Posted in backstory, Thoughts, writing inspiration

Research or Going Down the Rabbit Hole

Research for The American are Coming!

I love to do research. I can’t help it. it Is one of my guilty pleasures. I’m a nerd. Always have been. In school when we’d get the chance to go to the library to do research, I’d get so caught up in the search I sometimes forgot what I was searching for. Finding new things along the way is part of the joy of doing the research. The problems are going off in another direction than the one you intended or getting so lost in the research you forget about the writing, and the biggie, wanting to put everything you discovered into your story. I mean, when you find out really cool things it’s difficult not to include them in your story. BUT… while it might be interesting and maybe even important to know that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show had a second female sharpshooter or that he hired over one hundred Sioux to work in his show even while there were still Indian Wars going on, all of this information is important and helps me as a writer understand my story’s time period and politics, how much of it is really necessary for the story itself.

It has taken me years to feel confident, and I say that with a laugh because I’m not really confident that I’ve reached the point where I know what I’m doing, but I’ve taken the classes and done the research and tried to immerse myself into the time period. Developing the character, the atmosphere and the series is important. I hope that when you read The Americans are Coming that you experience life in a traveling show, (I researched the history of the circus in America, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and travel in the 1890s), that you get a feel for Winnie’s life as a performer and a member of the show family, I hope you enjoy piecing together the clues and puzzling out the mystery, but I above it all, I hope you read the story and not see the work that has gone into it only the entertainment that it offers.

For a list of the books, YouTube videos and blogs I used to research this book, here are the ones I’ve compiled so far, and they are by no means the full list. I also have references from people such as HCRW president: Cyn Hayden who gave me information on steamer ships, my granddaughter: Hailey Miesse and her mother, Brandi Lupton who aided me with my horse research, my husband David who helped with many miscellaneous questions (he’s a great research assistant), and my local librarians: Denise Toler and Robina Norman who answer weird and bizarre questions at odd times during the day (and sometimes at night).


Buffalo Bill’s America by Louis S. Warren

Wild Women by Autumn Stephens

A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Life by Elspeth

Gangway! Sea Language Comes Ashore by Joanna Carver Colcord

The Great Tours: England, Scotland, and Wales The Great Courses by Professor Patrick N. Allitt, Emory University

The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West from 1840-1900 by Candy Moulton

The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England from 1811-1901 by Kristine Hughes

Eyewitness Visual Dictionary The Visual Dictionary of Ships and Sailing

Reader’s Digest America’s Forgotten History


Battle for the Big Top by Les Standiford

Unmentionable by Therese Oneill

The Hidden History of Holidays by Hannah Harvey

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum

Stephen Fry’s Victorian Secrets

The Life and Times of Prince Albert by Patrick Allitt

The American West: History, Myth and Legend by Patrick Allitt

YouTube Videos/Channels:

Absolute History

Weird History

Joe Scott

all of this information is important and helps me as a writer understand my story's time period and politics, how much of it is really necessary for the stuff itself.
Posted in inspiration, Thoughts

The Knowledge of Good and Evil

The Burden of Knowledge whether Good or Evil

From my earliest Bible study, I remember wondering why God didn’t want man or woman to know things. Why would he care if we ate from the Tree of Knowledge? Why shouldn’t we know what God knows? As an adult I’ve learned things that were once outside of my tiny sphere of knowledge and experience. Things that I cannot NOW unknow. Not all were the horrors of people’s mistreatment of other people, though, that was devastating to learn. Some of what I had to face were my own prejudices based on my limited understanding. The hardest thing to unknow is your own failings as a human being.

Growing up in a small town I was insulated from many of the world events, and I was secure in my tiny bubble that this was what the world was like. Like a tiny child who is loved and protected, my understanding of the world was limited to what I could see, feel and hear. Over the years my tiny bubble has grown to encompass a larger world and hopefully a greater understanding. I have experienced the world through life events, the media, entertainment and relationships. Each of these contacts have brought with them a different point of view, a new set of questions and a widening of the world I’d previously known.

