Tag Archives: Character

Do you have a suitcase story? by Sheila Deeth

Last year I thought it would be easier to travel by train with one nice strong wheely suitcase – only one item of luggage to worry about; only one spot needed on the luggage rack; solid sides to protect the treasures inside; what could go wrong?

What went wrong was an overcrowded train insufficiently supplief with luggage space. I couldn’t lift my heavy case to the top of any piles, and it probably wouldn’t fit there anyway. I traveled most of the way from Manchester to London sitting on my suitcase near the door and standing to let further passengers squeeze me into ever tighter spaces, ever closer to falling out. Painful long and slow.

This year I carried two smaller more malleable cases and found … an overcrowded train with insufficient luggage space, all filled with other people’s super-large, super-solid items. I squeezed one case into the overhead space, panicked at every corner that it might fall down on some poor stranger’s head, then found at journey’s end that I needed the aid of not-poor strong-limbed strangers to pry it out. Meanwhile a fellow passenger’s large case filled the space where my feet were meant to go (cheap tickets in England are only valid for the designated seat). And there was nowhere for my other case, besides nowhere for me.

So I made friends with strangers, swapped life stories, rested one case on another and sat sideways in my designated seat with feet stretched into the aisle  – thus, since every passer-by had to ask me to move, I made many more friends. And relationships between real characters became my suitcase story.

Which got me thinking – every story we write is like a suitcase filled with ideas – enough for more than one suitcase perhaps,  even a series, but how we pack might not be the most important thing. Relationships will make or break the journey or the tale … and fill the author’s mind with more to follow.

So … pack heavy? Pack light? I’ll just try to pack “write.”

Sheila deeth is the author of Divide by Zero, Infinite Sum,  and Subtraction, all published by Indigo Sea. Her suitcases are full and she’s thoroughly enjoying the journey. 

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Second Chances

I’m not very good at giving people a second chance. I have a tendency to pass judgment quickly, rely on first impressions, and hold grudges.

I don’t like this about myself, but I admit that it is a character flaw and probably a large part of why I’m not a particularly fun loving, devil may care, gregarious, everyone-wants-to-be-her-friend individual.

On the one hand, I can accept that about myself, on the other hand I don’t really want to accept it. Because we should give one another a second chance. It’s our responsibility, and a lesson we should learn sooner rather than later.

Reflecting on this, I was reminded of Jonah’s poor attitude and the chapter after he returns to Nineveh. For some reason, I always forget about this chapter. In my mind the story always ends with Jonah becoming Whale spit up, fulfilling God’s will and then learning his lesson…but even after spending time inside a fish, he doesn’t really learn anything. Not a blessed thing and that is terrifying.

I’m not going to lie, it worries me that one could experience so much and still have such a hard heart. In fact, he gets mad because his sermon to the Ninevites is effective. His ticked off that they turn from their evil ways and repent. He gets so mad that he goes out to the desert to pout.

Even so, God sends a vine to cover his head and provide him shade.

Then Jonah gets mad when the vine, which he did nothing to cultivate, dies.

Finally, God speaks up. He asks Jonah an important question: Do you have a right to be angry about this vine?

Great question. Jonah didn’t do anything to deserve the vine, to nurture the vine; he didn’t plant the vine—he didn’t even say thank you when it grew. Then, when it dies he does nothing to change his circumstances. He just sits and lets his head burn. Stubborn, isn’t he? Of course, this is coming from the runner—the one who tried to escape God and when that didn’t work had sailors throw him into the sea, I guess he thought that would be a way to seal his fate—but you can’t run from God no matter how far you go and if God wants to teach you a lesson no matter how stubborn you are he’ll teach on.

It is up to you to decide to learn.

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How many of us are the same way? We are blessed with health, family and sometimes even wealth that we did not earn and rarely deserve. We are living in a world of entitlement, but as Romans is so quick to remind us—all have sinned and fall short so we really don’t deserve anything but death, destruction and punishment. Some people, no matter what, some people are determined not to be happy. No matter what they are determined to be miserable. In fact I’m not even sure they would know what to do with happiness if it grew from a vine and slapped them in the face (I include myself as being guilty of this from time to time).

You see, it’s so easy to forget about Jonah 4 because no one wants to see Jonah as a whiner—no one wants to remember the man who survived a whale’s belly as a complaining, stubborn, unhappy man. Because it doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t someone whose been given that SECOND CHANCE be able to empathize more with people who are seeking a second chance? Shouldn’t he rejoice with them, be joyful and grateful?

And yet, he’s angry! Angry that God would save them. He FORGOT too. He forgot his own transgressions and somehow I doubt he was as pure and sinless as he pouty face would suggest.

