Tag Archives: Story Behind the Story

The Story Behind the Story: The Grain Merchant by Zara Altair

Most often, the mystery stories we read are set in a contemporary world, except perhaps in a place we don’t know so well. Their detectives are marked by their similarity to or difference from us. Zara Altair, however, has created a protagonist who lives much longer ago and farther away than mid-twentieth-century Los Angeles or Cabot Cove. How does that sort of hero come to be? How different are his life and the murders he must solve from what is ordinary to us? Zara Altair has built her world in Ostrogoth Italy of 512 CE, with habits, relationships, and politics that are fascinating — and so different from what we know.

What’s the theme behind your story?

Murder and politics in a small town in ancient Italy. 

What’s the logline?

In a small town in Italy in 512 CE, a Roman patrician must solve a murder and quell civil unrest while local politicians plot to stop him. He can trust no one as he tries to discover the murderer. 

Meet Argolicus the Roman patrician who thinks his way to finding a killer.

What were you thinking about or what was happening when the idea occurred to you?

I wanted our hero, Argolicus, to stop living with his mother. I moved him to the family’s domus in town, which would pull him back into politics, which he doesn’t like.

How did the original idea change as you went along?

Two major changes happened as I was writing. At the beginning, Argolicus meets a woman whom his mother has set up as his potential bride. I knew that they wouldn’t marry, but as I was writing, she and his best friend fall in love at first sight. That was a surprise. 

As the antagonist and opponents close in, Argolicus’s mixed birth—Roman and Ostrogoth—becomes a big issue. Opponents imply that he is not only the wrong man to save the town, but is conspiring with the Ostrogoth king to destroy Roman tradition. 

How did you conceive of your characters for this story and how did they change?

Argolicus leaped off the page when I was reading the Variae by Cassiodorus. I was doing background research on Theodoric’s rule in Italy. Argolicus was a real person at the time of Theodoric’s reign in Italy. He is mentioned nine times in Cassiodorus’ Variae (iii 11, iii 12, iii 29, iii 30, iii 33, iv 22, iv 25, iv 29, iv 42) as praefectus urbis of Rome. His childhood and ongoing friendship with Cassiodorus and Ostrogoth neighbor Ebrimuth come from my imagination as well as his retirement in the very southern tip of Italy, the setting for the mystery series.

Argolicus is a learned man who turns detective at the bidding of friends and neighbors who know him as trustworthy, wise, and fair. His tools are the logic of Aristotle, the self-restraint of Epictetus, the theology of ArDomhnall Gleesonius, and the empirical insights of Marcus Aurelius, all sharpened to an edge by ferocious curiosity. He collects evidence, deciphers politics, and digs into the deepest secrets of the human heart.

Proba is a new character created for this book. I have women friends who are geeks. I wanted a strong female character who was good at math. I wanted her to be realistic for her time and culture, but with skills not normally attributed to women at that point in history. She keeps track of her father, the grain merchant’s, transactions, so she is in the culture but with an unusual role. 

Are you pleased with the results, or do you wish you had done anything differently in the story? Why or why not?

Every writer feels they could do better. We are always learning and improving our craft. Overall, I am pleased with the story. Argolicus makes a new friend, reconsiders his position in society, and, of course, discovers the killer. 

Who would play your leads in the movie if (when!) you make a deal? 

Argolicus would be played by Domhnall Gleeson; Nikolaos, his slave tutor, by James McAvoy; Proba, the daughter, by Ashley Rickards; and Ebrimuth, Argolicus’s friend, by Kyle Lowder. 

Bio

Zara Altair writes traditional mysteries set in Ostrogoth Italy featuring Argolicus, the Roman patrician who thinks his way to finding a killer. The Argolicus Mysteries are The Roman Heir, The Used Virgin, The Peach Widow, and The Vellum Scribe, with more on the way. A mystery lover since childhood, she has written about writing for a number of publications, including ProWritingAid and International Thriller Writer, and is a member of Sisters in Crime. She lives in Beaverton, OR, where she reads, walks among trees, and shares space with a cat. She coaches mystery writers at Write A Killer Mystery. To join her mailing list, visit http://bit.ly/ArgolicusReads.

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Story Behind the Story: Coming Home by Carmen Cook

What’s the theme behind your story?

Friendship and redemption. All my stories seem to have underlying “The family you make” theme, and that’s definitely part of Coming Home as well. But more, it’s about having the ability to recreate yourself, no matter the circumstances.

What’s the logline?

Unexpected Risks. Unconditional Love.

What were you thinking about or what was happening when the idea occurred to you?

Coming Home, which brings a music superstar back home to rediscover her roots and love, is the next novel in Carmen Cook’s Sapphire Creek series.

