FACTS I’VE LEARNED BY WRITING FICTION

As a fiction writer, it always surprises me when people say they don’t read fiction because it isn’t real. They read only nonfiction, because they’re more interested in facts.

After hearing yet another nonfiction reader express that notion, I found myself thinking of the many interesting facts I’ve learned by writing fiction, and in particular, researching my mystery series featuring a health sciences librarian.

Librarians are trained researchers. If they’re curious, they look things up. I’d like to share some of the notable facts I’ve come across while my protagonist searched for the solutions to mysteries in the first four books in the Aimee Machado Mystery series.

To keep the list brief, I’ll offer only a small sampling from each book, serving them up one book at a time.

BOOK ONE –  DUE FOR DISCARD

QUESTION ONE:
How many professional journalists are killed in the line of duty within a given year?
FACT:  Thirty-four journalists have been killed so far in 2017. The deadliest countries are:

 

1 – Iraq                         8
2 – Syria                       7
3 – Mexico                    5
4 – Yemen                    2
5 – Somalia                  2
6 – Russia                    2
7 – Afghanistan            1
8 – South Sudan          1
9 – Philippines             1

BOOK ONE – QUESTION TWO:
How much does it cost to have a pet preserved cryogenically?

FACT:  According to the website of one pet cloning and cryogenics company, the cost of cryopreserving a cat is $5,800. For a dog, cryopreservation cost is $5,800 up to fifteen pounds in weight plus $150 per pound for every pound above fifteen. For a pet bird of typical size, the charge is $1,000.

Disclaimer: While the cost is a fact, this author does not vouch for the legitimacy of the service being
offered.

Visit www.sharonstgeorge.com again soon for facts I learned by writing Book Two of the Aimee Machado Mysteries.

The hospital-based Aimee Machado Mysteries, published by Camel Press, are available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from your local bookstore in trade paperback and as ebooks.

Aimee Machado Talks Turkey

Today on the Sharon St. George website I’ve invited the protagonist from my Aimee Machado Mystery series to post a story about life in fictional Coyote Creek, where she lives with her fictional boyfriend and her fictional grandmother and step-grandfather.

Hi,

My name is Aimee Machado. My boyfriend, Nick Alexander, and I live in a ranching community in Northern California called Coyote Creek. Our apartment is a converted bunkhouse over my grandparents’ llama barn.

I’m a hospital librarian at Timbergate Medical Center, a few short miles from where we live, and Nick is a corporate pilot. But when we’re at home, we’re all about country life.

Sometimes it’s just routine, like helping my grandmother Amah and her husband, Jack, feed and care for their llamas and turkeys. Other times, something a little different comes along.

Like last weekend, when Amah was out of town visiting her brother, and Nick was away flying his billionaire boss to meetings in another state. I was enjoying a relaxing evening, watching Hugh Jackman in Logan, when Jack knocked on my door.

“Aimee, the setting hen just left her nest with three of her hatchlings. Come help me catch them before they scatter. She needs to be caged with them for a while, or they’ll fall victim to all sorts of predators.”

I paused my movie, reluctantly, I admit, and headed out to participate in a poultry roundup. We caught the three little ones easily, and settled them in a large, roomy cage with their mother hen. Jack provided food and water, and I thought we were finished. Back to Logan.

No such luck. Jack had checked the hen’s vacated nest and found one egg still there. The egg was pipped, which meant the poult was still inside, trying to get out, but it was too late to put the egg with the hen. As far as she was concerned, her incubating time was over. She had three offspring to take care of, and she had moved on.

Jack took the egg to the main house, put it in a box and set a lamp over it, hoping once the little one broke out, we could take it to its hen. But nothing was happening. After a few hours, Jack decided to assist by opening the shell himself. The poult was alive, but feeble and floppy, as newborn turkeys usually are for the first few hours.

