Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Interlude: A Guest Blog by Dan O'Brien

by Stephanie Osborn

Today's holiday gift-giving blog features something a bit different! Welcome Dan O'Brien to the fold, talking about his new graphic novel project, Mobsters, Monsters, & Nazis!


Well, the time has come to announce Dan O’Brien’s latest project:Mobsters, Monsters & Nazisa collaboration between Dan O’Brien and Steve Ferchaud, who illustratedConspirators of the Lost Sock Army and the Loose Change Collection Agency. What I am revealing today is the sketches for some of the interior illustrations (which will be black and white) of the first issue. It will be released as six issues (eBooks) starting on Halloween. It is influenced by film noir, pulp comics, and an abiding love of Lovecraft. It is now available forpre-orderand Dan will be promoting it heavily starting in the month of October. He would love to hear what you think of it so far! Visit him at: or on Twitter, @AuthorDanOBrien 


I'm kind of fond of graphic novels myself, and this looks like fun! Got somebody on your gift list with an unusual taste? Check it out!

-Stephanie Osborn

Monday, October 27, 2014

Interlude: El Vengador, by Stephanie Osborn

by Stephanie Osborn

Today I thought I'd put up an excerpt from my paranormal horror novella, El Vengador.

Deputy Sheriff Michael Kirtchner gets an "unknown disturbance" dispatch call to a remote house trailer in the swamp. There, he discovers an old woman and a dog, terrorized by a mysterious beast, which he takes to be a bear. But when he contacts Game Warden Jeff Stuart to come trap the animal, Stuart tells him to get out if he values his life - this is no ordinary animal. Is Kirtchner up against a Swamp Ape  a Florida version of Bigfoot - or something more...sinister?

Based on a true story.


