Interview with Bruce Cook

As a huge fan of Blood Harvest, I’m happy to see Marshal Lawe return to print in Tommy Gun Tango. Will this book take on the point of view of other characters as Blood Harvest did? Any animal POV’s?

It’s so nice of you to interview me, Jackie—thank you! And I am happy that you are a fan of Blood Harvest.
Yes, I am once again using multiple first person points of view in Tommy Gun Tango. That was an experiment in Blood Harvest, and I found I really enjoyed the process. I am sticking with fewer points of view this time around—four people, instead of six humans and two animals. By the way, I borrowed this idea of contradictory/contrasting first person POVs from the Japanese film Rashomon, by Akira Kurasawa.

I greatly enjoyed writing from the point of view of a dog and a crow last time, and some of my readers found it amusing and entertaining. But that choice—to write as an animal some of the time—caused a tremendous split among readers and reviewers. They tended to love or hate the book based on that criterion. I decided to forgo that technique this time around—and besides, Marshal Lawe has moved across the country by car in 1932. His police dog Chief had already passed on to the Great Hunt in the sky.

This story begins with the POV of Marshal Lawe. We then see things from the POV of his serious girlfriend, Gladys, who lost her diner back in Massachusetts and moved to be with family in Los Angeles. We also hear from Jackie Sue, the sexually precocious and ambitious 13 year old from Blood Harvest. She is now 16 and is working as an actress in Hollywood. The final voice is a new character, Al Haine, a handsome Irish gangster, con man, and smooth talker. (Side note: Al Haine is the grandfather of Sam Haine, the lead character in my first novel, Philippine Fever.)

For Tommy Gun Tango, Bruce Cook collaborated with alter ego Brant Randall. What did each self bring to the process?

The Bruce Cook side of me is a scientist and mathematician by training. I worked on the Apollo Project in the 70’s as a laser physicist, before becoming a film maker. Bruce tries to be a close observer and factual reporter.

Brant Randall is the story teller, memory-keeper, spinner of tall tales, researcher of times past and customs vanished. He grew from my work in Hollywood as a screenwriter, director, cameraman, film editor, and sound designer.

You have two very different protagonists in your novels—Marshal Ichabod Lawe and ATF Agent Sam Haine. Do you find it difficult to move between their mindsets? And do you ever work on both series at the same time?

I have written 30 screenplays, none of them sequels to each other. I do not find it difficult to invent new characters. None of them are myself—but they all have aspects of my personality.

This is seasoned with the traits of my friends, family, co-workers, passersby, and enemies.
I haven’t worked on both series at the same time, but I don’t see that it would be a problem. I see it in much the same way as when you move from workplace to home to church to public space—you display different aspects of your personality. When I move from contemporary times to the past I switch attitudes and mores to match the setting.

In Tommy Gun Tango, you take on a real person, actress Jean Harlow, and an incident in her life—the death of her second husband, Paul Bern. This had to be intimidating. How did you approach your research, and were you nervous about upsetting Harlow fans?

I read plenty (and there is plenty to read!), re-watched her films, talked to film buffs—just immersed myself in Hollywood of the 1920s and 30s. I enjoy research, so it was fun, not intimidating.

I perused news accounts of the death of Paul Bern. I was able to get hold of some court transcripts. I found late-life memoirs of people involved with Harlow, Bern, and MGM. I read the gossip sheets from the era. The material was fascinating and contradictory. Bit by bit a pattern emerged (to my eye, at least) of Hollywood studio cover-ups of crimes by stars and producers. The police and city officials were complicit in these cover-ups. From all this data I drew my own (reasonable, I think) conclusions about Bern’s death.

You seem so comfortable writing “outside the box”, whether it’s placing your story on foreign soil in Philippine Fever or traveling back in time for Tommy Gun Tango. I know you lived in the Phillipines, but you certainly weren’t around when Blood Harvest took place in the 20’s. Is this simply great imagination? Painstaking research? Magic?

I’ll pick research and magic.

