Thursday, 21 February 2013

Journey of a Story...Part Three: Character Development

Yes, here is another Journey to a Story or a whimsical trip through the mind of a writer.  Sometimes in colour, sometimes in black and white, but always filled with interesting characters and places.  The first part was about how going to a foreclosed house and seeing a cistern gave me a story idea and the second was how I decided to use the template, if you will, of some old characters of mine.  If you haven’t read those and would like to here are the links.  PartOne: The Idea  Part Two: The Characters

Every writer writes their characters differently.  There are some that go in blank.  They don’t know anything about their characters and are as surprised as you are when something new comes up.  Then there are those who know their characters better than they know themselves.  For the characters in this story idea I wanted to know as much as I could, but still be open to those little surprises.

It may sound strange to you that the writers get surprises in their stories as they write them, but we don’t always know what is going to happen.  As we write the characters, character builds and they get more lifelike in our mind.  We could be writing a conversation thinking it will go one way and then suddenly a character says something that is in line with who they are, but what we didn’t expect.  Okay, I will expect the guys with the white coat with extra-long arms to show up any time.

Chef Bryan Voltaggio
inspiriation for Spencer Alcrest
Weeks, months actually, after first visiting the house I was thinking about the male character.  I didn’t want to start writing the story yet because I was still working on my second novel, but I thought I could work on character since he was going to be different than the one in my other novel.  At this time I was also watching old Top Chef episodes.  I had missed a couple of seasons.  I was watching season 6 and thought this guy, Bryan Voltaggio, would be a good outline for my guy.  He’s a great chef, specific on detail, but not too willing to take chances.  Square rugged face, blond hair, clean cut.  He was different that my other characters, that was for sure.  I haven’t been able to ask for permission to use his image at all so an artist friend is going to do a drawing of him that I can hopefully go off of.  He’s going to have some different tattoo’s and I will play with some other things.  The pig one will still be there but underneath with will read "Suck the Marrow" after a quote by Thoreau and on the right arm it will be a lobster crawling down.  There will also be the James Joyce quote, "God made food; the Devil cooks."

As for a name my main character in my Red Island novel is named Reid after the character Dr. Spencer Reid in the TV show Criminal Minds.  There was a recent episode where they were trying to save the woman he had fallen in love with.  So I thought of naming the characters Spencer and Maeve after them.  Spencer kinda fits the male character (who owns a restaurant, but that is in Part Four) but the girls name changed.  As for Spencer's last name it was going to always be Alcrest.  That too will also be explained in Part Four.

For the sister character I didn’t have a great vision.  I knew she had to be the wild one and a little younger.  Then one day I was assisting with my son’s floor hockey game and saw that one of his classmates last name was Wanderingspirit.  Oh!  Sweet!  I instantly wanted to have a character with that name and ten minutes later thought what if I gave it to her.  Well Wanderingspirit would not be a Caucasian name and I didn’t want to change Spencer.  Foster siblings?  Fostering children is big where I live, so is the Native-Canadian population, and the story is loosely going to be based here so why not.  Maeve Wanderingspirit?  It could work.  Chrysanthemum Wanderingspirit could really work.  I know a girl named Raincloud Bagger so it could work, trust me.
Elizabeth Frances
aka Chrys Wanderingspirit
Next I needed a face.  The moment I got to a computer I started Googling Native-American actresses and then Native-Canadian.  I found a dozen or so and saved their pictures.  Then I started going through them one at a time and seeing what would fit best with what was in my mind.  My eyes kept going back to Elizabeth Frances.  I found her on Twitter, then her web site where I got her email.  I sent her an email telling her what I was doing and asked if I could use her image as my character.  She said yes and now I have a Chrys Wanderingspirit.

Going back to the fostering child thing for a moment, I also thought it would be a good way to bring in different characters that they know intimately.  Fostering doesn’t always work out right, but the foster siblings often have a bond.  Yes, I’m thinking of future stories with these characters already.  I know I should just work on this one.

In Part Four I’m going to talk about the main area where the story is situated around.  Every story needs a “base of operations.”  So keep looking for that one.  Let me know in the comments what you think of my characters and the idea so far.

Friday, 15 February 2013

The Journey of a Story...Part Two: The Characters

Welcome to part two of my journey from random thought to story where I answer the question of where do ideas come from.  If you missed the first part click this link, Part One:  The Idea, to see what it was all about.

So my wife and I went to this house and thanks to my imagination we got all freaked out.  On the ride home the idea kept building in my head.  A couple goes out to this house and sees what we saw, but something more sinister.  What kind of characters would those be?

