Tag Archives: The 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.

Buy link

https://books2read.com/u/mgzVyz

Story Behind the Story: The Steel Rose by Nancy Northcott

Historical fiction requires the ability to effectively place wholly made-up characters in a world in a way that gets all the details right. Nancy melds the details of fact and the intricacies of plot with stakes that are relevant today, carefully laying out her series with one well-researched plot point after another. I remember when Nancy, whom I’ve known for literally decades, was just starting to build this series, with her great fandom of Richard III especially evident in its pages.

What’s the theme behind your story? 

I’m never sure how to answer that. I suppose it’s trust. The challenge for both the hero and the heroine is learning to trust their judgment and each other.

What’s the logline?

A wizard’s misplaced trust. A king wrongly blamed for murder. A bloodline cursed until they clear the king’s name.

The Steel Rose is the second book in The Boar King's Honor trilogy by Nancy Northcott.
The Steel Rose by Nancy Northcott is the second book in The Boar King’s Honor trilogy.

The heroine is a magically Gifted seer, Amelia Mainwaring. One of her ancestors, Edmund Mainwaring, unwittingly helped murder two royal children, the boys known as the Princes in the Tower. He flung himself on the mercy of their uncle, King Richard III, who told him to keep silent because of the political situation. King Richard died at Bosworth Field without ever giving Edmund permission to reveal the truth about the boys’ deaths. 

The Tudors came to power after Bosworth. They blamed King Richard for the boys’ deaths and anything else they could. If Edmund had tried to speak up, he would’ve been executed for treason, and the truth would’ve died with him. Tormented by guilt, he cursed his direct heirs to not rest in life or death until the family cleared the king’s name. Now the souls of his heirs are trapped in a wraith-ridden shadowland after they die. This includes Amelia’s twin brother, Adam. She’s desperate to free his soul.

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

Since this is the second book in a trilogy, I was thinking about the structure of the first book. As you know, the first book in a series sets the parameters for those that follow. The first book, The Herald of Day, had two plotlines. One was the hero and heroine’s quest to clear King Richard and break the curse. The other was about their efforts to restore the true timeline after a power-hungry wizard changed England’s history to create a dictatorship of the mageborn.

So I needed a plotline about the blood curse and one that would involve high stakes such as those in the altered timeline of Herald.

How did the original idea change as you went along?

It stayed pretty much the same after the initial plotting session. I’ve been a Ricardian (one who doesn’t believe Richard III was anywhere near as bad as Shakespeare painted him, for those unfamiliar with the term) most of my adult life. I have a pretty good working knowledge of the controversy surrounding the king, so I’ve had the idea for the arc about the blood curse in The Steel Rose for a long time. I also knew I wanted to use a particular magical artifact at some point.

The larger plot, centering on the Battle of Waterloo, did require some adjustment as I read more about the battle. I knew that I wanted Julian, my hero, and Amelia to be involved in the Allied victory, and Napoleon’s return to a France economically devastated by his earlier wars gave me a way to use that magical artifact for something important. The research pushed a fairly amorphous initial idea into a concrete shape.

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

I knew Amelia would be a seer and the hero, Julian Winfield, would be a descendant of one of the characters in The Herald of Day. I also wanted them both to be different from the characters in the prior book. The heroine of Herald is a seer, but she’s untrained and not confident when the story opens. The hero is bitter about the curse hanging over his soul, but he’s comfortable at court or with a blade in his hand.

While Amelia is a seer, she has had years of training in her power and has a fair degree of confidence with it. As she uses it in The Steel Rose, however, it changes, and she must adapt to those changes. She must also figure out how to interpret visions she doesn’t understand.

Julian is a nobleman, but he’s not a Mainwaring and so isn’t cursed. He wants to help Amelia lift the curse, though, because Amelia’s twin brother, Adam, was one of his closest friends. Since they’re researching curses, one of them needed to be bookish, and I chose Julian. He also breeds horses, and leads Britain’s secret network of magically Gifted spies. He’s a book guy but one who packs a punch.

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

I’m happy with it. I had a relaxed deadline, and my editor was patient with my recurring need to “check just one more thing” during the revision process. I had time to make the book just as I wanted it.

