Part 2 – Envelope

Ely spent the better part of the afternoon on the porch, enjoying the beautiful day and her novel. She made herself a light dinner but took it back out to the porch to eat and watch the sunset fade into night and the fireflies emerge. It wasn’t until she found herself dozing off that she got the motivation to get to her feet and head inside.

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Settling her dirty dishes in the sink with a promise to wash them in the morning, she glanced around to make sure that she hadn’t left anything out. Satisfied that everything was handled, she noticed the pile of mail on the table and sighed. It probably contained more bills that she was struggling to pay. Although she was proud of her landscaping business, it had been costly to get started. This was the first year that it had actually been in the black, but there was still the backlog of bills that were due.

She thought about simply leaving the mail til the morning, but knew that she would just worry all night if she didn’t know. Resigned, she grumbled as she crossed the kitchen and scooped up the mail. She swiftly sorted through it: junk, junk, bill, local flyer, bill.

She paused when she reached the last item, a large manila envelope. Her name was printed on it in bold letters, the strokes sure and firm. She frowned, wondering what in the world it could be. She’d been accustomed to receiving letters like this while settling her grandparents estate, but she had finalized all of that months ago. She glanced over at the return address, only to find a strange black key stamped in that corner and nothing else.

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The postmark was too blurry to make out, so she turned her attention back to the key. It was nagging at her for some reason. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d seen the exact same key somewhere else before. She held it for several minutes as she debated back and forth about opening it. She had a feeling that whatever information this envelope contained would be life-altering. Squaring her shoulders, she finally came to a decision.

 

Hahaha, cliffie. I’m so evil guys, sorry. If you want to know what happens next, leave me a word 🙂 Happy Thursday!

August Challenge – Start

So, I know I haven’t blogging a lot lately, life gets crazy busy in summer. When I first started blogging, wordpress had a daily prompt thing, so I thought it would be fun to write a story using those daily prompts. Well, found out that they discontinued that, so I’ve had to rethink things a bit. I’m still going to be writing the serial story, but you, dear readers, will be the ones supplying the words. If there is more than one word to chose from, I will select the one that moves the story along best in my opinion. If there are no words suggested, I will pick the prompt until a new one is suggested. So come on and play with me. Now, on to the story. Today’s prompt will be start.

 

For some reason, when your life changes irreversibly, you always expect it to be with a bang. A car crash, a natural disaster, winning the lottery. Something big and flashy that clearly lets you know things will never be the same again. Maybe it’s because we’ve watched too many movies, you know, the kind where you can clearly tell who the good and bad guys are by listening to the music. I don’t know. But still, you don’t expect your life to be changed in quiet moments, a whisper on a passing breeze, in the still of a night, a flower blooming. The kind of change that if you blink, you might miss it. This is how is starts for Elena. A moment that could’ve gone several different ways, until all of a sudden you’re miles away from where you started and wondering how in the world you reached this place.

Elena’s change started on a idyllic summer day. It was a hot day in July, one of those days where the sky is impossibly blue and the drone of the ever industrious bees act like a lullabye. Elena, or Ely as she preferred to go by, had managed to finish up her latest landscaping job and had the rest of the day. Driving her old farm truck, she only paused at the top of the drive long enough to collect the mail before heading towards the house.

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Although the house was too big for one person to live alone in, she found that she couldn’t give it up, memories of summers spent there with her grandparents too precious to let go of. It had been her safe haven when her parents had died in a car accident when she only thirteen. They’d taken her in and loved her through the heartbreak and grief. They’d been such an amazing couple, devoted to each other and showering love on her even though they were past the age to be raising children. Still, they had raised her and supported her all the way through college.