“Ma’am?” he ventured. “Ma’am, could you please put down the shotgun?”
“What? Oh ― oh, yeah. Ah’m wavin’ it ever’where, ain’t Ah? Ah’m so sorry. Ah know better. Ah…it scared me, ya see, and Ah didn’…”
She put the shotgun aside, just inside the doorway. It was then that Kirtchner noticed she was weeping.
“Ma’am… are you okay?”
“NO! Ah’m not okay! Ah’m scared out of muh mind, officer! Why do ya think Ah called ya?” she exclaimed in a thick rural accent.
“Why are you crying?”
“’Cause Ah’m just so glad you came! Somethin’ attacked mah house, an’ Ah thought Ah was gonna die!”
“What was it?”
“Ah dunno. But it was big, an’ it was fast. An’ it stunk t’ high heaven!” Her voice, already pitched high from stress, cracked and became whiny halfway through this speech, and upon its completion, she began trembling. Kirtchner came to her, sat her on the steps, and worked on getting her calmed down.
“Shh, it’s okay. I’m here now. I’ve got my gun,” he patted his holster, “and you’re safe. What’s your name?”
“Elsie Moore,” she sniffled, glancing about in apprehension, studying the foliage past his squad car in considerable trepidation. “Uh, Missuz. Ah’m a widder-woman.”
“Do you prefer Mrs. Moore, or Miss Elsie?”
“Ah dunno as it matters. Don’t nobody ever come out here nohow.” She shrugged. “Call me Elsie, Ah reckon.”
“Fine, Elsie. So, someone attacked your mobile home?”
“NO! Weren’t no some one! It were a something!” she blurted.
“Shh. It’s okay. How long ago was this?”
She glanced at a battered old men’s wristwatch, then muttered, “’Bout an hour, hour-fifteen, afore you showed up, Ah reckon. Ah called right aft’r Ah shot at th’ thang. It musta run off inta th’ woods.”
“And what happened?”
“Ah be damned ‘f Ah know,” Elsie answered, running the last three words together. “There’ uz this turr’ble smell, wild animal smell ya know, like a skunk, onliest it ‘uz worse’n any skunk Ah ever heared tell of. Ah got plumb nauseous, an’ lost mah dinner inna trash can. Then there ‘uz a horrible ruckus right a’most up unner me ― unner th’ trailer, that is. Metal skreechin’ an’ bendin’ an’ somethin’ roarin’ an’ howlin’ fit to kill. Ah looked out th’ nearest winner, an’ there ‘uz a big ol’… thing… clawin’ at th’ back.”
“A thing? What did it look like?” Kirtchner wondered.
“Ah couldn’ tell ya,” Elsie tried to explain, “on ‘counta it ‘uz half up unner th’ trailer. Ah could only see its hind end.”
“…Which looked like?” Kirtchner prodded.
“Like a big ol’ furry butt,” Elsie retorted. “Long shaggy brown, or maybe black, fur, with some green.”
“Green?” Kirtchner straightened up, raising an eyebrow.
“Green,” Elsie reiterated, a hint of defiance in her tone now. “Like… you ever read ‘bout them jungle critters, them whadda they call ‘em… sloths?”
“Oh. Yeah, I think so.”
“Ah caught part of a show on th’ tee-vee,” she said. “Th’ sat’lite dish ain’t worth much, an’ Ah didn’ see all of it. But they showed ‘em, an’ th’ fur ‘uz kinda green, an’ ‘ey said it ‘uz ‘cause moss an’ algae an’ shit grew in it.” She nodded sagely. “It ‘uz like ‘at.”
“Oookay,” Kirtchner remarked, pulling out his tablet and swiping across its pad, taking notes. “Do you think you’re settled enough now to show me where it was?”
Mrs. Moore drew a deep breath, then popped to her feet as if launched. She reached inside the door of the trailer and retrieved her shotgun. It was a Winchester model 1897, he noted absently; a 16-gauge, to judge by the barrel length, and anything but new. It looked to need cleaning, too. He restrained a frisson of anxiety with an effort.
“Yeah,” she averred, “but we ain’t goin’ nowheres until you git yer shotgun, too. Ah knows as yew po-lice types carry ‘em, so yew jus’ go gitchers right now.”
“You don’t need that. And I have my pistol.” Kirtchner was less than thrilled with this development. If she gets antsy and shoots that thing, no telling what will happen, he thought. It doesn’t look like it’s been maintained in a couple of decades. I wonder when this husband of hers kicked it.
“’At little pop-gun? Agin the beast what attacked mah trailer?” She gestured at his holster. “Ah don’ think so.”
“It’s a forty-five,” Kirtchner pointed out. “It’ll handle the situation. Please put down your weapon.”
“Ah ain’t puttin’ it down, mister. Yew ain’t seen ‘at monster. Ah did. Now, yew git y’r shotgun, or Ah ain’t a-goin’ nowheres ‘ceptin’ inta th’ house, an’ lockin’ th’ door behind me. Yew kin take yer chances.” Elsie tilted her head up, setting her jaw, determined to stare him down.
So to placate the woman, he got his Mossberg, set up for 12 gauge, out of the cruiser. He made sure the magazine was fully loaded with magnum shells, and followed Elsie around to the back of her trailer.
* * *

The scene that greeted him when they got in the back yard looked like somebody had attacked the rear of her trailer using some kind of giant, multi-pronged steel fork. The heavy gauge aluminum siding was torn to hell and back, and it was peeled away in several places starting from the bottom of the trailer and curling up its side. There were great long gouges, some longer than 2 feet in length, which looked like nothing so much as giant claw marks torn into the aluminum siding of the trailer. Even the insulation had been pulled out in places. Some of the gouges had what was obviously fresh blood smeared along the edges.


I thought it appropriate to put this up before Halloween, in the middle of the holiday preparations! Hope you enjoyed it, and check it out on Amazon!

-Stephanie Osborn

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Interlude: A Guest Blog by Aaron Paul Lazar

by Stephanie Osborn

We're going to hold off awhile on the Elements of Modern Storytelling series. Why? Because it's HOLIDAY TIME! And all us authors want to tell all you readers about our books, in case you want to get (or want to ask for) one for a Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa gift!

Leading off, it's Aaron Paul Lazar!