And then the bitter sting of hypocrisy sinks deep into my skin. Don’t we struggle with the same problem? We’ve all been given the same second chance, and we all think we deserve so much more than we actually do.

We think we deserve happiness.

We think we deserve contentment.

We think we deserve a life of leisure where we get what we want when we want it.

But we don’t.

We are all sinners.

We deserve misery.

We deserve sickness.

We deserve death.

Just as a murderer deserves to pay for his or her heinous crimes, each and every one of us deserves to pay for our sins. But OH how quick we are to forget our own sins when we look around and see someone else sinning. “Well,” we say to ourselves with our noses stuck up in the air, “at least I haven’t cheated on my wife like Bill. Bill deserves punishment. How could he show his face in church? He is such a sinner!”

What if Jonah had accepted their conversion? What if he’d stopped feeling that it was unfair, that they deserved less than he, that they were his equals? Now I don’t presume to rewrite the Bible, but I do want to look at another perspective, because after all, that’s what being a writer is all about. So Jonah 4 might have read a little like this:

1)And Jonah was pleased and joy filled his heart. 2) He prayed to the Lord, “Oh Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? How could I be so blind and flee to Tarshish? I know you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in Love. A God who relents from sending calamity. 3) Now, O Lord I see how it is better to live than to die. Praise your holy name.” 4) And the Lord blessed Jonah and the Ninevites…

Because the thing is we’re all sinners. Some of us don’t want to admit that we sin, and that’s worse in a lot of ways. We go to church, sing in the choir, attend Bible study, join every committee, but forget that we are more than just an organization. We are, and should be, designed to love everyone, not gossip about their shortcomings, or worse ignore and run away from their suffering.

We’re designed to be God’s image.

But we’re not in God’s image when we are unforgiving and self-righteous, sulking in the desert of our own iniquities and sin.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what happiness is and why we pursue it. It’s not in our declaration of independence by accident. And we often take it for granted. I’ve come to the radical conclusion that happiness is not as illusive as we try to make it. Happiness doesn’t run from us, we often run from it.


Ashley M. Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow published by Indigo Sea Press. She has a Bachelor’s in English from UNC-Wilmington and currently teaches 9th, 11th and 12th grade Language Arts. Ashley lives with her dog, Emma, near Columbia, South Carolina.

 

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Crazy little thing called blog

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By Jonna Ellis Holston

You know how when you meet somebody at a party who sells insurance and you suddenly want to be as far away from this person as the room will allow? Quick, find an excuse. Run away, fast, before you hear the words ‘indemnity’ or ‘term’, you think. Your eyes scan for an exit and then you spot, Sue.

“Oh there’s Sue, I need to go and say hello,” you say… in spite of the fact that Sue reported you to the HOA for the pot of begonias on your door step, and has breath rancid enough to kill a pterodactyl.

Now I tell you, my family brimmed with columnists and authors. Even the great Jack Kerouac married my uncle’s sister, Stella. I remember him and I remember how it used to be, years ago, when new authors were revered. If someone we knew had a book that was about to be published, everyone wanted to know them. We welcomed them, invited them, immediately, to our next party. Now, it seems that everyone has a book. Even I have a book.

A sane person would be discouraged, right? Not me. I find it immensely satisfying to know that this many people have stories so compelling and that they, courageously, sat at a desk for a year or more, perhaps typing with just two index fingers, and wrote their truth. I’m thrilled to know that the publishing industry now provides more options for these emerging authors.

So, recently, I met an author at a party. When I shared with her that my book would soon be published, I saw her eyes scan the room for escape. She settled on doing the polite thing and asked me what my book was about. “It’s a funny account of divorced women who are looking for another chance at love,” I told her.

“Oh,” she said as she took a step back, “that’s a tough sell. Everyone wants murder these days. Violence, madness, they only want to read about twisted serial killers. That’s what sells.” And she walked off to talk to someone else (probably an insurance agent). I had to laugh.

Does she not know that books are magical? They’re not autumn leaves that fall on cold ground only to be crushed by footsteps. Books are the blowpuffs of spring’s new dandelions, seeds propelled onward by angel’s hair that have the potential to soar on towards forever. They find their place; caress fertile soil, cultivate ideas and nurture others who may someday write their own stories, their personal truths.

Blogs, like these, are a wild willing breeze. You never know who will read them. They can make all the difference on earth… to us and to another, would be… story teller.

Write on, authors! Write more… more sex, more murder, more mystery and more love triumphant, because when Nationwide happened, State Farm thrived. And readers, my friends, abound. The world of literature is now limitless.

Note to reader: No insurance personnel were harmed in the writing of this blog.