Seriously, I read accounts of the times written by many different voices. And then I interviewed people who were alive during those times and let their memories flesh out my vision of the past. I also found fabulous visual and audio resources. I was greatly aided by fiction films and documentaries made during that era. The internet and Netflix are wonderful tools.

You are also a teacher. Do you think this impacts your writing and how?

Yes, indeed. I constantly try to improve my teaching—which I see as the process of getting ideas and information from my mind to the mind of the student. And of course that is the same task that an author faces. Sometimes techniques from the craft of writing change the way I teach—and other times the tricks I have learned as a teacher work just as well on paper.

Among your former students are Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons), actor Laurence Fishburne, six Academy Award nominees and winners, and twelve Emmy nominees and winners. You obviously have something important to say to artists. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
The difficult thing is to develop a voice and world view that is your own—recognizable to others so that they can identify with it, but quirky (or twisted or off-kilter or…) enough to force the reader to see things freshly. The writer is a storyteller first of all, a conservator and purveyor of the culture—but if he/she isn’t also an innovator, then the story is old and formulaic, not worth the reader’s trouble.

I have to ask. You used the names of people you know in Tommy Gun Tango. (Including our own Gayle Pool and Jackie Houchin.) Are you careful to be complimentary when you do this?

I asked permission first to name characters after these fellow authors, and told them briefly what kind of character each would be. Once I had written a substantial passage that included them I sent it to them to vet. If either had been offended or homicidal about her portrayal I would change the character name to Jackie Vick.

My buddy Robert Fate also shows up in this book and other friends and family have been used as well. It’s meant to be fun—so if it’s not, I don’t do it.
What’s next on Bruce and Brant’s agenda?

Well….Bruce is writing a textbook on screenwriting just now. When that is out the door Bruce and Brant are going to collaborate once again. The next book is set in contemporary Los Angeles and features a number of ancient gods, mythical characters, and other immortals of waning power and influence. They all are trying to break into show biz to re-establish their identities in popular culture and regain solidity in the Jungian world-mind. The book will be called Nasté, Brutus, and Shorte.

And yes, there will be animals: Odin’s talking ravens, Hugyn (Thought) and Mugyn (Memory), for those of Scandinavian inclination.

You can order the book by clicking on the cover. You can also visit Bruce online.

Review of Bruce Cook’s Books

Dancing with the Stars

A Review by GB Pool

Great atmosphere shares center stage with a cast of memorable characters whose lives are intertwined in this fascinating tale of the dark side of old Hollywood.

Tommy Gun Tango, co-written by Bruce Cook and Brant Randall, brings back several characters from Randall’s Blood Harvest, an equally entertaining story set against a backdrop of the KKK in Massachusetts. And readers of Cook’s first novel will recognize a name that might be a relative of his hero in Philippine Fever, Cook’s adventure story set in the steaming back streets of Manila.

Utilizing multiple points of view, one per chapter, each character starts out by explaining where they came from and about the skeletons in their closets. First is Marshal Lawe, an out-of-work constable from a podunk town called Peony Springs in rural Massachusetts. His little town pretty well dried up and blew away, so he headed west to the Golden State.

Along a deserted highway one night, Lawe sideswipes a hitchhiker who ends up completing the journey with him to the land of milk and honey. This is the Depression, 1932, and everything looks better on the other side of the tracks.

The guy Lawe hits is Al Haine, a two-fisted Irishman who uses one fist to fight and the other to gamble. He is good at both. Talk about the luck of the Irish. Al manages to secure a few extra bucks on their journey to the coast. He never mentions the bruised bodies he leaves in his wake.

Once in Hollywood, Lawe gets himself a job in the movies as an extra. His credentials lead him to a security job for one of the big studios. Al tries his luck at the dog track. He does well and soon moves with a faster, more dangerous crowd.

Laced throughout the opening section of the story are tasty little tidbits ripped from the headlines of the newspapers of the day. Stories like the Fatty Arbuckle scandal and the mysterious death of William Desmond Taylor. Each tale shows how the studio heads deal with moral turpitude and the threat to their box office receipts along with their willing accomplices in law enforcement.

