Category Archives: Planning a novel

Characters in the Box ~ Guest Author Karen Dahood talks about her inspiring mystery characters

KarenDahoodCharacters in the Box 

What decides the physical appearance of a mystery series character? Does it change?

Miss Marple, she is not. My American eldersleuth, Sophie George, is meant to be much more up to date than Agatha Christie’s revered observer of village life who is so good at upending unpleasant domestic affairs (including murders). Jane’s people have marital difficulties, mainly, or anxiety about inheritance, typical midlife worries of the 1930’s-1960’s. Sophie’s clients in the 2000’s suffer from the agonies of aging: financial woes, estrangements from children, loneliness, heartbreak, bad health, a lifelong desire for revenge. Like Jane Marple, my retired librarian has an ally in a local detective – who is also her steady date. But Sophie is not a spinster. She is a widow and has a son. She is financially independent while Jane, who never was employed, receives support from her nephew. Sophie, raised during the Great Depression, was not educated like Jane, who went to school in Rome, yet she is equally brainy, some would say “street smart.” Her Bridgewater Village is hardly St. Mary Mead; it’s a new Florida condo development around a synthetic (but not entirely safe) fishing pond.

In the most recent TV interpretation, Jane Marple has shed her rather ponderous first movie appearance (Margaret Rutherford) to become quite svelte (Geraldine McEwen). Likewise, my Sophie is slender, keeps up an exercise regimen, and cares about nutrition. That is much more in keeping with today’s expectations.

Still, when I captured this bulky woman in black heading into the walled garden at The Bishop’s Palace, London, I Fulham Palace May 4 2014 (22)wished I had seen her before I invented Sophie George. With her back to the camera, the commanding figure is going someplace. I followed her, so I know it was to see the first purple irises. She was probably a garden volunteer. Her long fingers look useful. Or maybe she is a benefactress, as she has elegant earrings, though they may be old ones her deceased husband gave her in 1950. (I extrapolate from the man accompanying her that she has a driver.) The coat and hat and clunky shoes seem to have been in her closet for a very long time. (My Sophie seldom wastes money on clothes.)

In WINDOW ON THE POND Sophie is recognized as a New England native by her housewifely cotton skirt. I don’t show her face. It’s not important. I want you to imagine it.

026Last year I looked for characters with my camera as I rode around on London buses. I like the messy hairdo under a felt hat on this younger woman in the seat in front of me. Now I am thinking if I imagined it dark it could be Sophie on a future investigative commute. And I am hoping to create a character who looks something like this barrister (probably) who was studying his briefs on a train.

Karen Dahood lives in Tucson, Arizona. Her posts can be found on and her book reviews at (Norm Goldman).


Filed under Guest author, Planning a novel, Writing

Welcome to Author of Ghost Stories with a Difference ~ CR Hodges

Chuck Iceland‘And now for something completely different!’ With titles like ‘Three Quarters Martian’ you must expect original thinking when you read CR Hodges work. He is joining me now all the way from Colorado and we ‘met’ taking part in a blog hop a while back. (The wonders of modern technology)

Hi CR,

 Thank you for appearing as a guest on my blog. I’m having a mix of visitors this week, authors of quite different genres. I know that you write about ghouls and ghosts and other supernatural beings. What inspired you to do this?

 I’ve never written about ghouls, but you did just give me a new story idea there, thanks for that. As to ghosts and such, I was always more interested in what the ghost thought about being undead, or the valkyrie thought about being wingless, than what the poor helpless human thought of encountering one of the above. So I write a lot of my ghost stories from the spook’s point of view, not the spook-ee. What does it feel like to be alive one instant and dead the next, but still conscious, still observing?

Weird I should think.

Can you describe your current novel in less than thirty words? A tall order, I know.

I stink at compacting 90,000 words down to 30, but for you Diana, I’ll give it a go. This is for my WIP urban fantasy novel, Ragnarök Willie:

A noted archeologist, thirteen valkyries, a blue-bearded giantess, and Lasse Nordberg, college dropout, are all searching the ruins of Valhalla for an ancient weapon of mass destruction. Lasse finds it.

Do you prefer to write short stories or full novels and which is your favourite short story? ….Can you add a link for people to find it too please?

Mostly I’m a short story-ist, with 14 publication credits and another under contract. Not to mention 20 more in various stages of writing, rewriting (I do that a lot), and submission. Writing shorts allows me to try a lot of different voices, plots, points of view and even genres (see below), and it’s arguably easier to get from beginning to end to publication than longer works. That said, I’ve written a couple of novels, one of which, Ragnarök Willie (see above) is almost done and one of which, Gho, I compacted into a novella and sold (see below)

As to favorite short stories, my editors’ and readers’ favorite is clearly “Three-Quarters Martian,” a science fiction short that won a writing contest, got produced in audio format, and martianeven made honorable mention as one of the best online short stories of 2011 in the Million Writers Award. But my personal favorite is a mythica short, “Queen Méabh,” about an archeologist who inadvertently releases the ghost of a 5500-year-old faerie queen in modern-day Ireland.


