<![CDATA[Official website of Connie Shelton, USA Today bestselling mystery author - Blog, Get links for Writers, Booksellers & Libraries]]>Mon, 11 Dec 2017 14:41:57 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[When Characters Highjack An Author's Vacation]]>Mon, 06 Mar 2017 20:31:34 GMThttp://connieshelton.com/blog-get-links-for-writers-booksellers--libraries/when-characters-highjack-an-authors-vacationPicture
What could be more fun for a writer than to find a great place to travel, and then to weave that location into a story? I’ve done it with several of my Charlie Parker mysteries, but Sweet’s Begorra was the first time I had a good excuse to send Samantha and Beau to another country.
 
The things which inspired me in Ireland? Well, just about all of it! I loved our hotel on the Galway waterfront. Meandering through a street fair and seeing the World Cup sailboats up close. Pubs and restaurants were high on my list (if you’ve been reading me long enough, you know they always are!).
 
My own excuse for the trip was because my granddaughter did a summer semester in Galway that year and I was invited along for an all-girls visit. No way could I say no to that! European cities with ancient city walls and stone buildings dating back centuries have always appealed to me, and the premise of my story required Sam to spend time in the heart of it all. I used most of the actual locations I visited (our hotel room overlooked the graveyard in the story), plus I made up a few other places for story purposes, such as Terrance’s house.
 
My readers helped me too. A friend and former writing student told me about the Irish Travellers, which started me on the path of watching hours of videos and looking at hundreds of pictures of their colorful lifestyle. Another reader contacted me and helped flesh out details about some of the tourist sites I’d not had the chance to personally visit. It meant so much to me to have their input and answers to my many questions.
 
All in all, my trip was so memorable I couldn’t let it fade away with a few photos and keepsakes. Sending Samantha to Galway seemed the perfect way to bring back all my own memories and to share them for years to come. I hope my readers enjoy their own vicarious vacation in Sweet’s Begorra.

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<![CDATA[How I Planned a "Sweet" Valentine Wedding]]>Sat, 04 Feb 2017 18:45:19 GMThttp://connieshelton.com/blog-get-links-for-writers-booksellers--libraries/how-i-planned-a-sweet-valentine-weddingPicture
A Valentine’s Day wedding … What could be more romantic? I thought so, Sam thought so, her daughter Kelly really thought so as she pushed for the event to happen. But we writers can’t be quite that nice to our characters. I mean, seriously … should they always get their way? Should all their dreams come true?
 
I started writing Sweet Hearts with every intention of creating a dream wedding day. But if there’s one thing that would make a story entirely boring, it’s a plot that reads something like: A man and woman yearn to get married. So they do. The end.
 
Nah … I just had to be a big meanie and throw in a few obstacles along the way. Let’s just say that all’s fair in the writer’s game of love, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to mess with all my characters a little. The perfect dress, the most fantastic cake ever, the dream venue, and all the guests getting along in perfect harmony? Um … maybe not.
 
Does the wedding take place by the end of the book? If you’ve read it already, you know the answer. If not … well … I won’t spoil it here for those who haven’t read it yet. You’ll find out when you read Sweet Hearts.
 
What are your thoughts on a Valentine wedding? Did you have one yourself? Let me know!


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<![CDATA[Traveling Along With Charlie Parker]]>Wed, 11 Jan 2017 22:57:54 GMThttp://connieshelton.com/blog-get-links-for-writers-booksellers--libraries/traveling-along-with-charlie-parkerPicture
One of the joys of writing a mystery series like my Charlie Parker books is that I get to choose a variety of locations for Charlie and Drake to go. His business as a helicopter pilot works well all over the world. As a beginning writer, I was told ‘write what you know’ and that’s exactly what I did. My husband had a long career as a helicopter pilot and I’ve borrowed greatly from his experiences in aviation for the situations Drake and Charlie encounter.
 
One of the most fun books for me to write was Competition Can Be Murder because not only did I use their helicopter experiences as a basis for the plot, I was fortunate to take a trip to Scotland and I merged many of the beautiful locations we visited with Charlie’s excitement of piloting a helicopter over the North Sea.
 
We toured several castles—Charlie and Drake get to live on the grounds of one such elegant estate and become friends with the castle’s owners. We drove the length of Loch Ness—yep, they did it too. We spent a little time in Inverness, which came in handy for several of the story locations. And those adorable Border Collies? I loved our visit to a trainer who gave a fantastic demonstration of his dogs at work herding sheep—loved it so much I had to include the dogs in my story.
 