As a writer, I’m constantly seeking to expand my characters’ base of understanding but also create in them their own tiny bubble. Every character has to deal with a personal lie in order to experience growth and change, which brings about story. Exploring backstory, watching real people and studying psychology have allowed me better understand what a character will do and how they will react to certain circumstances. Yet even as I try to step out of the story, much of what I write is filtered through the lens my own truths, my own tiny bubble.

A somewhat bizarre conversation with my teenaged grandchildren over Easter opened my eyes to another perspective that I’d previously missed. It is amazing and frightening how much they know and understand at their young ages, more than I do in my advanced years. There have been things I’ve learned that I wish I could unknow because the knowing changes me and not always for the good. While there are somethings I’m thankful to have untangled; there are even more that the knowledge of does not bring me comfort. It has made me realize that perhaps God didn’t want us to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, not because he didn’t want us to know the things he knows but that he didn’t want us to be burdened with that knowledge.

My grandchildren impressed me with their knowledge of the world’s hurts. Their comprehension of the cause and effect trauma and abuse has on a person, is even greater than my own after years of study and life experience. It makes my heart hurt that this knowledge is part of them already, for it will color how they view the world. We cannot unknow something we’ve been exposed to. We can choose to ignore it and call it a lie but the only person we’re deceiving is ourselves. Like the characters I write about, some have seen or experienced some of the ugliness in the world, others are aware through friendships and relationships, each reacts from their sphere of knowledge, their tiny bubble of understanding. As writers, we hope to give readers a new way of experiencing the world without having to go through all of the trauma and drama themselves, open your heart and mind, READ.

Posted in backstory, my books

Sleepless Night

Leeward Police Department

Mike McKenzie struggled to keep his eyes open. Too many sleepless nights were starting to take their toll. He sighed and saved the file he’d been working on. Standing he stretched. His jaw cracking as he gave into another yawn.

“You’re not going to get another cup of coffee,” Tar said barring his path to the break room. “Go home.”

“I need to finish the reports.”

“I’ll work on them, anything I don’t know you can finish tomorrow. Go. You’re about to fall out and all of that coffee can’t be good for your heart.”

“Yes mother.” Mike sighed and shoved a hand through his hair. Was it starting to thin? “How do you manage to deal with it?”

Tar lifted his chin and met Mike’s eyes. The two men were of a similar size and build. Tar had a little more bulk to his muscles, but neither was tall. Tar was just barely six foot and Mike fell just shy at 5’, 10”.  He was average. Average height and size, average income.

There was nothing remarkable about him so why did he push himself to be super-cop? Mike felt the overwhelming pressure to protect the town of Leeward and its citizens.

“How do I deal with the loss?” Tar asked his voice gruff with emotion.

Shit, he didn’t want to deal with the other man’s emotions, he didn’t want to deal with his own. He shrugged. “Yeah.” His mouth felt dry and his hands clammy. “How do you sleep at night?”

Tar took a deep breath and turned away. “Jenna,” he said and his dark skin reddened.

Mike wanted to laugh at the man’s blush but since they were talking about his sister, he kept his comments to himself.

Tar moved into the office and began toying with the pens and stuff on the desk. “Your sister is a pain in the ass when she wants something.” He sighed. “She won’t let me brood. She forces me to talk about things even when I don’t want to.” He laughed. “She’s the best but don’t you tell her I said that. She’ll just think it’s a license to nag more.” Tar grinned. “You need to talk about it.”

Mike nodded. He knew his brother-in-law was right, he did need to talk about what happened. So much had happened between the sex trafficking ring to the explosion, losing Jake but there wasn’t anyone he could talk to. A vision of Janie Harrell flitted through his thoughts, but he shoved that away. He’d blown that relationship before it ever had time to grow.

“You know, you could come over for dinner, let Jenna grill you for a while.”

Mike shrugged. “I’d hate to add to her list of chores. She already has you and Toby to look out for and soon this new baby. Do you know what we’re having yet?”

Tar grinned. “Jenna wants to have one of those gender-reveal parties. She and Dana have been making big plans.”

Mike’s smile froze. Dana. Jake’s fiancé. The new mayor. “How’s Dana doing?”

Tar shrugged. “You’ve seen her. She’s thrown herself into fixing this town…”

The guilt threatened to overwhelm him. “Losing Jake was hard.”