“This has happened before,” Jack said. “Your Amah usually puts the little one under her shirt next to her heart for a few hours. Then when it’s strong enough to walk on its own, we give it to the hen.” He gave me a meaningful look. Would I volunteer?

“Does that always work?” I asked. “I thought the hen wouldn’t take a baby that had been handled by humans.”

“Not true, at least not with our turkeys,” Jack said. “We’ve done it successfully a few times before. Mama hen and baby both have a strong, instinctive desire to connect.”

I’ll skip to the finish and tell you that the little one came along just fine. After a few hours of cuddling next to my heart, it could stand and run around with sufficient strength that we were able to put it in the cage, reunited with the rest of its family.

Now, back to Logan. He and his fellow mutants have performed amazing feats over the years, but have any of them played nursemaid to a baby turkey? I think not.

To see what Aimee and her crime-solving cohorts are up to these days, have a look at Spine Damage, the newest release in the Aimee Machado Mystery series. If you’re not sure where the Azores Islands are, you’ll know all about this nine-island archipelago by the time you’ve taken an armchair trip there with Aimee and Nick.

“There are many well-researched crime and medical details which lend authenticity to the novel . . . Readers who enjoy detailed world and character building with sweet romance will thoroughly enjoy Spine Damage.” —Claudette Melanson for InD’Tale Magazine

http://indtale.com/reviews/mystery/spine-damage-aimee-machado-mystery-4

 

DON’T FENCE ME IN: GIVING A MYSTERY SERIES ROOM TO ROAM

Some of us are old enough to remember the jokes about “Cabot Cove Syndrome” that were going around back when Angela Lansbury’s mystery writer, Jessica Fletcher, was solving murder cases. Others may have discovered Murder, She Wrote through the ever-present reruns on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel.

The program about a small fictional town in Maine featured a new murder every week, and with the small population there, it seemed townsfolk were dying off like flies. The jokesters had a saying that still rings true as good advice for mystery writers today. “Don’t move to Cabot Cove.” This is particularly important if they’re writing an amateur sleuth series or cozy mysteries, which are often set in small towns.

Eventually, Jessica Fletcher’s writers picked up on the problem, and sent her off to New York City where she kept an apartment. Then they began sending her to all sorts of other cities and countries to practice her detecting skills. She kept her home in Cabot Cove, but far fewer murders happened there.

So how do we place our mystery series protagonist in a small town, yet still offer her, or him, the necessary room to roam? In my case, planning ahead before writing the first book in the Aimee Machado Mystery series was the key. Using what I knew about the world outside my own hometown seemed like the way to go. What were the reasons my protagonist might break away temporarily from her hometown and her job as a hospital librarian to solve a crime?

First, I gave her parents who live half a world away on a mid-Atlantic island in the Azores. Something I was familiar with, because I’d been there.

Then, I gave her a corporate pilot as a boyfriend. Something else I knew about, because there was a general aviation pilot boyfriend in my own past. With a pilot and a plane at her disposal, Aimee can hop to all sorts of destinations when the need arises: San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, even the Azores.  No problem.

And remembering Jessica Fletcher’s New York adventures, I gave my protagonist a grandfather and step-grandmother who are actors living in New York City. Something else I knew about, as I had spent a lot of time around New York’s theatre scene while living on the East Coast studying for my Theatre Arts degree.

And last, but far from least, my protagonist lives on a llama ranch owned by her other set of grandparents. Her home is a converted bunkhouse above their llama barn. Conveniently, it’s only a short drive to the hospital where she works. In the second book in my series, her experience with llamas gave her the opportunity to hike in the mountain wilderness near her home when tracking down a missing character.

So a small-town setting may be a great home base for a mystery protagonist, but it’s a lot more fun for readers if that character has plenty of room to roam. I know it’s a lot more fun for me.