These characters have been lingering with me for a long time — through several other books, but remaining in the background. I’d been thinking about what would get Erin Chase to stop touring and spend some solid time in Sapphire Creek rather than any of her other homes around the world. She needed to be wounded in a way that Sapphire Creek was the only place she would want to be. And then there’s no-nonsense Zach, who has a habit of fixing everything for everyone around him. What in the world would he do with this superstar who doesn’t want to be fixed? With someone who makes their living making music, when he’s hiding the secret that his hearing has been damaged. They’re so similar in some ways, but face life in completely different ways. It’s been fun to play with that part of each of them.

How did the original idea change as you went along?

The subplot of the drugs in the small town of Sapphire Creek starting in book 1, Coming in Hot. I hadn’t really planned on focusing so much on it, but readers really want that plotline to be tied up. They want to know who the villain is, so even though I knew, I needed to start thinking of a way to incorporate that more heavily into the story (which led to a couple of short stories as well, so I could set up the needed characters).

How did you conceive of your characters for this story and how did they change?

Both Erin and Zach were introduced in earlier stories. Erin, specifically, has changed the most because her entire world was flipped on his head after the bus crash made her question everything in her life. That was pretty obvious and external. Zach has changed a little more subtly. Partly because he hasn’t been around the cast of characters as often so everyone is getting to know him again.

Are you pleased with the results, or do you wish you had done anything differently in the story?

Why or why not? I am pleased with the results. As I mentioned earlier, the path to this story shifted quite a bit, and toss in a global pandemic that threw off my writing schedule, I’m very pleased with how the story shaped up.

Who would play your leads in the movie if (when!) you make a deal?

Oh gosh, that’s a hard question. I loosely modeled Erin after Carrie Underwood. For Zach…maybe a scruffed-up Justin Theroux.

What else do you want readers to know?

I do live readings on Instagram each Sunday at 10 am Pacific, featuring excerpts of different authors’ stories. I call it Revenge Garden Readings (or Readings from the Revenge Garden — I go back and forth) and have an IGTV channel featuring these readings. Early on in the pandemic, I was looking for a way to connect with readers and other authors and decided to (virtually) invite everyone to hang out in the garden with me. It’s been so much fun, and I’d love to have everyone join me. You can find me at https://www.instagram.com/carmencook_/

Bio

Carmen Cook grew up in Montana, riding horses and dreaming of life beyond the mountains. As soon as she could, she started traveling, heading across the country for college before backpacking through Europe. She then moved to the Pacific Northwest, where she promptly threw down some pretty deep roots by getting married and having kids. It wasn’t long before her imagination started running away with her and she began to write. Each Sunday she hosts Readings from the Revenge Garden on IGTV. Follow #ReadingsFromTheRevengeGarden to stay up to date on all the readings and featured authors.

Visit www.carmencooknovels.com to sign up for her newsletter to keep in touch.

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Story Behind the Story: Aedyn Brooks and Dead Reckoning, Grave Intentions Series, Book 1


When I first wanted to introduce the Story Behind the Story post series, I was aware that sometimes the story itself springs forth in its entirety from a dream, a conversation, or even an image. And sometimes it comes from life, truly a “write what you know” situation. In Aedyn Brooks’s case, the story had its origins from a terrifying home life and learning how to cope with it. (I have to state at this point that I was the copy editor for this story, so I got to be an early observer of this fight of good against evil!)

Cover of Dead Reckoning by Aedyn Brooks

What’s the theme behind your story?

We’re often told “write what you know” when you first start writing. There are many good reasons for this philosophy, but mostly because it’s easier to write about things you’re familiar with than those things you don’t know and require research. 

I grew up in a very abusive home that not only spanned generations but held the belief that elders would always have the right to abuse younger generations. Most of my abusers are long dead. I never had a chance to have a critical conversation with them and ask them why me? Why did they feel they had the right to abuse me, and keep abusing me for most of my life? Out of the blue, about ten years ago, one of my abusers called me to tell me he was working through the 12-step substance abuse program and one of those steps is making amends with your past. He apologized and asked for my forgiveness. A lifetime of healing held in two little words: I’m sorry. He went on to explain how he’d been abused by other family members. Not that it excused his behavior, but sadly, it normalized it. He thought that was what was expected of him. Each generation continued this cycle—and my family wasn’t alone in this mentality or behavior. I found numerous news articles to validate that this is a silent, systemic issue throughout America, and possibly the world. I can’t say it loud enough that victims need to speak up and speak out—even through the threats. Abusers threaten, punish, and hurt their victims. It’s how they control them. It certainly was how I was controlled.

I can speak easily of the abuse I went through only because of the professional help I received. I’ll never be one hundred percent healed because we can’t change the past. What we can do is get to a place where the past doesn’t cripple daily function, dictate our future, and doesn’t limit our success.

What’s the logline?

Even the dead deserve justice.

What were you thinking about or what was happening when the idea occurred to you?