Another character who graces the pages is Gladys Alwyn. When the war broke out she left Virginia and turned tricks in New York City before saving up enough money to buy a diner in Peony Springs. She hid her past and became romantically linked with Marshal Lawe, but when the economy turned south, she headed for Los Angeles. She had relatives there. She took with her another, darker, secret that she figured would ruin any further notions about making any permanent plans with Lawe.

Al Haine’s tempestuous past was filled with rapid departures, usually when a dead body turned up. His anarchist tendencies finally landed him in America from Ireland where trouble kept finding him. Once in Los Angeles, he sought to improve his lot in life and ended up working at one of the studios as a dancer in a gangster musical. His dancing partner, Gayle, a gorgeous blonde, is a kid with ambition, but this little number plays by different rules.

Gayle wants to get out of the chorus line and into better things. She is a Jean Harlow look-alike who wants to parlay her considerable assets into a sizable career. The young woman (really young, try sixteen) ran away from her hometown, Peony Springs no less, changed her name to a high-toned hyphenated British derivative and, with a doctored birth certificate that places her outside the statutory range, works every angle to get ahead. She meets Al who likes all her angles. They decide to pool their resources and take Hollywood by storm. But they have no idea what kind of storm is brewing.

So everybody is now in Los Angeles, and a particular Hollywood death draws each into a soul-searching nightmare. Tommy Gun Tango is filled with spot-on atmosphere and terrific characters. Any fan of the movies from the 1930s will be instantly transported to an old black and white movie, so bring the popcorn.

A fast and fun read. My only complaint: I wanted it to last longer. The characters are so well drawn, I wanted to see more of them. But the authors left a few doors open, so there just might be more adventures in Hollywoodland.

Published by Capital Crime Press, $14.95.

Blood Harvest
By Brant Randall
Capital Crime Press, May 2008, $19.95

Review by Jackie Houchin

Reminiscent of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Blood Harvest is the chilling tale of hatred, racism and violence spread by the Ku Klux Klan, not in the South, but in New England in the early part of the last century. It’s the story of two rival bootlegging families, related by marriage but separated by prejudice.

Years earlier, the youngest MacKay daughter defied her family and ran off with Nick DeCosta, a detested, “non-white European.” They had a son, Angus, who ran wild as a teenager. One day the boy showed up at a church social where he found young Jackie Sue MacKay ripe for picking.

Her cousin discovered them under a rhododendron bush, and pulled Angus out by the ear. The MacKay men folk thrashed him and tossed him off a bridge, breaking his leg and nearly killing him.

About that time Nick came looking for his boy, saw him in the riverbed, and opened fire on the MacKay men, injuring several. He was arrested and charged with attempted murder. What follows is a trial with little hope of justice.

What makes this book a pleasure to read, and re-read, is Randall’s unique voice. He relates the story of the trial, the lynching and a bizarre revenge murder through the eyes of nine colorful viewpoint characters – including a dog and a crow – and it’s perfectly believable. His back-woodsy dialects ring true, and his animal-speak is mesmerizing. The mystery is well-plotted and absorbing, his writing is fresh, but it’s the characters that sell this one.

Building a Platform – Day 3

Day #3

Get yourself plastered…all over the Internet. Create a Web presence with a website, blog, My Space, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin – so people can find you. Even before you send out your first manuscript, create a website, preferably with your name in the title. http://www.agathapenwrite.com/ will draw more people to you than http://www.im-a-greatwriter.com/. Unless “Great Writer” will be your pen name, use your real name. You are selling “you” out there. You are the product. And you want people to buy “you.” You want people to pick up a book with your name on it, recognize your name, and pay real money for that book. You want people to say, “Oh, Agatha Penwrite wrote this. It will be good.”

Sign on to Twitter, find people you know, other writers, old classmates, old boyfriends, ask them to follow you. Then map your writing quest. Using those 140 characters, let people know that you finished the first draft of your new book, you joined a writer’s group, you sent query letters, that you got some bites. Put a few notes on My Space about who you are. Remember you already discovered the “real you” in the first bullet point in this series. Now it’s time to get your name out there.

