Guest Blogger~ Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

Character Matters

by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

The prep stage of writing can be a time of enchantment when characters and motivations emerge like flowers blooming.  As I laid the groundwork for a story that would eventually be called “Perfect Strangers,” I felt as though I were not creating so much as discovering the answers to key questions.  Specifically, what kind of person creates multiple identities in order to rob a marijuana dispensary?

Authors say there are two kinds of writers, plotters and pantsers.  Plotters write outlines, sketch character bios, run their stories past lawyer friends to see exactly what kind of trouble they’ve gotten their protagonist into, and generally research down to the last stray molecule of information.  By contrast, pantsers prefer to fly by the seat of their…trousers. 

 I am a plotter.  This may have something to do with my days as a middle school teacher, when I would routinely tell my students that failing to prepare is preparing to fail.  Mostly, though, it just has to do with being me.  I like knowing where I’m going before I set off, and I like knowing who I’m writing about before we embark on mayhem together. 

For “Perfect Strangers,” I filled in a bio sheet that I’ve developed over the years.  I started with the basics:  name, age, sex/gender identity, job; and went on to such details as education, hobbies, and living and work spaces.  I decided how many kids were in the family of origin, whether the parents were married, and if so whether it was a happy marriage.  I described my character’s religion, ethics, and politics, and added a brief timeline of his life up till now.  Thus did I make my protagonist, Gershom McKnight, a recently paroled convict.  He was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the single child of unhappy parents who did not encourage their son’s talent in visual arts (useful for a career as a forger later in life).  He was a juvenile delinquent who became a felon at age eighteen, and his best friend is his cellmate.

My biographical information on Gersom also told me how he sounded.  My notes under “Tone and Narrator” read as follows:

Narrator has spent 10ish years in prison.  S/he, but probably he, is smart, resilient, and resourceful, but at best an autodidact. Can have plenty of humor, but not lotsa highfalutin’ vocab and descriptions.  Tone is conversational, a cross between boasting and confiding.  He knows stuff, and how to do stuff, and is proud of it.

Suddenly, I could hear my fictional character talking.  I knew his voice, his sense of humor, his wry asides.  Now he and I could tell his story.

Many of the details I come up with never appear in the story they undergird.  For example, Gershom’s family life is never mentioned in “Perfect Strangers.”  However, all these data points serve me in the aggregate by giving me a precise picture of who I’m dealing with, what they sound like, and how they will behave once the action starts.  For me, it is a joyful process of discovery.

Mystery Writers of America Anthology

“It’s been said that all great literature boils down to one of two stories — a man takes a journey, or a stranger comes to town. While mystery writers have been successfully using both approaches for generations, there’s something undeniably alluring in the nature of a stranger: the uninvited guest, the unacquainted neighbor, the fish out of water.  No matter how or where they appear, strangers are walking mysteries, complete unknowns in once-familiar territories who disrupt our lives with unease and wonder. In the newest collection of stories by the Mystery Writers of America, each author weaves a fresh tale surrounding the eerie feeling that comes when a stranger enters our midst, featuring stories by prolific mystery writers such as Michael Connelly, Lisa Unger, and Joe Hill.”

IndieBound / Bookshop.org / Barnes & Noble / Amazon / Books-A-Million  / Audible.com 

Tilia Klebenov Jacobs is the bestselling author of two crime novels, one middle-grade fantasy book, and numerous short stories. She is a judge in San Francisco’s Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, and a board member of Mystery Writers of America-New England. HarperCollins describes her as one of  “crime fiction’s top authors.” Tilia has taught middle school, high school, and college; she also teaches writing classes for prison inmates.  She lives near Boston with her husband, two children, and pleasantly neurotic poodle.

Website:  http://www.tiliaklebenovjacobs.com/

FB Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/Authortiliakj

Twitter Handle:  @TiliaKJacobs

The Pains of Getting it Correct by Paty Jager

I have had book 7 in the Gabriel Hawke Novels written over a month ago. It went through my LEO (retired Law Enforcement Officer) and my CP (Critique Partner) But I have been waiting for my sensitivity reader to get to it.