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Do You Want to be Healed?

Do you want to be healed? Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Why else would healthcare be a multi-billion dollar industry? No one actually likes being sick. Everyone wants to be healed…don’t they?

It occurred to me this week that a seemingly simple question, may be more complex than we first think This question appears in John 5:6 when a man “who had been in this condition” (though the condition is unclear, we know from the context he is disabled) from 38 years. He is lying next to a cleansing pool, and there is no indication for how  long he might have been lying there, but when Jesus asks: “Do you want to be made well?” the man doesn’t answer with a simple and evident “Yes!” Instead, he mutters an excuse of all things.

And it made me think, how often I do the same thing. I’m offered the opportunity for healing, enlightenment, encouragement or even just to be made whole…and instead of embracing the opportunity with a wholehearted “YES PLEASE!” I shrink back into myself and mutter, “Well, you see, Jesus, I’d like to receive this blessing but…”

  • I don’t have time.
  • I’m not ready for that.
  • I don’t know where I’d find the money.
  • I’m not sure I’m the right person.
  • I am too tired.
  • I’m scared.

And why do we mutter these excuses? Because despite the fact that we’re broken and stuck—we’re comfortable. The disabled man had grown accustomed to his ailment—he’d lived with it for 38 years. I mean, sure it was inconvenient, but he was comfortable with the inconvenience. People probably helped him live day to day life (how else did he get to the pool? Sure he had no one to help him get all the way into the pool…he says, but it sounds more like a convenient excuse than an actual problem), so he felt secure in knowing this was he lot in life.

In a lot of ways we are just as stuck—we’re right on the brink of where God can bring healing into our lives. Maybe it’s a physical healing, but even more so, an emotional, spiritual healing and instead of taking that final step we stop and find an excuse. All so that we can stay…

Comfortable.

But what if we’re not meant to be comfortable? What if life is about more than being comfortable?

The man had come to “get into the pool where the water is stirred.” But that’s not what Jesus has him do. Instead he tells him to “Get up!”

Our lives are meant to be lived in action. “Get up!” It’s a command to live. To experience, to be that which God intended. It may not be comfortable. You may have to do some walking—some moving, some shaking, some stirring. But it will be real, and that’s where the true healing comes from.


Ashley Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow a Christian Romance which can be purchased at Indigo Sea Press or Amazon. Follow Ashley on twitter @amcarmichael13 and Facebook.

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Torture Your Characters

“Torture your characters more,” she told me after we talked for fifteen minutes about the book I’d just finished writing.

More? I thought. Torture her more?! I’d already done some irreparable damage to her physically, and mentally she was a total mess, I thought. What more could I realistically do to this poor character. People don’t go through that much torture in so short a time, not in real life…

But, the thing is, they do.

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but we live in a horribly broken world. People, good people, are tortured every day by disease, accidents, relationships, good decisions, bad decisions, inevitable decisions…

They say it never just rains, and clichés are cliché for a reason, aren’t they?

I was reminded of that this week. Through conversations with new people, but then it struck home when someone I love, someone dear to my heart, was dealt more torture than I thought fair for one person. From cars dying suddenly to fights with insurance agents she was already battling with the trials of being a new mom and then suddenly she found herself unexpectedly rushing to the emergency room with a close family member…and honestly, that’s not even the half of it. They’ve had enough torture to fill the pages for days to come.

So why on Earth would people want us to torture our characters then? Aren’t they sick of that from their own lives? They experience it themselves—why live through it with characters too?

I thought about this, and concluded that characters who experience life difficulties remind us of two things:

  • We are not alone in our pain.
  • Things always get better after the rain.

In the midst of pain, it is so easy to forget that there are others who share our burdens, sorrows, and even our experiences. There are those who DO know what we are going through and CAN give us hope. Sometimes we aren’t willing to hear that from our friends, so fiction can help—at least until we are ready to go back to our real world again.

Both of these lessons are hard to hold on to when you are going through the fire yourself, but when you’ve connected to a favorite character whose gone through the flames and come out on the other side refined, and not burned, it helps us remember that we can too.

So go ahead, writers, torture your characters. And readers, remember, it’s going to be OK.


Ashley Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow, a Christian Romance which can be purchased at Second Wind Publishing or Amazon. Follow Ashley on twitter @amcarmichael13 and Facebook.

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Why do I Write in the Fantasy Genre?

At recent book reading for Dormant, someone asked  why I write fantasy novels. My gut answer was that I’m all about escapism and what better way to escape than by hiding in another world?

