Blog Hop: Game of Tag about How We Write.

99 steps St. Thomas

Patricia Smith Wood tagged me in the Blog Hop sweeping the internet for writers. I’m to reveal my innermost writing secrets.  Also I’ve tagged two other engaging authors. I’ll tell you who they are at the end of my post.

Thanks, Pat, for giving me this opportunity. We were friends in our early teens then I moved to Wyoming and we lost touch. When I moved back to Albuquerque twenty-years later, our friendship reignited.  As preteens, Pat never let us be idle. That girl could play the piano and sing her heart out. At sleepovers, she made us sing for hours. Loved it, but I sounded like a sick Muppet. Thank goodness she no longer insists I sing.

Something else, her father was an F.B. I. agent–  So cool because I was the girl who, under the blankets with a flashlight, read all the Hardy Boy Mysteries (the early ones before they watered down the rich vocabulary). I couldn’t get enough of sleuthing.St. Thomas 1 Patricia’s father’s stories about an unsolved New Mexico murder stirred up her imagination and eventually turned these ideas into her first book, The Easter Egg Murder. You can learn more about Patricia Wood by visiting her website here.

1) What am I working on?

Right now, I’m looking for an agent/publisher for Cuba Libre Conspiracies, and I’m busy with my next book, Illusive Inheritance (working title) the second in this Beth Armstrong mystery series.

Illusive Inheritance is the sequel to Cuba Libre Conspiracies, but it’s also a stand-alone where Beth surprises her husband with a dream vacation in the Caribbean that turns into a nightmare when she realizes they’ve survived a murder attempt.   Hotel 1829 1Beth’s obsessiveness in finding answers annoys everyone, even a Rastafarian drug runner who may have murdered a young girl’s mother. Beth befriends a Voodouist who knows much about the past and more than she cares to tell.



2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Having a protagonist who’s a middle-aged woman scientist working in a research institute sets Cuba Libre Conspiracies way over on the unique side for most commercial fiction mysteries.  Another aspect that’s less common these days is a story told completely from the protagonist’s point of view. Dialogue-rich writing is something I enjoy as a reader, and I also like to write. This keeps a snappy pace to my stories without needing long, intricate descriptions. I know readers’ imaginations can fill in holes better than anything I could describe. Most of my secondary characters are multidimensional, allowing them to make assumptions, mistakes, and even rethink.

Some mysteries do have a protagonist who struggles with deeply conflicted emotions. But in my stories, my protagonist is also headstrong in her biases before she understands things are not at all what they seemed.

Much of my writing inspirations have come from cherished authors such as Alice Hoffman’s with her lyrical writing, Elizabeth George and Ian McEwan’s characters with strong and conflicted emotions, Michael Connelly sensitivity, and Robert Parker’s snappy dialogue.

3) Why do I write what I do?

It’s okay to hear voices, but it’s not okay to answer them, right? I not only hear voices, they entertain me with stories. Sometimes a relative, friend, stranger, or co-worker’s voice won’t get out of my head. What if my characters have some of these particular voices?

Sitting in a science review committee meeting, I watched an emotional but contained interplay between the chairman and a researcher.  We weren’t privileged to some prior history between them, but when the researcher slapped the table with his open hands, pushed his chair back and looked away, I knew the chairman just found out something important and had won. What if a science institute is rife with corporate espionage and no one believes it except for one scientist?

One step farther: What if a busy professional woman, barely holding her marriage together, is the scientist who no one believes her research was actually sabotaged? Interesting, but not compelling.  What if at this same time, this woman unwillingly becomes the caretaker of an estranged aunt who’s a sloppy chain-smoker and who holds a nightly cocktail hour complete with roaring 20’s stories?scan0001 What if this aunt also aggravates by serving regular doses of advice on how fix a marriage and solve all that corporate intrigue?

What if all of this causes the woman scientist to discover her carefully controlled life, with her preconceived biases, no longer works? To eradicate the evil seeping through the science institute, she changes, mends her marriage, puts her life in danger, and uncovers an old family secret.

4) How does my writing process work?