So I Broke the Rules – Go Ahead and Shoot Me!

©2014 Aaron Lazar

I didn’t intend to write a series when I created the rather kooky and slightly paranormal mystery, For the Birds. I knew it would feature a pretty little red bird on the cover (see below), because I’d just had a vivid dream about her. Out of the wild blue yonder, Ruby came to me and insisted on a book of her own. I’d never owned a bird, never even known anyone with a feathered pet, but this dream was so vibrant I couldn’t get Ruby out of my mind.

Marcella and Quinn “Black Eagle” Hollister came upon the scene as Ruby’s owners, and Marcella’s mother, Thelma, popped out of nowhere. Before I knew it, I had created a dynamic and diverse family and their pets. True to my dream, I set the story in the Adirondack Mountains, which set me craving for the mountains, woods, lakes, and rivers that I’d come to love. I just had to get up there again.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, as the case may be, I was laid off from my engineering job at Kodak right around the same time. So, with lots of free time on our hands, we headed up to the mountains and discovered the cabin where the story takes place. Tall Pines is a rustic, wonderful cabin situated on seven acres of pines above the Sacandaga River in Hope, NY. We fell in love with it, and it has become the center of the series that grew from For the Birds.

When Marcella Hollister’s prize parakeet gets zapped by a wayward power line in the same pool as her mother, the ensuing psychic link helps Marcella chase her mother’s kidnappers through the Adirondack Mountains, where she unearths a fifty-year-old secret about her dear father with shocking links to a hidden treasure.

I really didn’t plan to include paranormal or spiritual elements in For The Birds, either. I just went ahead, guns blazing, and let the story blast out of me.

You can’t exactly call me a planner. But I have a hard time trying to keep up with myself. I know, that sounds nuts. But it’s how I write.

When I finished this book, I was in love with the characters. My readers wanted more of Marcella and her gorgeous half-Seneca husband, and they seemed to enjoy our jaunts to the Adirondacks. At the same time, I’d recently become infatuated and obsessed with essential oils. There was no question that my characters would also discover them, and it came as no surprise that I used the healing power of essential oils as one of the main themes in the second Tall Pines book, Essentially Yours.

Strangely enough, however, this book was a bit different. Although it’s dubbed a mystery, it had more suspense and action than the first book. If I had to give it a genre on its own, I would have called it romantic suspense.

Hey! Where’s the consistency?

If push came to shove, I’d say it’s in the characters and the telling of a great story set in the same locale.
Marcella’s first love has been MIA for eighteen years. Callie, her best friend and Sky’s sister, flips out when a mysterious package from Sky arrives on her doorstep. Inside his old backpack are bottles of precious essential oils, a memory stick, and a bag of emeralds. Are these his final effects? Or is Sky alive?
 Drug company goons want the data on the memory stick, because it links a newly discovered essential oil with a leukemia cure. They kidnap Callie, hoping to lure Sky into the open. Marcella and Quinn track her to the wilderness of the Adirondack Mountains, where against all odds they fight to save Callie and preserve the proof that could change the world.

The characters screamed at me to write more, especially Marcella’s newly introduced old flame, Sky Lissoneau, and his damaged, but adorable, sister, Callie. I thrived on the tension between Marcella’s husband and her first love, who showed up after eighteen years with a whole gang of villains chasing him through the Adirondack woods. Quinn—usually a quiet and passive soul—is insanely jealous of Sky. After all these years, Sky still adores Marcella, and can’t get that look of desperate heartache out of his eyes. I let all hell break loose in Marcella’s family and in the mountains where the scientific medical studies were being held to prove that a common lake week held the key to curing leukemia. Mix together some nasty drug company thugs and a bit of mysticism with crystals, oils, and the love of a big old Bernese Mountain Dog, and you have Essentially Yours.

When I wrote Sanctuary, book three, I was obsessed with what I called “my Indian soul.” With the help of a Cherokee historian friend, I wove substantial elements of Native American traditions into this mystery/suspense. Using mystical elements of crystals, smooth river stones, essential oils, and a haunted mountain top, I pushed the psychic barrier a bit here and allowed a bit of mind-melding.

