupt halt outside the office across from mine, lying down to face the door. My office building was essentially a duplex. From where we were standing, my office was on the right and the other office was on the left, with the hall down the middle.
“What’s up, buddy?” I asked him. He was such an attentive listener I sometimes expected answers in English.
He looked at me, making no sound—English or otherwise— before putting his attention back on the door. His body was on high alert, tail flat to the floor.
“Someone in there?” I asked, apparently still expecting an answer. He uttered a short, sharp bark, proving my expectations weren’t unreasonable, except for the English part.
Was Dakota parked out back and in there now? I pulled out my cellphone and called her number, but the call went straight to voicemail.
I leaned against the door and listened. Nothing but a buzzing sound. And I got the faint whiff of a smell like someone forgot to take the garbage out. No one responded to my knock. Putting my hand on the doorknob, I discovered it was unlocked. I could just poke my head in. But what if it wasn’t Dakota, and I walked in on some guy getting his “cards read” by one of the resident hookers? That was something I did not want to see.
Before anything else, I decided to park Franklin in my office. For whatever reason, my dog had not taken to Dakota and vice versa. I also didn’t bring Franklin into a business unless animals were allowed. I could usually count on him to settle right down with his chew toy, but not today. Once we stepped into my office, he danced around in front of me, as if to block me from getting back out the door. Considering his size, he did a pretty good job.
“Franklin, I will be right back. Honest. You don’t have to worry.”
The task of getting past him was arduous. I got halfway out the door and so did he, pushing his way into the hall. It took all my upper body strength to shove him back inside. I managed to get the door closed, but heard him woofing.
That was one unhappy dog.
Opening the door to the office across the hall, I was smacked in the face by two things: the stench, which was much worse than I’d thought, and the heat. The stench was so strong, it coated my throat. The heat was so high, I started to sweat.
The room smelled like a cross between rotten meat and bodily fluids.
Death in a hothouse. What I wanted to know was whose.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
"... the author does a great job of weaving details and people together making a ‘Who Dun It’ that mystery lovers will want to read!" ~ The Journey Back
"Eddie’s witty no-nonsense personality and Hartwell’s well-paced writing style make the chapters fly by. This book is a buy." ~ Readeropolis
"After thoroughly enjoying Hartwell's first introduction Eddie Shoes and her world, I was excited to read more and this second book didn't disappoint! I continue to love the characters and the settings in Bellingham. The mystery are intriguing and always keep me turning the page to learn more!" ~ Jeni Craswell

Guest Post by the Author
Which Comes First, the Plot or the Character?
The answer to the chicken or the egg question is probably the proto-chicken laid an egg and the proto-rooster fertilized it. Which then mutated and hatched as a chicken. Which mostly translates to the egg comes first, but not by much.
I would argue this question isn’t so different from asking a writer, "Which came first, the plot or the character?"
While most of us have a firm answer, if we look a little closer, I think it may be truer to say, we have a proto-character, which is then fertilized by a proto-plot, and out of that comes our manuscript.
A character changes as they experience the events of the story. We call this a character arc. They are not the same "person" they were at the beginning. But the same is typically true of our understanding of our own characters as we write and rewrite our manuscripts. We discover new things when we put our characters in difficult situations. We find out they are stronger, braver, more manipulative, more troubled, as we work with them through actions and plot twists.
When we go back and do a rewrite, we incorporate that new aspect of their personality throughout the entire story. So which came first? The plot or the character?
Then, we discover new things they can do to complicate the plot, deepen their relationships with other characters, explore new actions and events. When we go back and do another rewrite, our plot changes, becomes fuller and more complex. So now which came first? It’s not so easy to answer.
Perhaps it’s not so much which came first, but how do the two develop together.
Another way to think about this question is: where do we believe we have greater skills or what aspect speaks to our strengths?
I am much better at creating character than I am at coming up with complex plots. Knowing this about my own writing ability, I work a lot harder at plot. Writing a series, I also have a strong sense of my protagonist and the recurring characters, so as I progress into the next book, I have the opportunity to work with "people" I already know and can find out what they do in new circumstances. My proto-character is now closer to a full-blown character being fertilized by a proto-plot.
I believe I’m better at creating character, in part, because of my fascination with human behavior. People are endlessly interesting to me. I don’t necessarily want to know that many firsthand, but I certainly love to see what they will do next. The study of psychology provides insights into motivations. The study of crime and criminals gives me - a relatively law-abiding citizen - explanations for bad behavior. Observation skills help me find models of human interactions and actions day in and day out. We are basically surrounded, every day, by characters.
Murders, however, not so much. As a writer of murder mysteries, I have to be a little more creative figuring out crimes. Why one person would kill another. How they would cover it up. Where it might take place. These things are less easily seen in the real world for those of us not involved in homicide investigations or cold-blooded murders. I’m further away from personal experience building the plot of a murder mystery than I am in building a complex human being.
So my proto-plot is usually much less fully fleshed out when I begin to write that first draft. I have an idea for a crime, but I have to do a lot of research to find out how it would work in a relatively realistic telling of the story. I write a draft, then confer with experts. I write another draft, then ask more questions. I get details like how fires behave or how serious a certain type of gunshot wound would be. I mutate my proto-plot, while simultaneously fertilizing it with my fully realized character.
So now which comes first? I’ve lost track of my metaphor.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. The reader shouldn’t be able to tell where the writer started their journey. The plot and character become beautifully fused through the rewriting process, as proto-character and proto-plot finally hatch as a fully-fledged manuscript.

About the Author
After twenty years in the theater, Elena Hartwell turned her dramatic skills to fiction. Her first novel, One Dead, Two to Go introduced Eddie Shoes, private eye. Called "the most fun detective since Richard Castle stumbled into the 12th precinct", by author Peter Clines, I’DTale Magazine stated, "this quirky combination of a mother-daughter reunion turned crime-fighting duo will captivate readers."
In addition to her work as a novelist, Elena teaches playwriting at Bellevue College and tours the country to lead writing workshops.
When she’s not writing or teaching, her favorite place to be is at the farm with her horses, Jasper and Radar, or at her home, on the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River in North Bend, Washington, with her husband, their dog, Polar, and their trio of cats, Jackson, Coal Train, and Luna, aka, "the other cat upstairs". Elena holds a B.A. from the University of San Diego, a M.Ed. from the University of Washington, Tacoma, and a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia.

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