Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Naming Characters

What we name our characters, especially our main characters, can make or break our stories. An oft-used example of a poor choice is Pansy, the name Margaret Mitchell was going to give her cunning, provocative heroine until she wisely changed it to Scarlet.

Choosing the perfect name isn’t easy. It should fit the character’s personality, perhaps even his or her appearance, and it absolutely must be appropriate for the story’s time period.

While I was writing Brute Heart, a contemporary novel set in Oregon, I found names for every one of my characters, major or minor, first name as well as last name, on a map of Oregon. I was amazed at the rich storehouse of names scattered across that map--cities, towns, wide spots in the road, parks, counties, and countless topographical features. Some of the many names I ended up using were Jordan (Jordan Valley), Riley (a small town), Douglas (Douglas County), Cooper (Cooper Mountain), Annie (Annie Springs), and Jude (Jude Lake).

Take a look at a map of your own state, one that shows both topographical and political features. If you don't find good names there for your characters, spend some time with a detailed map of Oregon, a state that has a penchant for unusual names such as Boring, Shedd, Bakeoven, and Drain (all small towns). I doubt I’ll ever use those four names for characters, but what interesting names they’d be for settings.

Ginger Dehlinger

“fiction embraced by fact”

Brute Heart

Never Done

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mystery Settings by Linda Hope Lee

What better setting for a mystery than a remote island?
That's what I thought while standing on the deck of the ferry traveling through Washington State's San Juan Islands. The archipelago includes over 400 islands, which provide a lot of possibilities!
The idea for a story did not immediately present itself until character Megan Evans appeared, seeking the truth about her beloved daughter's mysterious death. Aha, I thought, what if the clues lead her to a place where she might be in grave danger? What about . . . a remote island? And so, Gemini Island was born. Soon after that, just as I had done so many times, Meg
[i]stood on the top deck of the ferry, watching Puget Sound's Orcas Island change from a gray blob into a landmass with discernable trees and structures. . . . She would debark there. Someone from Gemini Island, which had no public service, would pick her up and take her to her final destination.
Later, after a ride in a small boat into the interior of the archipelago, Meg reaches her destination:
[i]Just before stepping onto shore, Meg felt her heart skip a beat. Once she set foot on land, there'd be no going back. For better or worse . . . she'd be stuck here on Gemini Island.
The island itself is full of mystery, from the paths that wind through the pine forests where sunlight rarely penetrates, to the desolate beaches to the mountain that has been declared off-limits. Characters add to the setting, too, and on Gemini Meg encounters the enigmatic and handsome Eric Richards, a Northwest Indian artifacts expert, who has his own hidden reasons for coming to Gemini.
The setting is important to any story, but especially so to a mystery, I believe. And yet, with the right emphasis, any setting can be made mysterious. Mystery writers, what settings have you used that have been particularly effective? Mystery readers, what memorable settings have you encountered in the mysteries you've read?

Available Now

Monday, February 20, 2017

LURCHES by Sharon Ervin

When our daughter Brandi and her friend Leslie were four-year-olds, they came into the kitchen one summer morning, their faces streaked with sweat and concern.
“What is an emergency?” Brandi asked. Leslie nodded. However it came up, the concept had caught their attention.
“An emergency is something that usually happens suddenly and needs quick action or snap decisions.” I thought that was a good response, coming on the fly as it had.
They both frowned, linked arms and left mumbling to one another. A while later, they were back.
“If there was a rhinoceros in the kitchen,” Leslie asked, her little face sober, “would that be an emergency?”
It’s hard not to crack in those moments, especially as we were standing in my tiny kitchen, but I held steady. “Yes,” I said, my sincerity matching theirs. “A rhinoceros in the kitchen definitely would be an emergency.”
“We thought so.”
They both nodded, arched their eyebrows, joined hands and went outside to swing.
At a writers’ workshop once, the leader asked if we sometimes get “in the zone,” a term most writers understand, and write merrily along, producing humdrum prose.
“What you need to remember to throw into your work from time to time,” she said, “is a lurch.”
As a reader and a writer, I knew what she meant. Surprise your readers. Surprise yourself. Lurch.
I wrote the word in block letters on a card and placed it above my computer screen as a reminder.
Brandi and Leslie demonstrated by example that morning what a lurch can contribute to a day, or a story.
Lurches come in many forms. They don’t have to be a dead body dropping from the sky to land at your feet, although that would be a good one. It can be anything out of the ordinary. Being rear-ended in traffic is a lurch. A sudden hug from a grubby child, a handsome man flirting, people at Union Station bursting into song, The list of lurches is endless. They are unexpected events, happy or sad, contagious or private, always surprising.
As I write, I try to throw in the occasional lurch, just to keep my readers––and me––paying attention. A good writer must remember to lurch. Sharon Ervin, Author of MEMORY, coming in March.

