I first met Eva Montealegre a couple years ago at a reception for a writers event. We had a blast chatting and since then, we’ve crossed paths fairly often. Eva very nicely consented to do a piece on centering your character’s emotions – or finding their emotional meridian.
You, the author, are working with a great guideline for your creative ideas. You’ve diligently choreographed all the plot twists of your story. The location you’ve chosen rings with ambience. What’s needed?
In order to tell your story well, to do it justice you need to address the obstacles to your character’s deepest heart’s desires. Number one aspect central to your story is the heart of your character. What is their deepest yearning? What will your character do, sacrifice, or betray in order to fulfill that unmet need? Once you take the time to explore this one point it will shade and color all the other aspects of your story. It will serve as a meridian to the secrets of your story and its soul. It will enrich the theme and give the reading of your tale deeper meaning.
Do you know what your character likes best in life? What she hates? What are her favorite foods and most cherished memories? Take the time to write out your character’s backstory. Pretend you are an actress getting ready for a big interview and you will need to answer questions about the character in order to promote your performance. I remember how excited I was when I went to see Margaret Atwood speak. She was featured in the Los Angeles Book Festival on the UCLA campus at Royce Hall. I sat in the front row, hanging on her every word. There came the time for her to answer questions. I was amazed how deeply her readers thought about the characters Atwood created and the questions they had for their beloved author. Margaret had the answers readily available. She knew her characters thoroughly. She knew why they styled their hair a certain way and why they wore a certain style of shoe. One reader stood and asked the zodiac sign of a character from the novel, ROBBERS BRIDE, not even the protagonist. The answer was Aries and I can tell you the reader felt very satisfied with that bit of information. It all made sense to her. Readers want to truly know the characters.
How do you feel when you are writing? Are you excited to reveal the traits of your characters? Are you anticipating how the intrigue of your story will affect the reader? These emotions will show up in your writing or they won’t. I hope they do. Emotions are the trail markers of your story journey. My advice to you is, when writing, don’t just be in your head. I know, I know, everybody thinks writing is an intellectual endeavor. I want to spread the word that writing is much more than a mental exercise. Whatcha gotta do is, take a moment, root yourself in emotion. OPEN HEART CHAKRA, ACTIVATE! If you take the time to know the emotional truth of your characters, your story will reverberate in the hearts of your readers.
Nupur Tustin writes the historical mystery series featuring composer Joseph Hadyn. She recently attended a Citizen’s Police Academy, in which cops teach civilians what they do, to learn more about investigating crime. She went hoping to apply what she learned to her own mystery writing. It was so successful that when I asked her to write about her experiences, she used the voice of Haydn, himself.
What is it
like, you ask, for an eighteenth-century composer—a man from Austria—to attend
sessions on policing in the New World nearly five hundred years later? Let me
gather my impressions.
sessions, I understand, are offered for the edification of the general public,
the police officers and guards considering it their business to enlighten the
citizens about their work. What a notion! Herr Lichtenegger would scoff at the
very idea of having to inform the citizenry of how he, Police Commissioner of Eisenstadt, goes about his work!
Americans take the entire business quite seriously.]
It would be
putting it mildly to say I was surprised—nay stunned—at the number of women on
what the Americans refer to as the force. The police force. Our first session
took place on a warm Wednesday evening at 6:30 p.m. Mine must have been the
only carriage on the street—a wide avenue marked with thick white lines and
divided in the center by a thick yellow line.
I dare say
the good citizens of America were as surprised to see my carriage with the
Esterházy griffin emblazoned on the sides as
I was to see their enclosed, horseless carriages whizzing up and down the
street on either side of the yellow center line.
was crowded with men and women in the most outlandish clothes I have ever seen.
The women wore breeches cut off at mid-thigh and a type of shirt without
collars or ruffles. The men were similarly dressed, however their breeches,
loosely cut, fell down below the knees. It was as much as I could do not to
To their credit, however, they appeared to
take no note of my own garments—a blue coat and breeches, a white linen shirt
with ruffles, and the wig without which I rarely leave my house.
and smiled politely and continued on with their conversations. Their lack of
curiosity was astounding to me, but I have noticed that the men and women of
the New World allow people their eccentricities. I could have pranced in
wearing a purple wig, bearing a lion on my leash and they would have taken no
more notice of me than they did now.