As I thought about it, I realized there’s a longer answer. I write fantasy stories because of the world building, the chance to create the rules and structure the characters inhabit. To me, a good fantasy story balances between describing the world and describing the characters’ journey — it’s not always an actual journey, of course. For that matter, it’s not always another world. Many wonderful fantasy novels take place in our world…with a twist.

In each world, there are rules that define how life works. The rules can relate to magic — does using magic make a sound that other magic users can hear, can only certain people use magic, or are only certain locations magical?  Where does the power comes form — is it an inherit ability, or does it come from a magical object?  Are you born with the power or does it turn on like a flipped switch? Does magic come from a fragile balance between man and nature that can break without explanation?

The writer defines the rules — she must follow those rules or else build the story around why the rules are suddenly suspended. It’s both fun and daunting to face creating a world with certain guidelines. Staying within the rules can be just as frustrating for the writer as it is for the characters. However, rules must exist because if the character can suddenly change within the story to resolve an issue then there is no conflict.

In The Well World series by Jack Chalker, he creates a planet where the rules change geographically by creating hexagonal like worlds with the major world. The rules of one hexagon might allow magic while the next one over doesn’t. Machines work in some hexagons while they don’t in others. It’s one of my favorite series simply because the rules can change so quickly but within the construct of each little world, the rules are absolute. Machines go from useful to lumps of useless metal just by crossing a border, geography deters poisonous gases, and an extreme patriarchal society borders a hive world run by a queen.

Sometimes people assume authors spend time creating the rules before starting to write the story. Obviously, everyone has a different process but many writers develop the rules while writing the story. I began Dormant with some basic rules — you’re born a supernormal with basic package abilities (super speed, super hearing, super strength, etc.), your significant ability manifests at age thirteen and you don’t get new abilities once you’ve grown into the significant ability. This means I can’t decide Olivia’s ability is fire and then add the ability to fly because it would be an easy away to get her out of a sticky situation. Other rules of the supernormal world inhabited by Olivia and her family evolved as I wrote the story.

As I write Root, the second book in the series, I’m having fun defining more rules — for supernormal beasts, for Ben’s mind reading ability, and, well…you’ll just have to see when Root comes out later this year.

What is your favorite fantasy novel and what are its rules/laws?

LeeAnn Elwood McLennan 05 Color (2)LeeAnn Elwood McLennan is the author of Dormant, the first book in the Dormant Trilogy available on http://www.secondwindpublishing.com, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. She’s diligently working on Root, book two in the trilogy. Follow LeeAnn on Twitter @atticusmcl and on Facebook at LEMWrites.

 

 

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Interview with a Supernormal: About Those Abilities

As I write Root, the next book in the Dormant series, I draw on clandestine interviews I’ve had with the only supernormal I’ve met. I know her as Kate Brighthall but that’s not her real name. It’s the name she gave me when she recused me from a house fire when we were both teenagers. Over the years she’s trusted me with details about her world and allowed me to write about it. I suspect she wants to make sure at least some facts are correctly reported to counterbalance the rumors swirling around — mostly in the tabloids.

Below is an excerpt from notes I took when Kate told me about how supernormal abilities develop. She was unusually chatty that day.

…………………………………………

As told by Kate Brighthall…

Supernormal children aren’t born with their active powers. Our children aren’t distinguishable from normal children at all. Not at first.

Our children start showing signs of the basic package abilities around age three. The basic package abilities (my daughter Zoe’s term) include super speed, sight, smell, hearing, and strength. As a child grows up, we do some light training to hone the basic package skills, however intense training begins at age thirteen when a child’s significant ability manifests. A significant ability can be one of many different skills — it could be an extension of the basic package or something very different. For example, Zoe’s significant ability is super speed. She can run the 120 miles from the Portland warehouse to Mt Hood and back in fifteen minutes. Others gain significant abilities such as the power to manipulate objects without touching them. I can manipulate objects weighing up to 5 lbs. Others can handle heavier objects. Other abilities include fire starters, like my niece Olivia. My brother, Alex, is an empath — skill often used for healing. Supernormals can heal more rapidly than normals but we occasionally need a little help. Alex also uses his ability to help normals heal — surreptitiously, of course.

Most abilities are easy to hide from normals but some of us manifest abilities that require we stay hidden. It’s not unheard of for a supernormal to manifest wings, gills, or other physical changes. Once, a long time ago, we were less successful at staying hidden. That’s how some myths got started — normals saw supernormals in action. Nowadays we stay below the radar; it’s safer that way — for us and for normals.

As teenager supernormals manifest their significant ability, they focus on honing their new skill. There are tried and true exercises for each ability, but my brothers and I challenge ourselves to find new ways of training. It’s been particularly interesting training Olivia’s fire starter skills — her range is amazing but her control still needs work. Good thing her grandfather built a fireproof training room.