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

For Julian, Luke Thompson, who plays Benedict Bridgerton on the TV series Bridgerton. He’s handsome but seems able to blend with a crowd, as Julian would have to, and he knows how to project thoughtfulness as well as being physically active.

For Amelia, I would choose Elizabeth Olsen. She’s attractive, has an unassuming but confident demeanor, and can project sympathy, thoughtfulness, and courage.

What else do you want readers to know?

I’ve read quite a few Regency romances and am particularly drawn to those featuring Waterloo or its aftermath. I enjoyed the research, and I learned a great deal. I should add that my version of the fate of the Princes in the Tower tweaks history to suit my story. I actually think there’s a very good chance those boys lived into the reign of Henry VII, who followed their uncle Richard on the throne.

Nancy’s “shameless hucksterism” prompted her to point out that The Herald of Day is free starting April 28 and for a couple more days thereafter (whether or not you’re in Kindle Unlimited) to celebrate the release of The Steel Rose. If you’re not reading this on April 28, 2021, just be sure to check the price before you commit!

Bio:

The Steel Rose is the second book in Nancy Northcott's The Boar King's Honor trilogy.
Nancy Northcott, author of The Steel Rose

Nancy Northcott’s childhood ambition was to grow up to become Wonder Woman. Around fourth grade, she realized it was too late to acquire Amazon genes, but she still loved comic books, science fiction, fantasy, history, and romance.

She has written freelance articles and taught at the college level. Her most popular course was on science fiction, fantasy, and society. She has also given presentations on the Wars of the Roses and Richard III to university classes studying Shakespeare’s Richard III. Reviewers have described her books as melding fantasy, romance, and suspense. Library Journal gave her debut novel, Renegade, a starred review, calling it “genre fiction at its best.”

In addition to the historical fantasy Boar King’s Honor trilogy, Nancy writes the Light Mage Wars paranormal romances, the Arachnid Files romantic suspense novellas, and the Lethal Webs romantic spy adventures. With Jeanne Adams, she co-writes the Outcast Station science fiction mysteries.

Married since 1987, Nancy and her husband have one son, a bossy dog, and a house full of books.

Nancy’s social media links:

www.nancynorthcott.com

Twitter: @NancyNorthcott

Facebook:  https://facebook.com/nancynorthcottauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3468806.Nancy_Northcott

Buy link: readerlinks.com/l/1794929

Story Behind the Story: The Way Home by Eliana West

Eliana West writes romances in which mistakes are forgiven. Writers can take heed from her own approach as an author for her forthcoming novel, The Way Home, which required her to rework an unsatisfactory first draft to redeem its promise. The result is a novel of which she’s totally delighted, providing a happily ever after for two characters whose heritage is completely different – and yet tangled in America’s history.

What’s the theme behind your story? 

The theme for all of the books in my Heart of Colton series is forgiveness. These are stories about forgiveness, redemption, and, of course, love.

What’s the logline?

A letter from the past will change their future.

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

I was talking with my sister about our family history and the story came to me almost fully formed. I also wanted to figure out a way to tell a story about the complex relationships between the descendants of enslaved people and the descendants of those who enslaved them. 

Eliana West says interracial romance isn’t just for Black readers.

How did the original idea change as you went along?

My hero’s backstory changed quite a bit and new characters that evolved as the story went along, secondary characters that really became crucial to the story. Otherwise, the bones of the story have always stayed the same. 

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

Taylor Colton is kind of a combination of the Property Brothers and Ben Napier from Hometown on HGTV. For all of his success, he’s pretty insecure. When I had the idea for Taylor, I pictured him as a hero who struggles, not wanting to be the hero at first. For Josephine Martin, I wanted a heroine who worked in tech and a character with a strong will and a big heart. Ada Mae is based on my great aunt, and I drew a lot of inspiration from her personality and life. 

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

The first draft of this story was just terrible and I had a point where I didn’t think I could salvage it. I took my time and did a major rewrite and now I’m so pleased with the result. I’m not sure at this point that I would do anything different.