This book is set on a reservation, deals with a missing Umatilla woman, and is set predominately in an Indian casino. For those reasons I have someone who lives on the reservation, is part of the MMIW organization, and she has worked in an Indian casino reading the book.

The problem: I had this book slated to publish May 1st in coordination with May being the month 15 years ago my first book published. This book will be my 50th. I have planned a HUGE Facebook 50 Book Bash event to last the full month of May. The plan was to start the month out announcing the 50th book was published.

That is not going to happen now. I will have to announce the pre-order on May 1st and set the publish date for the end of May. There are still too many people the book has to go through before it can be published. And I have to get it returned with my sensitivity readers comments first.

2nd cover/ deleted the 1st

I also sent her the cover… Her comment was the woman on the cover wasn’t brown enough. My cover designer made another cover with a different woman on it, with a browner skin tone. But then I thought, “None of the other Hawke covers have people on them. So now we are working on a cover without a person. Hard to do with the main location of the book being a casino and I don’t want to put a casino on the cover.

Covers with casino scenes will be for my Spotted Pony Casino Mysteries that will be my new series coming out in June. This fictional casino is the one featured in Stolen Butterfly, Gabriel Hawke Novel #7. And the main characters in that series are introduced in this Hawke book.

So I plunge on with book 1 of the new series, and hope my imaginary casino and how it is run and the employees will work for my sensitivity reader and I won’t have to rewrite too much of the new book.

While I enjoy using fictional settings, I like to get all the nuances of a culture and work place correct. And that is why, my 50th book may be released later than I’d planned.

Guest Blogger – Avery Daniels

Resort to Murder series goes to New Mexico by Avery Daniels

One piece of writing advice I received early on was to write in whatever genre I read, and I read a lot of cozy and amateur sleuth books.  I like how justice is served; the villain is caught, and for a few hours I am on the trail of a killer.  The vicarious thrills in the safety of my locked home appeal to me, so of course I started writing a cozy mystery series.

I often hear the advice to write what you know.  I grew up in a town with a historic five-star resort.  On a sunny Sunday afternoon, I would go to the resort and walk around their man-made lake and feed the ducks.  I celebrated special occasions at their exquisite restaurant, my employers held holiday parties there, and I won tickets to and attended a LPGA golf tournament at the resort.  So it was easy to make the setting for my cozy series this resort with the idea to have every other book at a resort my sleuth is visiting.  I have also volunteered over the years and helped plan and facilitate events, from retirement luncheons to signature fund-raising events with silent auctions. I have worked with hotel staff from soup to nuts on events, so I knew a good bit of what goes into Julienne’s task in that vein of her job.

 After I settled on the resort as a backdrop, Julienne solidified as the lead character. Julienne is a young professional who skipped college for a manager-in-training program at the local five-star resort. Her dream is to manage resorts around the world to satisfy her wanderlust and desire to experience other cultures.

 In the first book Julienne finds her sleuthing legs when she is the prime suspect in the murder and we are in her historic “home” resort inspired by the Broadmoor.  For book two, Nailed, the resort was a luxury Bavarian themed ski resort in Vail, Colorado inspired by Sonnenalp.  The third book, Spiked, was back at Julienne’s home resort.  This fourth book, Arrowed, is the first to venture out of Colorado.

In Arrowed, a cutthroat venture capitalist grabs Julienne by the ankle and with his dying breath says “the curse got me.”  The Enchantment Canyon Resort, where this occurs, is entirely fictional.  It is a combination of resorts and ideas I merged for the story.  I wanted the feel of a Mexican villa merged with a world class health and wellness resort.  I love Santa Fe and its unique mixing of Mexican and Native American cultures and foods and thus I wanted a resort that reflected the rich cultural heritage. 