There is a
curious kind of freedom here, and I find I rather enjoy it. What Maria Anna
would have said, I do not know. I imagine she would not have approved.
A Woman Guard!
We were ushered in by a woman—dressed in breeches that reached down to her ankles and followed the form of her shapely leg more closely than Maria Anna would have deemed seemly. Her shirt had a collar and small, white buttons down the front, and was tucked into her breeches. Strangely enough, she wore a leather strap—her belt, she called it—around her breeches, and carried a number of items on it.
astonished to see a gun! Had the woman truly any knowledge of its use? I can
think of no woman who takes any kind of interest in hunting. And from what I
have seen of the New World, there is precious little to hunt. Out of the city,
on one occasion, I caught sight of a deer and on another, two scrawny rabbits.
A pair of
shiny metal shackles dangled from her belt as well—to restrain criminals, she
informed me, although how a mere woman, even one as tall as this one, could
have managed that, I can scarce say.
were some small, black, rectangular objects—radios, I believe they were called.
These are a mysterious device that allow members of the force to communicate
with one another. But the woman was no more able to explain how the device
worked than was anyone else in the room.
don’t know how it works,” she confessed. “I couldn’t explain it you.”
technology, science,” a young lad in his twenties mumbled.
watchmen and guards patrol our cities and towns at night. But here in the New
World, Patrol Officers—so these men and women are called—go about in their
black-and-white horseless carriages at all hours of the day.
they are called upon to do astounded me. Maria Anna and I, if we had a dispute
with a neighbor, would no more think of calling upon the Bürgermeister than we would consider running to our parents. But
in the New World, a man who objects to the raucous music his neighbor infests
upon the neighborhood thinks nothing of calling—using a device known as a
phone—his local police station and demanding that an officer be sent.
lady whose cat has run up a tree and refuses to come down, two drivers whose
carriages have collided into each other at an intersection, a man who enters a
store or bank and threatens the people inside with a gun—these are all calls
the Patrol Officers respond to.
“No call is
too trivial,” the woman cheerfully informed us. One of her superiors later said
that when asked to intervene in petty disputes, he treated the matter in the
same way he would an argument between his young daughter and one of her
friends. “It’s like being a parent,” he confessed with a matter-of-fact shrug.
sentiment for a police officer, in my opinion. Where I come from, all we ask of
our policemen and guards is that they enforce the law and arrest criminals. For
all their freedoms, the people of the New World seem all too apt to relinquish
their responsibilities as grown men and women and to retreat to the world of
Who but a child would need a guard to settle an argument with a fellow human?
Freedom and Innocence
Even so, the freedoms our cousins in the New World enjoy are enviable. The law is so hedged in and hemmed by constraints that one fears that crime would flourish here. Yet that has not been the case. On the contrary, it has given the innocent greater protection against injustice.
so wisely enshrined in the Constitution authored by the Founding Fathers of
this country have ensured that the police work harder to ascertain actual facts
to bolster their case. Mere suspicion will not suffice.
recall the occasion when my Maria Anna was summarily arrested for murder on the
mere word of Frau Bruck, the dead alderman’s wife. A sergeant I spoke with
assured me “that would not happen here.”
testimony of a witness might lead to what is known as a follow-up—the officer
or detective speaking with the individual the witness has accused to ascertain
the veracity of the information provided. But the individual would have the
right to remain silent, to refuse to answer questions.
before any kind of serious interrogation takes place, any suspect, even a known
criminal, must be informed of his rights—the right to remain silent, the right
not to incriminate himself, and the right to have a lawyer present to advise
him on his answers.
No person may be detained without reasonable suspicion, and no one may be arrested without good cause.
recall that at the time Maria Anna was arrested, I discovered the
barber-surgeon searching our herb garden. Here in the New World, my permission
would have been sought before that could have happened.
“And what if
I withheld it?” I asked.
would author a search warrant,” the sergeant explained. “But we would need to
have probable cause. We’d need to have a good reason to go there, to explain
which areas we wanted to search, and what we expected to find. And we’d have to
convince a judge that it was a just cause.”
Yes, I was
impressed. Who would not be?
“These are unusual freedoms,” the sergeant said proudly. “Unusual even in our times.”
Today we have joining us Leslie Keller who writes the Jayne Stanford cozy series set in Cave Creek, Arizona. Jayne is a waitress and Leslie will explain how that part happened.
