Inspiration and Writers

C.K. Crigger lives with her husband and three feisty little dogs in Spokane Valley, Washington, where she crafts stories set in the Inland Northwest. She is a two-time Spur Award finalist, in 2007 for Short Fiction, and in 2009 for Audio, as well as the 2008 Eppie Award winner for historical/western fiction. She is a member of Western Writers of America, and reviews books and writes occasional articles for Roundup magazine. Her latest release is Two Feet Below, a novel of western suspense.

Wherever I go, the most common question I’m asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?” My answer? “From everywhere.”

I don’t know. Maybe writers see the world differently than non-writers. I’ve had people look at me like I’ve just landed my UFO in their flower garden when I mention where I got this idea or that, but really, I don’t think my process is so very odd. Why should it take a fully developed plan to begin a story when a mere glimpse can set me off?

For instance….

Years ago, my husband and I were driving through the dry scablands in eastern Washington. The road, running as straight as though it’d been laid out by ruler, suddenly dipped over a hill and took a sharp 90˚ turn—right between an old, derelict gas station/house, and a barn. Chickens flew up as we drove through their yard.

What did I see as we navigated this stretch of road? More than the sagebrush, that’s for sure. I saw heat mirages rising on the road ahead, the vivid blue of the sky, the barren landscape with it’s basalt outcroppings. I noted the abrupt direction change as the road took a turn through someone’s yard. One of the features of this area are the small potholes lakes that dot the landscape. I knew that hidden over the hill is a tiny, deep lake.

Most of all, I saw a story and developed it in the space of about thirty seconds. A vision popped into my head, complete with the main character’s name. This stretch of road, no more than three hundred yards in length, became the setting for a short crime story, which, as it happens, didn’t get picked up.

Meanwhile, I’d already written the first two Boothenay Irons stories about my time-traveling gunsmith. From the beginnings of this rejected short story, that character and the setting morphed into the third Gunsmith book, Crossroad, published in audio by Books In Motion, and in print and ebook by Amber Quill Press.

For China Bohannon, my 1890s bookkeeper turned sleuth series, besides using the city of Spokane (gorgeous old homes on the South Hill right down to a tenderloin district) as a setting, I drew inspiration from the history of those years. Mining, logging, banking, agriculture—Spokane was the financial and supply hub of a huge area in those days.

In the second book of the series, Two Feet Below (Oak Tree Press) my heroine, who is a bit of a suffragette (although she doesn’t necessarily recognize this) is tossed over the side of a steamboat in the middle of the lake, and survives to get into trouble in the notorious, wide-open mining town of Wallace, Idaho. I planned much of the steamboat section as I bobbed about in my own boat, watching as the last of the tug boats brought logs down the St. Joe River and across the lake to the sawmills on the lower part of the lake—an enterprise that ceased to exist only a few years ago.

Or, for inspiration, how about we take a look at one police report. In a recent true case, police burst into a home where they expected to find drug dealers. They broke down the front door, confronting a middle-aged Asian woman and her dog. Within seconds they had shot and killed her dog and tasered her because she threatened them with a weapon. The police hauled the woman down to the station, booked her for dealing drugs, and released the information to the press.  Only later did it come out that the attack dog was something like a toy poodle with a “sharp” bark, and the woman’s weapon a wooden spoon. She’d been baking when she heard a commotion and went to see what was happening. Turns out, by the way, the cops had gone to the wrong address. They never apologized, not only for wrecking her house and killing her beloved dog, but for tasering a woman recently out of the hospital with heart trouble. Oh, yes, and ruining her reputation. A woman who was a retired school teacher. A month later she died, broken hearted. Her son is suing.

How’s that for inspiring a good story? Well, maybe not good, but rousing. My point, however, concerns a writer taking facts that have finally been fairly well authenticated, and fitting them into a fictional story. The police, in this case, insisted the woman resisted arrest, threatened them, and that they were attacked by the dog. In case anyone wonders, the police were exonerated. Some, on reading this, might say police need policing. Others might insist the woman should’ve dropped the damn spoon.

The question is, if I were to take this scene and write a book, how would I slant the  information?