Tar agreed. “Unfortunately, it comes with the job.”

“Not in a small town like Leeward. Things like sex trafficking and explosions shouldn’t happen here.”

Posted in promo, writing inspiration

Billy and Tracy, the inspiration behind the characters

When I wrote Chrome Pink Billy was just Rae Lynne’s bossy older brother.

He’s had a few bit parts in other books, but I never really stopped to think about who he was as a character.

Working on Red Steel, I had to learn more about who Billy Grimes really was. What made him tick. Why did he act and react they way that he did? Somethings were obvious as they tied in with Rae Lynne’s story, especially their mother leaving when they were so young. What else would affect him, carve him into the person he is?

My youngest son, Blake is a volunteer firefighter. A few months ago, knowing I was going to be working on Red Steel, I asked him about giving a workshop for my writer’s group on being a firefighter and first responder. As he spoke, I got a clearer picture of my character Billy Grimes and he became my muse for Billy.

I often use my friends and family to help me better understand my characters. One of the fun things about writing is taking a little bit from people you know and throwing all those bits and pieces into a blender on high and add in a stray thought or idea and wham, you have a character. I tease Blake about being the muse for Billy, I think he’s okay with the idea but then, he’s not read the book (insert evil laugh).

There is a lot about Billy Grimes that fits my son, but he is still a fictional character. There are other times that one of my other sons or one of their friends gives me an idea for the character. While Blake is definitely the body type for Billy Grimes…okay y’all, no drooling over my baby son, he’s married and she’s crazy, just ask her, she’ll tell you…there are things about my son I don’t want to know and things I can’t know because he probably doesn’t know them about himself. That is one of the powers of fiction, being able to know your character’s thoughts, desires and deepest fears. So, while Blake may have inspired Billy Grimes, please do not confuse the character with the real-life person. As his wife will tell you, Blake is no gourmet cook and while he may be great at taking care of his family, the one who is always trying to feed everyone is his wife Katelynn.

Katelynn asked me if she was in any of my books. It’s funny, I didn’t make a conscious choice to fashion Tracy Harrell after Blake’s wife but after she asked me, I thought about the character and realized without even trying, Billy’s love interest was a lot like my daughter-in-law. She’s tough, beautiful with that Katherine Hepburn girl next door quality, and she’ll go toe-to-toe with Billy, law enforcement, her boss and her family. She is a no non-sense woman, a reporter, which is really close to what Katelynn does since she is an awesome photographer (check out her website at ). Tracy is a modern woman who has had to work hard and fight to get where she is. She doesn’t back down. So, yes Katelynn, you really are in my book.

Billy is a bit of a lady’s man, all the women old and young seem to have a crush on him except Tracy and his friend Brenda, the paramedic whom they teasingly call Blade. While Tracy is attracted to Billy, she isn’t going to give him a chance. If he wants her, he’ll have to work for it. Blade is in love with her husband while she thinks Billy is a charmer, she doesn’t pay his flirting any mind. Billy likes them more because they are immuned to his charms.

So there you have it, my inspiration behind my characters for Red Steel.

A special Thank you to Hello Honey Photography for allowing me to use the photos of Blake and Katelynn for this blog.

Posted in Writing tips

The Role of Secondary Characters and Their Importance to the Story

Part of my Prepping for NaNo Series

In most stories there is more than one character. Even in Tom Hank’s Cast Away, Wilson, the soccer ball became a secondary character in the story. He didn’t talk much but he was an important part of the story. In some stories the weather, as in The Perfect Storm or even an animal as in Jaws may be secondary characters or even the antagonist making it a main character. The shark in Jaws was definitely one of the antagonists in the story.

But what about Holmes and Watson? Watson is the narrating character and we often see and feel things filtered through his point of view, but he is still a lesser main character or secondary character. It is not his adventures but Sherlock’s. Yet without Watson to humanize the story and give the reader insight, we would not understand Holmes as quiet as well and if Holmes was narrating his own story it would be over much too soon because he would leave out a lot of the mundane parts that we need to understand the full picture.