This doesn’t belong in a mystery, does it? You’d really expect it more in Star Trek. But hell, like I said, I didn’t care. I just forged ahead.
Marcella’s husband, Quinn “Black Eagle” Hollister, severed ties to his family and friends on the Seneca reservation years ago. He rarely mentions his past—until his young cousin Kitty collapses on the couple’s doorstep in the dead of a rainswept night. After two Seneca men break into their home with intent to kill, the Hollisters flee with the mute and injured girl to Tall Pines, their cabin in the Adirondacks. Marcella, unable to bear a child of her own, unleashes her motherly instincts caring for Kitty. As the girl slowly recovers, they start to piece together who wants them dead, and why.

When it came time to write Betrayal, which flowed out immediately after Sanctuary, I wanted to create a winter mystery full of threats, sexual upheaval, and plenty of chase scenes. I didn’t expect to introduce a pair of serial killers who left bodies on the icy shores of the Sacandaga, but that’s what happened.

I also introduced some pretty dark relationship issues into Marcella’s marriage. She feels Quinn betrays her, and flees to Tall Pines to escape for a while. Trouble is, Sky is waiting there for her, and it’s all she can do not to let herself fall into his arms. The old passion is still there, and it tortures her to look into his sea green eyes.
Marcella Hollister realized a lifetime of hopes and dreams when she was given custody of a child. A cousin of her half-Seneca husband, Quinn, the baby’s mother was murdered in a political plot—and Marcella, who’s never been able to have children of her own, formed an instant bond with little Kimi. Then a distant relative comes forward to claim Kimi—and Quinn, who Marcella thought understood her pain better than anyone, allows them to take the baby without a fight. 
Confused and deeply wounded, Marcella takes off for Tall Pines, their secluded Adirondack cabin. She hopes the peace and natural beauty of the mountains will help clear her head and decide whether to forgive Quinn…or leave him. But the situation at Tall Pines is anything but peaceful. Her high school lover, Sky, arrives to help out—and Marcella discovers her old feelings may not be as distant as she thought. Worse, a serial killer is stalking young women in the area. And when a teen girl whose mother works with Sky goes missing, Marcella and everyone she cares for wind up dead center in the killer’s sights.

If I were to read Betrayal on its own, I might classify it as a romantic thriller.

Uh huh. Not a kooky, paranormal mystery like For the Birds. Not a romantic suspense, like Essentially Yours. Not a Native American spiritual mystery, like Sanctuary.

I know, I know! Where’s my consistency? Where’s my platform planning?

That said -- I must tell you my Tall Pines fans and readers don’t give a darn into which official genre my books fall. You could certainly still classify them as mysteries. But they don’t care, and frankly, neither do I. It’s the characters we care about, and they are going to be here for the long haul.

So, yeah. I broke the rules. Please don’t shoot me.

Aaron Paul Lazar

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. A bestselling Kindle author of 22 books, including three addictive mystery series, writing books, and a new love story, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at and watch for his upcoming release, UNDER THE ICE. Aaron has won over 18 book awards for his novels and finds writing to be his form of "cheap therapy." Feel free to connect with him on Facebook or his website; he loves to connect with readers!


So here we are with our first recommendation, folks! The Tall Pines Mysteries by Aaron Paul Lazar! Go check 'em out!

-Stephanie Osborn

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytellling: Character Development, by Stephanie Osborn

by Stephanie Osborn

I suppose it's time for me to take my own turn on this topic. I've got quite a few books out there by now, with more coming, and I do have a great deal of fun playing in all these different worlds. The feedback I get from fans is amusing and thought-provoking by turns.

