Buy Murder on the Last Frontier–Charlotte Brody Mystery #1
Buy Borrowing Death–Charlotte Brody Mystery #2
Buy Murder on Location–Charlotte Brody Mystery #3
Buy Caught in Amber!
Buy Deep Deception!
Category Archives: writing
Writers are often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” Much of the time, in my case, something small sets off my brain. A commercial showing a bride flinging her veil out onto the road while she zoomed off in a convertible gave me the opening scene to one story (unpublished…for now). Watching a show about scam artists and thieves kicked off Rulebreaker, which led to Caught in Amber, which led to Deep Deception 🙂
The idea for Murder on the Last Frontier emerged after a conversation with a long-time resident of our town when my husband, daughter, and I went to investigate a local, little-known cemetery.
My husband serves on the city’s Planning and Zoning committee. At a meeting a few years ago, they were going over city land that could be sold or leased or what have you. A nice-sized plot in a residential neighborhood near the high school was marked “Not for Sale.” There were homes on either side of it, and it was large enough for a small house.
DH: Why is this plot not for sale?
Committee Guy: It’s a cemetery.
Committee Guy Who Had Been a Resident for 20 yrs: Really?
Like many people, I had been by that lot hundreds of times, either while trundling kids to/from school or our critters to/from the veterinarian whose practice is nearby. The lot is either overgrown with weeds or covered in snow most of the time, and there’s no sign of it being anything other than an empty lot. Little did we know it was far from empty.
One sunny spring Saturday not long after hearing about the cemetery, we were headed to the high school for some event and decided to check it out. Sure enough, among the weeds and saplings, a few graves. They had low headstones that were barely legible. One or two had those low iron fences around them. It was easy to see why if you were just driving or walking past you’d never know it was a cemetery.
As we made our way across the lot, we saw Marv, the man who owns one of the neighboring houses, puttering about his yard. He asked us what we were up to (in a nice way, as Marv is a nice guy, and it was obvious we were looking about, not out to cause trouble). We told him my husband’s P&Z committee story.
Marv smiled and nodded, saying not many folks were aware of it and that was fine by him. He gave us a neat little history lesson about the cemetery, including the unfortunate incident of some group coming in and “cleaning up” the old bits of wood which happened to be markers.
Then he told us another story.
Back in the 1930s or 1940s, a prostitute (yes, Cordova had a “red light” district for years, like a lot of towns) and her child were found murdered. One of them was buried in that little-known cemetery, the other in a different one (we have three, all fairly small). I don’t know if the woman had been pregnant or the child had been recently born or what the circumstances were, but it was quite sad.
We said our good-byes to Marv and went over to the school. We were kept busy at the event we attended, but I couldn’t shake the idea of the dead prostitute. My writerly brain locked onto its own scenario as to how and why this woman was killed.
And who would earnestly look into the murder of a “sporting” woman? I’m sure real-life local authorities investigated, but as a writer, I saw someone else–an outsider with her own secrets to keep–acting on behalf of the dead. She would need to stand up to convention and represent justice for all.
I had always been interested in the women of the suffrage movement and decided my protagonist would be a suffragette. Though they had their faults, I appreciated their bravery and efforts. The person mostly likely to really care about the death of a prostitute would be one who wanted all women treated fairly. She’d be an outsider, having come to Alaska Territory for her own reasons. She’d poke her nose into places it didn’t belong and stir up a few folks. That’s how suffragette and journalist Charlotte Brody was born.
The events and characters in Murder on the Last Frontier are, of course, fictional. I still haven’t hunted down the actual murder that set things off for the series. But I did go through a number of old editions of the local paper and came up with another murder for Charlotte. Borrowing Death (Kensington, July 2016) was also inspired by real events. And the third book Murder on Location employs the real-life occurrence of a movie crew coming to town.
So where do I get my ideas? Pretty much right outside my door.
Crikey Mikey! It’s November! Wasn’t it August just a week ago? Okay, three months ago, but who’s counting?
Live is good here in the Semi-Frozen North. In fact, it truly is semi-frozen now–We got our first snowfall! It’s very pretty and the roads aren’t hellish, so that helps. I prefer easing into winter than getting slammed by it.
So what’s been happening? We got DD1 off to school back east. She’s loving it. It’s odd to have your kid talk about all the adulting they’re doing when you have a tough time getting up the enthusiasm to wear pants on a daily basis. Kid2 is finding life as the only child in the house both rewarding and burdensome. Lots of great attention, but more chores. Hey, someone has to help me find my pants. DH got his moose, so we have meat in the freezer! Always a good thing. Berry picking went well this year too. Looking forward to local cranberries for cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving.