While you are signing up for all the websites, get someone to take a good picture of you to post on the site. People want to know what you look like. The generic silhouette they use when you have “no picture available” says you don’t know who you are yet. If you are nervous about having a picture taken, rent a nice looking dog and hold him up next to you. You are putting your name and face out there so people will know who you are. Get that picture on your website and all those other sites. No time for being shy. And your publisher will love you for advertising the product (you) out there in cyberspace.

Interview with M.M. Gornell

Madeline Gornell took on the psuedomym of M.M. when she thought that her protagonist was going to be a man. The characters refused to cooperate, and her protagonists so far have been women.

Author is a lifetime lover of mysteries of all types, and her favorite novelist is P. D. James. Besides reading and writing, she is an avid gardener–with a fondness for roses and fruit trees, and a potter particularly interested in the high-fire reduction process. A long time resident in the Pacific Northwest’s Puget Sound, she now lives with her husband and assorted canines in California’s high-desert.

You are known for creating an additional character out of your locations; the depth of detail and your word choices bring them to life. Is this an intentional attention to detail on your part, or are you in love with the locations that you write about?

Locations are my inspiration. Inexplicably, certain spots hit a note in my being and I know something special has happened there—or should happen in one of my novels!

In fact, different places I’ve visited, or even just seen in passing from an auto window, talk to me. I know we’re supposed to only have five senses, but there’s something more that speaks to my imagination. In that respect, location is definitely an additional “character” and has a strong influence on my plot and protagonist’s decisions.

The hard part (no surprise), is bringing life to the location for my readers. The key I think is “experiencing” the place through my protagonist’s responses to their environment. What they see, hear, smell—and especially how the location makes them feel emotionally. My goal is for my writing to grow and improve; and this is the number one aspect of writing I want to excel in.

The book I’m finishing now, “Reticence of Ravens,” is set in a particular stretch of the Mojave Desert between Barstow and Las Vegas, and in the book’s Preface I try to explain how for me, behind almost every creosote bush, lays a tale!

You currently write standalones, such as Uncle Si’s Secret. In Death of a Perfect Man, there is a hint that Jada Beaudine has a history of helping the police, and by the end of the book, there seems to be a relationship forming between Jada and Sheriff Josia Rhodes, and maybe even investigator Lyle Elliot. While it’s a fantastic idea to leave the readers feeling as if these character’s lives will go on, are you ever tempted to continue with a series?

Not yet. Part of that I think, is because somewhere in my writing-psyche, I like leaving a few loose ends. That’s probably a literary “no-no.” I also believe life is a stream of endless possibilities. There’s always options, different paths, “what if” directions to take—not only for me, but for my characters. For now, I’m leaving Jada, Josia, and Lyle’s future destinies hanging—with many wonderful possibilities.
A bigger reason why I haven’t leaned toward sequels yet is there are still so many places, and so many different characters hanging around in my imagination—jockeying for their chance at coming alive.

The coast and the desert have featured in your books. Are there other locations you would like to cover in your writing? Is there a favorite spot that speaks to you?

Oh yes! Many locations have beckoned, and their accompanying tales are rattling around in my head. To name a few— a particular view of Lake Michigan from the 18th floor of a Michigan Avenue condominium in Chicago, a spot on Highway 58 as you drive up to Tehachapi, California from Bakersfield, a wonderful Thai restaurant tucked away on a downtown backstreet in Montreal, a stretch of two-lane highway heading south from Hoover Dam to Kingman in Nevada, a small bungalow on the side of the hill in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, a particular Route-66 marker in Newberry Springs, California—the list goes on.

However, I’m not one of those lucky writers that can survive on four hours sleep, or once writing never stop to eat or drink—or water the plants, feed the animals, etc. I need at least eight hours sleep every night, nothing stops me from getting hungry, and I’m easily distracted. Consequently, I’m a slow writer. And all those characters in my head are getting impatient for their turn!