She was twenty-five when the time she was dreaded came and they passed away only days apart, peacefully in their sleep. She was happy that they hadn’t suffered, but she missed them more than she could say. Since then, she’d spent most of her time getting her landscaping business of the ground and trying to care for the beautiful aging house. Climbing out of the truck, she scooped the mail off of the seat and looked over the house. It was almost time to paint again, a full three day job for just the exterior and that was only if the weather held. She shrugged and let it go. It was rare for her to have time to herself, so she was going to spend it relaxing and maybe even reading the newest novel from her favorite author.

Going inside, she dumped the mail onto the counter and poured herself a glass of lemonade, snagging her book before heading out to the porch. What she failed to notice was the manila envelope with her name on it and only a strange symbol for the return address. Who knew that such an innocent looking package would have the same impact as dynamite?

 

So, what do you guys think? Want me to keep going? Happy Wednesday and Happy Colorado Day!

Friday Feature – Author Ann Parker

 

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Bringing the Past to Life through History-Mystery

 

I’ll begin with a big THANK YOU to Kat for offering me a chance to participate in her Friday Feature so I can introduce you to my Silver Rush historical mystery series.

 

My books take place primarily—but not entirely!—in 1880 Leadville, Colorado. Leadville is a real town up at the 10,000 foot mark in the Rocky Mountains. Why, you may ask, did I settle on setting an historical mystery series in Leadville? Well, as my Uncle Walt, a Colorado native, once enthused to me, “Leadville was the site of one of the biggest silver rushes in the world! People came from all over, thinking they’d get rich overnight…”

 

Since I have lived in California all my life, I well understood frenetic craziness that ensues when folks get hooked into the “get rich quick” frame of mind (think: dot-com boom, real-estate bubble, etc.).

 

Uncle Walt continued, “…They didn’t realize that you couldn’t just pick silver ‘nuggets’ up off the ground, and that’s when all the trouble started.”

 

Trouble indeed!

 

My uncle’s enthusiasm for Leadville was infectious, so I began to research Leadville and her history, and to fashion my characters. I decided to make my protagonist Inez Stannert, named after my paternal grandmother, who was raised in Leadville but never breathed a word about it to me, despite her love of telling stories of her life in Denver (yet another mystery!). My fictional Inez Stannert runs the Silver Queen Saloon in Leadville along with her husband’s business partner, Abe Jackson, a free man of color.

 

When the first book in the series, Silver Lies, opens, the reader quickly learns that Inez’s husband, gambler and all-around-charmer Mark Stannert, has been missing for close to nine months. What has happened to him? Did he perish by falling down one of the many mining shafts? Did he just “up and leave?” Is he alive or dead? Well, such questions were not easily answered in 1880 (no Social Security numbers for tracking people down, for instance). So, Inez and Abe carry on as best they can.

 

A woman running a saloon in the wide-open boomtown of Leadville is unusual, but not unheard of: in the 1880 census, 228 men claimed the occupation of saloon keeper or bartender, compared to 3 women. So, who is Inez? She is a woman in a man’s world. She runs a high-stakes poker game, holds her whiskey with the best, plays piano beautifully enough to “make the angels weep.” She also carries a Remington pocket revolver, because who knows when trouble will strike in this tumultuous town, where the law is overwhelmed by the lawless?

 

I conveniently set the Silver Queen Saloon on the corner of the business and red-light districts.  Between that and the general “silver-induced frenzy” the silver boom brought to this region, I had no trouble at all fashioning stories that weave real-life events into my fiction. For instance, in Silver Lies, folks are “dying to get rich.” In the second book, Iron Ties, I explore the (real-life) railroad wars that finally brought the iron horse to Leadville, as well as the plight of the town and railroad’s Civil War vets, many still suffering from the aftermath of the conflict 15 years after the war’s end. The third, Leaden Skies, features the arrival of former president and Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant to town on a five-day visit. I refer to this one as my “dirty politics” book. (The more things change, the more they stay the same. Such seems to be the course of human history.)