Why yes, I’m a little excited : ) There have been some very lovely reviews at Amazon and GoodReads and such, which I will share soon. I’m grateful to all who have reviewed and will review MotLF, and to those who have pre-ordered and will (hopefully!) pick up a copy.
Please, let me know what you think of the book! Ask me questions about it or Alaska or whatever. Chatting with readers is my favorite part of being an author : )
So my writer friend Jodie Griffin asked if I’d participate in a quick little blog chain thingie. You know how it goes, post something then
beg ask your other author friends to do the same.
And here are my answers : )
1) What am I working on?
Currently, I have one manuscript out on submission, an Alaska historical mystery, and two speculative fiction works in progress. One is a lesbian historical paranormal romance and the other is a post-apocalyptic set in Alaska.
The Alaska historical is a bit out of my norm, as I usually write some sort of speculative fiction. This is pretty much a cozy mystery. No woo-woo. And no romance at the forefront, though the start of one is there.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I like to think we all bring something unique to our writing. In my case, maybe it’s the setting for the Alaska stories. The historical paranormal features demon hunters and a taboo relationship. I kind of have a thing for heroines, especially, who thumb their noses at convention and authority : )
3) Why do I write what I do?
I write stories that make me go “Hmmm….I wonder how that might work?” I also like to write about characters who grab my attention. They aren’t always the over-the-top, kick-ass heroes and heroines, but they have interesting stories. And there always seems to be some degree of attraction between the main character and someone they interact with. I especially like it when there’s a bit of an adversarial relationship between them that the couple can overcome.
4) How does my writing process work?
Once I mull an idea and get a mental start to the story, or a few scenes brewing, I jot down a rough synopsis of what I have. It’s by no means a real synopsis, and there is nothing locked in as far as events. I just like to have a general path to follow as I write.
Unless I come up with a fun opening scene right off the bat (as was the case for Rulebreaker, IMHO : ), I tend to take some time getting a story started. I want that first introduction of the characters and the world to grab the reader and not let go. Often, I’ll write the first scenes, sometimes the first chapters, in a notebook. Pen and paper aren’t nearly as intimidating as a blank Word document with its cursor blinking “Well? Well? Well?”
I also tend to cross out lines, make other notes, put arrows in to remind myself to move dialogue or description. Even though it can be tweaked later, I need to have a good handle on things before I can move on.
That said, now and again I do write mid-story scenes out of order if an idea hits me. I save them in a file and pop them in later.
I’m not the speediest of writers and tend to get distracted, a bad combination. I’ve been working on discipline, writing on a schedule I can deal with and still get other things done. It’s not easy, but I have friends and critique partners who are pretty good at keeping me honest.
Thanks for dropping by! : )
The twenty-two rules developed by Pixar story artist Emma Coates have been floating around for some time now. No one can argue the success of Pixar stories. No matter what you see, from their shorts to their full-length movies, you will be given a well-rounded story with fully developed characters. The Pixar Rules may have been developed for a visual medium, but storytelling is storytelling. The Rules are essentially the same in motion pictures as they are for novels.
Writing lesbian romantic fiction is no different to than writing hetero romantic fiction, so to be honest the Rules I selected aren’t specific to one or the other. But I’ll tailor the three I selected to my latest release from Carina Press, Deep Deception.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
Deep Deception came about as I was writing my second science fiction romance, Caught in Amber. I’d used the one character, Natalia Hallowell, in minor roles in CiA and in my debut novel, Rulebreaker. She was always more complex than her bit parts suggested. And when Genevieve Caine popped up in CiA, I knew the two of them would make a great pair. I HAD to get their story out. Once I found a plot and a sub plot it was off to the races.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
Natalia is trying to keep her job and Gennie needs to protect her family. Noble causes. And if they don’t succeed? Well, Natalia might end up in a correctional facility if she’s charged with taking bribes. That’s not good. Gennie could lose everything she loves. That’s not good either. But wait! In the words of Donald Maass and other gurus of fiction, make things bad for your characters. Then make them worse. Now make it worse than that. Not only do Natalia and Gennie have those threats against them, they could be killed along with others. (I won’t go into spoiler details ; )
#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
Identifying with your character and/or their situation requires putting a bit of yourself on the page. Sometimes it requires ignoring the fact you don’t possess certain skills, but that’s beside the point. Skill isn’t the issue. I’m not trained as a government agent (or am I???). I’ve never shot anyone to save a loved one. You have to ask yourself, as a person, what you’d do. How you’d react. But at the same time, you have to know your characters well enough to show what they would do.