I had terrible timing on Arrowed, though.  Here I am writing a cozy mystery set in Santa Fe, only a five-hour drive for me (and one of my favorite places to visit), and Covid made it impossible to do any personal research.  Fortunately, I have been several times and have many fond memories to rely on and supplement with internet research.  Just a tip: any trip to Santa Fe means you should plan on eating and drinking some of the best food in your life.  The food is one highlight of any trip there for me, along with the Margarita Trail!

If you have been to Santa Fe, or New Mexico, what are your favorite memories?

It all began when a dying man with an arrow in his chest grabs her ankle.
     During a heat wave at a Santa Fe resort, Julienne has the resort owner pressuring her to solve the murder. The victim is a high profile business man who made enemies rather than friends, leaving Julienne with a roster of suspects. She was supposed to be training the staff and spending quality time with Mason rather than investigating a murder. The heat turns up when an old girlfriend of Mason’s checks in and is determined to get back together.
     Arrowed is the fourth book in Avery Daniel’s Resort to Murder series and is an exciting contemporary cozy mystery. If you like Cleo Coyle, Maddy Hunter, Duffy Brown, Lynn Cahoon, and Annette Dashofy, then you’ll love this series with a strong intelligent sleuth, lavish settings, and tantalizing mysteries.
     Buy this spunky clean cozy mystery and start enjoying Julienne’s adventures today!

Youtube book trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-svubHiLbDE

Purchase Links

Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yoo3xfqw

B&N Nook: https://tinyurl.com/4rew7h83

B&N Print: https://tinyurl.com/2jbun5rt

Kobo: https://tinyurl.com/v4tpqebd

Apple: https://tinyurl.com/2a2vxa2b

Bookshop: https://tinyurl.com/14ecxyic

Avery Daniels was born and raised in Colorado, graduated from college with a degree in business administration and has worked in fortune 500 companies and Department of Defense her entire life. Her most eventful job was apartment management for 352 units. She still resides in Colorado with two brother black cats as her spirited companions. She volunteers for a cat shelter, enjoys scrapbooking and card making, photography, and painting in watercolor and acrylic. She inherited a love for reading from her mother and grandmother and grew up talking about books at the dinner table.

Website:  http://avery-daniels.com/

Newsletter:  https://tinyurl.com/2p952mcv

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/avery-daniels

Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/Avery-Daniels/e/B0719JXY83/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/AveryDanielsAuthor

I Like Jury Duty by Paty Jager

There are many people who try as hard as they can to get out of jury duty. I, on the other hand, enjoy jury duty.

Where else can a writer see so many different people in a boring and, in the case of a trial, intense situation? There are emotions to study, tics, physical appearance, and even voices. For me it is an overload of images and sounds that I try to capture to use in books.

I don’t write courtroom stories, but I do use a lot of what I see in my mysteries. The way a policeman stares around the room, or the intense discussion between a client and lawyer, even the way two old men gossip in the corner of the room, their voices so loud everyone hears what they are saying. There is so much fodder for this imaginative brain! Even how the potential jurors act while waiting to be picked. It all has a way of speaking to me. I carry a small notebook with me when I go. I use it to jot down things I see that I think will make an interesting character or add nuance to a character.

And then there are the cases. I don’t use exact cases in stories, I use them as a bouncing off point, coming up with my own scenario and interjecting completely different characters than the real people. But it is all inspiration for books or characters or situations to come.

My biggest hurdle is getting onto a jury. Our son-in-law is a lieutenant in the Oregon State Police. When asked about that, there are times I get excused immediately. Just because I see crime from the side of the police, I think. There are also the drunk driving cases, I can’t be open minded on those. My father-in-law was an alcoholic who should have been off the road much sooner than he was. And then he only had his license taken away because my husband asked the courts to take it away, not because the courts were going to do it. Even though he’d been hauled in for DUII a half a dozen times. Yes, I believe the courts need to be stricter with that and anyone who drinks alcohol or does illegal drugs should not be allowed to drive. Take their license away. Sorry, got off on my high-horse there.

I find how the judges present themselves to also be noteworthy. Their demeanor can work for an employer or even a villain depending on how open or dominating he or she may be. Don’t forget the prosecuting attorney and the defendant’s lawyer. Again, how they act and present themselves is all scrutinized by me to find something that might work for a character.