Pansters, for those of you who don’t know, is a writer who sits at the computer and writes without outlining or maybe even a hint of where the story’s going.  When I first started writing I’d type with only a vague plot in my head. I’d end up with too many subplots, too many boring scenes, and hit too many dead ends.

I found this a time waster.

I now begin with tons of research, with printouts, and note cards stacked next to my computer. I get a new spiral notebook and write the title of the book on its cover. In it I map out the plot.  This is also where I write complete character sketches of my protagonist, antagonist, and all the secondary players. I make a time line, pick the inciting moment, and decide who did what to whom and when. I put a new small notebook in my purse to jot down ideas, scenes, voices I hear, actions I see, or anything I might want to use in the story.

Next I do a quick write. This is something Anne Greenwood Brown wrote about, click here.  I find it helpful to quickly get into the first few chapters of my book. I then go back and actually do my real writing.

I get other eyes to give me feedback and help me see what I’ve missed. I’m a terrible proofreader.

Without doubt, the most enjoyable part of all is revision: cutting, cutting, cutting, reorganizing, replacing words with better words, getting rid of what’s trite, and transforming it into a  newly created world.

Next Week: Meet Catherine Dilts and Paula Paul

Catherine Dilts and Paula Paul are tagged “it” for next Monday, August 4, 2014.

Catherine Dilts and I met when we were assigned to be on a short-story panel, almost two years ago at Left Coast Crime in Colorado Springs. Both of us are fascinated with geology, paleontology, and mineralogy. How could we not like each other? Catherine’s been generous in her email knowledge and advice whenever I’ve been flummoxed over some little writing thing.

Catherine writes amateur sleuth mysteries set in the Colorado mountains. In her debut novel Stone Cold Dead-A Rock Shop Mystery, business is as dead as a dinosaur, but when Morgan Iverson finds the body of a Goth teen on a hiking trail, more than just the family rock shop could become extinct. Book two in the series, Stone Cold Case, has an anticipated release date in 2015.  Morgan Iverson reopens a cold case and lots of unhealed wounds in the small mountain town of Golden Springs when she discovers the bones of a popular and beautiful young woman who went missing fifteen years ago. Catherine works as an environmental scientist, and plays at heirloom gardening, camping, and fishing. Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine has published three of her short stories, with  The Last Real Cowboy appearing on the cover of September 2014 issue.  Visit her at

Paula Paul and I first met at SouthWest Writers many years ago when the organization was called South West Writer’s Workshop. She’s published at least two dozen books, historical, mysteries, and even a young adult story. Paula received her Bachelors in Journalism and is a state and national award-winning journalist. She’s also altruistic, donating one-third of the royalties from Crazy Quilt (published by UNM Press) to cancer research.

About Char of inkydancestudios

Writer by nature and for the soul. Educator for life. Artist for love. Passion: All things good and true.
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32 Responses to Blog Hop: Game of Tag about How We Write.

  1. I had many a Cubre Libre with the lady in the photograph as we discussed politics and life in general.


  2. Good job on the Blog Hop, Miss Charlene! I always enjoy reading your stuff, and I’m delighted to gain insight into the second book! It sounds really fun!


  3. Mary Ann Domina says:

    I love mysteries and I can’t wait to read Cuba Libre Conspiracies plus the sequel–great photo!! Let me know when its at the bookstore or on Amazon!!!


    • Oh, trust me, Mary, you’ll be one of the first to know. You’ll hear me shouting fifty miles away. Seriously, since you and Charlie had dinner one night with the lady in my photo, I know you’ll be captivated by this fictionalized story about her.


  4. gbcomet says:

    Reblogged this on gbcomet and commented:
    Be it email, a birthday card, or anything else, if you wrote it I’m always anxious to read it. I’ve been envious of your writing skills for many a year. I wondered if you and Patricia knew each other when you were in Jr. high. Now I know.


    • Aw . . . I’m feeling loved here. Graham, I love your website. I tried to subscribe but your subscribe spot didn’t take. I’ll check back later. I appreciate you checking out my post and, naturally, for your comments.


  5. Susan Hettema says:

    This all makes me hungry for more, The heck with my diet! I love that your protagonist is not a twenty-something girl with no experiences or life lessons under her 22″ belt! Where is the prequel–hope there is one. “They” say things always come in units of three!