Available for pre-order on Amazon and other online retailers

Sharon Ervin

Saturday, February 18, 2017

On Writing a Series by Kate Loveday

When I finished writing my first novel, which is a stand-alone book, set in contemporary Australia, I had no ideas about writing either historical fiction or a series. However, we had moved to an area on the mid-north coast of NSW, an area that figured prominently in the early days of colonization, and I became interested in its history.

This led me to explore the attitudes towards women in the nineteenth century, and I decided that my next book must be about the life of a woman in that era, when women had few rights and were dominated by men. I determined that my character would be a spirited woman who did not take kindly to subjugation. Then I began to look at the attitudes towards women over the years, and decided it would be interesting to do a story of different generations of women – mother, daughter and grand-daughter – spanning the second half of the nineteenth century and, maybe, up to the end of the flapper era, the 1930’s. Would the patronizing attitudes of men towards women have altered? And how would women have changed? I realized it could not be told in a single book, and decided to make it a series of three books, one for each generation. So far so good.

What I did not realize was the problems posed to writers of series.

The first book, ‘A Woman of Spirit’ was straightforward. The main character, Kitty, lived her life in the book and when book one ended, she had a daughter, Joy, who was a baby. Now, I had to continue Kitty’s story in book two, 'In Search of Love', so I couldn’t just start it when Joy was a grown woman, too much time would have passed.

First problem – how to cover the years as Joy grows from child to young woman, and hold the reader’s interest? Not an easy task. She went to school. She learned to ride and developed a love of horses. Not riveting phases of her life! So book two, ‘In search of Love, continued Kitty’s story, and also covered Joy’s life from age thirteen to young womanhood.
Second problem, as time passes there is the continuation of characters, and how they would change as they were affected by the changing history of the times. It was a period of uncertainty in Australia, when there was continual debate over the decision of whether the separate colonies should join together to form the Federation of Australia or not – some for, some against. There was also a severe recession in the 1990′s. How would my characters be affected by these problems?
I thought I knew my characters well but when it came to writing scenes I realized there were so many small details to remember, particularly with places and minor characters. How exactly had I described Lady Barron? Craddock? Harry Osborne? In which hotel in Sydney had Kitty stayed? Minor points perhaps but important enough that I had to return to book one to check.

And with a series there is always the question of how much to explain in the second, and subsequent, books in case people start reading that one first. Each book must really be able to stand alone as well as being read in sequence, but it’s hard to do that without boring those who have read the first book. Finding the balance between these needs is challenging. Each book must have its own plot, its own characters, including some from previous books, and its own changing tensions. But it must still relate to the preceding story and answer the questions left unanswered at the end of that, and to have its own problems unresolved at the end, which will be answered in the next book if you want readers to be waiting for the next of the series.

Then it was time to get on with book three,'An Ambitious Woman', which is set as the nineteenth century ends, and focuses mainly on a grown-up Joy. As with all characters, Joy has become what she wants to be, a modern woman, with modern ideas. But those ideas don’t always conform to the social norms of the day, much as she wishes for it, and what happens to her will probably confound readers and leave them wishing for more.

And here is the writer’s dilemma.

Will the trilogy be enough? Or will the series keep growing? Only time will tell.

Kate Loveday

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Haunted Vacation Behind Hidden Bloodlines

The location of Hidden Bloodlines originated from a haunted vacation at the historic Stanley Hotel, registered at the time as the second most haunted hotel in the country. Located in Estes Park, Colorado, the Stanley Hotel touts itself as a hotel “7500 feet above ordinary.” As new Colorado residents, we chose the Stanley to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Little did I know, it was the start of something much bigger… a seed was planted and a story grew.

To say it was a unique experience is an understatement that started the moment we checked in. The registration desk was crowded with an excited group of people carrying unusual equipment. They belonged to a club of “ghost busters,” and they planned to use the tools of their trade to detect ghosts they felt certain resided in the hotel.

We went all out and took the Ghost Tour which was the precursor of what was to come. A few of the stops included Room 418, the most haunted room in the hotel, the infamous Room 217 where Stephen King and many dignitaries (including four presidents) stayed, as well as the staircase on the fourth floor that went to the bell tower where numerous photographic sightings of a male ghost were made. Clearly we were in for a long night. Our room was next to the fourth floor staircase and was a popular “haunt” for ghost busters. The excited whispers, clanging of equipment, and creaks kept us up long into the night.

Our bleary eyes and fatigue were short lived — the excitement of these special hotel guests was contagious. Once again, we met at the registration desk as we checked out. Although these ghost busters did not detect any ghostly residents, they were planning their next trip … certain of their success.

One year later, on our anniversary, we stayed in the most popular room in the hotel, Room 217 where the ghost of Mrs. Wilson is supposed to be a permanent visitor. She was the chief chambermaid in 1911. On the day the hotel opened for the season, the hydroelectric plant went down. Mrs. Wilson was lighting the gas lamps when she was almost killed. Acetylene was pumped into the rooms, and in Room 217 there happened to be a gas leak. When Mrs. Wilson went into the bathroom, it blew out the front of the hotel. She was blown through the floor into the MacGregor Room and survived. Almost forty years to the day, she died of a heart attack in that room. Although Mrs. Wilson is supposed to fold and put away your clothes, she must have taken a vacation the night we stayed. In spite of the fact that we have stayed many times since, we have not seen any ghosts… yet.