The defendant.. are they nervous, smug, pretending they don’t care but their leg is bouncing or the keep clasping and unclasping their hands? Yes, I study all of this for characterization.

I also listen to what everyone has to say and hope I use an open mind when making a decision. All the while, I’ve scratched my notes and observations in my character notebook.

Do you like to be called for jury duty? Why or why not?

photo source: Depositphotos

Ending a Series is Hard by Paty Jager

After waiting years to finally feel as if I were a good enough writer to write the genre I loved, it’s hard to fathom I have the last book of my Shandra Higheagle series releasing this month.

Years ago, we’re talking in the early 90s I wanted to write mystery books. I read them voraciously and after reading the first three in Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series, I wanted to write a mystery book. I had taken creative writing classes at the local community college and was ready to try my hand at mystery. Especially after someone I thought was a close friend told her husband she was having an affair with my husband to keep her husband from learning who was her real lover.

I knew I could write a really good murder mystery because I was killing that person in my story. I wrote the book. In first person, just like Ms. Grafton did. When I sent it to an agent, the reply was: First person mysteries don’t sell. I read the letter over and over wondering at the comment since I’d read many first person mysteries. While I waited to hear back on the first one, I killed off a replica of the same person in my second book with the same main character.

After receiving the letter from the agent, I transformed my first person account into third person and sent it off. Still a solid rejection. When I tried back then to get into a mystery writers group all of them insisted you had to be already published to become a member. Heart broken and feeling like mystery wasn’t my calling, I joined RWA- Romance Writers of American and put my writing skills into western romance always adding a bit of adventure or mystery into each book and showcasing injustices.

When I picked up the gauntlet to write an Indian Jones type book, I wrote my Isabella Mumphrey Action Adventure series. The success of those books and my brother telling me about a way to hide a murder weapon on a bronze statue started my brain spinning. I came up with an amateur sleuth who was in the art world.

Giving a nod to the fact I like to write Native American characters to help educate readers about their history and circumstances, I came up with Shandra Higheagle a potter. From book one, Double Duplicity, I loved my character and the secondary characters I sprinkled into her life. Through the series the reader learns more about Shandra’s past and sees her build a future with Detective Ryan Greer.

At book six my daughter’s asked when I would end the series. I told them when I was tired of writing them or my readers were tired of reading them. I didn’t want to be an author who had readers saying I should have ended the series three books ago. But as I wrote the previous book, Capricious Demise, and I had Shandra and Ryan adopt twins, I realized to keep readers liking my character, she would have to stop sleuthing and take care of the kids.

And that is how I came up with the last book of the series. Shandra’s grandmother comes to her in a dream showing her, Ryan and the twins at the Colville Powwow. During the course of the book, her grandmother stops coming to her dreams and Shandra realizes she can no longer put her life in danger. The twins lost two parents already. They didn’t need to lose another.

While it is sad to think I won’t be visiting Shandra, Sheba, Ryan, Crazy Lil, Ruthie, Maxwell, Ted, Naomi, Maranda, and Alex, I’m excited to carry on writing Gabriel Hawke novels and my new series Spotted Pony Casino Mysteries.

Vanishing Dream

Book 16 in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series

Deception, Gluttony, Murder

Shandra Higheagle Greer’s deceased Nez Perce grandmother appears in her dream, dancing at a powwow. Since Grandmother only appears when there is a murder, Shandra believes, she, Ryan, and the twins should attend the yearly Powwow at the Colville Reservation.

While out for a walk the first night, Shandra sees someone lurking in the dark between the vendor tents. A vendor is discovered the next morning strangled with her own beads. 

When members of Shandra’s family are attacked, she finds it hard to stay out of the investigation. While Ryan is working with the Tribal Police, Shandra follows a suspect and is captured. No one knows her whereabouts. Calling upon her grandmother seems futile. The dreams are vanishing and so could her life.

universal book link to pre-order at most ebook vendors: https://books2read.com/u/4XLkvg