  6. Sue, thanks! You make me giggle. Be careful, with your dynamic way of expressing yourself, you may end up in the prequel. Because you asked, the prequel will come after the sequel–figure that out. But hang on to your cloche because it’ll be an unpredictable ride through the roaring twenties. Loved your comments, now I think I’ll go have some chocolate.


  7. Dianne Doan says:

    I’ve been waiting “impatiently” to know the plot of that great first mystery. So happy to get to enjoy a “peek” into your writing process. Thanks for sharing with us. Love th photo of the aunt! She looks strangely like you a couple of generations ago.


    • Dianne, although your comparison makes me smile and be a bit wishful, I personally think I lagged far behind this woman. My Aunt Margaret caught many a man’s eye. I’m sure she spun those unsuspecting guys around so fast they never knew what hit them. Then she’d flit off with someone else. I’m pleased you enjoyed reading about my writing process, and I really appreciate you taking the time to check out my post.


  8. Elaine says:

    I’m so glad to get this little teaser of information about your protagonist! Hooray that she’s a strong “doer” middle-aged gal. I think I can relate to her very well. I loved reading your blog – particularly interested in learning about your writing process. I envy your driven nature, although I’m not out to challenge you! I am patting my foot impatiently waiting for a publisher to get moving on your first – and soon to be second – book!!!


    • Hey, Elaine, I know why you identify with my can-do protagonist, but she didn’t retire to become a member of a school board. What on earth could be more challenging than that? Think I’d rather clean gas-station bathrooms. And I’m humbled by your enthusiastic support for my writing efforts. Thanks and also for checking in here.


  9. I enjoyed hearing that you started out a pantser, and now begin with some structure. I have to know where I’m going with a story, or I end up writing myself into a corner. I might not follow the original roadmap, but without it, I get totally lost. I am looking forward to reading your novel. I’m sure you will find a home for it soon!


    • Hi Catherine, I must have hit the wrong button, because I replied earlier. Now nothing’s there. Oh well. You’re right on about needing structure. The roadmap sometimes takes us on the scenic route, but at least we get there a bit more quickly. The problem with knowing lots of author/writers is our stack of “must read” books keeps growing. Yours is on top and I know your second one will be there soon. Can’t wait to read about your writing secrets on Monday. Thanks for joining in on the fun.


  10. Can’t wait to read both! Here’s to a successful series full of rich characters and page turners on long cold winter days under warm blankets. Love the blog!


    • Ah, Michelle–nothing like a fire in the fireplace, a glass of wine, a little dark chocolate, with a good page turner. I’m with you–and I can’t wait to get my book in your hands for your feedback. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


  11. Letha Steed says:

    Charlene, throughout my life I have always admired and looked up to you, not just because you are pretty and very tall, but because of your inner beauty and height of character.

    It fascinates me now to see how this package of you puts word to pen. How interesting it is to learn the particular process in which you write and to discover that the revision step is the most enjoyable for you. I wonder if that is true of most detective writers. It seems to me that what you do in your revision process could perhaps be somewhat like the process your detective characters do to solve mysteries in their world of your creation that you now revise.

    But no mystery here. I am just waiting to hear the ink is dry and all is well in your world, and to learn that you have now traveled from one Amazon to another.


    • Letha, I’m blushing. Everything you said in your first paragraph I could turn around and say about you. Plus, you always exude an understated elegance. I’m so tickled you’d take a few minutes to check out my blog and then comment on it. Never thought of the revision part being like searching for what needs to be found in a mystery. You’re on to something there. Besides, it’s great fun to take something that seems just okay, then turn in into exactly what you wanted to convey. Thank you for reading and then commenting. Now we’ve got to find sometime to meet up. Denver and Albuquerque are only 400 miles apart, not that far.


  12. Margaret says:

    Charlene, I admire you AND your talent, I find Cuba Libre Conspiracies fascinating on many levels The story is both fun and thought-provoking. A real winner! Your protagonist is multi-dimensional and wholly believable. The dialogue and pacing keep me wanting more, so I’m looking forward to your next book!