And staying in character is important. My tough government agent Natalia didn’t have much to say in the first two books, but since she’s a main player in Deep Deception, readers get to see her more clearly. One commented on this, saying Natalia’s sudden chattiness and all felt off. Well, sure, I can understand that because Natalia didn’t get a lot of screen time in the first books. Now that I had the chance to show her side of things, she let her personality and her feelings out. To me, they were very true to her character.
Next time you read or write a story, see how the Pixar Rules apply. Every one of them will help you understand the process. Do you follow any particular rules?
MY GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment and win a copy of Deep Deception! Please check out an excerpt of Deep Deception here : )
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I’m not one to wear a lot of jewelry. Earrings, because I have five piercings to fill. My wedding ring, of course. A watch if I’m not typing, because otherwise it’s quite uncomfortable. And a necklace I bought several years ago.
Why is this special? Why do I never take it off, except to clean it (or take a picture : )? Because it’s a symbol of love. Each of those tiny stones represents someone: the birthstones of my children, my spouse and myself. No matter where I am, my family is with me. On a recent Tart Sweet post, Limecello asked about my five most prized possessions. My wedding ring and this necklace were first and foremost on my list.
Necklaces are worn by characters in all three of my Nevarro novels, but differ in significance. In Rulebreaker, Zia Talbot wears a gold ring strung on a chain. It matches another piece of jewelry she never removes. Liv sees them but doesn’t learn the meaning of them until later in the story.
“I’ve worn these rings…since I was a girl, waiting for the right person to share all I have and all I can be. I’ve found that person.”
For Zia, the rings are a symbol of the future life she wishes to live. Not one of riches and power—she has those—but of love.
The necklace Guy Christiansen gives Sasha James in Caught in Amber carries a completely different connotation. First, note that Guy is not the hero in Caught. When Sasha comes to him in an effort to help Nathan Sterling, Guy presents Sasha with a pinky-nail sized ruby strung on a gold chain. It matches the ring he wears. Here’s a bit of her reaction after he secures it around her neck.
The cold stone and metal chilled her while his warm fingers lingered at the base of her neck. “Just a token,” he said lightly.
His offhand manner didn’t fool her for a moment. She looked up. In his blue eyes was exactly what she’d expected: triumph. Satisfaction. Possession.
Guy sees it as a representation of love. Sasha knows it’s more sinister than that. But she has no choice in accepting it for Sterling’s sake. Slight spoiler alert: She doesn’t keep it : )
Genevieve Caine isn’t very forthcoming with information in Deep Deception, but the pendant she wears tells quite a bit about her character and motivations. It represents something she isn’t willing to share with Natalia Hallowell. At least not at first.
A silver pendant on a delicate necklace rested between her breasts. Gennie saw Natalia looking at it and quickly slipped it under her shirt.
The significance of the pendant isn’t a plot spoiler, but it has more of an impact if you read it in context so I won’t tell you anymore about it here. Suffice it to say, it’s an important piece of jewelry to Gennie, and becomes so to Natalia.
These pieces of stone and metal have more than monetary value. The emotions attached to each of them, for better or worse, make them more than what they are.
In celebration of my latest release, Deep Deception, I’m holding a giveaway for a silver locket reminiscent of Gennie’s pendant and a copy of the book. I will ship internationally! Just tell me if there’s something you own that holds more meaning and value than what it’s “worth.” If you want to share why, that’s great. If not, that’s okay too : )
I just received feedback from my lovely agent regarding a new manuscript I’m working on. Everything I’ve written or considered writing has had some sort of speculative fiction element to it. Whether characters are living on another planet or one’s a ghost or a shape shifter, I’ve always had a bit of “otherness” in my stories.
But not for this one.
This story is a historical piece based on a local murder from back in the day. I got caught up in the idea after one of the locals was giving us some information about a cemetery. Being a writer, I immediately started to wonder about the woman who was killed and why. Now, I have no idea what the facts might be, but my brain has managed to fill in its own version.
So I’m working on a proposal for an Alaska historical murder mystery. No space ships. No ghosts. No weird things living in the woods. Just…people who have human motivations and abilities. And few flush toilets.
It’s a bit disconcerting to be out of my normal mode, but exciting too. I’ve fallen in love with our local history and with the era I’m focused on. People who came up to Canada then here for the gold rushes of the late 19th century were tough, and the women were often tougher. My story is set a bit later, but there will be connections to that earlier time.