For instance, many people tend to actually forget that my version of Sherlock Holmes (as found in the Displaced Detective Series) is not a real person (at least in our continuum!). A couple of years back, right after the horrific movie theater shooting in Boulder, CO, one fan sent me an email (which seems to be the preferred form of fan letter these days). You see, the shooter's name was John Holmes, and she started off wanting to know if he was perchance kin to Sherlock, and if Sherlock was upset about having such a villainous deed in the family, or at least with the same name. She caught herself partway through, evidently, and modified the letter such that she wished she could ask him those things, but it was obvious that Holmes and Chadwick were real people to her.

Another, more recent, fan letter is one I excerpt for publicity purposes, with permission; it was simply that good. 

"It's like you took Holmes out from under a dusty glass dome in a shadowy Victorian parlor crammed with momentos[sic] and knick-knacks and gave him a new lease on life. Skye is cool too and their relationship helps make the multiverse a less lonely place."
~~Esther Willson, reader

And that was my purpose. While Holmes was so real during the time of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that, when The Final Problem was published, Victorian men and women went into mourning, over the years since, Holmes has become something of a stereotype, I'm afraid. You can go almost anywhere in the world and show someone a silhouette of a man with a hawk nose, a pipe, and a double-brimmed cap, and s/he will respond, "Sherlock Holmes!" I wanted to lift him from that stereotype, to make him live and breathe and feel and think again, for modern readers. (And yes, I did it well before either the BBC or CBS series, or the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. film franchise.)

Now, as to how I build my characters, it's actually fairly simple. The great actor and portrayer of Holmes, Jeremy Brett, was fond of referring to his process of disappearing into the character as "becoming." And as I've trod the boards of the stage some little bit myself, and use a similar technique, so I modified it for use in my writing. I search within myself, my personality, for some facet that fits the type of character I am looking to create. Then I use that facet as the foundation for the character, and begin to add to it. A quirk here, an eccentricity there, a flaw, a virtue, on and on. I weight the types of "bricks" according to what sort of character I'm building: a villain will have more flaws than virtues, and a hero vice versa. Experiences in their backgrounds (and yes, I tend to fully flesh out their personal histories, even if I never use them, at least for main characters -- because you never know when something in that history will be useful in a future book) may be imagined, or may be pulled from my own experience and modified, as appropriate. Intellect, etiquette, education, family, all are taken into consideration. And by the time I'm done, I have a character. 

But the character isn't really fully developed until I write him/her. There's something about recording a character's behavior that brings it alive in the mind's eye.

Now, you'll notice that I draw a lot on myself. But I should note that that's how I relate to the characters, just as we usually make friends of people that have something in common with ourselves. Even Holmes, who was created by a man who lived and died long before I was born -- because I recognize facets of myself, my psyche, the way I think, in the great detective. Pecadilloes we share, and the like. And I think this is what enables me to render him as a living, breathing human. It can be useful, in the circumstances, to simply think, "What would I do in this situation?"

"In this case the matter was simplified by Brunton's intelligence being quite first-rate, so that it was unnecessary to make any allowance for the personal equation, as the astronomers have dubbed it."~~Sherlock Holmes, The Musgrave Ritual

And so it is. Not that I mean it in an egotistical fashion; rather, I am trying to say that an ability to relate to the character in some way better enables me to adjudge what that character would do, say, or think.

I find it interesting to note that I have been accused of writing a "Mary Sue" in the character of Dr. Skye Chadwick. But in point of fact I drew no more on myself for her than I did for Holmes, and no one has ever called Holmes my Mary Sue. (It could be argued, in any case, that Watson was Doyle's "Mary Sue," if one really wanted to go there.) 

If there were ever a Mary Sue for me in my writing, it would have to be in my very first book, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. This book has two main characters, "Crash" Murphy and Mike Anders. Crash is a retired NASA flight controller turned author, and Mike is an astronomer. Sound familiar? It should, if you've read my bio. In fact if you were to take these two characters, merge them into one, and flip the gender, you would have a very close approximation to myself, saving only Crash's military experience. And in this case it was quite deliberate. That book hits very close to home for me in many respects, and even more so after the Columbia disaster occurred. Why should anyone be surprised to find that I based the main characters upon myself?