In Spine Damage, the fourth book in the Aimee Machado Mystery series, Aimee and Nick travel from their hometown of Timbergate, California to the Azores Islands and then to San Francisco’s yachting scene. They’re on a desperate search for clues to the fate of a missing teenage girl held captive on a superyacht whose destination is unknown. We’ll know if they find her in time when the book is released May 15, 2017.

 

Novelists: Actors Who Play All the Parts

In a temporary lull between final edits of the fourth book in my Aimee Machado Mystery Series, and working out the plot of book five, I found myself tempted to take a plum role in a local theater production of Ken Ludwig’s Edgar-winning play. The Game’s Afoot, or Holmes For the Holidays.

Several years had passed since I last trod the boards, and I had spent those years following my dream of becoming a published mystery novelist. Once that dream became a reality, I thought I had conquered my addiction to live theater. I was confident that I could take on this role, strictly as a favor to the director, of course, and when the run was over, I’d go back to my keyboard and my life as a mystery novelist.

And that’s exactly what happened, but something else happened along the way. I discovered that fiction writers and actors are very much alike. One of my fellow cast members made a remark in the green room about her long-ago desire to write fiction. She said she gave it a try, but everything she wrote seemed stiff, so she decided she wasn’t a writer and gave it up. Hearing her say that made me sad that she had given up so soon, because I recalled going through that same experience. Not only in writing fiction, but in my first attempts as an actor. Stiff. Self-conscious. Blah. I wasn’t “gifted” with spontaneous ability in either art form, so why even try?

For me, the reason to try acting was the feeling, when I attended live theater productions, that I didn’t belong in the audience. I couldn’t stop thinking I belonged on the stage. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized where that feeling came from. As a two-year-old, I was signed up for dance lessons by my mother, and for the next ten years, I was always on stage, never in the audience. First came the hula, then Spanish dancing, rumba, tap, and ballet. Finally, when it became clear that I did not have the feet of a ballerina, my dancing years came to an end. Instead, I turned first to live theater, and then to writing fiction.

After my recent return to acting, it struck me that fiction writers are, in a sense, actors who play all the parts. In theater, we actors usually create only one character—the role we were cast to play. We start with a script, and within the context of the story, we gain some idea of what our character is like. But we must bring that character to life with attitude, emotion, personality quirks, a past, and best of all, a secret. We do everything we can to flesh out that character on a live stage and to give the audience something to understand and relate to.

In writing fiction, we do the same, but instead of creating just one character, we create all of them. In our writing space, we put our physical bodies in a chair and tap a keyboard. But in our minds, we’re becoming any number of living, breathing people. We know what they look like, sound like, think like, and act like. Are they sane or crazy? Healthy or ill? Happy or sad? If we’re doing our characters justice, we could step into any of their skins and take them on a stage, fully formed and ready for an audience who will see them as we do in our minds.


In SPINE DAMAGE, book four of the Aimee Machado Mystery Series, 
Aimee and Nick are on their way to the Azores to hunt down clues to a missing teenage girl who vanished after attending a party on a luxury yacht. They stop off in Boston to visit Aimee’s grandfather, an actor who is appearing in a Boston theater’s production of BUS STOP. Although they enjoy the play, the mystery surrounding the girl’s disappearance deepens, and solving it becomes a deadly race against time. SPINE DAMAGE is due for release on May 15, 2017.

WRITING THE NOVELLA: A Guest Blog by Sasscer Hill

High Resolution 4Today I’m pleased to welcome a talented guest author to the Sharon St. George website. As a horse lover and a mystery writer, I’ve read everything written by the beloved Dick Francis, as have his scores of loyal followers. Although he is no longer with us, we are fortunate to have talented authors like Sasscer Hill following in his footsteps. Sasscer is the author of the multiple-award-nominated Nikki Latrelle mystery series, as well as author of the “Fia McKee” series forthcoming from St. Martins, Minotaur. The first book in the Fia McKee series won the 2015 Carrie McCray award for Best First Chapter of a Novel, and was the 2015 Claymore Runner Up. Her novella, RACING FROM EVIL, the prequel to her Nikki Latrelle mystery series, was released in May of 2016.