Do I put it in Prince Edward Island where Red Island is set so I can use Sgt. Reid?  Nah.
A married couple?  Nope
A couple?  mmmmmm maybe

My first attempt at a novel was called Murder in the Wolf Moon.  It was really old school.  A detective couple just happened to be at a resort on an island when someone gets killed.  Didn't see that one coming.  It ended up being a bad novella that will forever be locked up somewhere in my mother's house.  From that story, however, I did get two characters named Jake Hart and Chrysanthemum Flower, Chrys for short.  Her parents were hippies.  I'm getting off track.

The couple came together in some short mystery stories.  I remember one was titled something like, The Mystery of Rose, and got me a nice shiny form rejection letter from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.  I then saw them again in January/February of 2005.  I was working midnights at a corner store/gas station and was asked if I wanted to be in this underground magazine called The Core by a co-worker.  It was mostly poetry of local writers, but I put in a short story about all the characters in my head that I have ever written coming together to play cards.  The characters that had been in completed stories were fully developed players and those that had been in unfinished stories were faded faces in the background.

So, I started thinking Jake and Chrys would be good for this idea.  Only I don't want them to be detectives.  And I didn't want them to be a couple.  What then?  Brother and sister?  That could work.  I also thought that I would like part of it to revolve around a restaurant.


I suddenly realised that this other novella that I had finished, Living off Chris Isaak Dreams and Ethan Hawke Fantasy (I was infatuated with Chris Isaak music and Ethan Hawke movies at the time) was losely based on Jake and Chrys.  It was about a guy named Zeke who owned a small restaurant.  His sister was a secondary character.

What if I brought back that idea as well?
If the characters didn't work once, what could I do to get them together?  I want them to be locked in my head so that I know who they are and what they can do.  But that's part three.

My Review of DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER by Jeff Lindsay

This is the book that the TV show is based on. I will first say that I love the Showtime show. When I told people what Red Island was about they always told me I should watch Dexter. The show stars Michael C. Hall, who I enjoyed in Six Feet Under, as Dexter Morgan the seemingly normal blood splatter analysis for the Miami Homicide Unit who has the unique hobby of killing serial killers, hacking them into pieces, and dumping them in the ocean.

Mental Note: One reason never to go to Miami is that there are enough serial killers to keep Dexter busy.

Smeagul and Gollum
I wanted to read the Dexter books, but now I wish I hadn't. The first season of the show very closely follows Darkly Dreaming Dexter. There are differences of course. In the book Dexter seems more brutal and he often goes off thinking and talking to himself in a way that resembles the Smeagol/Gollum split personality in the Two Towers movie. On the TV show Dexter still has his Dark Passenger hungry for the kill, but instead of speaking with his dark side he talks to the ghost of his foster father who doubles as his conscience. In the book it is Detective LaGuerta who has the hot’s for Dexter. In the TV show you see a glimpse of her attraction to him in the first episode of season one, but then that's it. And she's a lieutenant. The worst character change for me is that Det. Angel Batista is a medical examiner in the book and never really built as a character.

There are quite a few times through-out the book that Dexter goes off with a whole lot of thinking and not much going on.  Then for me the ending left me a bit deflated.  So much had to happen in the last 10 pages that descriptions falter and little seems resolved.

From what I am told the other books in the series do not go along with the TV show so I am hoping to read more and get into it.

I’m confused about what to rate this novel.  I believe I did not really like it because of the TV show.  If you love the show I would not recommend the book and if you haven’t, I would.

I’ll go with 3.5 stars out of 5


As far as TV shows that are from books I rank them as follows:

Kathy Reichs Temperance Brennan Novels / TV show Bones

Reason:  Except for the name of the main character all the other characters I have read are different from the show.  The books also take a different story line so that you can read the books and watch the show without confusion.  I also like how the show plays more with Kathy Reichs using her name as the main character in books written by TV Temperance


Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles series / TV show Rizzoli & Isles

Reasons:  The show uses a lot of the book names, though they are just about all different from their book counterparts.  The man thing I don’t like about the TV show is how far it pushes realism, but it is for entertainment and I would never complain about watching Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander who play the main characters.


I’d rather watch the TV show…Okay, I am actually watching it right now as I write this.

Monday, 11 February 2013

The Italian Mafia & Dignitaries with @Carolyn_Arnold #AODTour

Today I get the great honor of joining Carolyn Arnold in the blog tour for her upcoming new novel.

The relationship between the Mafia and dignitaries can be both symbiotic and a source of conflict.  While the job for appointed dignities, such as judges, attorneys, and governors is to uphold the law and to be a superlative example, the Mafia makes a great deal of its livelihood from illegal practices.

Due to this, there have been times when these relationships have been taxed to the breaking point and resulted in ordered hits from the Mafia.  But as with any family, there are rules among the Italian Mafia as well.  Any hits against dignitaries must have the expressed permission of the Boss.  When hits are executed without this authorization, it means death for those involved.  Sometimes it doesn't even involve action--motive is enough.