 

Of course, there are mysterious deaths, confidence games, tomfoolery of various kinds, and everyone has their secrets—even Inez, who I like to describe as a woman with a shadowy past, a complicated present, and an uncertain future. The series also provides a bit of romance… but I won’t say much about that in fear of spoilers.

 

As I said above, my series takes place mostly—but not entirely!—in Colorado. The sixth and newest book in my series, A Dying Note, finds Inez in 1881 San Francisco, California. Now manager of a music store, she is trying to forge a new life for herself in the “Paris of the West” and put her unsavory years in Leadville behind her. However, as the Kirkus Review of this book notes, “Leaving behind a life of secrets proves no easy task.” Inez carefully constructed life threatens to tumble about her ears when the badly beaten body of a young musician washes up to shore. Inez becomes entangle in the mystery of his death when the musician turns out to have ties to Leadville, ties that threaten to explore Inez’s notorious past.  Publishers Weekly praises the “fascinating period details, flamboyant characters, and surprising plot twists,” of A Dying Note, adding, “Parker leaves the reader longing to see what Inez will get up to next.”

 

As to what new mysteries and challenges Inez may face in the seventh book, all I will say is: stay tuned!

 

Ann Parker lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is a science writer by day and a crime fiction author by night. Her Silver Rush historical series, featuring protagonist Inez Stannert and published by Poisoned Pen Press, has won numerous awards, including the Colorado Book Award, the Colorado Gold Award, the Willa Literary Award, and the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award.

 

Find out more about Ann and her series at http://annparker.net/

On Wednesdays she blogs at http://silverrushmysteries.blogspot.com/

She spends way too much time on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/annparker.writer

And pins interesting historical bits from her research on Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/annparkerauthor/

P is for Plot

It is probably no surprise that I chose Plot for the letter P. Despite the fact that I am a pantser not a plotter, every story requires a plot. However, instead of writing about how to develop a plot, I thought that it would be fun to show you how I develop a story.

Usually I don’t get the start of a story, but am thrown right into the middle the middle of a scene.

“Laine walked at a brisk clip down the sidewalk, searching for the bookstore. She sighed in frustration, tucking a strand of auburn hair behind her ear. When she’d stopped for directions, they’d seemed fairly straightforward, walk two blocks, turn right, walk another three and the store should be on her right. However, her quarry was proving to be elusive as this was the third time she’d circled these two blocks without a sign of the store she was searching for.”

Now this leaves me with so many questions. Usually when I have snippets like this and I’m in the middle of another story, I ignore them and they fade away. Sometimes, however, they don’t fade away but come back repeatedly. So after about the 48th circuit of Laine down that sidewalk, I give in and sit down with her for a chat.

Sitting down, I start by looking for her full name and appearance. She is Elaine Narrows, somewhere in her late twenties, she is about 5’7”, curly bright auburn hair, wearing a tan pantsuit with low heels. Her occupation is that of lawyer, although she refuses to say what particular branch. She’s used to keeping her cards close to the chest and doesn’t want to give away any more information until she judges me trustworthy.

Having met her, I know have to unravel what led up to her going in search of this bookstore. She is obviously a smart woman, so she wouldn’t just randomly go off in search of a bookstore. So what made her go looking and why that particular bookstore? I have to go back to the where it started.

And suddenly a scene unfolds before me, an office, your basic office, with dove gray walls, metal file folders, and a couple of potted plants in the corner. It’s Monday, not even 9 a.m., and the day is overcast, cloudy and gray. Laine is sitting at the desk, her hair neatly pulled back in a French braid and a cup of coffee steaming on the corner of the desk. However, it is the occupant of the chair on the other side of the desk that catches my attention. A teenage girl, maybe sixteen or seventeen. She is thin, too thin, and there is desperation in her eyes. She has long brown hair pulled into a sloppy braid and a lip ring, a simple small hoop. She is wearing an oversized green canvas jacket that she’s huddled into and her hands are clenched in a death grip. Ah yes, here is where the true story begins.