Other than abuse, I wanted to explore the issue of abandonment and how that can manifest in us as adults. My father was my only caregiver, having been abandoned by my mother when I was two weeks old. Unfortunately, he died in a logging accident when I was three. Children learn trust between the ages of three and four. My life was in incredible turmoil at that age and I still struggle with trust today, partly because abused children learn never to rely on others, and partly because where trust should have been developed in my brain, never happened. My older brother and I were passed around from relative to relative on my father’s side—each fighting for custody. For various reasons they were denied, but ultimately, my mother won custody. Why she fought for custody of us was never explained. Almost daily she mentioned how much she hated children, and we wore the brunt of her displeasure and anger. 

In Dead Reckoning, part of Sojourner “Joni” Smith’s backstory is that she suffers a severe injury and has amnesia. She wonders if her family misses her and is left feeling abandoned when no one steps forward to claim her as a missing person. Though it doesn’t stop her from forming strong relationships that become like family because unlike me, she also doesn’t have the baggage in her past to taint her future. There are days I wished that for myself. 

How did the original idea change as you went along?

When I write my rough drafts I throw in all the nitty-gritty evil details. In Dead Reckoning, I wrote Elsabeth’s rape scene by her family members, and a whole scene of how she died. I was able to put words to my own pain and that was cathartic for me to write. However, no one wants to read that in a romance. Also, it wasn’t needed to discuss the essence of what she’d suffered. I also didn’t want to trigger readers, given that one in four women have been raped in America. No one needs that when they’re reading for enjoyment. 

How did you conceive of your characters for this story and how did they change?

My character development is a whole process in itself. I knew that I wanted to write Joni but finding her a comparable hero took a bit of work. I use astrology and tarot to give depth to my characters and then study negative and positive traits from there. I also study professions and see how that can taint and develop someone into who they are. I also love developing complex belief systems, family dynamics, etc. I do a ton of upfront work on my hero, heroines, and villains. Most of it’s never put on the page, but I feel I know my characters well by the time I write their story.

Are you pleased with the results, or do you wish you had done anything differently in the story? Why or why not?

I cut the crap—or hope I did. LOL! One of the questions in my beta-reader list is there a scene that wasn’t needed? None of my previewers mentioned removing any scene or chapter. I worked five years at chiseling and molding this book into a capturing what was in my head and yet a page-turner for my reader. I really like to keep the reader experience in mind when I write. 

Who would play your leads in the movie if (when!) you make a deal?

If Theo James and Alexis Bledel played Zeke and Joni I’d be over the moon! Can we sign that contract today? I can picture SyFy Channel wanting to make my books into a mini-series. A girl’s gotta dream, right?

What else do you want readers to know?

One thing I probably could communicate better is that Dead Reckoning is a complete story in itself and it’s the first book in the Grave Intentions series. The second book, Ready or Not, brings in a resurrection angel to work with the new foundation that Joni and Zeke create at the end of book one. The third book, Devil’s Due, incorporates another key player needed for the foundation to gather key psychics and gifted beings to combat evil in the world. The fourth book, Sweet Revenge, was a purely indulgent book for me to write,, and I can hardly wait to share it with my readers. It’s a cross between the reality TV shows Amazing Race and Chopped. My fictional organization is Paranormal Intelligence Foundation. (Yes, I own the URL.) This foundation will go on to help people in future books in work.

Aedyn Brooks is an award-winning author who feeds her spreadsheet-addicted psyche by day (aka data-driven ninja), and crafts wicked paranormal romances at night.

After living most of her life in haunted houses, Aedyn decided to share her terrifying, and sometimes funny, experiences with ghosts by crafting Haunted Romances in her debut, Dead Reckoning, Grave Intentions series, which launched in November 2020. One thing Aedyn learned from an early age is that the dead can be your greatest ally, especially in your darkest hours. 

She lives in the Pacific Northwest suburbia with a postage-stamp sized yard, with one of her three grown children. She enjoys spending time with family and babysitting her new granddaughter. Being a grandmother is the bestest ever!

You can also follow Aedyn on FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest (another slight addiction) @aedynbrooks, or sign up for her newsletter at aedynbrooks.com.

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Story Behind the Story: Vengeance by Anna Alexander

Sometimes the side characters in a story just demand to be the star of their own show. For Anna Alexander, it was the Daniels brothers, a pair of telepathic twins who couldn’t be more different…and more similar. Here’s the story behind them and the woman who requested her own spotlight. (I have to state at this point that I was the copy editor for this story, so I’m sort of fond of them, too!) 

Vengeance by Anna Alexanderhttps://amzn.to/2GpxlQJ

When you’re writing a series, there are characters who appear in books that you know will take the lead in another story. Sometimes it’s planned. They are there specifically to establish their place in the world and whet the reader’s appetite for their own story. The Daniels brothers were just such characters. What’s better than a hunky telepath? Two, or course! They were two sides of the same coin. Well dressed. Intelligent. One serious, the other more carefree. Or so it appeared on the surface. They enthralled me the moment they appeared in Genesis.