I am often asked what motivates me to write. The answer to
that is in part due to my best friend, Julie who I met when I worked in the
restaurant business. It’s been twenty-three years but when I’m with her we
never stop laughing about our adventures in serving. Even today, she continues
to regale me with new restaurant stories. A few years ago, I knew I wanted to
create a character partially based on her and partially out of my imagination.
Thankfully, Julie has never been accused of nor involved in a murder in any
way, but I occasionally still jot down some of the zanier things which happen
to her in a typical night at the restaurant. In my writing I try to find a way
to incorporate actual events into the story in order to make the characters
Writing a murder mystery requires a substantial amount of
research. As an author, I need to determine if the method of murder is
realistic, while at the same time as a cozy mystery writer, not making it too
gruesome or graphic for my readers. While murder is serious topic, my goal is
to take a lighter approach with a bit of humor.
In my books I intersperse Jayne’s personality with situations in which
she must use all her skills to come out on top, then add a dash of romance and
the help of her friends and you have a recipe for more than mystery.
In the upcoming book, No Reservations, Jayne gets the chance
to go on a girlfriend getaway with her best friend, Bailey. Of course, there
will be a dead body – maybe even two! In
this case, I again use personal experiences and try to weave them into fiction.
The third book in the series diverges from the norm in that Jayne is out of her
comfort zone physically as well as emotionally.
It’s important to me that Jayne doesn’t just solve mysteries but that
she grows as a person despite the pandemonium in her life.
I hope my readers come to love Jayne as much as I do when I write her. Sometimes, she surprises me in what she does but I like to think that it’s her decision in which direction the story goes.
Author Jodi Rath argues that writing a novel is not unlike raising critters. The author of The Cast Iron Skillet Mystery Series has a point. We authors do refer to our novels as our children. Please welcome Jodi Rath
Artists typically talk about their work as their babies. I don’t have human kids, but I do have fur babies. My husband and I had eight cats inside for a good, long run of years. In the last two years, we’ve lost four of them. Since then, we adopted a one-year-old boy and on May 18th, 2019 we adopted THREE five-week-old girl kittens named Lily Rose Rath, Lulu Bean Rath, and Luna Belle Rath. The boy that is one year is Murray Kinz Rath. All of our cats have middle names and they are all spoiled.
When I wrote book one, Pineapple Upside Down Murder, I babied that book so much. I wrote, rewrote—tried different themes, revised, started over, went from third person POV to first, and had an extremely difficult labor.
Book two, like I’ve heard many of my human mom friends say, was not as difficult or as scary as the first. Same with the kittens we just got. When we got our first, I was terrified about how small they were and I wouldn’t let them out of a room forever for fear something bad would happen. That was only when I had one kitten and all adults. Now I have three five-week olds and they all got the run of the house on day two of moving in—they had to learn to fend for themselves. Kittens, like babies, are more resilient than we give them credit for.
The work of writing a novel
It’s the same with an artist’s work. Yes, we have to put the time in and go through the labor. Yet, I’ve learned to trust myself more in book two. Am I perfect yet? Um, no—nor will I ever be—but, I am better than I was when I wrote book one. I have more confidence and I know I will continually get better. Same I have learned to get better as a kitty mama too. Same for all you moms and dads out there—we live, we learn.
One of the most exciting things about writing Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread Murder was already having a setting and my characters set up. It was so much fun seeing how they’ve grown and what they are learning now and what more they need to do to grow and mature. Just like me as a writer and a kitty mom and a wife and a teacher, I am always learning and growing and maturing (even though I did turn 46 in May—Ah HEM!!! Cough cough).
Still, I am excited to share my newest baby with the world, and I’m already working on book 2.5, a Holiday Book for Thanksgiving called Turkey Basted to Death, which will come out November 18, 2019. I can’t wait to see how much more growth both me and my characters have developed by then—not to mention, my baby kittens will be eight months old by then and pretty much full-grown! Time flies when your having fun!
Jodi’s two books featuring restaurant owner Jolie Tucker, are set in Leavenworth, Ohio. You can find out more about Jodi on her website, www.jodirath.com.
Elaine L. Orr, who writes three cozy mystery series, is a member of one of my email groups. In fact, when I went looking for this post (which I assumed was somewhere in my email back log), I found several of her responses to my questions – and they were very helpful, too. Elaine is writing today about how real life inspired her three different cozy series.