What kind of writing schedule do you adhere to?

I’ve failed miserably at establishing a daily writing routine. But I do physically write (word process) everyday. And I think my unconscious is always engaged in writing. I haven’t given up, however, on a more structured routine. Among the “endless possibilities” ahead for me, is successfully adhering to a schedule.

From Irena –the strange and psychic owner of the Red Rock Inn and Cafe– to Manny the cook, your supporting characters are unique and detailed. Do you sketch out all of your characters before writing or discover them along the way?

Both. I outline my plots, and complete detailed character descriptions as part of that outline—including their appearance, life philosophies, emotional baggage, and motivators. For me, those psychological aspects are plot drivers, and determine my character’s choices when confronted with adversity.

Once I’m into my story, I forget the outline, and more often than not, make many plot changes. New events and twists develop, and my characters make decisions that I hadn’t initially envisioned. However, without my original roadmap (outline), I’d be lost.

What’s next for M.M. Gornell?

My immediate goal is to finish “Reticence of Ravens.” My protagonist in this book is male, and more morose than Bella (“Uncle Si’s Secret”), or Jada. Hugh James Champion III is a Psychologist on the verge of a mental “something” himself, and has to confront murder, the daunting Mojave Desert, several villains (past and present), a possible desire for a relationship, and a haunting past failure. The inspiration for this tale was a semi-defunct mini-mart at an I-15 exit. In my novel, I call the place Joey’s. And yes, the location and the seemingly omniscient ravens that hang around are “characters”. I’ve also recently discovered I enjoy reviewing books of authors I’ve met.

Vying for my writing and reviewing time is getting smart (and eventually becoming successful) in promoting my novels. For me, writing is fun, promotion is hard work! Part of that is because I’m so new at it. Most fortunately, (and I really mean this), the Associations I’ve joined, and the wonderful authors I’ve met, have been generous guides. They’ve helped me in more ways than I can possibly explain.

You can visit Madaline at her website or blog. Her book is available in bookstores and on Amazon by clicking on the bookcover to the right. It’s also available on Kindle.







Death of a Perfect Man

Death of a Perfect Man by M.M. Gornell

When Jada Beaudine takes a wrong turn in the Mojave high desert, her life is about to change. Will it be for the better?

Before she knows it, Jada is caught up in a bizarre murder. A local pottery instructor is found murdered in his classroom, which is a short walk away from her room at the Red Rock Inn and Cafe. She could walk away, but she’s drawn to the people who live at the inn as well as the pottery students who reside in the surrounding city.

The unsettling Irina, owner of the inn, seems able to read Jada’s mind. The fabulous cook Manny must have his reasons for staying in such a deserted place. Are they innocent reasons? Even
Chief of Police Josia Rhodes has complex depths that tie him to the suspects.

Who murdered the art instructor and why? Why is Jada being followed? And how does this all tie in with her husband Terry’s death?

M.M. Gornell weaves a tapestry of words that brings the setting to life. The desert heat and dust will pop off the page and envelop the reader. At the startling conclusion of this novel, the reader will feel as if she is just returning from an actual visit to Red Rock City.

Building a Platform – Day 2

Day #2

What makes you so special? Okay, you have taken inventory of yourself. You know what you want to write, maybe even what you like to read, and you have some special skills that give you credibility and perhaps an audience down the line. So what makes you different from every other author out there?

Say you like mysteries with a food theme: chef/sleuth, caterer/sleuth, food critic/sleuth. There are other books out there with those characters. Jerilynn Farmer (Perfect Sax) writes a mystery series about a caterer who gets caught up in crime. Mysteries are notorious for having food-related themes. Amateur sleuths are constantly eating in their books. (They should all be fifty pounds overweight.) What makes your Ginsu knife-wielding sleuth more interesting than the others?

Knowing the answer to this can be the biggest selling point for your work.

When an agent says, “Yeah, you write well, but there are a hundred chef/sleuths out there.” What are you going to tell him or her that makes your guy or gal sleuth unique? If you are Oprah’s personal chef, boy do you have an in. If you cooked twenty years in the army, you just might have an edge. If your sleuth is a Martian with the best quiche recipe in the Solar System…You get the idea.