Once a thirteen year old supernormal manifests her significant ability it takes about six months for full development. After that period, our significant abilities are set and don’t grow any more. Of course, we can refine our skills. For example, only being able to manipulating object of 5 pounds or less might seem like a limitation but I’ve learned that it depends on what that object is.

There’s only one forbidden ability — mind reading. Any child who manifests this ability must learn to suppress it — almost all supernormals who manifest this ability develop the power to control minds as well. They usually end up going insane. About two hundred years ago, a supernormal with the ability to read minds destroyed most of the supernormal population globally. Because of this cataclysmic event, there are less than a thousand of us worldwide. Fortunately, mind reading is a rare ability; typically, only one child per generation manifests it. I’ve only known one personally and he is in a medically induced coma to protect himself and others.

Every family lineage has a role in the supernormal world. For example, Brighthalls often train to be hunters, seeking and containing the monster population while protecting normals from these creatures. Sometimes we have to kill the monsters; for example, it’s very difficult to trap and contain a Mongolian Death Worm due to its acid spewing abilities. Usually we try to capture and then release a creature in a safer habitat. Recently we tracked a firebug — a small tentacled critter who emits sparks and sometimes flames — usually harmless in a remote desert setting but not in an urban environment where it can harm normals. We were able to use Olivia’s ability capture the firebug and now it’s on its way to a safe habitat.

As the normal population has grown, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep monsters away from normals. Sadly, due to encroaching populations we’ve had to kill more creatures than we did in the past. I’m trying to find better ways for us to capture and contain these monsters. Most of the creatures are harmless when kept away from normals.

My family is atypical because we integrate into the normal population while most supernormals live in remote locations around the world. My family’s job as hunters means that we usually live in cities so we find have to work hard to blend in among normals. In fact, unusually among supernormals we often marry normals. Supernormal genes are dominant so our children have abilities. I remember when I told my normal husband about supernormals — he was stunned but has adapted very well to our double life.

I think it’s good to stay connected to the normals — keeps us grounded in both worlds. Not everyone agrees. Most supernormals keep themselves separate from normals as much as possible. Historically, the few times we’ve come out to normals, it’s been a disaster for us and we’ve had to go back into hiding. Normals either want to control us out of fear of our abilities or use our abilities to make their lives easier. The crash of the Hindenburg, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake –examples of normals trying to control my kind in the early part of the 20th century.

……………………………………………………….

At this point, Kate received a text message. I don’t know what it said but she gasped and abruptly ended our interview. As she rushed off I heard her mutter, “Olivia what have you done now?”

 

LeeAnn Elwood McLennan 05 Color (2)LeeAnn Elwood McLennan is the author of Dormant, the first book in the Dormant Trilogy available on http://www.secondwindpublishing.com, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. She’s diligently working on Root, book two in the trilogy. Follow LeeAnn on Twitter @atticusmcl and on Facebook at LEMWrites.

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The Problem with Puppet Characters ~ Jessica Rising

Let’s just admit it: writers are megalomaniacs. It’s okay, we deserve to be. At least in our own worlds. We control everything that happens within the pages of our stories, from the last breath of a character to the turning of the stars. It feels good to have control over a whole world and every soul in it.

But sometimes we micromanage a little too much.

I have spent so many years trying to figure out how to keep a story interesting, not only in cadence but in plot. Again and again I found myself mired in a storyline knot, unable to break free in the way I’d planned. I’d build the world, focusing on every detail I could imagine from topography to history to social cues. I’d build the plot, knowing every step toward its pre-planned end and why each step mattered. I’d create my characters and give them every personality trait and flaw they needed. My world and characters were SO 3-D in the planning stage. Then I’d start to write… and it would  all go 2-D. Flat. Shallow. Lacking realism, depth, or empathy.

Then I met Squire Carroll and everything changed.

Squire is the heroine of Bight, my first Young Adult novel. At first I made her like all my other characters — molded to fit the plot. She needed to be weak so she could learn to be strong. She needed to be simplistic so she could resonate with every reader. She needed to be ignorant so she could learn to… learn.

In essence, she needed to be a puppet whose strings I could pull to my ends. There was only one problem: nobody empathizes with a puppet.

I began Blight the same as always, focusing on the concept I’d built it on instead of the story it could be. My concept was a society built on religious persecution based in past-lives. Squire was a child of the persecuted, so she would naturally be meek and ignorant. Chapter 1 was written, and it worked just fine. Chapter 2 delved more into the world around Squire… and she was buried in it. I realized then, as I searched for her in the rubble, that I’d made the same mistake I’d made a million times before: I’d turned my character into a puppet.