It’s going well so far, and I love my heroine, Charlotte. She’s a journalist for a women’s magazine who likes the bigger stories (like the Suffragette movement and the Volstead Act, for which she is for and against, respectively ; ). She’s in Alaska visiting her brother, the town doctor, and writing a series of articles about life on the wild frontier. She’s also trying to escape some things in her recent past. Throw in a dead prostitute who was hiding something and a handsome lawman, and we have a story.
Will my change in genre fly? I hope so.
When’s the last time you changed things up in your world? How’d it go?
I love researching new stories. I love gathering information that adds layers to the worlds I’m building and fleshes out the characters I’m creating. Ninety-plus percent of what a writer learns in the course of research probably doesn’t need to be in the story (Note: I read a suspense/thriller novel a few years ago where the author spent pages-PAGES!-explaining the DNA comparison technique used by the local PD. End result: Protagonist learns the dead person is related to the suspect. Technique used had NOTHING to add to the plot or result.) But we like having it in our heads as we write.
Now and again, research is a way to avoid actually writing the story. Yes, there IS such thing as too much. Or at least spending too much time on it. Background info and facts for the story is one thing. Procrastination is quite another. Yeah, I’m guilty of that too.
Recently, I had a different sort of research-related issue occur. A few month ago, I had woken up with what amounted to a back cover copy of a book as clear in my head as any storyline I’d imagined. It sounded great! Something fun! Something different! I was raring to go on it.
The story, a post-apocalyptic tale set in a location near my town, would require some background info on the site as well as some historical research. I wanted to learn what folks prior to the current level of tech did as far as food, industry etc. because my characters would be living in a somewhat “throw-back” society. With that in mind, I borrowed books from the library, bought local history books, scoured the Internet for info. I absolutely fell in love with Alaska and Canada in that time period.
I started writing the post-apoc story. I loved the characters. Loved the setting. A bit of the denouement was fuzzy at the moment, but it wouldn’t be the first time I wrote a book without having it completely sussed out in my head. With some fits and starts, I managed to get over forty pages hammered out.
Then…then I spoke to a local man. My husband, oldest daughter and I were wandering through an old cemetery site that almost no one in town knew existed. It’s located between two homes, and as we searched (only two standing headstones) one of the neighbors was outside cutting wood. We got to talking to Marv, and he told us some interesting bits about the cemetery (like how in the 70s some group decided to help clean up by picking up bits of wood strewn about. Unfortunately, a lot of that strewn wood turned out to be wooden placques that had names and dates) and local history. “Yeah,” he said, “There’s a baby buried here somewhere. Its mother was a prostitute found dead by the railroad tressle back in the day. She’s not buried here though.”
And this is where my WIP train went off the tracks. Suddenly, my research into pre-tech age society became fodder for a historical murder.
As a result, I did MORE research, and I’m looking forward to chatting with the museum curator about the local “sporting women” who plied their trade here. The post-apocalyptic story is on the back burner, but not forgotten. My husband suggested doing a three book related series involving the area and murder. If I can come up with a present or near-present day tale, I might just do that.
But it’s time to put all that amazing information to work and get words on the page. If you need me, I’ll be in early 20th century Alaska with the good time girls and US marshals. Twenty-three skidoo!
From Publishers Marketplace: Cathy Pegau’s CAUGHT IN AMBER, sci-fi suspense about a former drug addict enlisted to get close to her ex-lover and drug dealer to help save a federal agent’s addicted sister, who finds herself falling in love with the sexy agent, and BREATHLESS, to Angela James at Carina Press, for publication in 2013, by Natalie Fischer Lakosil at Bradford Literary Agency (World).
(Thanks for the head’s up, Loreth ; )
Yes, I’ve know about the deal for a while now, but hadn’t said anything official until I okayed it with my lovely agent, Natalie. So now we all know.
I’m super excited to be working with Rhonda Helms on these books. She was fantastic with RULEBREAKER, and I know AMBER and BREATHLESS will be in good hands with her whipping guiding things.I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the input of my crit partners Jody Wallace and Sharron McClellan Camaratta and beta readers Melanie and Bella (did I miss anyone?). I thought AMBER would never get good enough to submit, but with patience and excellent revision notes, Natalie made it happen.
Okay! Back to work on BREATHLESS so Rhonda doesn’t hurt me.
How lucky we are! SF author Robert Appleton is here today with the next installment of his five part series AND this is the release day for his newest book, Sparks in the Cosmic Dust from Carina Press!