Congrats on your success! I’ve been having discussions on different ways to plan a novel on my blog. Do you have a method which works for you that you’d be happy to share with us? It sounds like you write straight from your vivid imagination.

I’m an engineer in daylight hours so you’d think I’d be a meticulous planner, but I’m not. I’m a pants-er for the most part, meaning I just write by the seat of my pants. I generally try to get a complete draft on to paper in a very rough form and then go back and work the plotline. That said, I’m a spreadsheet junkie, which I use for timelines, character briefs, and backstory tracking. I should really plan more, as a tend toward really complex plots, but all too often my characters take it upon themselves to deviate from plan, so I just have to write down what they do.

 And who is your target audience? Is it mainly YA?

I started out writing YA but I think I’ve migrated more to New Adult, with a fair amount of adult genre as well. My first novel, Gho, a YA ghost story from the ghost’s point of view, will be published in novella form next month in the Bardic Tales and Sage Advice, Volume 6 anthology by Brads and Sages Publishing. I also have a few YA short stories published, including “Preschool War Games” in Cricket and “The Steamer Trunk” in Metro Fiction. But Ragnarök Willie is New Adult fantasy, and the majority of my shorts are either New Adult or adult fantasy or science fiction.

For the authors reading, can you give any tips as to the most successful tool you have used for marketing your work?

 Oh, I stink at that too. Honestly, I think plain old networking works best. Talk to people, make real connections, don’t just count Likes. I try to learn a lot from other writers, both aspiring and successful.

Finally, what about the future? Have you any thoughts as to what projects you will be working on in the next couple of years?

 The future is, maybe, novellas. I’ve always liked the shorter forms, but there has historically been a big gap publishing-wise between short stories and full length novels. There are many many markets for short stories, and of course both TP and SP outlets for novels. But novellas have been in no-man’s land. But I think, just maybe, that this may be changing. The success of Kindle Singles, which range from 5000 to 30,000 words, along with general shortening of attention spans of all of us in the digital age, give me hope that there may be a resurgence for novellas. Besides Gho, I have several more novellas in the early stages, including another valkyrie tale (working title “Riding Hel’s Horse”), an expanded version of “Queen Méabh” and a faerie apocalypse (working title “Beyond the Pale”).

 Interesting. Quite by chance I think my next work launched to the public will be a novella too. I hadn’t thought it through like that though. Where can readers catch up with what you are doing?

CR Hodges’s online haunts can be found at:

For his fellow short story writers, he also maintains a list of over 100 paying speculative fiction markets at


Many many thanks for joining us CR and good luck with your next projects.

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Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond ~No 15~ India ~ The last Post

This is my last post in my virtual journey to the various locations in Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home and it’s a place I never expected to go to when I planned the novel. Although I made an outline before I began to write, for me it’s always the research, as well as intuition and listening to my characters, which leads the flow of my writing. I often end up in locations which are a complete surprise to me and India was one of these.

I had a vague idea that Siberia played a part in the Great War, but I had absolutely no idea that we sentSolent Google Map Karachi1 troops to India, in fact my character arrived in Karachi, which was part of India rather than Pakistan back in 1916, when this part of my novel took place.

I was asked during one of my talks at Bitterne Library whether I’d visited India (& Pakistan) as part of my research, and I have to hold up my hand and admit that I didn’t and so how did I write the relevant chapters?

I don’t want to tell you the story, but I my aim was to weave historical detail around a plausible tale. Letters reaching home from so far away were sporadic and so this added to the anxiety of family left behind in Woolston. First I read as much as I could on the internet but, always liking to verify these web pages, I was sent copies of accounts of the times sent to me by The Hampshire Regiment Museum in Winchester. I have subsequently visited the museum and, almost as if to prove a point that the world is not so far apart, there were Gurkhas and their wives visiting at the same time, who took part in WW2. These accounts coloured my writing, not only with detail but descriptions and atmosphere. How did the troops feel to be so far away? What did they do? What did the area look like?

Here is a link to the Imperial War Museum where you can see the badge of the 9th (Cyclist) Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment.

Other questions pertinent to my story were,

How did Harriet’s son Tom, the quiet unadventurous one, cope with life in India?

Did he return?

What part did he play in the Great War?

What news of his experiences was he able to send home in his letters?

Through my story I tried to show the contrast in conditions to life here in England, or even to those poor souls out in the muddy fields of France, but most of what you read in the ‘India’ chapters are my imagination, seamlessly interspersed with factual details of the day. I can thank staff at the museum for reading the chapters to check for authenticity.

And so I end my virtual tour today. I have enjoyed sharing my journey with you, of locations that have become so vivid in my imagination that, when I visit them, (maybe I will go to Karachi one day too) I can imagine my characters living and working as if it were all true. Well, they certainly are true in my heart!

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Filed under Ancasta, Historical Fiction, Planning a novel, The Great War, Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond, WW1