Then there are characters like Jameson Alinari. She was a side character, a needed plot device for Instinct. A friend and mentor for my heroine Alicia to run to in her time of need. Jameson ran a women’s shelter, and from the moment she opened the door, her appearance was a brilliant supernova on the page. It was obvious to me that there was more to her than a civil servant who helped women in need. And in my brain it was a natural progression that she would be a vigilante crimefighter. Go after the men that put the women in her care in their dire situation. Kick some ass and take names.

In Instinct, Jameson’s nighttime activities are only alluded to. But her story hovered in my conscious mind for years as I wrote other books. I hadn’t immediately paired her with the Daniels brothers. I hadn’t paired her with anyone for a long time. Then I had a vision of the opening chapter: Ethan and Ronan out in the city one night and hearing a cry of agony in their mind. They followed the sound to find a woman dressed in black and wielding a whip, torturing a man. She was my very own version of DC’s Catwoman. And again, not all was as it seemed—and from that vision the trio was formed. However, I struggled with elements of their story. You see, Vengeance included many things people told me I couldn’t write.

Vigilante crimefighters are too extreme, they told me. They’re not heroic but criminals. Stories that include women who have been victimized are in no way romantic (which, duh, they’re not supposed to be). And added to that, my hero was not one man but twins! You can’t have brothers as the hero, I was told. Especially if it’s not an erotic romance. Then it was, “You have twins? Why isn’t it an erotic romance?” 

Right. Let’s address having the twins be in a triad relationship. Since the Evolutioneers’ powers are a heightened version of their natural abilities, telepathic twins was the way to go. With their telepathy and empathy, it was almost as if they were one person. Having them be with two different women, feeling and hearing everything the other was doing, didn’t feel right. Just thinking about all those tangled emotions makes my head hurt.

Oh yes, there were many delicate lines to weave with those three. And while Jameson and the Daniels brothers’ destinies percolated in my head, I was working on the Sprawling A series and the first two books in the Evolutioneers series. In fact, Vengeance was to be the fourth, not the third, book in the series. Then 2019 happened.

The #MeToo movement and Harvey Weinstein were big stories, and I was angry. I was angry at entitled white men and a system that gave them a free pass to be assholes. Suddenly, the extreme injustices I was plotting were all too real and front-page news. My rage needed an outlet, and Jameson and her story became more important than ever to tell. 

Let me tell you. It was difficult working the romance into the story when all I really wanted was to punish men. Oh, my imagination went into the gruesome range so many times. I found myself going back and forth worrying if I was going too far or not far enough. It was a fine line between making the situations real and not exploitative. That’s when the brothers did their part and pulled me back from the dark. 

Ronan was just so laid back. Ready with a joke or a funny quip. And Ethan…well…Ethan was so intense! When he’d turn all his attention on Jameson. Woo! The man smolders. Which was another balancing act. Not just in this book but every romance novel when you have a heroine who is determined not to fall for a man’s charm, where is the line between cute guy interested in a girl and creepy stalker dude. When is he being swoonworthy and when is he being a prick? Seriously! It’s not that easy.  

For all the struggles I had writing the book, there was also immense joy. I loved writing the Crimson Angels. Those girls made me laugh many times. I’ve even been toying with the idea of turning them into a graphic novel. And I loved bringing other characters from the Evolutioneer books into the mix—Alicia, Ripley, Sheriff Lancaster. I love thinking of new animals for Ripley to shift into. And that last scene with Jameson and Lancaster on the roof of the hotel was one I knew was going to happen, but I didn’t know how. It was cathartic pouring that rage onto the page. 

Huh. Kinds sounds as if the entire book was all rage and anger, but it wasn’t really. There were moments of strength. When men allowed women to be feel everything and just held them. Ride-and-die friendships, and girl power. There was taking charge of your destiny. The warm fuzzies of possibilities and new beginning. And love. Lots of love.

During this time of strife and uncertainty. When absolutes you believed true were nothing but false promises, and when it seems as if the world is burning every-single-day, we have our stories. Stories to fall into as we read and stories to fall into as we write. They encourage us, save us, so many times. Books will always be there in our times of need.

Aren’t we lucky.

Bio: Award winning author Anna Alexander is the author of the Heroes of Saturn and the Sprawling A Ranch series. With Hugh Jackman’s abs and Christopher Reeve’s blue eyes as inspiration, she loves spinning tales of superheroes finding love. Anna also loves to give back and has served on the board for the Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America as chapter president, and is the co-founder of the Seattle UnCon and Passport to Romance Readers Event. Sign up to receive news about Anna’s latest releases at http://eepurl.com/Q0tsz

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