Did I also fly over the North Sea and experience adventures mirroring the ones Charlie has? Well, not really. There has to be some fiction mixed in, or it’s not a novel. One day, perhaps, I’ll compile all my travels into a memoir—for now, it’s one adventure at a time, with a mystery or two per book. Thank you for letting me take you along as I create these stories for your entertainment.


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<![CDATA[Second Book in a Series]]>Wed, 14 Sep 2016 14:43:51 GMThttp://connieshelton.com/blog-get-links-for-writers-booksellers--libraries/second-book-in-a-seriesPicture
For me, the second book in a series is more fun (and somewhat more challenging) than the first. By this time I know the characters better than when I began the first book, but they are still evolving for me. Their personalities and backstory (what their lives were about before they leaped into the first mystery) are becoming clearer.  I also have to be careful to include things in the plot that are consistent with what was said in the first book.
 
The second book is also where I get to start having fun with them. Charlie Parker got to take a tropical vacation in her second outing and a romance began to blossom. Samantha Sweet’s love life moves forward, too, and because of events that happened in the first book she’s achieving a long-held dream.
 
I began writing about both these female protagonists with the idea of building a series so I had the luxury of ending Deadly Gamble (Charlie) and Sweet Masterpiece (Sam) with a few hints of what would happen next. Aside from helping me launch the ideas for the second in each series, I think it also gives my readers a peek into the future and lets everyone know there will be another adventure (and another, and another …) in store.
 
Writing a series is fun because I get to know my characters as good friends and I enjoy building upon their life stories, following along as they win a few and lose a few, as new people come into their lives and others leave. I’m currently working on yet another new series—more about that in the coming months—and this time I’m dealing with five central, recurring characters. This series will, I think, stretch me as a writer as I work to keep each of the characters interesting and throw some unexpected adventures their way.
 
In the meantime, Charlie and Sam will each continue in future books and not even I know what, exactly, will happen.


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<![CDATA[The Story Behind the Magic]]>Thu, 14 Jul 2016 18:54:52 GMThttp://connieshelton.com/blog-get-links-for-writers-booksellers--libraries/the-story-behind-the-magicPicture
Fans of my Samantha Sweet series often ask questions about that magical wooden box bequeathed to Sam in the first book. We're intrigued by its powers and how a simple box came by such energy as it displays in the stories. Where did the box come from? Was it magical before Sam got it?
 
Well, I found myself wondering those same things, so I set out to create a story that could explain it. I began with the old woman who gave Sam the box. Bertha Martinez was a simple person, living in a small New Mexico town and although she had something of a reputation for being a bruja, or witch, I always felt there was more to her than we could guess from the rumors and stories. I created a history for Bertha. Then I wondered, who had the box before she got it? And who owned it before that person?
 
A monster of a book was born. I had to take this story back to the creation of the box, to the woodcarver himself. And that landed me in 12th century Ireland.
 
Then there was the complication that, at one point along the line, Sam discovered there were actually two identical-looking boxes (remember the uncle who left his estate to her?—if you haven’t read that far in the series yet, don’t worry, I won’t give spoilers here). Somehow the history of the box had to encompass a lot of years, many individual stories, many outcomes to the supernatural tales. I began putting them together into a timeline, each chapter showing a different period in history with a new generation of characters.
 
The result is not completely history; it’s not completely mystery. It does lead from the creation of the box to the day when Sam receives the artifact and it becomes part of her own story. The Woodcarver’s Secret helps explain little details and blends in with events that happen to Sam in the later mystery books. I hope you enjoy it!


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<![CDATA[My Beginning as a Mystery Writer]]>Tue, 07 Jun 2016 18:40:39 GMThttp://connieshelton.com/blog-get-links-for-writers-booksellers--libraries/my-beginning-as-a-mystery-writerPicturePhoto copyright Phil Date
Long ago and far away … well, not that far away … I came across a book in a bookstore, one that told it all. I don’t remember the precise title now but it was along the lines of how to write and publish a book. I snatched it up and took it home. I had toyed with the idea of writing novels for years but the most I would come up with was a page or two of evocative scenery or a character based on someone who did something outrageous. With my how-to book in hand, I devoured every word on characters, plot, conflict, locations. I went back with highlighter pen in hand, and marked everything I needed to remember (which was basically the whole book!)
 
I got my first word processor and started writing. Five hundred pages into it, I decided the story was done and I followed the instructions and sent it off to a contest I’d heard about, the prestigious Southwest Writers Workshop annual contest where the entries were judged by New York editors. When I received the call saying I had placed in the top three, I was over the moon. It never occurred to me that whichever editor had judged the contest wouldn’t just automatically accept my wonderful multi-generation family saga for publication.
 