They grew beyond that, of course. I think if you are a halfway decent writer and have done your proper work, then that will happen. And at some point they become real to me, so real that it might as well be that they exist in another spacetime continuum. And for all I know, they do. 

So when I come back to a new book in the series, it's like going to visit an old friend. I delight in it, and hate it when I finish the book -- because that means the current visit has ended, and I have to go home. 

If I've done my job properly, when you read it, you'll feel the same way.

-Stephanie Osborn

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytelling: Character Development, A Guest Blog by Patricia Burroughs

By Stephanie Osborn

Here is a very cool article by Patricia "Pooks" Burroughs about how her very choice of name defined her character and their world. It was originally published on, on May 23rd of this year.

"What's in a name?" Sometimes, quite a lot...

How a Name Defined a Character and a History

I can’t remember how I chose the surname Fury. I liked it because sounded cool with Persephone, and had a power of its own. There was the concern of it being so closely aligned with a mythos of its own that I might be making a mistake to use it, but I loved the name and decided, done!

My idea for the Fury family was that they were part of the Norman invasion, aristocrats back to the year dot, so to speak. Persephone was a daughter of privilege, raised in luxury, a part of the magical Regency Society. I assumed that Fury was probably a French name, which supported the Norman invasion bit.

But research showed me that I was sadly mistaken. That instead of Norman, my Fury family would be… Irish?

Wait. How could my aristocratic family in the early 1800s be Irish?

If you’re not familiar with this aspect of history, the Irish were pretty much under British thumbs for centuries, were looked down on with great disdain. It was fairly unlikely that any Irish family would be living in England with a position of wealth and prestige unless—

Well, let this adage of the Magi in my books give you a hint:
“In England it is said that the Furys have a gift of pleasing kings.“In Ireland ‘tis said, never trust a Fury.”

Enter: Bardán Fury.

Bardán Fury is my Fury family’s ancestor. He has been dead for centuries when my book starts. Why would he have characterization issues, and why would it matter to me writing a book about his descendants? Well, that’s what I got for choosing an Irish name, and his characterization did end up mattering.

A lot.

When Henry VIII made his move on Ireland, my Bardán was quick to side with power. By betting on the right side to win, he ended up in the English Court as bard and advisor, without Henry or anyone else ever the wiser that they had a magical person amongst their numbers. He even received a lovely manor house as a boon for his services.  You can read more about that here, because that presented its own set of plot twists and rich historical irony.

But Bardán read the writing on the wall and saw that if Christian vs Christian could result in forced conversions, executions and even war, the Magi were in deep trouble if the Ordinary people ever figured out that magical people walked amongst them. He turned the silver tongued charms, political savvy and power of persuasion he’d honed in Henry’s court toward the Magi, and convinced them to withdraw from the Ordinary world completely and form their own society, their own world, right down to establishing (with Bardán’s careful guidance) their own king and court—the House of Pendragon. Of course there was no claim to a true connection between Arthur Pendragon and the first Magi king, but they didn’t let that stop them from usurping the name.

Thus, the idea that the Furys not only pleased kings, but were king-makers.

And again, being no fool, Bardán established the ideas and ideals of a new society, and left the politics and hard work of making it all happen to all the new Magi lords jockeying for favor. He took his own family, retired to his manor house with his music and his stories and a future unfettered by politics and world wide open for exploration.
But he also made certain that none forgot his role, his power, and his family’s importance

When they reached the fireplace, all other thoughts fell away. The Fury marble, the warm, dark green of a forest glade touched by sunlight. The gift of Bardán Fury to King Constantine, it was a miracle of art and magic and skulduggery, an emblem of his support and a reminder for the ages that it was Bardán Fury who had made this king a king. Carved into its surface high on the wall was the handsome countenance of the king in all his splendour, but the mantle itself was supported by the exquisite nude carvings of an unnamed god and goddess, physically and symbolically supporting the king and his progeny. All knew that the god, his tightly curling crown of hair and classically perfect body with strong shoulders and long-fingered hands carrying the weight above, was patterned after Bardán Fury himself, his eyes cast at the floor in all modesty.

