My “Little Gray Cells” Are Getting Full

As Hercule Poirot, one of Agatha Christie’s prominent characters, was often to say, his “little grey cells” were working. I have been feeling of late that my “little gray cells” or brain is getting too full to handle much more. LOL

Between the research I’ve been doing for the latest Gabriel Hawke book I’m writing, which is set in the winter in the mountains, to the research for Dela Alvaro, a lower limb amputee, I feel like I finish one book on a subject, only to pick up another book and read about something else I need to know for the book I’m writing or plotting.

While I sound like I’m complaining, it is the research I love the most about writing a book. Well… maybe that’s a second to coming up with an interesting or unique way to kill someone. They are close in what I enjoy most about writing a murder mystery.

I have been using Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking, The Outdoor Survival Book, Hiking Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness, Field Guide to Tracking Animals in Snow, and the Oregon Gazetteer, not to mention Google Maps and numerous sites I’ve pulled up on the internet to answer questions. These are all for Owl’s Silent Strike, book 9 in the Gabriel Hawke series.

My character has to take care of a broken leg on his significant other in three feet of snow. Care for another person’s frostbite on their feet and keep all three of them away from men with AR rifles that Hawke believes are after the man he found wandering on the mountain. So you can imagine I had to also research caring for a compound fracture and frostbite.

I also was lucky enough when I started this series to make friends with an aviator who is always willing to help me with aircraft questions as Hawke’s significant other is a pilot. He helped me figure out why she wouldn’t be able to fly the helicopter, they came after, off the mountain.

There are some books, like this one, that I feel like I put in twice as much time with the research as I do actually writing the book. I hope all of this effort pays off in the incidents sounding plausible and realistic.

I have also been filling my head with as much information as I can about a lower limb amputee for my character, Dela Alvaro, in my Spotted Pony Casino Mysteries. I found a book the other day titled AMPossible. It’s written by a lower limb amputee who also counsels other amputees. It has all the nuts-and-bolts information about how a person feels after the amputation, from emotions to physical and what to expect. It has been very helpful for knowing how to portray my character.

All of this and the research I will continue to do for each book as it comes along is why my “little gray cells” are getting full. It’s no wonder I forget the little things. Where’s my phone? What did I do with that letter? What was I supposed to do when I finished writing?

Getting into the Rhythm

My second book in the Spotted Pony Casino Mysteries is up on pre-order, publishing on February 18th. I have been fascinated with my main character, Dela Alvaro, ever since I conjured her up for a short story I entered in a contest. She kept knocking around in my head until I decided to make her a main character in her own series.

Even before starting her series, I introduced her to my readers in a Stolen Butterfly, book 7 in the Gabriel Hawke novels. Readers liked her and the secondary characters who are in her life. I was excited to start her series. I had gathered gambling terms to use for book titles because she is head of security at a casino on a reservation. The first book was Poker Face. It delved deeper into what makes Dela tick as the reader is in her point of view, not someone seeing her on the outside.

She has been medically discharged from the Army due to losing a lower limb from an IED. Her plans had been twenty years in the army, which was cut five years short due to the explosion. In book one she has returned to the reservation where she grew up and is trying to piece her life back together. She’d planned on a job in law enforcement but being an amputee put a stop to that plan. Through Grandfather Thunder, the man who lives next door so her mother, Dela gets a job working security at the casino.

During book one, while Dela and FBI Special Agent Quinn Pierce work together to find out who killed and stuffed a casino employee in a laundry chute, Dela, myself, and readers discover more about her and how determined she is to not let her disability be who she is. One of my beta readers thought I’d talked too much about her disability in the first book. But I wanted readers to feel how she felt. She has only been an amputee for less than two years, a year of that was spent in surgery and rehab in an army hospital.

Fast forward to House Edge, book 2, the same beta reader said she loved how I handled the disability, how she’s coming into her own, and the expanded men in her life. That made me feel good. Because I thought after the short story and Dela having a large role in Stolen Butterfly that book 1 wouldn’t feel like an author exploring what she could do with a character.

As I wrote book 2, the premise I had planned for book 3 took root and I planted a hint of what will happen in book 3 in book 2 and I wrote the opening scene for Double Down while I was writing House Edge. It felt right to get the information accurate while the start of the conflict was fresh in my mind.