So, what makes your sleuth different? Have that answer at your fingertips before you submit your first manuscript. And consider using the same technique screenwriters use to sell a script: the high concept idea. Have a short, pithy term to describe your main character. Maybe you have a blind chef, or a wisecracking Yenta chef, or a bi-polar chef. Make it memorable and you just might have a winner.

My series character, Gin Caulfield, a former private detective who gets back in the business, is a middle-aged woman. Her catch phrase: Still Packing Heat. I have a 12 x 17 in magnetic sign on my car with Gin Caulfield Mysteries/Still Packing Heat in red and black letters with a picture of a pair of red high heels on it. I am a driving bulletin board. People stop me and ask about the sign. It’s (almost) free advertising.

A young orphaned girl who survives an attack on her village, a divorced professional whose terminally ill ex-husband is gay, a private investigator struggling to overcome gunshot wounds and an addiction to pain killers, a child princess lost in a forest with only a wolf for protection, a trio of woman who drive each other crazy: How did you all come up with your protagonists?

***********************************************************

Jackie Houchin

Back in the Olden Days (okay, well, maybe 15 years ago), two friends and myself made it a habit to have lunch together once or twice a month after a Tuesday Bible study class. Our choices of eateries were eclectic, but our companionship was always fun and supportive.

Although we were different in either age or inclination, we had a jolly good time sharing jokes, heartaches, experiences and wishful thinking.

Joyce, older and more importantly, a woman of “The Old School,” was very modest even though she’d been a “looker” in her youth. She regaled us with hilarious (to us) stories of how she’d be “accosted” by leering men as she rode the bus to work in downtown LA.

We got to teasing her about being molested as a child, just to see her horrified response. (Okay, I know that is not funny, but her affront was!) She became Celeste, the older of my trio of sisters in “Sister Secrets;” the one who helps abused women in her legal practice, while fighting her own deep terror of men.

Rita battled weight-gain problems and yet often gave in to rich, hi-calorie choices when we ordered lunch. She also “confessed” a near-uncontrollable chocolate craving and sometimes whispered (as we leaned in close) the ways she indulged that addiction.

She also had a tender heart for kids and neighbors with problems. Rita became the needy but nurturing, finger nail biting, self-indulging but sweet, middle sister, Helena.

The third sister, Evangeline had to be me. (Jacqueline=Evangeline…get it?) She is a professional photographer, a bit naive, and an “incurable romantic,” which often gets me…er, I mean…her into trouble.

From this foundation of close friends, it was easy to expand on personalities, problems, pasts & passions, and … well-kept “secrets,” for the protagonists in my novel.

***

MK Johnston

It’s a funny story, really.

When I was a child, my mother would tell me stories about her life and her family. She’d repeat them so often I began to tune them out. After she passed away, though, some of those stories began to re-circulate in my brain, especially the one about how my grandmother, a five year old girl living in a late 19th century Russian shtetl (peasant village), went to the nearby river to wash laundry. She returned to discover her village has been destroyed in a pogrom that killed many villagers, including her parents.

My imagination took over and a story emerged.

Although my work was fiction, I clung to the factual part that launched my novel. I can recall arguing with my writers group over my protagonist’s age; they insisted she needed to be at least eight, and I countered that, although it defied belief that a five year old could do what she did, it really happened. Eventually I bumped her age up to six going on seven, but not without a fight.

Now here’s the funny part.

I visited my aunt – my mother’s sister – just after I finished my first draft and told her about my novel. When she seemed confused, I repeated the story about her mother, which my mother had told me countless times. I will never forget her response.

“That never happened.”

She then told me the real story about my grandmother, with such detail and clarity that I knew it had to be true. I went home and immediately changed my protagonist’s age to eight.

Would I have written my novel had I known the truth about my grandmother? Probably not. The actual story, while interesting, didn’t move me in the way my mother’s version did.