I attended the conference where the awards were to be presented—accepted my third-place certificate and prize money, and spent the rest of the conference collecting business cards from every editor and agent there. Nearly all of them were willing to have me send the full manuscript. My trusty how-to book had advised that I only submit a book to one publishing house at a time, so that’s what I did. For about two years. No one wanted it. (It seems the first two chapters of a book might garner it a prize but don’t necessarily mean the entire tome is worth the massive amount of editing a NY house would have to put into it.)
 
Meanwhile, back at the keyboard … I followed every scrap of advice for editing that first book, kept sending it out, started a second book. And a third. Somewhere in there, I moved to another state. A friend and I shared loads of paperback books and we were both huge mystery fans. New female writers and female protagonists were making a big splash about then. Sara Paretsky and a group had formed Sisters In Crime, an organization for women crime writers, which I joined. Sue Grafton’s series was receiving attention, Marcia Muller was writing and publishing a lot. Going back to my first love of reading—mysteries—I began to consider what characters and plots I might bring to my writing. Charlotte “Charlie” Parker was born!
 
Although those first three non-mystery novels were never published, they provided excellent practice for me and by the time I finished the first two Charlie Parker books I was ready for publication. My next post talks about the process of launching the series with Deadly Gamble.


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<![CDATA[Beginnings of a Series]]>Tue, 07 Jun 2016 18:25:31 GMThttp://connieshelton.com/blog-get-links-for-writers-booksellers--libraries/beginnings-of-a-seriesPicture
Deadly Gamble is the first in my Charlie Parker mystery series, but a little-known fact is that it was actually the second in this series to be written. How and why did I decide to switch the order of the first two books?
 
I was living in Hawaii at the time I went back to my reading roots, decided to write a mystery series, and came up with the character of Charlotte “Charlie” Parker. Going on the advice of “write what you know” I figured, what the heck—I’m living in Hawaii, it’s a beautiful and exotic place, and I can present the story with a lot more depth than if I’d come here on a quick vacation. BUT … I also knew I would be moving back to New Mexico within a couple of years and it made more sense to set an ongoing series in the place I knew better. So, Charlie’s home state would be the same as mine. She would merely be in Hawaii on her vacation. I sat down and wrote Vacations Can Be Murder.
 
I attended my next writer’s conference and met with a few agents. They liked the exotic location idea, but one guy advised me to establish Charlie first in her home territory. It was important, he said, that readers see her at home doing her regular thing before she goes off to this fabulous vacation. She should earn the vacation before she goes there. Okay. I didn’t disagree.
 
I went home and came up with Charlie’s backstory—her family, home, neighbors and career. Most importantly, her sidekick companion dog Rusty. He turned out to be one of the most beloved characters in the whole series, so I was glad to introduce him, along with the standard cast of characters, in Deadly Gamble. A few minor rewrites to Vacations to make it clear Charlie was home-based in New Mexico, and the series was on its way.
 
For readers who have not yet started this series, Deadly Gamble is free at most online retailers—a great way to meet Charlie and get a feel for the series at no risk. Click here to learn more about the storyline.


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<![CDATA[A Valentine Mystery]]>Tue, 09 Feb 2016 08:00:05 GMThttp://connieshelton.com/blog-get-links-for-writers-booksellers--libraries/a-valentine-mysteryPicture
Each month I give a little background on how I came to write one of my books. This month, since Valentine’s Day comes very soon, I’d like to talk about my fourth Samantha Sweet book, Sweet Hearts.
 
As you know if you’ve followed this series, in the previous book Beau proposed to Sam and her daughter suggested the very romantic notion that the wedding should happen on Valentine’s Day. But it wouldn’t be a story if there weren’t some hurdles along the path, and this one is no exception.
 
For starters, there’s a funeral. I won’t give out a spoiler for those who haven’t gotten this far in the series yet … but we’ve lost an important character and those left behind are grieving. Sam is also facing one of the biggest holidays of the year for her new pastry shop, going into it with no clue how busy she’ll be. Topping it off, along comes Beau’s old girlfriend and she’s intent on getting Beau back before he can say “I do.”
 
It’s a challenge for a writer—to create a romantic story, a Valentine setting with a character who owns a bakery without making the whole plot absolutely sticky-sweet. Each time the story line threatened to become a little too mushy I had to find a few obstacles, and that’s where the ex-girlfriend and a few other things came in.
 
Sam’s own moods and personality become a bit of an obstacle too, as she deals with the pains of a growing business and balancing her love life with her dream career. Who among us hasn’t faced something similar?—work commitments and family time often come into conflict.
 