Inspiration is all around us. Where a writer finds it and what she does with it—well, that’s what makes for unique stories and styles and settings and…. I get excited just thinking about it.

Neverending Research

Author of eight Margot O’Banion & Max Skull mysteries, Kit Sloane’s offbeat stories chronicle the intricacies of Hollywood filmmaking from the point of view of her protagonist, feature film editor Margot O’Banion and her significant other, director Max Skull. She was the first fiction editor of Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine from 1996-1998. A longtime member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Mystery Women of the UK, Kit graduated from Mills College, Oakland CA with a degree in Art History and was named one of Mills College’s Literary Women for 2007.

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Every writer does some research for every story. It doesn’t matter what the story is about, but there are parts that have to be investigated. These facts can be as simple as searching the lay of the land of a particular town to the intricacies of police procedure and firearms (the complications of which I avoid whenever possible, but other writers know this stuff and do it well).

My protagonists are in the movie business. Margot is a feature film editor and her partner, Max, is a screenwriter and film director. I began researching Margot when I visited a friend who was interning to become a film editor. I was fascinated by the quiet, reserved, mostly women, I met. These people were far from the perceived “glitz” of Hollywood. They worked, often by themselves, in quiet rooms with only the sound of their editing equipment in the room.

I thought this would be a great “job” for a mystery protagonist, a wallflower of sorts who generally avoids the spotlight while surrounded by competitive, larger-than-life actors, and production people. Film editors are concerned with details. That’s their job, taking miles of film (or tape) and finding just the right scene, lighting, nuance of acting that fulfills the director’s vision. As a protagonist Margot observes. She and the reader share her observations and we read as she reaches conclusions based on this talent. Her partner, Max, is a doer. He is the perfect counterpoint for Margot. Max is oblivious to ordinary life, living his life on an artistic plane that rarely touches earth. They balance each other and create a great life together.

So, besides watching film editors at work and researching the history of film editors in Hollywood (one of the first areas where women were recognized and allowed to participate), I found I was also writing in the heights of the age of technology. Yikes! My film editor had to move with the times. She couldn’t stay in the 1990s where we’d begun. Soon I was collecting articles on technological advances in the field, researching the gradual switch from celluloid to digital tape and the various camera techniques of hand-held cameras.

Most of my “expertise” comes from having a daughter and her partner both working in the Hollywood production realm. I listen to them. I take notes. I ask questions. Together we’ve worked out some interesting plots! I’ve researched Hollywood history, the ins and outs of location shooting, and where the money comes from… I’ve even researched drug cartels and weather!

When I began work on my most recent book, The Magicians, I was, once again, in new territory—the inner workings of a reality TV show. My Hollywood sources clued me into the fact that this type of production is totally removed from regular TV shows, not to mention filmmaking. To begin with, they even have their own vocabulary! So I began Googling and unearthed jewels of terminology such as:

Frankenbite means we say things that they edit into a story,” Loretta Rose whispered. “You know, like Frankenstein. They create a monster by editing. It’ll make us sound interesting, Don’t you do that sort of stuff in movies, Margot?”

“We need a Money Shot,” Jake shouted. “Gimme a money shot, a goddamned climax. Don’t you guys have anything bad to say to each other for this show? I need bad.”

And “Creative Editing” which, of course, is essentially what a film editor does but these reality shows purport to be REAL and the editing is used to make “real” look interesting. Usually this is done by editing text and pictures from different scenes and put them together to look whole and spontaneous.

All in all it was fun to research a new venue for my characters as well as, of course, throwing in a body or two and a lot of surprises.

Research is fun and enlightening and can add so much to a plot. With the Internet at our fingertips, no one has an excuse not to make it right!

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A Novel Direction In Publishing

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, explains why she became an acquisitions editor and why her publisher and employer, Oak Tree Press, is to be admired.

Two years ago I made a handshake contract for my novel with Billie Johnson of Oak Tree Press while on the way to the ladies room.

Go ahead and laugh or shake your head in disbelief. It happened and it set the tone for how we would work together in the future.