I always planned to dedicate the book to the woman who inspired it. For years, I thought it was my grandmother, but now I know the truth.

***

Bonnie Schroeder

I actually knew a woman whose husband left her for a man – about the time she learned she was pregnant. This was a smart, pretty, successful woman. I’d met her husband, and they seemed like a pretty solid couple. You just never know.

Anyway, I got to thinking about her situation and how I’d feel in her shoes – I’d probably want to murder the jerk. I’d stayed friends with my own ex-husband, too, and I wondered how I’d feel if he came down with a terminal illness.

The physical prototype for Susan was a business associate whom I admired – a tall woman with masses of curly black hair who once remarked that her size (and she wasn’t overweight or anything, just big) had colored her whole outlook on life. Anyway, these elements all converged to create Susan Krajewski.

The last name, BTW, came from another business associate, a guy who lamented about the mispronunciations of his name. I decided to saddle Susan with it as a token of her connection to her ex-husband – the fact that she kept his surname despite the obvious inconvenience.

***

Jacqueline Vick

Family. Lots and lots of family. That’s the secret to my characters. I come from a line of Lithuanian/Luxembourg/French immigrants, a good Catholic family with 13 children including my father, the oldest. Most of them are married with children, and some of those children have children. My family is a wealth of human eccentricities.

There’s the uncle with nine lives. He’s almost burned alive trying to escape a bonfire he set, fallen off a glass roof while shoveling snow, and come this close to electrocuting the entire family. And that was on Monday.

I have Chinese relations, Japanese/Filipino relations, Mexican relations. At any moment, I can draw on The Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Y.

And then there’s my Mother’s side of the family. Proud English/Irish/Scottish/Dutch descendants of those who arrived shortly after the Pilgrims. There’s a historic site in PA, The Harlow Old Fort House, that was built by one of my distant relations in 1677–Sgt. William Harlow. (I’ve named a character after that side of the family.)

My Grandfather was a Protestant and a Mason; my Grandmother was Catholic. His mother wore black to the wedding.

I have a picture of five gorgeous Irishmen, my grandmother’s brothers. I have the great uncle who never swore because it was lazy. (There are so many more interesting words in the English language, he said.) There was even a publisher in the family. Alas, he was before my time.

All I have to do is dig into the family pool and I can come up with characters who will hopefully delight readers for years to come.

***

GB Pool

Where do these characters come from?

The final version of the character, Gin Caulfield, the private detective in my current mystery series, came from reworking clay I had been painstakingly molding for several years. But her original incarnation came from something my husband, Richard, said.

I had been working on a spy trilogy for many years, but agents and publishers weren’t interested in the ponderously long tomes. That’s when my dear husband uttered the words: “You used to be a detective. Why don’t you write a detective novel?”

I knew the guy was smart, but he’s also brilliant.

So I started writing a series about a former P.I. who gets back in the business. I fashioned Ginger after myself, and her husband, Fred, after Richard. Fred and Ginger were going to be a modern-day Nick and Nora Charles eventually (book number three) with Nora the pro and Nick the seat-of-your-pants type of detective.

But then I got an agent and she had other ideas. I wanted Ginger to be “over fifty and still packing heat.” My agent put on the brakes and said, “No, no, no. That’s too old. Publishers want younger protagonists.” So I hid Ginger’s age and continued my rewriting. Then my agent said she had to have a flaw or something that makes her edgy. I had her more of a female Dick Francis character…and I liked her that way. After all, she was based on me.

Okay, so I’m a little vanilla. So I rethought Ginger’s personality. First, I started calling her “Gin.” That changed everything. She was tougher (though I’m an NRA Life Member), she had attitude (I know every four-letter word there is, but usually keep that reserved for private rants), and she was shot in the back and left for dead a few years before the opening on the latest book, Hedge Bet.

That last little tidbit set her apart from me and let her have a life of her own. Now she can have a little drug dependence in her past, a dark side every now and then. It was good for both of us. We will still consult over a good martini. I didn’t come up with the name “Gin” for nothing.