It is my pleasure to welcome my guest, Sasscer Hill, to the Sharon St. George website to provide insights into a topic she knows well:

WRITING THE NOVELLA:  SASSCER HILL’S ODYSSEY

As a wild-eyed teenager, there was one quote that touched my soul.

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.” – T. S. Eliot- 1955

Eliot’s words describe so many of life’s adventures, and for me, none so much as my journey as the writer of the Nikki Latrelle series. When I started this series, though I could write, I knew nothing about being an author, and nothing about writing a mystery or suspense novel. So I read several how to books and took some mystery writing courses at the Bethesda Writer’s Center in Maryland.

Following the suggestions of my instructor and various gurus in the how-to books, I wrote a whole backstory for Nikki. The idea was to learn who Nikki was, and what made her that way before I started writing FULL MORTALITY.  It was a huge effort, but it paid off. FULL MORTALITY was nominated for an Agatha and a Macavity for best first novel.

Over the next few years, I wrote two more Nikki Latrelle books, before finally being forced to abandon her. I was searching for a big five publishing contract and my agent and everyone else in the industry said I had to write a new series if I hoped to accomplish this. So I did. My new heroine, Fia McKee, landed me a two book deal with St. Martins, a thrilling and heady moment, for sure.

But then reality set in as I saw the huge gap between the last Nikki Latrelle, published in 2013, and the not-available-until 2017, FLAMINGO ROAD. I’d planned to immediately start a third in the Fia McKee series. But I woke up one morning and realized if the first two books in this new series don’t sell well, St. Martins will drop me like a hot potato.

I was aware that some publishers are asking their authors to write novellas and short stories to keep themselves in the public eye during the intervals between their full length novels. I decided it was time to produce another Nikki Latrelle. And so, after the long journey of writing five books, I returned to my notes about Nikki Latrelle’s early years. Like the Eliot quote, I came back to where I’d started and knew the place for the first time.

So what if it was backstory? This tale of Nikki’s early years was both poignant and loaded with reader satisfaction.  Imagine a fatherless thirteen-year-old girl whose mother dies suddenly. In a sense, this mother has abandoned her daughter, leaving her in the hands of a lewd, malevolent stepfather. What happens to this girl after she flees from her stepfather through the streets of Baltimore and climbs the razor-wire fence into Pimlico Racetrack? Nikki’s drawn to horses, knows how to ride, and dreams of being a jockey. But how can a runaway with no ID, no family, and no income survive?

The fact that she does survive and succeed makes, in my opinion, a great story. So I recently wrote and self-published the Nikki Latrelle novella, RACING FROM EVIL. The novella has sold well and I’m very glad I wrote it. But now we come to the next phase of my writer’s journey.

In my heart I believe the St. Martins/Fia McKee series will sell well. After all, the unpublished series has already won the Carrie McCray (South Carolina Writers) Award for Best First Chapter of a Novel, and been nominated for a Claymore Award.

I wanted the next Fia McKee to take place at Santa Anita Park in California, and even took a trip out to the track, touring it and the Hollywood area nearby. I wanted a murder mystery set at this well-known track surrounded by the glitz and deceit of Hollywood. But still, suppose the first two don’t do well? What good will this idea be then? If I want to sell to another big five publisher, any book I write has to be something new, which means yet another series and a new set of characters.

Since I can’t afford not to hedge my bets, I’ve already started a new book–a murder mystery about the Irish Travelers here in America. By happy coincidence, the largest enclave of these people is Murphy Village, not more than forty minutes from my home in Aiken, South Carolina.

Travelers have a fascinating culture. The children are taken out of school by eighth grade, if not before, and the girls are married by contract and usually as young teens. Travelers stick to themselves and have little dealings with outsiders. Society believes the Travelers are scam and con artists. What would it be like for a girl who grows up in this atmosphere? What if she wants out? Where would she go? What would happen to her?