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

Oh boy, that’s a good question. Maybe Chris Evans for Taylor Colton, and Jaylen Barron for Josephine Martin.

What else do you want readers to know?

What I’d like readers to know is that interracial romance isn’t just for Black readers. Interracial romance is for any reader; diverse romance is just that diverse. If you haven’t read an interracial romance, give one a try. 

My books may be a challenging story for some people. I write stories that confront some uncomfortable aspects of race and history. But at the end of the day, these are romances. Love always wins.  

Bio

Eliana West writes contemporary interracial romance. Her first book, The Way Forward, establishing the Heart of Colton series, was published by Tule Publishing in 2020. When not writing, Eliana can be found exploring the many wineries in Oregon and Washington with her husband, traveling around in Bianca, their vintage Volkswagen Westfalia. She is the founder of Writers for Diversity (https://www.facebook.com/groups/writersfordiversity), a community for writers of all genres writing, creating diverse characters and worlds. Check out www.elianawest.com

Your general time period of preference for post

April/May

Buy link

https://books2read.com/u/38RpRZ

Story Behind The Story: A Christmas Carol Murder by Heather Redmond

Meet Heather Redmond and the story behind her story, A Christmas Carol Murder. This is the third novel in her series of cozy murder mysteries featuring Charles Dickens as the protagonist. As Heather explains, it’s just a natural to use A Christmas Carol if you’re writing about Dickens and his fictional sleuthing. Especially at Christmastime! So meet the spirit of Christmas murders to be, Heather Redmond.

What’s the theme behind your story?

Christmas is a season of renewal.

Cover to A Christmas Carol Murder by Heather Redmond

What’s the logline?

Bah. Humbug. Murder…

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

I was planning the first three books of the A Dickens of a Crime series with my editor. The series stars Charles Dickens as an amateur sleuth and takes inspiration from his novels. We knew one of the books had to feature Dickens’s A Christmas Carol since it is his most famous work.

How did the original idea change as you went along?

I learned that Dickens had done some great reporting on the Hatfield fire that happened a few weeks before Christmas, so I started the book there. It gave me a great chance to include a Christmas child that I could keep a secret from his fiancée Kate. The problem became how to keep her integrated into the story when she didn’t know what was going on. My editor also wanted to be sure there was no paranormal element to the book, so I had to solve any ghostly encounters with real life explanations.

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

My two main characters, Charles and Kate, were real people and as much as I can, I keep them true to life. The biggest change in my characters in this book was to finish the process of moving my mudlark characters off of the Thames foreshore and into the next phases of their lives. The girl, Lucy Fair, has entered service and most of the boys went to school. Dickens himself believed that some boys were simply natural, unredeemable criminals so I did leave one or two of the boys behind.

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

I’m quite happy with this one as it worked out. As a writer I still tend to have to re-solve the mystery for myself at the end and make sure that the reason for the murders is truly justified. As I recall, I didn’t know what had happened to the missing corpse for quite a while.

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

The main characters are very young so even though the series is less than three years old, I think the actors I might have envisioned have already aged out of the roles! I suspect unknowns would have to play roles, with a 23-year-old hero and a 20-year-old heroine. Maybe these roles would make stars!

What else do you want readers to know?

Dickens’s original novella A Christmas Carol is an amazing mix of comedy and horror and brilliant storytelling. I can’t account for the brilliant storytelling, but I did my best to include comedy and horror in my homage, while still being focused on telling a great mystery story.

The Heather Redmond Bio

Heather Redmond is an author of commercial fiction and also writes as Heather Hiestand. First published in mystery, she took a long detour through romance before returning. Though her last British-born ancestor departed London in the 1920s, she is a committed anglophile, Dickens devotee, and lover of all things nineteenth century.

She has lived in Illinois, California, and Texas, and now resides in a small town in Washington State with her husband and son. The author of many novels, novellas, and short stories, she has achieved best-seller status at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books. Her 2018 Heather Redmond debut, A Tale of Two Murders, reached #1 in Historical Mysteries at Amazon as well as being in the Top 100 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble (Top 20), and Apple Books (Top 40). It is also a multi-week Barnes & Noble Hardcover Mystery Bestseller and a Historical Mystery bestseller on Kobo Books.