It isn’t new for me to come up with ideas for future books while I’m writing the current book. I do it all the time. I generally just jot down the idea and then when I’m not writing, swirl it around in my head figuring out how to make the idea work and where in the line of books it will fall.

I have several ideas for what will happen down the line in various books. Some deal with her friends in trouble and some will deal with the father she was told died before she was born.

There will be more mystery in Dela’s life as she continues to solve murders that happen at the casino and on the reservation. It’s a good feeling when a character becomes real in my mind and writing the book is like walking in their footsteps. That’s when I know I have found the rhythm of the character.

Book 2 in the Spotted Pony Casino Mysteries has Dela Alvaro not only trying to keep her job by discovering the killer before word spreads about the murder, but she also has to deal with FBI Special Agent Quinn Peirce butting heads with her high school sweetheart who has returned to the reservation as a tribal police officer

Zealous Environmentalists

Greedy Power Companies

…and a body

A bitter dispute over the breaching of dams in Idaho sparks emotions at a summit held at the Spotted Pony Casino. When the keynote speaker is murdered, Dela Alvaro, head of security, teams up again with FBI Special Agent Quinn Pierce.

The suspects are many since it appears the victim was playing both sides of the controversial environmental issue. Did someone take advantage of a marital dispute… witnessed by a crowd of casino spectators? Or did an angry wife murder her husband? 

Pre-order link:

https://books2read.com/u/bWQ8X0

Ideas Knocking at My Creative Self

There are times, like now, when I wish my creative self would take a vacation. However, I also don’t really want all of my creative self to go away. After all, I need that part of my brain to help me write books.

It’s the part of my brain that comes up with story ideas that could take a rest. While going through the final edits on my newly released Gabriel Hawke book, Churlish Badger, I came up with the premise for the next two books in that series. Which is awesome because that means I will have two more books in that series. 😉 The bad part is I’m so excited about them, it’s hard to concentrate on the Spotted Pony Casino book, House Edge, I’m writing now. Sigh.

I can never seem to write as fast as my ideas hit. An idea can come out of nowhere in seconds, but a book takes a good month to prepare and research, then another three (without interruptions) to write. That means, I have about two more months of finishing House Edge, to do the research for the next Hawke book and start writing it in February, if all goes as planned.

When it is written, then I’ll start on book 3 in the Spotted Pony Casino Mysteries, Double Down, which I started the premise for it in House Edge, which made me want to start on that book…. Yes, it is a never ending cycle for me. I get excited about the next book in a series, then have to wait to write it because, (oh, now why did I decided to write two series at once?) I have to write the next book in the other series.

I’m sure there are other writers out there nodding their heads. Yes, we understand, there are those of us who can’t work on one series at a time. Heaven forbid, we should get bored of that series and not want to write the next book. So we juggle, two, or three, or more series at once to keep the monotony of writing about the same characters all the time from becoming tedious.

As Churlish Badger publishes and House Edge is being written, I have three more books churning in the back of my mind. This is how I have spent most of my writing career. Always writing with two to three books on the back screen of my brain, fading in and out, as I dissect the new characters, plot, and setting. And I do the research for the next book while I’m writing another. If only I could plug into my brain and have it all pour out onto a computer screen.

Churlish Badger

Book 8 in the Gabriel Hawke Novels

An abandoned vehicle…

A missing man…

Oregon State Trooper Gabriel Hawke discovers an abandoned vehicle at a trailhead while checking hunters.

The owner of the vehicle never arrived at his destination. As Hawke follows leads, he learns the man was in the process of selling his farm over the objections of his wife who said he would only sell over her dead body.

Continuing to dig for clues, Hawke turns up two bodies buried on the farm. Who killed the two and why keeps Hawke circling for answers, backing the killer into a corner.

Buy link:  https://books2read.com/u/mZZx2l

Not Just a Pretty Face

I’ve been taking online workshops through the International Thrillerfest Online school. While a couple of topics are ones I’ve attended workshops on before, each presenter has their own unique spin they bring to it. Which means, I have picked up a few new tricks and things to try.