When I signed on with the independent publishing house, the output was twelve titles a year. That figure doubled the second year I was on board. This year the goal is 36 titles: three a month in trade, Kindle and Nook editions. Now we’ve got our heads together wondering: Can we stretch to 48 in 2012?

While I love being an author of the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries (major plug here), I looked over some of the titles being published with mine. There didn’t seem to be a focus for the house. Billie loves to publish what she loves—which is everything well written. She also is a softie when it comes to unpublished writers with a yearning to see their words in print.

Because I can’t leave well enough alone, I volunteered to handle the slush pile. With relief, Billie sent two boxes of hard copy manuscripts my way as well as re-directing e-queries. What did I get myself into?

I never knew I’d be good at the business side of publishing. I found I loved communicating with aspiring authors. Even my rejection letters received thank you notes. But, I also had a firm line writers had to cross. How were their marketing skills? I Googled every author to see their website, platform, blogs and social sites. If nothing showed up, then what were they doing in preparation for a career in publishing? I was looking for race horses, not plodders. I’d rather have a good manuscript with a great marketer than a great manuscript with an author reluctant to market.

At first, Billie thought this was discriminatory. Well, yeah. However, this is also realistic. Plus, I was willing to teach potential authors how to market by creating something known as The Posse. Using their e-mail addys, when I marketed I shared the info by sending them to worthwhile sites.

Oak Tree Press is small, but growing. We are primarily a genre house: mystery, romance, paranormal and Westerns. Billie and her staff are in Illinois, I’m in central California, other employees are in Scotland, NYC, Virginia, Connecticut and Arizona. What makes us different is that we operate like a family. All of our authors know each other, we meet at conferences to plan the company’s growth. Loyalty is key. When Holli Castillo was impacted by Hurricane Katrina and then the oil spill, she wasn’t expected to make her deadline. People come first. We pull for each other. As a group we compete with the rest of the publishing world. Our authors are racking up awards.

Despite this, Oak Tree has found itself on the soiled end of Predators and Editors. The person who put us there later went to prison for threatening Microsoft. Bill Gates has more clout than we do. However, once blacklisted there is no way to remove yourself, despite class action suits. We don’t let this affect our upward path.

When I’m asked to represent Oak Tree Press at conferences and conventions, I tag us as “A new dynamic in publishing.” Billie and I don’t follow the rules, we follow our hearts. We want to give people a chance. We are willing to revive old titles, pick up a discontinued series and publish self-pubbed books. Agents don’t impress us. It’s all about the people with their manuscripts in hand just looking for a shot.

Aren’t you glad there are publishers like us? Don’t you wish there were more?

Abraham Lincoln Goes Hollywood

Joel Fox likes to say he has a long rap sheet in California politics. For three decades he has been a taxpayer and small business advocate, served on numerous state commissions appointed by governors and assembly speakers from both major political parties, worked on many ballot issue campaigns, and advised numerous candidates, including Arnold Schwarzenegger in the historic gubernatorial recall election of 2003. He is an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University.

Fox has authored hundreds of opinion pieces for many publications including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle, as well as his well-respected blog on California business and politics, Fox and Hounds Daily.

His non-fiction works include a book, The Legend of Proposition 13, about California’s most famous ballot measure, and a chapter in the book, What Baseball Means to Me, sanctioned by the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 2008, Fox completed the Los Angeles FBI Citizens Academy program gaining a deeper understanding of the FBI and its mission.

Fox grew up in Massachusetts. He says he got his love for history breathing the air in the Boston area, often driving past the homes of the presidents Adams and visiting many historical sites.

Abraham Lincoln is no movie idol. Yet, our 16th president’s character and story are so compelling that he is the subject of many recent and coming high profile movies. This is of interest to me because my first mystery novel uses an incident in Lincoln’s life to propel my modern day mystery.

Well, I should not say Lincoln’s life, for the incident I refer to occurred after Lincoln’s death.

There was an attempt to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body eleven years after the assassination. Caretakers for his tomb were so concerned that another attempt would be made that they moved his coffin a number of times. While visitors to the tomb looked upon a sarcophagus believing Lincoln’s remains were contained within, his coffin was actually moved to other areas in the tomb and even opened twice to be sure the body was still there.