How could Squire shine as a heroine for all if she was a puppet to anyone,even me?

Think about all the characters you have ever loved. What do they all have in common?

Individuality.

None of them conformed to any of the rules of their worlds. Now imagine being the writer of those worlds. The one who created those rules. Most of us would want everyone to follow the rules we created, even if we told ourselves we didn’t. The rules are there for a reason. They’re there to keep things focused and logical. They’re there to keep the storyline exact. Think about your worlds and their rules. They’re important! Right? You’ve worked on them for months!

But they’re meant to be broken. And the one who should break them — who has to break them — is our hero.

When I realized this, finally, after two and a half decades of writing, I knew what I had to do. It was terrifying, but I had to do it.

I had to let the real Squire loose in her world.

So I let go. I allowed her personality to shine, and I learned that she’s so much stronger than I thought. So much smarter. And so much more… sarcastic. But that’s okay. She’s Squire Carroll, not Jessica Rising. She grew up in a different world than me, and she  knows that world better than I do, even if I created it.

How do you let a character you created free in a world you created? Just write what they say in your mind, ignoring the voices that tell you they’re being too knowledgeable too early, too sarcastic and cynical, too… non-hero-like according to your own perceptions. Ignore those voices, and their true voice will sing through them to tell their story.

A story not unlike yours, but so much more.

Let your character tell their story. They might take it somewhere you never dreamed, but hang on for the ride. Don’t reign them in. They’re the ones who are living it. They’re the ones your readers will follow. It’s their story, not yours. The sooner you realize you’re just taking notation for your hero, the sooner your story will become a whole world of its own, where everyone feels welcome.

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The Secret in Whitetail Lake 6th Installment

An old Dodge Charger with the remains of two victims has been recovered from an area lake in the latest Winnebago County Mystery. This entry picks up where the last one left off.

Chapter Four

After the remains of the victims were safely removed and on their way to the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Anoka County, our team vigilantly worked to remove every item, mucky as they were, from the inside of the car, including the glove box and the trunk. It was painstaking. At three o’clock, Captain Randolph phoned Smoke to tell him he had ordered pizzas, and we all needed to take a break. I hadn’t though about eating since the granola bar and yogurt I’d had for breakfast. The mention of food made my stomach growl in response.

“You guys go ahead. There are only a couple more items to mark, and then I’ll secure this cart of things in the evidence room,” Matsen said.

“I’ll help you,” Mason told him.

“And if someone could hang a ‘do not enter’ sign on both the outside of the garage doors and on the inside entrance, that’d be good,” Matsen added.

“I’ll do that,” Weber said.

Smoke and I got out of our coveralls then I followed him to his desk and waited while he gave the sheriff’s cell phone another try. “I know Randolph has half the county looking for him, but I keep thinkin’ he’s gonna answer one of these times.”

“Should I call my mom again?”

“Maybe you should.”

When Mother answered the phone, I could tell she was flustered. But it wasn’t because she hadn’t talked to Denny Twardy. “Corinne, people are flocking in for the winter clearance sale. I haven’t had a chance to catch my breath all day. I should have scheduled one of my helpers to work today. I never dreamed I’d be so swamped. It hasn’t been busy enough to keep two of us busy lately.”

“Well, in one way that’s a good thing, huh? Mother, I’m checking to see if you’ve heard from Denny, or if you remembered he had an appointment, or something, after all.”

“Oh my goodness. No, I haven’t, and I was going to call him, but haven’t had a chance. Why, what’s wrong?”

“We don’t know if there is anything wrong. It’s just that we’ve got a big investigation here and we don’t know where he is.”

“Corinne, I hear the concern in your voice. Now you’ve got me worried.”

“Mother, there’s got to be a good explanation. Take care of your business and if Denny calls, or stops in, tell him to call the office, okay?”

“Okay. But Corinne—”

“I have to go now, but I’ll talk to you a little later. Bye.” I hung up before she could pump me for more information, and then shook my head back and forth at Smoke.

Smoke bounced his fist on his desk. “Our deputies certainly know his vehicle.”

“And Randolph said they checked his house.”

“Yeah, but it wouldn’t hurt to check again.” Smoke phoned him and learned deputies had made several stops at the sheriff’s house throughout the day. “Well, let’s get some nourishment, and figure out our next course of action. We need to talk to Tommy’s and Wendy’s families, that’s a given. And I’d like to run over to Ramsey to see how Doc Bridey Patrick’s team is doing on that end. But since there are only so many hours in a day, that’s not going to happen today. First off, we’ll pull the original missing persons file and review it.”