In fact, there was a case when "a Jewish mobster was killed by his Italian peers out of fear he'd carry out a plan to kill a New York City prosecutor."*

"The Mafia did carry out hits on law enforcement in its earlier history.  New York police officer Joe Petrosino was shot by Sicilian mobster while on duty in Sicily.  A statue of him was later erected across the street from a Lucchese hangout."*

But, sometimes the hit is authorized.  An example of this is that of Giovanni Falcone.  He was an Italian Judge and was assassinated by the Mafia on May 23, 1992.  "Mafia hit men detonated a roadside bomb that killed him, his wife, and three bodyguards as they drove near Palermo, Italy.  The assassination was payback for all the organized criminals Falcone had put behind bars as a prosecutor and judge."^

"Although the Mafia for years threatened Falcone and his family and assassinated his Italian colleagues, he carried on," said Michael Kortan, assistant director of the FBI's Office of Public Affairs.  "He was a champion of the rule of law."

"...although Falcone's life was under constant threat, he always felt safe in the U.S. surrounded by his American law enforcement colleagues...the Mafia made a "serious miscalculation" by killing Falcone.  Instead of intimidating the Italian police, they-and the FBI-"rallied to the investigation of his murder."^

So in conclusion, how is the relationship between the Mafia and dignitaries - Delicate.  While hits more commonly took place in the Mafia's earlier history, they can still happen.

The above-noted piece was written for promotional purposes in reference to Assassination of a Dignitary by Carolyn Arnold coming March 14th to Amazon for Kindle, and in April for print.  YOU can sign up to WIN your copy here.

Here's the overview of the book:

Raymond Hunter's dark past has returned and demands one final favor.  Now fifteen years later, settled as an accountant and family man, he assumed life would be calm.  He thought wrong.  The Italian mafia wants him back.

The directions were simple:  Kill Governor Behler and be out for good.

This is an odd request since the mafia typically respects dignitaries, however, in order to protect his family he has no choice but to accept the job.

He picks the date and location-Niagra Falls, New York-two hundred and forty miles away.  But by the time he returns home, he finds out the assassination attempt failed, his family has been kidnapped, and he has twenty-four hours to set things right if he wants to see them again.

With time running out, Raymond discovers the real reason they wanted Behler dead and finds out he's placed himmself and his family right in the middle of a mafia power struggle.  What he doesn't realize is that law enforcement is also closing in.

CAROLYN ARNOLD is the author of the best-selling Madison Knight Series, and the Brandon Fisher FBI Series.  You can find out more about Carolyn and her novels online in the following places:

Amazon Author Page
Author Blog

*Resource taken from Wikipedia
^Resource taken from the FBI site

Saturday, 9 February 2013

The Journey of a Story...Part One: The Idea

A story is a unique creature.  It starts as something small, tiny, and then slowly builds up in a writer’s mind.  It is nourished by character and research until it is born onto paper and sent out into the world as a book.  I want you to come along with me on the journey of a story.

Part One:  The Idea

an ancient cistern
Writers are often asked where their ideas come from.  I was once told that I was twisted and then got asked how I came up with the story and the characters.  To be honest, every writer is different.  From what I saw on an interview J.K. Rowling was sitting on a train and saw Harry Potter walk by.  Her own character strolled past her dressed in full Hogwarts uniform.  I’m told Stephen King likes to ask the “what if” question.  What if there was a demon dog?  So I 100% can’t tell you what everyone else does.

For me an idea can start with a TV show, a movie, a song, something someone says, or a random thought that just appears out of nowhere.  Two days ago a snow plow discovered a body in a snow bank – story idea.  Today I was joking with an ex-cop about his smoking habit.  He said it was either smoke or kill a kid.  I said, “you should know how to get away with it.”  He coolly returned with, “well they haven’t found the first two.” – Story idea.

A couple of months ago I got the idea for a new mystery thriller that would put together my love of the genre along with my career as a chef.

My wife got a side job of taking care of and cleaning out houses that had been foreclosed on.  We had to drive forty minutes out of town to a house that had been empty for almost a year.  The moment we pulled into the driveway an idea started to erupt inside my brain.  The grass of the lawn had grown so tall that it was too heavy to stand up straight.  There were still paper ghosts tied onto the evergreens making a full square around the property left over from last year’s Halloween.  My wife took out the keys and let us in.  She had already been there with a locksmith to change the locks on the house.  There were piles of shoes inside the door.  The kitchen counter, dining table, and bedroom floors were covered in family items as if the family who had lived there needed to get out quickly.  My head started spinning with ideas.