And so, another story evolves, and another exploration begins. Only time will tell which way I travel, but at least I’ll be as prepared as possible for whatever happens next.

About RACING FROM EVIL

AA Cover Teresa racingevil-coverproof4 (1)Nikki Latrelle’s mother dies suddenly, leaving the thirteen-year-old girl in the hands of her lewd, malevolent stepfather. Nikki has no other family, and when the stepfather forces his way into her bedroom, she flees. Her best times were spent with her mom at the racetrack, so this is where she runs, climbing the track’s razor-wire fence late at night, in Baltimore. Nikki’s drawn to horses, knows how to ride, and dreams of being a jockey. But how can a runaway with no ID, no family, and no income survive? She needs money, but must hide from the police and her stepfather who relentlessly search for her. As these men close in, a groom named Carlos helps her escape. Carlos has problems of his own, but through him, she meets the old horse-trainer Ravinsky.  Will the old horseman take her under his wing? Risk his status and reputation to help her? And what evil has befallen Carlos’s young son, Pedro? The boy is missing, and Nikki senses evil forces are at work. Because she knows too well how it feels to be alone and frightened, she risks her life to find Pedro.

“Could Sasscer Hill be the Dick Francis of her generation? Count me among those who would vote yes.”
Margaret Maron, New York Times Best Selling Author and Winner of Edgar Best Novel, Edgar Grand Master, Agatha, Anthony & Macavity Awards

FIVE STAR REVIEW. “RACING FROM EVIL, a fast paced exciting work of writing and proverbial ‘page turner’ of the best mystery style. Sasscer’s way with words makes the story unfold in a clear concise manner that’s believable, and accurate to details. I love her portrayal of the horses in the book. A horse lover’s delight, a mystery lover’s thrill. I would recommend this novella to all readers for it’s quick pace, as well as a look into some of the real life dangers of being a young girl.”
Bishop, Amazon Reviewer

Follow Sasscer Hill at:
http://SasscerHill.com/
Twitter: @SasscerHill
https://www.amazon.com/author/sasscerhill

HOSPITAL PHOBIA: WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF?

When you anticipate a trip to the hospital, does your pulse quicken? Does your blood pressure rise? Does your throat go dry with dread? Then you’re probably hospital-phobic.DSC_4332 When I set out to write this post, I did an online search of the term hospital phobia and found 480,000 results. I knew the phobia was real, but I didn’t know it had a name. The medical term for this condition is a mouthful. It’s called nosocomephobia.

What is it that strikes fear in the heart? What causes that panicky sensation? If you’re about to be admitted as a patient, it may be the latest headline about deaths caused by medical errors. If you’re a visitor, it may be something as simple as the thought of all those nasty germs floating around. Ick!

Even worse, you just watched a TV show about a crazed shooter running amok in the corridors of a hospital.

So what are you to do? If you’re a potential patient, you need to be admitted. Your appendix is about to burst, and it isn’t going to heal itself. Or perhaps your loved-one is in the hospital, needing you there by his or her side. You have little choice but to face your fear and go into that terrifying place filled with germs and other potential threats.

Let me try to reassure you. I worked in an acute care hospital for seven years. My administrative position sent me to every floor and every department in the hospital complex. The worst danger I faced in all of that time was . . .

Actually, I’m having trouble thinking of even one example, but I can think of endless examples of how hospital administration and staff are involved in keeping patients and visitors safe.

DSC_4342

The welfare of patients involves a complex system of safety protocols designed to cover not just the care provided by physicians and nurses, but by every department and hospital worker. These include: emergency, pharmacy, radiology, pathology, dietary, infection control, and many more. Safety protocols are in place for every aspect of patient care.