All this suggested to me a question that would serve as the basis for a mystery: is Abraham Lincoln in his tomb?

I traveled to Springfield, Illinois, the site of Lincoln’s tomb, to check out some of the historic sites and surrounding neighborhoods, searching for locales to place my mystery.

Walking the cemetery containing Lincoln’s tomb made me think of the bizarre incident on the same grounds in 1887 when a honeymoon couple, escaping the city, thought they were enjoying the privacy of the cemetery at night, when they came upon an extraordinary event. Officials opening Lincoln’s coffin the first time to see if his body was there.  Now there’s a honeymoon to remember!

The drama of Lincoln’s life certainly lends itself to cinematic storytelling. Even the drama associated with him in death gave me a great basis for a mystery.

In fact, Lincoln comes back again and again in books and films much like those ubiquitous vampires that are all around us these days. It is not so surprising really that one of the new films dealing with Lincoln also deals with those creatures: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.

I think many authors dream that their books will become movies. For one thing, turning a book into a movie or a television show is sure to help book sales. Movies and television shows certainly make people aware of subjects they may know little or nothing about.

To prove my point, let me tell you another story that deals with a different president and his tomb.

Both presidents Adams are buried with their wives in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts in a crypt in the basement of the United First Parish Church.  Years ago, I visited the Adams burial site with my wife and in-laws.

We made our way to the crypt in the basement of the church. There were no other visitors. No caretakers. In fact as we approached the tomb, the door was open but the lights were off. I had to feel along the wall to find the light switch and flip on the lights. The four sarcophagi containing the remains of the two former presidents and the two former first ladies were in the room along with American and Massachusetts flags. After paying respects, we left and, yes, I turned off the lights.

Years later, John Adams became a “historical celebrity” with David McCullough’s book and the HBO’s John Adams miniseries starring Paul Giamatti. Now, there’s an official visitor center associated with all the Adams’ sites in Quincy to deal with the crowds and you have to arrange to be part of a tour to see the sites.

Movies are powerful tools. In fact, it was a movie that got me started on the path to writing my mystery.

The Abductors starred Victor McLaglen, an Oscar winning actor. Made in the 1950s, the story was about the Lincoln grave-robbing attempt. I saw it on late night television. I can’t say it’s a great movie and it was quickly lost to the memory of the movie world. But, the film captured my imagination and I never forgot the outrageous, devilish, irreverent plot to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body. It seemed a natural story to build a mystery around, especially when I learned years later what happened to Lincoln’s coffin over time – all an integral part of solving the mystery.

With a couple of Lincoln movies soon to be released, I wonder if there is room for one more? I have a suggestion. You see, it starts with the attempt to steal Lincoln’s body …

Will I Ever Run Out of Ideas?

Born in Memphis, Paula Petty attended David Lipscomb University in Nashville before graduating from the University of Memphis with a degree in merchandising and a minor in marketing. Paula married her college sweetheart shortly after graduation. They reside in Chattanooga, TN.

Paula has worked in a variety of job roles which gives her insights into the many characters in her writing. Most recently, she worked as the highway safety coordinator in Hamilton County and as tobacco prevention services coordinator of Bradley County. She still facilitates smoking cessation classes across the county.

She served as county PTA president, a state vice president and has done workshops on various roles and job responsibilities, conflict resolution and getting and keeping volunteers and has spoken at several conferences relating to character education, STARS (Students Taking a Right Stand) and the state PTA. Mission trips have taken her to places such as Honduras, Jamaica and Cuba where she has spoken at several conferences.

She devotes her time to writing and has several articles published.

I sat at my laptop facing a blank wall trying to organize my thoughts into ideas. If ideas are just expanded experiences why do I have so much trouble finding them and molding them into a presentable bestseller?

I  tried looking for ideas out my window, but the butterflies that inspire many writers into producing pages only distracted me.

Nothing exciting ever happened to me. The more  tried to think, the less thoughts I had. Maybe I needed a break. Maybe I needed to look elsewhere for ideas. I grabbed my purse and headed for the car. It was time to go on a search for ideas.  Besides, I was all out of chocolate.