Authors usually inhabit a
world beyond writing, and what we learn from daily living can influence our
books. I’m not saying our protagonists’ careers mirror ours, or that our
characters resemble neighbors or college roommates. They could, but closely
aligning our fictional people with real ones can limit a character.
As an example, I love
Atlantic coast beaches, so writing mysteries set at the Jersey Shore (the Jolie
Gentil series) seemed natural. Now I live in the Midwest, so it’s been
especially fun to make a couple of quick trips to a beach to refresh my
perspective. Of course, no one talks about “the beach” in New Jersey.
People go to the shore.
My River’s Edge series,
set along the Des Moines River in Iowa, is probably most influenced by real
places. For about six years I worked for two members of Congress (one
Republican, one Democrat). Much of the job entailed regularly being in many
small towns in six counties so constituents could bring their concerns to
Congress or get help with a government program.
Then came 2008 and massive
flood damage along the Iowa and Des Moines Rivers, and I spent weeks in Van
Buren County, Iowa, a picturesque locale dotted with small (river) towns. You
develop a lot of empathy as you help people apply for FEMA assistance, and the
word resilience takes on new meaning. (The photo shows the river’s encroachment
in Bonaparte, Iowa.)
Though the town of River’s
Edge is fictional, it embodies features of several communities. The views in my
head are real ones, and to root the locale I sometimes refer to the county
seat. Sleepy towns come alive with Fall Festivals and harvest celebrations. And
parades! If you’ve never attended a July 4th or Corn Festival
Parade, find one.
However, to create
tension, life has to be about more than daily goings on. For example, I don’t
know of any bodies found on barn floors (Demise
of a Devious Neighbor) and I doubt you’ll find many murders at Farm Bureau
dinners (as in Demise of a Devious
Someone once asked why I’d
placed the town baseball diamond along the river, because it could get flooded.
Yep. Watch for that in a future book.
For each series, I want
the protagonist’s career to be flexible — also interesting enough for me to
learn more about it. For example, I’ve bought and sold a number of houses, so
Jolie is a real estate appraiser. In an early (stand-alone) book, the sleuth
was a teacher. Poor choice. She had to break her arm to be away from the
classroom long enough to solve the crime
This spring I’ve done some
substitute teaching. Middle school kids haven’t changed much over the last few
decades. I have to be careful not to laugh at their antics sometimes.
But wait – a substitute teacher is in many locales and picks her work schedule. Perfect for an amateur sleuth. Ideas continue to percolate. I’ll need to pick a locale I want to visit.
Thank you, Elaine, she said, not entirely complaining about having to add still more books to the pile To Be Read. You can find out more about Elaine and her fiction at her site, www.elaineorr.com.
This is kind of a fun post for me since my guest is one of the authors whose short story is in the new anthology, Fatally Haunted, from the Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles chapter. I happen to be the chapter president at the moment. Fatally Haunted was officially released just yesterday and we’re really excited about it. And a big thank you to Alison McMahan, who wrote the story King Hanuman, for sharing the experiences that led her to write her story.
In 2004 I made the first of several trips to Cambodia to produce a train-the-trainer film for an NGO. We filmed in a remote jungle village called Veal Thom, carved out of the jungle by landmine survivors. As Chhem Sip, a Khmer-American lawyer and social worker said to us, “they created this village with their bare hands and wooden limbs.”
Gradually we understood something even more special about Veal Thom: it was half made up of people connected to the former Lon Nol government, and half former Khmer Rouge. In other words, the two groups that had been killing each other for the previous several decades had set their enmities aside. Rather than fight each other, they work together to eradicate and survive the landmines (placed by every party involved in the war) that made them amputees.
In addition to the educational film we’d been hired to make, we made our own documentary that highlights their challenges and their struggles toward economic, emotional, and psychological recovery: Bare Hands and Wooden Limbs, narrated by Sam Waterston, now available on Amazon. https://barehandswoodenlimbs.com/
It took me years to complete the documentary, but finally Veal Thom’s example of how to heal and reconcile was out there for all the world to see.
I moved out of film production and wrote screenplays and fiction. I stayed friends with Chhem Sip, who had returned to the US to raise his family. Every time I visited him I learned a little more about the Khmer-American communities in Rhode Island, Florida, and Long Beach, CA.