When I reach this point, the story usually gains a life of its own and it isn’t too long before I reach the scene that started it all, Laine’s search for the bookstore. So for me, the story usually starts with a glimpse of a scene from somewhere in the middle of the story, a pivotal point in the story that will change everything. I then have to do some detective work to find out where the story begins and then follow it to its logical conclusion.

So how do you plan a story?

 

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Feature Friday – Author Helen Starbuck

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Becoming a Writer

Copyright © 2018 Helen Starbuck, all rights reserved

 

People write for a lot of reasons. Writing for me has always been an escape, a way of dealing with life, and my favorite form of entertainment. The say if you don’t like the way things are, then rewrite your story. I subscribe to that wholeheartedly. My writing career got its first boost when, as a young teenager, I fell in love with Paul McCartney. My best friend and I wrote romantic stories about Paul and Ringo and it was a way to fantasize that was endlessly entertaining. I view those now as my first attempts at writing a romance novel.

Growing up I read voraciously, in fact my mother complained that I needed to put the books down and go out and ‘do something.’ I was doing something, it was just in my head and she couldn’t see it. I was never part of the ‘in crowd’. No matter how hard I tried, I just didn’t fit in. As a result, I wrote about my disappointments, about my desires and my hopes, and about guys I had had crushes on from afar. Writing about this made the lack of social grace and connection more tolerable. I think watching people and studying them, trying to figure out what makes them tick, like I did in high school, helped me write.  I think most writers have this interior life that drives them and that they use to fuel their writing. We grow and learn from other writers who inspire us.

I still watch and listen to people to hear their speech patterns, to listen to their stories, to get a feel for a character. Sometimes it’s quite amusing listening to those around you, like the twenty-something guy on his way into Home Depot talking on the phone who said, “Yeah, man I’m done. I’m having a garage sale and she’s the featured item.” I still laugh when I remember that. What perfect dialogue, his frustration and his humor visible in one line—a line I intend to use in one of my stories.

The urge to tell a story has always been strong for me. I love mysteries and suspense novels and it always helps if there is a little bit of romance to spice things up. I grew up in Colorado and I write a mystery series set in Denver with an OR nurse as the protagonist and narrator. Professionally, I am an OR nurse so I write what I know. I have learned as a nurse to listen to what is said and what is not said. People tell nurses things they rarely tell other people and you get a great sense of the human experience.

My first book, published in October 2017, is The Mad Hatter’s Son, An Annie Collins Mystery. It’s a tale of love, friendship, betrayal, and consequences. Annie Collins, a nurse used to caring for others in the OR, is drawn unwillingly into the chaos that is her long-time friend Libby Matheisen’s life. With puzzling symptoms and a plea for help, Annie wonders whether Libby is really ill or whether there’s more to the story than what Libby is saying. Faced with Libby’s apparent suicide, Annie is beside herself with guilt and unable to stop asking questions to uncover the truth. The answers to these questions don’t come without a price. Faced with a friend’s life that has derailed, pursuing the mystery of her illness and death threatens to derail Annie’s life as well.

The Mad Hatter’s Son is loosely based on a patient I helped take care of years ago. She had very puzzling symptoms and it took her doctors a long time to figure out what the problem was and it was a shocker. The story is not about that patient, but the circumstances are similar. I am working on the second book in the series, No Pity In Death, which I’m hoping it will be published in the fall of 2018, if everything goes according to plan. It’s a continuation of Annie’s story and involves her helping to solve a rash of patient deaths at her hospital.

 

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The paperback and e-book are currently available on Amazon and at the Tattered Cover in paperback. The audio book will be available in late May 2018. You can connect with me on my website www.helenstarbuck.com where you can sign up for my newsletter and read a teaser chapter from the next book. There are hints at the books planned for the series and a link to a radio interview I just did on Clear Creek Radio. You can also connect with me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/helensstarbuck/  and on Twitter @helensstarbuck.

 

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