I stopped on my way to take care of some business. I wanted to have the power bill paid from my account instead of my late father’s account. The lady told me I needed to get his signature. I thought she misunderstood me, so I said, “Ma’am, my father’s been dead for ten years.” She picked up a piece of paper and told me that in that case, I could take it to him and get his signature.


There are few things that leave me speechless (too few according to my husband). That was one of them. I left shaking my head and hoping that somewhere a camera was hidden.

I then stopped to attend a funeral.   I was greeted at the gravesite by someone who as they shook my hand, pointed to the grave and said, “Watch your step, there’s a hole there.”

Huh? I was not that old. I had almost perfect vision with my contacts except for a little astigmatism. The six-foot hole I would have seen without my contacts.

Making a quick exit and avoiding the hole, I decided that I was better off at home using my own illogical logic to spawn the ideas.

But first, I really needed to finish painting the bedroom  (okay I do stupid things, too, especially when I am frustrated and angry). My daughter had strategically plastered about fifty glow-in-the-dark stars in different sizes on the ceiling. They lay hidden in the textured ceiling during the day. So I had to wait until night to find them glowing. (Now the garbage bag glows in the dark).

Frustrated, tired and with sore hands from reaching for the ceiling stars, I sat back down at my laptop thankful that all I faced was a blank wall. I hoped that all of those ideas in my head would somehow find its way onto a page.

I shook my head and slapped my forehead.  Great, Paula. Just great.  I forgot the chocolate.

Note:  All of the above were real incidences in my life, which is why I don’t have to search too hard for ideas.

Paula Petty is incorporating some of her “ideas” into her work in progress—a mystery. Visit her website at for more information or email her at

Won’t Somebody Think Of The Children?

Alina Adams wrote figure skating mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime, romances for AVON and Dell, and soap-opera tie-ins for Pocket Books.  Her latest project, Skate Crime: Multimedia, an enhanced e-book, ” retails for $.99 cents in Amazon’s Kindle store at: and can be experienced through the Kindle app on iPad, iPhone, and your desktop.  Read more at:

I came to the United States from the Soviet Union with my parents at the age of seven.

I didn’t speak a word of English (and this was, thankfully, before the advent of bilingual education, so that the school I attended promptly placed me in an all-English speaking class, making it clear that I’d better learn English, and quickly, instead of leaving me to languish for years in a segregated classroom).

So learn English, I did.

Primarily from soap operas.

I watched them on summer vacations and holidays from elementary school, and, by high-school, I’d gotten a radio that received TV signals so I could at least listen to them during lunch on the bus home.

I watched them through college, and then I watched them professionally as the writer for E! Entertainment’s “Pure Soap” show.

I moved to Los Angeles to work for E!, and then I moved to New York City to work for ABC Daytime, where not only did my office have a TV, but we were required to put on “Loving,” “All My Children,” “One Life to Live” and “General Hospital.”

I left ABC and, after my oldest son was born, moved to Procter & Gamble Productions, where I did the websites for and wrote “New York Times” best-selling tie-in books to “As The World Turns” and “Guiding Light.”  I developed an on-line text and video series for another of their brands, “Another World” (, and took soap operas to Twitter with

“Guiding Light” was cancelled in 2009.  “As the World Turns” followed in 2010.  Now comes word that “All My Children” will leave the air in 2011, and “One Life to Live” in 2012.

Talk shows are cheaper to produce than soap operas, so even if their ratings are ultimately lower, the profit margins for the networks remain bigger.  Show business, as Mel Brooks famously said is, “show business!”

I get that.

I also get that my love for serial storytelling isn’t going away, just because the format is (currently) unprofitable.

So, I have a plan.  As my husband tells the kids when they want to interrupt me while I’m working, “Shhh, Mommy is busy saving soap operas.”

And, pray tell, how precisely does Mommy intend to do that?

By going back to something tried and true.  Which is books.

And something completely and utterly new.  Which is enhanced e-books.

So…. What are enhanced e-books, exactly?

Well, nobody knows for sure quite yet. is giving it a shot.  So is the Perseus Book Group.