I was born in Los Angeles. My maternal great-grandfather brought his family from Missouri in a covered wagon and settled in Long Beach in 1908. I’d toured the Queen Mary with my tenth grade class. Now I was learning about things that had happened in Long Beach after I’d moved away.
The Khmer-American community in Long Beach inspired me. Some built Buddhist temples and opened Cambodian restaurants and grocery stores. Some brought their guerilla savvy with them and formed gangs that competed with the already established gangs.
I wanted to write about someone who, like Chhem, who had experienced the war in Cambodia as a child, the forced labor and refugee camps as a teenager, then somehow made it to America. Someone, who, like Chhem, wants to give back but also has to work through her own war trauma. But unlike Chhem, my hero would have to do that emotional work in a Long Beach ripped apart by gang wars. A devout Buddhist who carries a gun.
That’s how Thavary Keo was born. The theme of FATALLY HAUNTED pushed me to clarify my thoughts, do more research, get a clearer picture of Thavary. My story, “King Hanuman,” is test, to see if I can pull it off, to see if readers want more before I commit to a series. I’m very grateful to the editors for the opportunity.
You can pick up your own copy of Fatally Haunted by going to our chapter’s website and clicking through to the Anthology page.
Linda O. Johnston has been one of my Sisters in Crime buddies since I got active with the group a few years ago. Today, she’s writing about how being flexible has helped her career.
I’m a fiction writer. I’ve been a fiction writer for a long time, and I’m almost entirely traditionally published, although that’s changing somewhat and may change even more.
In fact, a lot about my writing is subject to change, depending on which publisher is interested in what.
I’ve had fifty novels published so far, with more to come. My genres are generally mystery or romantic suspense, and no matter what the main genre is, nearly all of them contain elements of romance and suspense or mystery. That’s what I love to read. That’s what I love to write.
Oh, and I nearly always include dogs, too.
But what I want to talk about here is flexibility in writing… mine, and yours.
Of course there are writers who prefer choosing one genre or subgenre and sticking with it, using it as their entire writing career. And for some writers, that works out fine, whether they’re traditionally published or self-published. But that’s not me. Is it you?
I started out with mystery short stories (and won the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award for best first mystery short story of the year with the first one!), then added time travel romances, then moved into romantic suspense, mysteries and paranormal romance. That has worked out well over time since my time travel romance publisher, Dorchester, went out of business long ago, one of my mystery publishers, Midnight Ink, is no longer going to be publishing mysteries after this year, and the publisher of my paranormal romances, Harlequin, stopped publishing the Nocturne paranormal romance line.
Is that going to happen to every traditionally published writer? Hopefully not, but one never knows. And flexibility in what I write has allowed me to continue on.
Does a writer have to be that flexible? Nope. If there’s a particular genre you love above all others and want to write only in it, go for it. Especially these days. There are a lot of publishers out there now, both large and small. If you get something published by one of them, you’ll hopefully develop a relationship with them that will result in your publishing a lot of books in the same genre with them. Or not. But if you like that genre above all others, you can hopefully find a different publisher if that first one doesn’t continue to buy from you.
Or you can write in multiple genres as I do, and therefore write for different publishers at the same time, if that’s what you choose.
And then there’s self-publishing! When I started out, editors and writers looked down their noses at self-published authors, as if they turned to that because they weren’t good enough for traditional publishing. Not today! Today, self-publishing is respected and revered, and it’s a different form of successful publishing. Plus, those who are self-published can certainly earn a lot more per book than those who are traditionally published.
Oh, and by the way. I mentioned that my self-publishing is changing now, and that’s mostly because I got my rights back to my first two mystery series, the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries and its spinoff Pet Rescue Mysteries, and I’m currently working on having them published again as bundled e-books.
So–should you be flexible in your writing? Only if you choose to. But there are a lot of options out there for writing in one genre only, or in multiple genres–whatever works best for each author.
Me? At the moment romantic suspense and I are best friends… and in the future I hope to branch out yet again, particularly into mystery. But for right now–well, I’m celebrating the May release of my fifth and last Barkery & Biscuits Mystery for Midnight Ink: For A Good Paws. It’s obviously a mystery, and the whole series features dogs and baking. And yes, romance is included, too–my protagonist Carrie Kennersly has been developing a romantic interest throughout the series.