    • Margaret, you know that I’m looking forward to your next book. I think it’ll be the best ever of your series. I have to tell you I don’t know where I would be without your watchful eye in our critique group. For such a petite person, you’ve become my big, comfortable safety net when I fall into something wrong or stupid. I think it’s only fair I shout out about your books: Amazon Margaret Tessler


  13. Hi Charlene,
    So looking forward to reading Cuba Libre Conspiracies! I didn’t have a clue that you do so much research prior to writing but definitely see the benefit for organizing. I’ve never known a real author so this is a fun and new experience for me! Can’t wait to get your book in my hands.


    • Hi Maribeth,
      Research is crucial before writing, and I love this part of prewriting. Even with my short stories, no matter what the topic, I have to research. Cuba Libre Conspiracies takes place in 1996, right on the cusp of technology. Not everyone had a cell phone then and those who did carried those big, gray-brick looking ones. Naturally, life in Chicago in the 1920’s took tons of research too. Corporate espionage was like a run-a-way circus then. Finally, in the fall of 1996 congress passed the Economic Espionage Act. Until then, not much happened with the stealing of industrial and proprietary information. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. (I can’t wait to get the book in your hands either. Big smile here.)


  14. M2 says:

    The most advantageous leverage to writing any successful story, in my opinion, is making it believable and realistic. Consider the Transformers series of movies. Now consider the Potter series. Now consider Congress. Now consider truly plausible fiction, with either scientific or spiritual explanations. Yeah! Seems you have found it. Absolutely it works and is the best genre possible. Especially with hints of well researched technology, history, geology, art, geography, politics, etc. But wait, what is this so-called “protagonist”? I’m a literary moron. Can it be a collection of people? Is an antagonist the opposite of a protagonist? What are “contagonists, hyptagonists, subtagonists, tritagonists”, etc. Will they ever have a role? And if not, why not? Just askin’.


    • Michael, you always make me laugh. To simplify your convoluted comment (much valued and appreciated)the protagonist is the good guy or gal who discovers and confronts the villain. You’re correct, the antagonist is the one who does the dastardly deed or deeds. Most stories aren’t long enough to put in all the other “tagonists” you mention–if there even are such things. I’m glad you approve of the way I’ve constructed my story even though I can’t compare it to The Transformers, Harry Potter, or even Congress. (Whew.) You’re the best for stopping by and sharing your humor with us.


  15. Jan says:

    Wow, Charlene, I didn’t know it would be this easy to get to your blog. I was putting it off thinking it would take me hours to figure out. I join those who are eagerly awaiting the first or second book–sound very intriguing. Also, I love the stairway photo. If this writing thing doesn’t work out, maybe photography??? Just kidding.


    • Be careful,Jan, you might become a techy. Hmmm, photography? The first three photos were taken in St. Thomas and Virgin Gorda where much of book two takes place. The first one may be difficult for some to know they are, in fact, steps. I’m pleased you like them, so thanks for tackling the Internet and finding my blog. You’re always seeing a different side of things, so I Appreciate your comments very much.


  16. Dee says:

    Informative and entertaining, Charlene! I wonder, if Cuba Libre Conspiracies took place today, would it then have to be entitled Mojito Conspiracies, losing the opportunity for the alliterative title? Looking forward to reading it as well as Illusive Inheritance (am I “detecting” a pattern).

    Interesting to me was your description of your revision process. Back in the olden days as an undergraduate English major, I had to write a lot of papers. I did my cutting, more cutting, and reorganizing with scissors on my living room floor, rearranging and inserting. At some point, usually late in the process, my pet cat Geisha would pounce, scattering my carefully placed scraps of paper.

    Also I am curious about the selection of your new spiral and purse notebooks. Is it as laborious as your revision process? But we can have that discussion another time!


    • Hi Dee! You’re making me laugh. Aw–so well I remember the scraps of papers all over the floor containing my labored efforts to impress my college professors. I’d panic when there would be only an inch left of Scotch tape but I still had miles of cut pages without a home. We’re showing our pre-computer age here. Heaven help me, today I wouldn’t survive without my spellchecker. Thanks for dropping in and reading my post.


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