It's Alive! Novel Settings

At nearly four books into my Southern California Mystery series, I just realized something: each book has a VIP in it. No, not the type of VIP you’re thinking of. This VIP is a Very Important Place, located in SoCal, of course. Very important because each place meant something to yours truly. And now they serve as a little more than just another pretty backdrop to Corrie Locke, my fictional heroine.

In MURDER AND OTHER UNNATURAL DISASTERS, much of the action takes place in Newport Beach. Balboa Island, to be exact, where I spent a great deal of time in my early days. It’s a cozy, peaceful community with gently rolling waves and a small town feel to it, if you don’t count the upscale homes and yachts. Balboa Island was the perfect place for my heroine to experience a slight mishap (okay, maybe more than just a slight mishap).

Book #2, MURDER GONE MISSING, revolves around, and up and down, a college campus, kind of similar to this one: I didn’t actually go to Cal Tech as a student, but I did spend time at the Jet Propulsion Lab, a stone’s throw away from, and owned, by Cal Tech. One of my little guys harbored a not so secret fascination with everything technical. He’s also the tech advisor on all of my books.

A movie studio in Culver City gets top billing in Book #3, MURDER: DOUBLE OR NOTHING. There are also plenty of nods in #3 to days spent working at a similar place in my early legal life.

Settings almost behave like characters in novels, and in the case of my books, the settings range from innocent bystanders to villainous cads out to trip my heroine so she stumbles and falls hard…or worse. The strange part is I never plan for my settings to be anything, but just that. A place for Corrie to hang out. Yet, they seem to come to life on their own as soon as my heroine steps into the picture. Go figure.

Writing on the Collaboration Train

Does anyone get my title? Or is it just me trying my darnedest to be clever? Right, it’s me. “Writing” instead of riding because as a writer, we often need to collaborate to get anywhere.

Truth is, we mostly write on a deserted island* where we’re trying to pull together thoughts, story-lines, twisty plots, and characters out of our minds and onto the page.

But even the biggest loners need to jump out of their skin and collaborate once in a while to get the job done. Namely, we need help to be published and call some attention to our books. Coming right up: a list of awesome collaborators:

1. Beta Readers: Those necessary readers to whom we hand off our manuscript and ask for feedback. These generous book lovers are non-professionals who just want to help you stay on the right track. They’ve earned my deepest gratitude.

2. Editors: Unless you’ve got stellar, proven editor skills yourself, an editor is invaluable for pointing out:
– holes (so you don’t trip and fall over your plot)
– character flaws or traits that don’t work (to really help breathe life into your fictional world)
– excess (do you really need that police sergeant or that scene
where the dog chases the bicycle?)

3. Other authors: Personally, I enjoy partnering up in book events
with other authors, mostly, in my own genre. A pairing with the
right author(s) gives each panelist a chance to breathe,
think and stay on track. Who doesn’t love breathing, thinking
and staying on track?

4. Publishers: I’ve had two and both have been marvelous. They know
what to do to get the job done, leaving me to do what I need to
do: write and work my day job.

5. Book stores, librarians, conference organizers and any other
book angels out there who can help you market & promote your
book baby.

I owe my deepest thanks to all of the above who’ve helped me progress on my writing journey.

*unless you write with a partner, in which case you’re not so isolated.

Dalmatians 101

It’s Fire Prevention month! Good timing with Jack O’Lanterns and Halloween right around the corner.

My picture book, The Cookie Eating Fire Dog, is chock-full of fire safety tips, one set for adults and one just for kids. But the question I’m asked most often is: Why Dalmatians? How did they end up with fire-fighters? Wait ’til you hear! I did a little research and learned all about this spotted four-legged wonder. Every fire house should have one.

Here’s why:

– In the days before fire trucks and engines, fire wagons were used that were pulled by horses. Guess who gets jittery and anxious when around a big fire? Besides you and me, that is. Horses. Fire-fighters were on the lookout for a way to keep the horse power calm. Guess who fit the bill? Dalmatians and horses get along splendidly! Plus, Dalmatians take their jobs seriously (when they’re not eating cookies). They’d race along the fire wagon, keeping the horses under control, and they’d chase away stray dogs that tried to run alongside or nip at the horses’ hooves. When the fire fighters jumped off the wagon and dashed to the fire, the Dalmatian would keep on keeping the horses happy, while standing guard to make sure no robbers showed up to steal valuable fire equipment.

– Now that we have fire engines, Dalmatians are still used in fire houses as watch dogs and because they’re expert at catching mice and rats. Yay!

– Guess who the first president was to have a Dalmatian? Benjamin Franklin was also a fan.

– Dalmatians can run for hours without getting tired. They like to swim, too, which made them the perfect WWII spy.

Our spotted friends were used to send secret messages across enemy lines. When the other side saw a funny looking, spotted dog running around, they’d laugh and pay no attention to what the Dalmatian was really doing.

Dalmatians are the only breed of dog with spots all over (including on their toenails, in their ears and mouths, too). They are stubborn, smart and athletic (when they’re not eating cookies, of course.) Is it any wonder why they made the perfect fire dog?