And that, I think, is one of the things that has made my characters and storylines work so well—they are filled with the sorts of real-life events we all deal with. Work, love, marriage, family, emotions, successes and losses … we can all relate. And if there’s an occasional crime, a whole bunch of chocolate and a little magic added to the story mix, well, so much the better!


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<![CDATA[Phantoms Can Be Murder - Where the ideas came from]]>Thu, 12 Nov 2015 17:21:25 GMThttp://connieshelton.com/blog-get-links-for-writers-booksellers--libraries/phantoms-can-be-murder-where-the-ideas-came-fromPictureFront of the historic Angel Hotel
When I got the chance to visit the historic Suffolk town of Bury St. Edmunds I knew I would find a mystery there. The place is loaded with history, and haunted sites abound. First stop was our hotel, the Angel, where Charles Dickens stayed and which he mentioned in his book The Pickwick Papers. Although I did not get the chance to stay in his room, hotel staff were very courteous and happy to show it to me. It’s very small and cozy—I could really imagine stowing away and writing in that perfect little space!

PictureThe Nutshell - Britain's smallest pub
Elsewhere around Bury, the Abbey Gardens across from the hotel was a charming place to stroll and think. The town’s narrow cobbled streets and historic shops further added to my list of places to set imaginary scenes. The story of the Nutshell Pub, where a mummified cat still lends its presence, was a must to be included in my story.            
Of course, I wanted to place my own characters there and come up with a story both modern-day and with a whiff of all that delightful haunted stuff. To taste the Cornish pasties and browse the shops (I love buying clothes that I would never find at home!), drink tea as only the English make it and walk the same streets Dickens walked … all of it added richness to my imagination and helped me put Charlie Parker into a new setting far from her native New Mexico.

 Where do writers get their ideas? Wherever we happen to be!

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<![CDATA[Autumn! A new book and sneak peeks into my writing life]]>Tue, 13 Oct 2015 16:03:21 GMThttp://connieshelton.com/blog-get-links-for-writers-booksellers--libraries/autumn-a-new-book-and-sneak-peeks-into-my-writing-lifePicture
I’m often asked where I get my ideas, so beginning this month I decided to feature one of my books each month and give a little background. I hope you’ll enjoy this feature.

Reunions Can Be Murder

Some book ideas start with the crime, some with the characters—this one started with the title. We were at my family reunion that summer and my cousins began teasing me about my book titles, each being something-can-be-murder. When, in the middle of a red-hot beanbag-toss game, someone joked about calling a book Reunions Can Be Murder, my little writer brain went “Ah-ha!”

            On the way home Dan and I were driving along a narrow back road when we spotted the turnoff to a ghost town called White Oaks. We followed the trail and came to the town that I later described in the book. A nice man there—despite his being quite hard of hearing and asking us to repeat all our questions—gave us a tour of the old schoolhouse and told some very interesting stories. Some of those also made it into the book, others were fictionalized.

            Anyway … back at home I began looking for ways to put my chosen title together with the ghost town and its Old West mining history. In came the fictional lady lawyer who insisted upon a family reunion, along with her cantankerous father who would do nearly anything to avoid attending. The character I had most fun with was the café owner who was based upon an in-law who, yes, did own a café, and yes, did dress and talk the way Keith Randel did in the book. He actually asked to be given a role in the story and was pleased with the result. I hope my readers are pleased, as well.


Recently, a reader asked: Is Samantha Sweet a totally fictional character or is someone a muse for your writing?

A. Sam really is her own person, although I borrowed things from various people to flesh out her life. I learned to bake and decorate cakes way back when I was in high school, so I actually dug out some of my old books and catalogs to describe the way things go in the bakery. I also frequently visit the baking boards on Pinterest for ideas and inspiration for the very cool cakes Sam makes.
            For her side job where she breaks into houses, I must admit one of my former writing students fed me the idea. He held this job, performing the tasks required for a USDA property caretaker and he gave me some background and ideas for a few of the weird things that had happened to him. My imagination began to run wild and I came up with things for Sam to deal with, especially in the early books.
            Otherwise, Samantha is pretty much every woman of her age group. She’s had to deal with a grown daughter who moved back home, starting a new business after years of money struggles, and then in the midst of menopause she’s got a new love in her life. Oh, and the occasional murders which cross her path—you know, just the usual everyday stuff.

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My first venture into children's fiction, and what fun it's been. I must admit to shamelessly borrowing from the antics of my own two pups to write this one--fun!

Happy Autumn, everyone!
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