Our secondary characters’ role is to support the MC (main character). Often, it is through their relationship with the secondary character that we truly see the MC. As with Holmes and Watson, he is brisk and unaffected by tender emotions and yet whenever he fears he will lose Watson, he tries to be or do better, at least that seems to be the more modern portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

In a series, many of these secondary characters may already be established. In my Leeward Files series, many of the secondary characters have been main characters in other stories or will have their own story at a later date. That is important to remember while writing a series, even if they are not on center stage, if they are mentioned in your story, they need to be true to their character/personality. Doing a character sheet for all of the important characters in your series could save you headaches later. Keeping your character sheets current, as in noting when they appear in other books, note changes. One thing Marie Force mentioned in the Romance Summit was to reread your work, especially if you are writing a series. Keep a file noting where your Characters are mentioned, when and where, cross reference. Marie does a spread sheet. I’m going to try that but I’m old fashioned, I like having it on paper in a notebook where I can reference it. Of course, I have four novels and she has thirty or forty, a big difference.

As you are filling out or planning your own character sheets, or whatever you call them, think about how the secondary character relates to the MC. How does he/she help the person achieve their goals or keep them from achieving their goals. Even a well-meaning friend can be an obstacle if their fears or prejudices cloud their judgement and your character allows it to influence them. Example: The best friend’s fear of failing gives him negative views of what might happen, so he expects the worse. He cautions his friend not to take risks, for fear he might fail. He might also be afraid he won’t and leave him behind.

This isn’t the secondary character’s story. He or she may have a stake in it, but this is the main character’s battle/journey. Be careful not to make it about the secondary character’s needs or wants. This is where it gets tricky, the MC can be influenced by the other character’s needs and wants, it can offer conflict even, but don’t let it take over the story.

In Charlotte’s Web, the story is about Wilbur the Pig but Charlotte the spider plays a huge role in how we see Wilbur. It is not her story. Even when Charlotte knows she is dying, she uses the last of her energy to help Wilbur and he in turn saves her babies. Charlotte is the only spider I’ve ever loved but that’s my story and not relevant here. She rallies all of the farm animals to Wilbur’s cause, helping him to survive. She is an important part of the story, but she isn’t the main character, it isn’t her story. The children, the farmer, everyone is secondary to Wilbur and yet it is through their love, friendship and determination that we see more than just a pig.

Hierarchy of characters:

Now this depends on genre and point of view.

A narrator could be a secondary character or the author, in most genre fiction such as romance, mystery and suspense, it is the point of view character who is also the main character. Since I write suspense with romantic elements and read romance, mystery and suspense thrillers, I’m going to use what I know.

Main Character (s): Point of view character, whose story is it, usually in genre fiction this is the person telling the story or living the story. Also, in genre fiction you may have more than one point of view character and two main story lines that converge. In my suspense thriller I have three story lines that will converge into one, more like twine around each other until they get tangled but that’s a different lesson.

Secondary and tertiary characters have degrees of importance.

For example:

Billy, my MC is a firefighter, his captain maybe an important secondary or tertiary character depending on what role he plays. He will be a named character so that makes him secondary. Some of the other firefighters and paramedics may be referred to as the new guy or the old man, the red head or the blonde. If they don’t have an important role and they are just a place holder or body doing a task, they don’t need a name.

Some of my secondary and even tertiary, characters have been in other books, they were MCs or secondary characters, even if they don’t play a big role in this book, because they were named prior, I may use their names here because they are recurring.

You don’t have to do a character sheet for every character or any, really, but it helps me write faster to do my most important characters. My main characters and their most influential cast members. I hope this helps. Good luck with NaNoWriMo and remember, you can use these methods anytime, you don’t have to wait for NaNo to get prepared.

Secondary Character(s)



Physical Description:


                Eye color:



                Skin tone:

                Physical fitness:

                Any physical flaws/weaknesses/disabilities:


Relationship with MC (Main Character):


Hobbies/passions (especially how they relate to the MC):

Hopes and fears (especially how they relate to the MC):

Personality traits: (How they are seen by the MC)



Posted in inspiration, Thoughts

The Importance of Developing Characters (NaNoWriMo)

Whether a plot driven story or a character driven story someone or something has to be doing the action, at least in most stories. It might be different in a literary novel, but I would think something, or someone has to move the story from beginning to end.