What is your most memorable vacation?

Karen Van Den Heuvel

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sweet Inspiration by Stephanie Kepke

When I’m asked how I come up with inspiration for my stories, most often my answer is that a character or story line pings around my brain until I can’t help but write it—or risk going a bit insane. You & Me, my Candy Hearts Series novella, is quite unusual in the speed with which it percolated and burst forth on the page. It was also the first story I have ever written in response to a “call for pitches” (a request by a publisher for story ideas).

I was getting ready to embark on a road trip to Florida with my three children (in a snowstorm, no less) when I received the email from The Wild Rose Press requesting stories around the theme of Candy Hearts for an exciting new series. In a rush to get on the road, I snapped my laptop shut and hopped in the shower, but that pitch request whirred around my brain.

Suddenly, as I shampooed, it hit me—I had the perfect inspiration...and the perfect story. Starting when I was 16 years old my high school sweetheart sent me a box of Candy Hearts every year for Valentine's Day. He even sent me one of those iconic pink boxes for Valentine's Day for another two or three years after we broke up when we were in college. A character came to me: She's escaped an abusive relationship with the father of her child and has been on her own with her teenage daughter for five years. As Valentine's Day nears, Candy Hearts mysteriously begin arriving in her mailbox, leaving her wondering if her high school sweetheart—the boy she loved, but left—has sent them.

I even had the opening scene already written in my head—she's dropping her daughter off at school (the same high school she attended) and a love song comes on that reminds her of her boyfriend. The inspiration for that—I was dropping my son off at school (my old high school) a day or two before, and a cheesy love song from the eighties came on, spinning me back to when I was sixteen.  It was a bit surreal and I mused that it would make a great opening to a novel or novella—now I had the rest of the story to build from there.

As soon as I stepped out of the shower, I emailed my editor. I was dripping wet in a towel typing furiously on my iPhone. That was, without a doubt, the most unusual pitch I had ever sent—and it got accepted. The story evolved, along with a twist I hadn't anticipated when I pitched it—Alex, the heroine, can’t find her long-lost love, Billy. Even in this age when everyone leaves a digital footprint, Billy seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth. But, those Candy Hearts keep arriving in the mail…Are they from Billy? Will Alex get a second chance at happily ever after? You’ll have to read it to find out!


Note: Unlike Grace, the heroine of my novella, A New Life, which is quite autobiographical, Alex and I only have those Candy Hearts in common. I’m still close friends with my high school sweetheart—he never disappeared…and I’ve been happily married to my Valentine for over twenty years. For Valentine’s Day this year, I didn’t receive Candy Hearts, but I did receive a silver bangle bracelet stamped with “I LOVE YOU TO THE MOON AND BACK” and beautiful flowers.
Stephanie Kepke
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Monday, February 13, 2017

Writing a Book--the Internal Part one

Those of us who write books/novels know it is not an easy process. Actually, it’s not a process at all; it’s a series of processes; a conglomerate, if you will.
I usually begin my conglomerate internally. I see something, or hear something, or read something that triggers a thought methodology. It begins with, “Oh, what a neat place for a murder;” or “What an interesting character flaw;” or maybe “What a perfect setting for a tryst of some sort.”

From there, my mind takes off. The embryo of an idea invades my brain, infiltrates it, snuggles into all the crevices and crannies. It leaps across synapses, exploring, roaming, and copulating so that the ideas burst into growth and permeate the sphere of my head. At times, the noise is…awakening!

At this point, my head is relentless, especially when I’m walking or going to sleep or slowly awakening in the morning. All those ideas, thoughts, plot points, concepts want their freedom. So this is when I have to assemble them in some sort of plot-line order. I do this best while I’m walking. At first, I just decide the journey of my protagonist, and often, of my main antagonist, whose journey is so frequently intertwined with my hero’s/heroine’s. As I do this, I find the need for another character or scene or conflict or any number of other issues, all to support the protagonist’s goals or to add conflict or interest or tension.

It’s rather a pyramid-building scheme. I have to keep adding ideas, conflicts, characters, situations until there is a solid foundation on which I can build a convincing story. Then, as my (still in my head) protagonist pushes through his/her life, conquering this barrier, overcoming that obstacle, I see a story blossom. I see the bulk of supporting characters, scenes, evidence and conflicts that can build into a story. And I see the denouement, the self-realization, the tip of the pyramid, and satisfactory (glorious, at this point) ending.

During this whole process, I may have jotted down names, character descriptions and backgrounds, and other minutiae in a file so I wouldn’t forget the nitty gritties. But at this point, I must begin my External part of writing a book.
That, and all its fun parts, I will discuss in my next blog.

Coming soon to Pre-order. Releasing 04-26-2017