WRITING A SF NOVEL PART 4: THE WRITING PROCESS
Or Thru the Black Hole
iPod fully charged. Check. Assorted Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, James Horner, Holst and other cosmic composers set to continuous play. Check. Phone off. Check. John Carter of Mars & Dejah Thoris and Luke & Yoda posters nicely lit on the wall. Check. Sisyphean mindset in place. Um, check. Genius in place. I wish. Ideas racing at light speed. CHECK-CHECK-CHECK…
It’s hard to describe the moment-to-moment process of actually writing the book without sounding pretty insane. Sure, I’m using the craft I’ve learned painstakingly over years of storytelling. I can describe to you the structure and the characters and the worldbuilding and how to create tension and emotion. But what I can’t tell you is exactly how I combine all those, moment to moment, to spin the threads uniquely mine.
Without coming across as too goofy, I will say that while anyone with a competent grasp of language can learn the nuts and bolts required to write a novel, you have to take it far beyond that. Not that I’ve mastered this gig yet—I don’t think you ever really do—but what makes a strong piece of storytelling stand out from the crowd is, for me, something that can’t be taught. It’s the moment to moment intuition, the descriptive flights of fancy, the feel for tension and emotion in a given scenario, the insights into human behaviour you’ve picked up over a lifetime. You don’t know for sure they’re going to work on the page but you trust your instincts anyway.
Writing is generating those sparks in cosmic dust and using them to light your way.
You can’t be that intense all the time, of course. Knowing when to step off the gas is just as important in novel writing. You don’t want to exhaust the reader. And the best way to ensure that is to keep the writing smooth and natural: pacing is another intuitive skill, probably the easiest one to get wrong when you’re wrapped up in the grammar mechanics and the plot points and the million other factors jostling for your attention. There comes a point where you have to just glide and let your instincts take over, otherwise you’d be agonising for a year over each chapter.
The hardest scenes for me to write in Sparks in Cosmic Dust were those with group dialogue. It’s like acting all the parts in a play on your own, and each character has to have a unique voice while also driving the story forward. I’m at my best with one on one dialogue—I like generating friction in the backs and forths—but in a five-strong group, it’s harder to settle into a groove. It’s also hard to give each character equal weight. While it’s often necessary to focus on one or two in the scene, you have to at least consider the others’ POV, even if they’re not speaking.
The easiest chapters were, strangely enough, the action scenes. There are quite a few in Sparks, especially in the second half. But I’ve found from past experience that my action scenes flow much better if I write them in one go. The ebb and flow requires continuity, and any time I have to stop-start, I lose that momentum. One extended chase/fight scene ending on the beach of Zopyrus I had to spread over two chapters, but I made sure I got the whole thing done in two days. It also had an emotional climax, which may have ultimately worked better because I was so exhausted. The desperation the characters felt mirrored my own.
I outlined thirty-odd chapters before I wrote Sparks, giving a paragraph for each chapter. That’s always the most critical part of novel writing for me in that the story arcs have to work in condensed form before I even think about embarking on the journey into the black hole. Chapters evolve as I write, but for the most part that initial outline is close to the end product.
It took me three months to write Sparks, and another one to edit it before submission. That’s a pretty quick turnaround, especially the latter part. I think the confidence gained from having written four previous novels allowed me to loosen up and trust my intuition this time. The result is my most ambitious and probably my most consistent SF book yet.
Today is launch day for Sparks in Cosmic Dust! Woohoo! To celebrate, I’m posting a five-part look at the book’s development, from initial concept to book launch. I’m also giving away one SF title from my back catalogue with each segment, ending with a special Sparks giveaway. The winners will be all announced on September 30th on my own blog: http://robertbappleton.blogspot.com
Here’s where you can find the other installments:
Part 1: Concept (Aug 31)—Contact: Infinite Futures Blog
Part 2: Character (Sep 13)—Mercurial Times (my blog)
Part 4: The Writing Process (Sep 23)—Shawn Kupfer’s Blog
Part 5: Publication (Sep 28)—Carina Press Blog
With this fourth installment, I’m giving away one set of The Eleven Hour Fall trilogy ebooks. To enter, either leave a comment here on Cathy’s blog or send me an email at email@example.com with SPARKS GIVEAWAY FOUR in the subject line. Don’t forget to give your name.
During the Rulebreaker Blog Tour I was lucky enough to be a guest on several fabulous blogs. There were several giveaways of the book and I received some lovely responses from winners.
One of those winners, author Misty Simon reviewed Rulebreaker on her blog. Misty told me that while she’d never read F/F before she had been looking for one to try. Having someone new to the genre enjoy your story is a warm fuzzy that writers crave. Okay, maybe that’s just me, but I don’t think so : )
Anyway, I want to say thanks to Misty and to all the other folks reading my book, perhaps getting a first taste of a new genre. You all make my day!