“I definitely want to read that.”

“Then talk to the families.”

“Right. Besides notifying them a-sap about what we got so far, we’ll need them to help us make positive identification.”

“Besides DNA, I’m wondering about dental records. I don’t suppose they’d have any after all these years. Do you remember the legal requirement for a dentist to keep them? Is it six years, seven years?”

“I remember from a past case I was on that it’s six years after a patient’s last visit. And I know a few of the old docs that never throw anything away. We won’t know for sure until we check.”

“We need to ask the families for DNA samples so the medical examiner has them for comparison.”

“We’ve come a long way, baby.” Smoke put his hand between my shoulder blades and gave me a mild push. “Let’s go scarf down some pizza.”

After running through each detail of the steps involved in recovering the old Dodge Charger from Whitetail Lake with about a dozen sheriff’s department personnel, between bites and swallows of a late, lukewarm lunch, Smoke and I broke away from the group and headed toward the records room.

“Since the case files go back to the beginning of time, they need to make room in the drawers from time to time and archive the old ones. I’ll take a look in the computer to see if the one we need has been moved to a storage box yet.” Smoke sat down at the computer and typed in Tommy Fryor’s name. I resisted looking over his shoulder, and instead checked my phone for messages in the minute it took Smoke to pull up the information.

“Yup. It’s in the storeroom with the other records from that year. In box number Seventy-three dash nine, which makes sense since it happened in the ninth month.” He logged off the computer, stood up, and pulled a set of keys from his pocket.

I followed him to the door of the records room and waited while he keyed in. The storeroom was about twenty feet by thirty feet and held cardboard boxes on shelves that started from a foot off the floor and climbed to a foot from the ceiling. We located the one we were looking for on the west wall, six feet up. I grabbed the ladder that was equipped with wheels and rolled it to the shelf. Smoke jumped on the first rung, climbed up a few feet then hooked his hand on the opening in the front of a box and pulled it toward him. He held it in one hand and climbed back down. I took it from him and carried it to the table in the center of the room. “This is heavy,” I said as I heaved the box down.

“The Fryor-Everton case alone must weigh a few pounds.”

Smoke lifted the cover off the box and was able to find the file with a quick glance. He reached in with both hands and pulled out the five inch expandable file that was filled to limit with papers. He laid it on the table. “Divide and conquer?” he said.

I set the box on the floor, giving us room to spread out the papers as needed. “Holy man, I mean, where do we begin?”

“Same as always, one step at a time, one page at a time.”

I reached over, picked up the top half of the pile, set it down then slid onto the chair behind it. A little shiver ran through me, and it wasn’t because it was a cold case. It often happened to me when I worked to solve a mystery, most notably a crime. “Someone interviewed in here knows something.”

“That would not surprise me. We just gotta figure out who it is.”

Smoke’s phone rang. “Dawes. . . . You don’t say. Well then, I will come out there and talk to him.”

“What?” I asked when he’d disconnected.

“Darwin Fryor—Tommy’s dad—wants to talk to us.”

“Word zips around pretty fast.”

“With or without social media. I’ll meet him at the front and take him to my cubicle where we can talk. It’ll be less formal than an interview room. You want to join us?”

I stood up. “Yes I do.”

Smoke left and I made sure the door was secure when I closed it behind me. I waited in the corridor outside his cubicle for the two of them, and when they walked toward me, I was caught slightly off guard by Mr. Fryor’s appearance. He appeared to be around my Gramps Brandt’s age, but he looked even more feeble. He was bent over at the waist and his spine was twisted so one hip had a forward tilt and the other was tilted more to the back. He had to swing his right leg in a painful looking way to walk.

After introductions, we settled in around Smoke’s desk and I held my breath while Mr. Fryor sat down, knowing it must be a challenge for him. He let go of a drawn out “huh” when he was finally in the chair. Smoke sat behind his desk and I pulled up a chair on Mr. Fryor’s side.

“I got a call from a friend of mine who’s friends with Harry Gimler, the one who lives up there on the hill overlooking Whitetail.” Gimler was the man who had rushed to the scene when we were recovering the vehicle.

“Sure,” Smoke said.

“Is it true? Was that Tommy’s car you pulled out of the lake?” He leaned in, and rested his elbow on the desk. A dozen wrinkles fanned out from the corner of his milky brown eyes.

“We don’t know that for a fact just yet, but that’s the way it looks.”

Mr. Fryor lifted his hand and dropped his forehead into it. When he raised it again there were tears on his lower lids. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his nose. “We thought they’d up and run off. That Wendy sure had a way of turning a boy’s head when she wanted to.” He thought for a moment then stared at Smoke. “Well I guess I don’t have to tell you that, Elton. She caused a problem for you. A pretty big one, as I recall.”