Her two current mystery series are A Dickens of a Crime and the Journaling mysteries. She writes for Kensington and Severn House.

She is the 2020-21 President of the Columbia River Chapter of Sisters in Crime (SinC).

To buy A Christmas Carol Murder, click here.
For more about Heather Redmond, visit Heatherredmond.com.

The Story Behind the Story Behind the Story (and no, that’s not redundant)

https://www.amazon.com/His-30-Day-Guarantee-Eilis-Flynn-ebook/dp/B06X1BPL89/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=his+30-day+guarantee&qid=1607206982&s=books&sr=1-1

Haven’t you wondered how a particular author came up with the story they did? We all know about Mary Shelley and her inspiration on a stormy night, coming up with Frankenstein. I woke up one night wondering what the source of a story is in an author’s mind, whether it’s sweet or horror or mystifying, and how long the idea had to germinate before at last that story bloomed into being. So I asked authors to tell me.

There’s always a story about how the story that you like so much got started. Here are glimpses at what fuels the imagination of the authors. I’ll be offering one author’s story or two a week. The Story Behind the Story starts for real in January, but until then, this is sort of what it’ll be:

His 30-Day Guarantee

It was the mid-1980s — so yeah, we’re talking about a long time ago. Ronald Reagan was president, I was living in New York City, and occasionally doing freelance as a break from my regular full-time job as a financial editor. My husband was working at DC Comics at that point, and I met their proofreader and learned she was a copy editor away from comics. One of her freelance gigs was copy editing romances for a Major Publisher, and she suggested I check it out. I did, and ended up copy editing a couple. 

It was interesting, and I enjoyed it, despite it being very different from what I was used to. But more than that, it inspired me to write my own romance. 

After a couple of fits and starts (you know how that goes), I came up with a fun idea after noticing a very distinctive sales pitch that occurs in so many offers: impulsive tech tycoon type falls for a recently divorced linguistical anthropology professor at the University of Washington and offers her a deal: go out with him for one month. If they don’t mesh well, she can step away, no harm, no foul. But he’s not telling her everything.

After I finished it and submitted it (using paper and everything, because this was an earlier time), I got a revise and resubmit letter. I didn’t know that was good (because I had no experience with such a thing), so I had to think about how to do those revisions. But then life got in the way (it was 1987 and there was a Wall Street crash, causing many people to lose their jobs, including me), and by the time I got back to it, it was 1989 and we had moved across the country. And by the time I actually revised and resubmitted, years had gone by and the publisher wasn’t interested anymore.

So the novel got slipped into an envelope and slipped under the bed (or a box or whatever; it’s been a while). I joined Romance Writers of America, wrote other things, and then, thirty years after I wrote that first book, I was asked by a digital publisher if I were interested in pitching a story for a graphic novella (I wrote some comic stories while I was in college, so I understood the medium). I said sure and adapted that novel into a script. They bought it, it got done, and a few years after that, they asked if I were interested in writing a novella based on the graphic novella based on the original manuscript (whew!). I said sure, I wrote it, and they liked it, but this time, we couldn’t come to terms, so the newly updated story was back in my hands again—and it was time. So at long last, the novel-turned-into-a-novella was published. His 30-Day Guarantee, originally titled 30-Day Guarantee, is available in digital form and in print, and it only took thirty years after I originally wrote it.

What’s the moral of this (long-winded) story? Never throw anything away. You just never know.

Elizabeth Flynn, who writes as Eilis Flynn, has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, fantasies, and contemporary romances. She’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 40 years, working with genre fiction, academia, technology, finance, and comic books. She can be reached at emsflynn.com (if you’re looking for an editor) or at eilisflynn.com (if you’re looking for a good read). Her latest novel is The Unnamed World, a futuristic romance. 

Digital: https://www.amazon.com/His-30-Day-Guarantee-Eilis-Flynn-ebook/dp/B06X1BPL89/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=his+30-day+guarantee&qid=1607206982&s=books&sr=1-1

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/726669

Print: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1542486947?ie=UTF8&n=133140011