Persephone stepped forward and laid her hand against his shoulder and gasped at the contact. It was warm, despite the fact that the fireplace itself was cold and empty. Her eyes closed, and she felt the marble beneath her palm throb in recognition. She reached deep for some inkling of that first Fury, some bit of magic to soothe her, to resonate, and felt nothing more, after that first quick pulse. Finally, regretfully, she let go and found Lord Greylund’s eyes upon her.

Fast forward two-and-a-half centuries and we find the Fury legend and reputation of king-makers is alive and well, as various factions begin circling in an effort to get close to the Furys, to form alliances by friendship, marriage or even abduction.

Suddenly, I had the beginning of a premise, the presence of a threat.

Just as Bardán Fury’s image supports the weight of the vast marble carving of the first magical king, his history and his character support the weight of the story I built.

All because I chose the name Fury.

The blurb for the first book:

Persephone Fury is the Dark daughter, the one they hide.

England, 1811. Few are aware of a hidden magical England, a people not ruled by poor mad George, but the dying King Pellinore of the House of Pendragon.

The Furys are known for their music, their magic, and their historic role as kingmakers. When Fury ambitions demand a political marriage, Persephone is drugged and presented to Society–

Only to be abducted from the man she loves by the man she loathes.

But devious and ruthless, Persephone must defy ancient prophecy, embrace her Dark magic, and seize her own fate.

Be swept away into the first book of a dark fantasy series combining swashbuckling adventure, heart-pounding romance, and plot-twisting suspense.

-Stephanie Osborn

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytelling: Character Development, A Guest Blog by Sara Stamey

By Stephanie Osborn

Sara Stamey’s extended travels in out-of-the-way corners of the globe include treasure hunting and teaching scuba in the Caribbean and Honduras, operating a nuclear reactor, and owning a farm in Southern Chile. Now resettled in her native Northwest Washington, she teaches creative writing at Western Washington University and offers editing services as a “book doctor.” She shares her Squalicum Creek backyard with wild critters and her cats, dog, and very tall husband Thor.

Her romantic suspense novel Islands is described by reviewers as “an intellectual thriller” and "a superior suspense novel….a stomping vivid ride.” A new eBook edition is available from Book View Café. BVC will also release her new metaphysical thriller set in Greece, The Ariadne Connection, in October 2014.



“How do you come up with the characters in your novels? Are they based on real people? Do you make lists of their work, family, education, hobbies? Is it better to describe them in detail, or let readers flesh them out in their minds?”

These are questions novelists hear from readers eager to understand the mysterious workings of a writer’s mind. I’ve heard all kinds of advice about how fiction-writers “should” create fully dimensional characters, but I think every writer finds her own ways.

I confess that I have based several characters on people I know (or knew), and have found “seeds” in characters in films or even music videos. It’s a boost to start with appearance, speech, or personality tics you’ve already observed, then go on to morph that seed into your own character. Most of the time, my models never recognize themselves in the transformed character, which is the way it should go.

Take Heinck, the creepy ringleader of a criminal gang in my second science fiction novel, Win, Lose, Draw. (I hate that title my publisher chose instead of my original Resistance Coil, but that’s another story!) He’s whippy, with slicked-back dark hair and a lot of “pain-dure” tattoos that advertise how tough he is, a sadomasochist who has absolutely no morals. The man I took as my initial model probably never reads, so I don’t have to worry that he’ll recognize himself – besides, Heinck is probably smarter.

Years ago, when I was working as a scuba guide and instructor in the Bay Islands of Honduras at an isolated inn reachable only by boat or rough trails, I was pretty much held hostage by the lowlife temporary manager who was driving away the few tourists and making life miserable for everyone else. He waved around an arsenal of guns, bragged about his previous scams, and kept me and the other employees from taking a boat to the only distant town to radio the absent owner back in the States about the state of crisis at his inn. When the owner finally arrived to fire the manager, he skulked away to the relief of everyone. (spoiler alert) And later, I took secret pleasure in killing him off as my fictional villain. One perk of acting Deity in our own invented worlds!