The first one was a workshop by Adam Hamdy on Pacing. While I had learned about most of what he talked about before, it was his discussion on how he went from a pantser (someone who just starts writing with no idea where they are headed) to someone who does plot out the book in a basic way. Not an outline or thorough scene by scene . He writes the tag line then expands that a bit, then expands that a bit more, until he has 5-7 lines for each chapter with the action or external plot of the story and maybe some of the internal plot that will play out.

I decided to try this for the latest book I’m working on. I’ve always known my beginning, a couple of plot points in the middle, and my end, but when he said by taking the time to do this step speeded up his writing process, I thought it was worth a try. And the last book I had so many interruptions, I’d repeated myself in several places- which was discovered by a beta reader.

It took me two days to discover what my book was about, write up my suspect list, and write the 5-7 sentences per chapter. This is just the investigation, or external plot, that will be brought up in each chapter. After starting the book, I added in a new secondary character who will help add more dimensions to my main character and also add more internal conflict in House Edge, book 2 in the Spotted Pony Casino Mysteries.

And you were wondering where the title of this post came from… A bonus workshop we received dealt with what mystery/suspense/thriller readers look for in a book cover. I found the information insightful. So much so, I sent an email to my cover designer to redesign the first three covers in the Spotted Pony Casino Mystery series. I have Poker Face published and available to the public but it is the first book. I decided it was best to get it and the next two I’d had made to get a consistency in the series from the beginning.

Here are the books I had made before the workshop:

These aren’t bad and convey a bit of the story. However, the survey taken by a marketing firm who works with all the big publishers and some of the larger writing organizations said that mystery/suspense/thriller readers don’t care if the image on the cover is anything like what’s in the book. They read the title first. They want a title that catches their imagination and is a play on words. Check- my titles do that. They don’t like people/faces on the books. They don’t mind shadowy figures and prefer covers that look like a puzzle. They want to see creepy, mysterious, or action depicted on the covers. And they prefer a description of the type of book: Mystery, Thriller, True Crime, Action Adventure, Suspense not A Novel.

And these are the new covers:

Simpler images, in-the-face title, and the word Mystery is easier to see than in the logo that sweetened the look of the books. These covers also leave more to the imagination.

I’m glad I had this workshop now and not a year from now when the fourth book would be coming out.

And I’m thankful I went with simple covers on the Gabriel Hawke books and I have a play on words for the titles.

It might be just a book cover, but it is the face of the book I want to draw readers into. So while pretty is nice, I want a cover that exudes mystery, intrigue, and a reader can’t pass without at least taking a peek inside.

What do you think of the change of cover?

I think your character is getting old and senile.

That is what my oldest daughter, one of my beta readers, said to me while reading my latest draft of the next Gabriel Hawke book. I laughed and asked why. She mentioned two things that were not my character’s fault. They were mine. So it is the writer and creator of Gabriel Hawke who is getting senile! LOL

Actually, this last manuscript, I found myself having to reread the last two or three chapters every time I sat down to write because I would have days in between being able to write. I lost the flow of the story and the events. Even though I also write about three or four chapters and then go back and on a notepad write down all the significant events that have to do with the murder or investigation they are doing.

I also have a calendar white board that I put small sticky notes on each day with the significant information that is discovered that day. It helps me keep track of the length of time the book plays out over and what forensics information could be coming in.

With all of these “cover my backside” in place, I still repeated things and had my character saying things that he’d already said. Yikes!

Now I know why I didn’t pursue my writing career until my kids were older. Right now we have our oldest granddaughter living with us. We have been attending her volleyball games and I’ve been taking days to go trail riding with other grandkids. I’m spending time with family and my writing is suffering. But I would rather have that than my family suffering.

While the Hawke book is off with my beta readers, I started fleshing out the next Spotted Pony Casino Mystery book. I did something I have never done. I made a 5 page outline of sorts. I wrote five or less sentences for each chapter pushing the plot of the story along. I didn’t add in any emotional or sub plots, but I’m hoping those will come naturally as I write and the outline will keep my story flowing without repeating and backtracking. Because until this granddaughter graduates in May, I will be busy with her and her school functions as well as having fun with the grandkids down the road.

If you are a writer, do you plot or do an outline before you start a book? Have you ever discovered at the end that you had repeated information?

Readers, have you ever read a book that repeated information or made the main character seem lost?