Smoke shifted in his chair, clearly uncomfortable the attention had switched to him and a past indiscretion. “That’s true enough.” He cleared his throat. “We were planning to pay you a visit yet today, let you know what was going on. My apologies you had to track us down instead, Mister Fryor.”

Fryor nodded. “You know, Tommy disappearing like that caused a rift between the missus and me that we couldn’t mend. I tried, but she didn’t. A couple years later, she moved out. Was living over in Emerald Lake until a week ago Friday—” He quit talking and his eyes teared up.

“Where she go?” Smoke said.

“Passed on. We buried her last week.”

“I’m sorry, Mister Fryor.”

“If she’d a held on a little longer at least she could have known what happened to her son. Back in those days, she’d go off by herself every now and again for a day or a weekend for what she called some meditating time. It really stung that she shut me out of her life, wouldn’t let me help her. I was hurting too. But Tommy was her baby. They were like two peas in a pod. You try not to favor one kid over the next, but she couldn’t seem to help herself. It was pretty obvious to the other two kids, so I did what I could to be fair, and loved each one as much as the next.”

What my mother told me is that she loved my brother John Carl and me the same, but liked us for different reasons. That made sense to me because that’s how I felt about my three living grandparents, and my grandma who’d died.

“We used up a lot of our savings trying to find Tommy. But one day Ellen—that’s my wife—said we’d spent enough on two separate private detectives and needed to save some in case we ever needed to help the other two.”

“How long did you work with the private detectives?” Smoke said.

“Six weeks. I knew we’d used up a lot of our savings. I was surprised she had made the call is all. I figured Tommy and Wendy would tire of each other one day and they’d come back, so I agreed and we called off the search. And I know you folks did what you could to find them. Now we know why it wasn’t meant to be.”

“People disappear way more often than you could ever imagine,” Smoke said.

I thought back to the case we’d had the previous November and the staggering statistics I’d read about missing people and unidentified remains. If I had a loved that disappeared, I would never give up hope until I was convinced there was none.

“Mister Fryor, we’d like to collect a DNA sample from you so the medical examiner can make a positive identification.

Mr. Fryor swiped at a new tear. “You never really get over a thing like this. This is probably going to sound strange, especially now, but I still think of Tommy being alive out there somewhere.”

Self-protection was natural when a tragedy occurred, I’d learned during my years with the department. It was difficult, sometimes impossible for some people to accept the worst.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series

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IDEAS by S.M. Senden

People often ask where I get my ideas.

I can’t say that there is one well from which I draw when it comes to ideas.  There are many places inspiration can come from; most of them have some relationship with one another but none is exclusive.  Here are a few of my best sources.

Read.  The more you read, the more you learn, and the more you come up with questions that send you onto something else to read.

Research. The more I read, and research, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I want to know.  So many times in my research I find a nugget of truth to build a story upon.  I love to read old newspaper articles.  Not only do they provide ideas, but also a wealth of information about an era or place.

Play the ‘What If’ game.  This was a game someone told me about years ago when I was beginning to write. You begin with an idea.  I will use one that I recently read about. A family has been living in an older house, built somewhere around 1900.  One day one person got curious about the grate in the hall by the entrance.  It looked like it would be a vent to the HVAC, however they did not have central air.  Removing the grate revealed a deep, dark place below the floor.  One of the family members went down there and discovered an abandoned sanctuary with a large cross on the floor.

Now ~ here is where the ‘What If’ game gets fun.  What if there was a hidden treasure down there?  What if there was a catacomb of bones down there, or tunnels that lead to more secret chambers?  What if they entered an alternate reality, universe or era?  What if they discovered a body?

The ‘What If’ game takes your imagination for a long journey that is rarely dull.  It also can provide for a number of good story lines.

Dream.  Sometimes when I am working through a story I will set it into my mind to look for a solution as I sleep and dream.  Often dreams will provide answers.  More often a good nights rest will allow the ideas to come through as if they had been there all along.  Rarely do nightmares provide a story line, but it has happened.

Have No Fear of looking like a geek.  Arm yourself with paper, and a writing implement that works, so you can scribble down the stray thought that had been elusive and comes when you are thinking or doing something other than writing.  Sometimes a conversation will bring that key phrase or idea sought after for a character, situation or event.  Scribble down the idea, but be sure you can read your writing later on!

There are many more I could list, but these are some of the best ones.  Feel free to employ any of these ideas and methods.  Happy Writing!

Author of Clara’s Wish and soon to be released ~ Lethal Boundaries.

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