Who were they?
Where did they go?

the cistern wall is on the right with a wood
ladder attached to the side
With flashlights in hand we headed down to the basement.  Again there were other belongings.  There were kids games and clothes and papers everywhere.  Then we walked into the furnace room.  There were a lot more things on the floor and up on a shelf on one wall.  There was an aquarium, a guitar case, baby toys, some tools, and lots of garbage.  I looked to my right and there was a concrete wall behind the furnace. It was a wall that only went seven feet up from the floor instead of the ten feet to the floor of the main floor.  Why was there a wall that only went seven feet up?  Why did that wall extend in two different directions?  I followed the wall around to a second corner.  My wall had three walls of its own.  And a wooden ladder leading to the top.

What would I find inside?
I have a very active imagination along with a fear from childhood of dark spaces.  Here I was standing between the concrete outside wall and a seven foot concrete wall with a door at one end and stairs leading up.  I called my wife over to the corner to watch my back.  I had to go up that ladder.  Something in me had to look.  I climbed the ladder and there on top was an opening.  I looked in with my flashlight, not knowing what to expect.  A body, the family, a horde of zombies.  What I saw was the flash back from water’s surface and the smell of staleness. 

just imagine what could reach up
from the darkness of the cistern
Research later helped to discover that this was a cistern.  A cistern is:  a receptacle for holding water or other liquid, especially a tank for catching rain water.  Here in Saskatchewan where it is usually dry this was an important thing.  Cistern’s now are made of plastic or other materials and held outside, but some older houses did have them built inside the basement.  The only problem was that they eventually leaked.  (Special Note:  Every time you go to the bathroom you sit in front of a cistern-the toilet water tank)  Cisterns date back to the fourth millennium BC.
the more modern cistern as found outside

What if this concrete room was used for something else?  Something heinous?  What would it be used for?  Who would be the characters to find it?

It took me two seconds to think up the basics of the characters involved.  The hero’s.  But that is part 2.

From there go to Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7 to read the first chapter

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Something NEW

I think I discovered today why I love writing.  I discovered it by looking at my day job, slumping my shoulders forward, and thinking, "I did this yesterday.  I did this last week.  I'll be doing this tomorrow."  When you write it's always different.

Right now I am writing a new chapter in my almost finished second book because I realised I forgot an entire scene.  The point is it's NEW.  I'm workingon ideas for NEW stories.  I don't know what I will write or where it'll go, but everything is NEW.  And in order to write NEW scenes I have to experience NEW things.  I joined a gym.  NEW scene.

I am a writer
Anything you do or say or tell me will probably end up in a story some time soon. 
However, I write fiction so any resemblance to anything you have done, said, or told me is purely coincidental.

I think this is why I hate editing.  I'm editing Red Island right now to get it ready to go into print and I find it painful.  It's not new.  It's still basically the same book I finished in 2010.  Sure, some sentinces and paragraphs might be different, but it is still the same story and has the same ending.  It's all part of the game though.

I'd rather be writing.

Sunday, 3 February 2013


I've always said that I am a HUGE fan of cop shows.  Sure when Medical Examiner Dr. Maura Isles (On the show Rizzoli & Isles based on Tess Gerritsen's characters) goes to a crime scene she is always in designer dresses and 5 inch heals, which I'm pretty sure no ME would ever where in a scene where there is blood and guts and brain matter, but the stories are usually good.

I'm way ahead in the series, but thought I would go back to the first book which I had skipped.  Though I really enjoyed it, the last quarter of chapters were amazingly intense pulling you along quickly but also making you want to flip ahead to see what happens, I wasn't as happy with this novel as I have been of her more recent novels.  In The Surgeon you only get to see Detective Jane Rizzoli with a few of the supporting cast and she seems different than the later novels.  I know characters develop and change, but it just felt different.  Maybe it was thinking the whole time that origionally she was not supposed to make it to the ending.

I loved the twists and turns and how the killer was always a few steps ahead.  And like I've said before, it's the ending that makes it or breaks it.  This one had a fantastic ending.

My rating is 4 out of 5 stars and I highly recommend it.

This book does have me worried though that perhaps I just shouldn't read books that get turned into television shows.  I love Kathy Reichs novels about Temperance Brennan and those novels spawned the show BONES, but the characters are so different and the supporting cast is completely different.  In the show RIZZOLI & ISLES you still have Korsak and Frost and Rizzoli's parents get divorced and so on.  A lot of the TV characters are different from the book characters but the names are still there.

The next novel I am reading is Jeff Lindsay's book Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the first in the series that inspired the TV show DEXTER.  I love the show, okay the most recent season kind of bombed for me, so I'm hoping to love the books.  I know that a lot of the characters are the same as the show, so we will have to see.

My favorite characters from the show..
Det. Frank Pembleton and Det. Tim Bayliss
At some point I want to get to Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon.  It inspired my favorite cop show of all time HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET.  I actually found a copy in a used book store and it sits beside my bed for a time when I can sit and read a lot without getting disturbed.