The majority of enhanced e-book titles are presently non-fiction, adding in news footage, audio, graphs, maps, etc… to tell their stories.  But, even the fictional titles are being enhanced with non-fiction elements such as author interviews, location footage and book trailers.

I want to do something different.  I want to add video footage to my novels that actually contributes to the story, something that isn’t merely an extra but an integral part of the complete tale.

That’s why I’m not just making my Berkley Prime Crime Figure Skating Mystery series available electronically, I am inserting genuine, professional skating footage (provided by the Ice Theatre of New York) directly into the text.

My five skating mysteries, Murder on Ice, On Thin Ice, Axel of Evil, Death Drop and Skate Crime feature recurring characters with relationships that evolve from book to book.  (You could say they were almost… soap opera like).

They are my dry run for what I hope to do next, which is embark on an original e-book series which will feature both text and video, and continue indefinitely via feedback from the audience (something else I developed at; including a poll at the end of each episode so that readers could actually guide my actions).

It is imperative that open-ended, serialized storytelling continue in some form.

Or else how will future immigrants ever learn English?

Truth From Fiction?

Nancy Lynn Jarvis has been a Santa Cruz, California, Realtor® for more than twenty years. She owns a real estate company with her husband, Craig.

After earning a BA in behavioral science from San Jose State University, she worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News. A move to Santa Cruz meant a new job as a librarian and later a stint as the business manager of Shakespeare/Santa Cruz.

Nancy’s work history reflects her philosophy: people should try something radically different every few years. Writing is her newest adventure.

She invites you to take a peek into the real estate world through the stories that form the backdrop of her Regan McHenry mysteries. Details and ideas come from Nancy’s own experiences.

The Widow’s Walk League, the fourth book in the Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series I write has just been released and I’m getting a little nervous. I have all the usual, “will people like it, more importantly, will they buy it,” jitters writers have with each of their books, but this is something else.

The book blurb reads:  “Santa Cruz husbands are being murdered.  The local news media is buzzing because a dark-clad figure witnesses describe as Death had been seen lurking nearby each time a murder is committed.  Regan McHenry discovers all the murdered men have something in common: their wives belong to a walking group called The Widow’s Walk League…”

My protagonist is a real estate agent like I was. What happens to her at work is based on things that happened to me or to other Realtors I know. The real estate stories, strange as they may be, are true; the murders are not. At least they’re not supposed to be. And that’s what’s worrying me.

The first series book, The Death Contingency, began with a young surfer partying too much, getting swept out to sea, and dying of hypothermia. I got a couple of outraged emails telling me that would never happen to a fit, experienced young man…until local  headlines proclaimed a young surfer died just as I described his death  in my book. The real death occurred about a year after my book was released.

Buying Murder, book three in the series, opens with the discovery of a partially mummified body hidden in a wall anomaly. It only took three weeks after my book’s release for a headline like that to hit the local news.

In a double yikes, four months after the book came out, one of the members of the real family who inspired the villainous family in the book was arrested for being exceedingly bad.

I’m not a psychic —it’s not like I can really foretell community deaths and murders. I don’t believe in psychics or mediums who say they can communicate with the dead, and as Regan demonstrates during a séance in The Widow’s Walk League, neither does she. Still, Regan finds that what she believes and doesn’t believe gets a little confusing when another murder takes place.

I hope I’m not psychic.

Some of the murders in the new book take place at my favorite Santa Cruz events.  I set one murder on Pacific Avenue on Halloween night and another at Woodies on the Wharf. (Yes, I know, I’m the one who wrote about murders happening where they did, but I was having too much fun writing the scenes to stop and think about what I might be unleashing.) Do you see why I’m worried? Should I warn anyone that the new book is being released?

As a final note, when Lelia last had me on her blog, I wrote about my garden being sabotaged by an unknown person who opened a gate letting deer in to graze on plants that had special meaning to me. At the time, I was writing the end of The Widow’s Walk League and had a tough decision for Regan to make regarding the killer’s fate. Regan isn’t me, but my life experiences do impact her. Let’s just say, after the garden, I was in the mood for justice, and so was Regan.

Now the garden is recovering, not as quickly as I hoped and some plants didn’t make it, but the devastation brought new opportunities with it, so the garden is good.