Flipping the coin, I created a modest tribute to my original writing mentor by making him a minor, helpful character in my Caribbean suspense novel Islands. My mentor was R.D. Brown, a source of inspiration to his many students at Western Washington University. He was a very tall man, with a slouch perhaps as the result of ducking through doorways, a bald head, a jowly face, and an incisive wit animating his eyes. When I created Captain Wilkes, a native police chief who aids my archeologist/sleuth Susan Dunne, I called on images of R.D.: 
A big native man was unfolding his height from a dusty compact. He slouched over to me in rumpled slacks and a linen dress shirt, dark scalp gleaming above a graying frizz, face drooping in folds like an intelligent basset hound.
You’ll see that I’m in favor of providing appearance details of my characters. I feel that leaving them a blank slate makes it hard for readers to invest or even keep track of who’s who.  BTW, Captain Wilkes is my only character-based-on-real where I’ve been caught out: When his partner read the novel, she immediately recognized R.D. as the model, and we all got a chuckle out of it.

Of course, there’s a lot of work to do once the original image and basic personality forms. Voice is perhaps the biggest challenge for me: What kind of diction would this person use, and does it fit his background and upbringing? Or deliberately contrast with it, for plausible reasons of education or choice? Is each character meant to be sympathetic or not? Even if she’s “the bad gal,” does she embody at least a little ambiguity as a complex person? When I teach fiction-writing at the university, I point my students toward good advice from writing guru Janet Burroway: “Give your character a consistent inconsistency.” In other words, some habit or preference that seems at odds with the initial presentation or “type,” so he has a realistic individuality.

I do depart from some writerly advice (including Burroway’s) to create a detailed summary about every character, including history, family, hobbies, etc. I feel that it constrains the characters if everything about them is pinned down at the start, and prevents them from “acting out” to inform me that they would do this or wouldn’t do that. But I do have to work during revision to make sure they “add up” to realistic personalities.


Because my novels are often set in foreign countries where I’ve lived or travelled, I face a special challenge in creating characters from different cultures, working to present them as authentic, with believable voices that might mirror their different diction or accents from English/American speech. I usually present these characters through the observations of an American point-of-view character, hoping to avoid “cultural appropriation” or just plain blunders in accuracy.  The more you experience and observe people in actual life, the closer you’ll come to capturing the essence of characters, whether from familiar cultures or foreign. In my travels, I’ve found that there are definitely cultural variations in beliefs and social interactions, but also that most humans at heart have much in common and are willing to make a connection.

One more example from my latest novel set in Greece, The Ariadne Connection, to be released in October 2014 from Book View Café. My heroine’s uncle Demetrios has retired to a mountain village on the southern coast of Crete. In real life, I was backpacking in this region with my former partner, when we found ourselves stranded in a remote, rocky village without a place to stay during the Easter holidays when all the busses stopped running.  We were trying to find a level, unrocky spot (not likely!) to pitch our tent, when we were befriended by a local dignitary, Stelios Mamalakis, who offered us the famous Greek hospitality of a place to stay and a tour of the local landscape. Here is a bit I borrowed from him for my character Demetrios:

Wild asparagus. Ariadne touched the slender soft buds Uncle Demetrios had always favored. She could still see him, all those years ago, climbing ahead of her up a narrow ravine beside a rain-swollen stream, pushing through thorn thickets to find the new asparagus shoots, tearing his trousers to get the last one. 
“But I can’t resist it! This one is the best, Kri-Kri, just look at it. Tender youthful perfection, the most sublime Platonic ideal of a sprout. Now this is beauty. We will eat it tonight and be strong and beautiful, too.” His white teeth flashed beneath the long pirate mustache.
I will leave you with this thought: We writers have to love our characters, even the villains. With love, and patience, they will live and breathe.


All I can say, Sara, is that you're a woman after my own heart.

-Stephanie Osborn