But what about the safety of visitors? How are they being protected? From fire? From shooters? From other disasters? Fire and disaster drills are conducted regularly. Each department knows its procedures and assigned duties, and stands ready to assist. Hospital security protocols are in place, and personnel are constantly on alert for the very rare occasion when a patient or visitor becomes unruly or dangerous. As an added protection, more and more hospitals are requiring visitors to show photo ID and wear a visitor’s badge during their visit.

If you’re hospital-phobic, don’t give up or give in. There are treatments that can help. You can find a wealth of helpful information by doing a search using the key words hospital phobia.

Here is just one of the 480,000 links I found for information about this condition.

http://www.allaboutcounseling.com/library/nosocomephobia/

Book 3 Cover00020002In BREACH OF ETHICS, the third book in the AIMEE MACHADO MYSTERY series, the issue of patient and visitor safety is on the mind of Timbergate Medical Center Administrator Jared Quinn. His concern for the wellbeing of patients and visitors results in a locked room murder mystery for Aimee and her team of amateur sleuths to solve.

The first three books in the AIMEE MACHADO MYSTERY series, published by Camel Press, are available in print and eBook formats from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or by request from your local bookstore.

 

WHO IS ETHICAL NORM?

Sorry, trick question. Ethical Norm is not the husky man from Cheers who sat at the corner of the bar. Norm’s ethical boundaries might have been compromised by his appetite for beer, a proclivity that, on more than one occasion, caused him to behave in an unethical manner.

Ethical normCorn or Wheat is a term I first heard in a college fiction writing course. Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, was assigned to be read by the class. During the discussion that followed, the professor pointed out that the ethical norm of that setting was an integral part of the story in which a small farming community participates in a ritual to ensure a good harvest.

I recently refreshed my memory by searching out a definition of the term. I found that Webster tells us norms are standards of proper or acceptable behavior; ethics are rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad. When these are combined, we have standards of acceptable behavior, not necessarily mandated by law, but based on that particular society’s ideas of what is morally good and bad.

Some of literature’s most memorable works have used the concept of a given society’s ethical norm to startle readers’ minds into active thought about the behaviors they expect from themselves and others who share not only their community, but their nation and their planet.

Tropical islandAnother example, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, demonstrates what happens when a group of young boys become castaways on a tropical island. Does their survival depend on establishing an ethical norm different from what governed their behavior before they became shipwreck survivors?

This important element of setting reaches beyond fiction. A 2016 Academy Award-winning documentary short subject film titled A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is a stunning example of the concept of how one society’s ethical norm differs from others. Set in Pakistan, it sheds light on the practice of honor killings, and involves a 19-year-old woman who survives an honor killing attempt by her father and uncle for marrying the man she loves. It brings to light the statistic that approximately a thousand Pakistani women are murdered each year by male relatives for dishonoring their families. The film has already prompted Pakistan’s prime minister to address the need for a stronger law against honor killings in his country. In her Oscar acceptance speech, courageous woman filmmaker Obaid-Chinoy stressed the “power of film” to bring about social change.

So when we consider the setting for our novel, short story, or work of nonfiction, we’re not looking only at time and place, but we also consider the ethical norm of that setting, whether it be a country, a community, or even a business or profession such as law or medicine. We know that the standard of acceptable behavior will affect the main characters, it will affect the other characters in the story, and it will affect the reader’s reaction to the work. It is inspiring to realize that writers who expose unacceptable ethical norms can do more than entertain and inform, they can make a better world possible.

Book 3 Cover00020002In Breach of Ethics, Sharon St. George’s third novel in the Aimee Machado Mystery series, a troubled surgeon faces an ethical dilemma while operating on a ten-year-old girl. His efforts to save the life of the child prodigy pianist result in ominous consequences involving Aimee and her band of intrepid crime solvers.

Breach of Ethics will be released by Camel Press on May 1, 2016. It is available now to preorder from Amazon and Barnes and Noble in paperback and eBook format.