A brief explanation, plot driven is all about what is happening, and the characters are secondary to the story. In character driven stories, it’s more about the character’s reaction to what is happening.

Some people feel the need to know everything about a character before starting. Many fill out questionnaires or fact sheets about their characters before they start writing. I’ve tried to do these too. I’ve done fact sheets, interviews, and other detailed character analysis but I spend so much time trying to figure out all of that information that I can’t write. Then I feel so walled in that I’m unable to write.

Everyone has to write however it feels natural to them. It is one of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn. I can’t write the way my friend or mentor does, I’d love to but it doesn’t work for me. I cannot write the way Nora Roberts does but wouldn’t that be fantastic. I have to be me. Like anything else we do, whether cooking or folding clothes or writing, we have to do it the way that fits us best.

NaNoWriMo this isn’t the best time to be a pantser. I find that with writing quickly, as in 50,000 words in a month and writing a series, I need a little more structure than I’ve previously employed. Because I don’t want to waste a lot of time thinking when I should be writing, I took a few weeks in October and started planning my novel, Red Steel. Over the years I’ve tried plotting, outlines, graphs, channeling the muse, seances, okay, maybe not seances but you get it, I’ve tried different methods of planning my novels. I’ve also filled out numerous questionnaires, charted my character’s birth sign, gone on Pinterest to find photos of my character, studied the different personality books, and don’t get me wrong, these methods work. I’ve read the authors that employ these methods and for them, they work. BUT they don’t work for me. 

Each class I have taken, each method I have tried, every plotting technique, chart, graph, outline, etc. has taught me a little something. Not just that I’m crazy and a glutton for punishment. So here is what I have learned, my trick to planning my novel and especially my characters. I use two things: index cards (I prefer colored cards, but I have been known to color code my own) and sticky notes (again color coded).

The colors allow me to separate facts into character, story, place, and details.

For characters:  on my index cards I write a few facts as I decide them. Maybe I know my guy is African American, but I don’t know how tall he is. Maybe that doesn’t matter or maybe he’s too short to reach something or has to duck to keep from being hit by a ceiling fan. Now I have a visual. I write this on my character notecard. I like the note cards because I can change it and I can carry it with me because I write on the go. I carry a laptop to work and I have an office at home so having it portable is important to me. It may not be as important to you.  

The post-in notes/sticky notes are a great way to write one or two lines of facts. You can brainstorm in the beginning before you start and then as you write, you can decide, this isn’t working, let’s move this around or rethink this idea. Maybe the idea needs to be thrown out all together. I write out character names, a few details, maybe hair and eye color, job, when they appear in the story, why they show up. One of my characters is a reporter. Her job is usually fluff pieces about what’s happening in the community, the art gallery opening, the local charity bike-athon, but she gets wind of a real news story and starts trying to get the scoop. She shows up at fires, at a murder dump site, etc. She puts herself in danger to get the story and becomes a nuisance to the local firefighter who is falling for her. So, another post-in note would include when that relationship heats up and when his girlfriend shows up to mess things up.

I know certain things about them, and especially since I’m writing a series, I have lived with these people for several years now. Unlike some series where one or two characters is the main focus and they grow and develop over time, my novel focuses more on a place with assorted characters taking stage. From the first to this being the fifth book, there is less than a year between them so there hasn’t been a lot of time for growth and development. There have been a few circumstances that made the characters grow up in a hurry but when there is fast growth, too often there is a reversion to old patterns. So in trying to be true to my characters, I have allowed a few set-backs.

Before you start writing, what do you need to know about your character.


Looks/appearance: Hair color, eye color, height, weight, skin tone, muscle tone?





Whatever is important to the story. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to think of things that won’t matter later or that you can discover as you write. If you like to fill out these charts, fine, do it. There is no ONE way to write.

Internal Goals and External Goals:

What do they think they need and what do they need?

Books I’ve used to help with character development

Please Understand Me II by David Kersey

Creating Character ARCS by K M Weiland

The Emotion Thesauraus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression

by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood

100,000 Baby Names by Bruce Lansky