Writing What I Don’t Know

Many naysayers would say I have no right writing Native American characters. And I admit, I have had little contact with the culture or the people other than what I’ve read or the people I’ve sought out to help me try to make my characters believable and the world around them believable.

My first foray into writing Native American characters was my Spirit Trilogy that I wrote 15 years ago. It is a portrayal of the Chief Joseph band of the Nez Perce living in Wallowa County. The county where I grew up. Because I empathize with the tribes and feel they have all been wronged on so many levels, I strive to show their side of things and how strong a people they are. When I started to write these books, I contacted an, at that time, yahoo group of Native Americans and asked if there was anyone fro the Nez Perce tribe who would like to help me make my books historically accurate. I had two people respond. One was a young woman who would ask her grandmother my questions if she herself couldn’t answer them. The other was a man who said he was a descendant of Chief Joseph. I never asked for proof, but he was direct in answering my questions and I felt he gave me good information. I also read books written by McWhorter who lived among the Nez Perce, went to tribal websites and read their history, and toured the Nez Perce museums.

I did all of this to make sure I had portrayed the people, their culture, and their beliefs the best I could.

As I came up with the idea for my first mystery series, I wanted a character in the arts and I wanted one that would stay true to my need to show readers that Native Americans, First Americans, or Indigenous people, however you wish to call them, are people who have been wronged and who are still here and growing stronger. I feel it is their beliefs and culture that has kept them alive and now that many tribes are bringing back their language, their customs, and their beliefs, they are becoming stronger and wiser than the rest of us.

As so, I came up with a woman who is a potter who makes her own clay and was kept from her father’s family, her Nez Perce roots. In this way, I can have her slowly learn customs and attend events with the same interest and wonder I have as I encounter things in the culture. Placing her Nez Perce family on the Colville Reservation in Washington, I was able to learn a lot from another author, Carmen Peone, who lives there. She took me on a tour of the reservation. We talked to people, and she helped me when I had questions about customs, events, and how people would react to things. I feel making this connection is what helps to give my books more authenticity.

My Gabriel Hawke novels are set in Wallowa County. He is also a Native American character, but his background has him living in the Whiteman’s world since he turned 18 and he is now 55. He still clings to his culture and is slowly going to more events and visiting his mother at the Umatilla Reservation. I’ve toured the reservation, talked with people who live there and would like to make more connections with people who live there. I need to do a face-to-face visit with one of my contacts there for an upcoming Spotted Pony Casino book. I even had a short volley of emails with the tribal chief of police while I was figuring out how the tribal police worked in regard to the reservation and working with State, County, and the FBI law enforcement. And a person who worked security at the casino explained some of the ins and outs of that job. Then I made up my own casino and have it work similar but in a way that works for my character.

I also read contemporary books written by Native American writers to learn more about how the past and present are meshing together to keep the culture alive. And to learn how the Indigenous people of today are coping with life on and off of the reservations.

I attended the Wild Horse Casino Powwow this year.

Whenever you see me post that I am researching, I could be reading, I could be interviewing someone, or I could be on a trip to see a place I’m going to put in a book. But one thing, is certain, I know that no matter how much research I do, I can never write a true Indigenous character. I just hope I write enough about them and their lives that my readers learn to appreciate their culture even half as much as I do.

If anyone reading this is from the Umatilla or Nez Perce tribes, I would love to connect with you. I am looking for a beta reader to help me make my books better.

A New Project

I ended 2022 finishing book 10 in the Gabriel Hawke series. It has been assessed by my beta readers and critique partner, and I have fixed their suggestions and read through it making some sentences stronger and now it is off to my editor. When it gets back from there I’ll send it off to a final proofreader and then it will be available to read.

But now, I get to plan out the next Spotted Pony Casino book. This is book 4 in the series and it’s titled The Squeeze. The best thing about this series is knowing what the title will be when I start. That’s because when I came up with the series, I decided to use gambling terms for the titles. Not long after making that decision, I participated on an online workshop and they discussed titles and how readers like catchy phrases for titles. I was so thankful that my subconscious didn’t lead me astray!

So far I have the title, the premise, and have filled out my Suspect Chart. This is my chart that names the victim and the characters who will be suspects in the book. While I don’t plot out my story, I use the chart as my introduction – when the victim is found. Then as I bring each suspect into the book it moves the story along. And as Dela and Heath work to discover the reason behind the murder, they come across the clues and tick off each suspect as whether they did or didn’t kill the victim.

Since I’m not a plotter or an outliner, this method works for me. AS you can see, I’m still working on the chart.

I’m bringing back a couple of characters from a previous book who are nasty people, and I’ll be introducing my readers to new characters who may or may not be seen in future books.

I enjoy writing my character Dela Alvaro. She’s tough but not as all together as she has people thinking she is. I tossed in several pieces of backstory that keeps her off center as well. That’s the fun part of being a writer, you can mess with your character’s lives and then discover how they handle it as you write. Sometimes these obstacles may mimic a writer’s life and sometimes they are something that the writer just says, “What if?”

The secondary characters mainly just popped into my head as I wrote them. All except Special Agent Quinn Pierce. I put a lot of thought into him, thinking he would become Dela’s significant other, but then in book two, SURPRISE, my fingers wrote in Tribal Police Officer Heath Seaver and that he and Dela had a past. Not as fiery as her past with the Special Agent, but significant enough that by book three Heath moves into Dela’s house as a roommate.

If you want to learn more about the books, you can hop over to my website and read the blurbs and decide if you’d like to read it in print, ebook, or listen to the books in audio.

My New Co-writer

Last February, I lost my writing buddy. She was 15 and had gone on all my writing research trips, some book signings, and always lay on a doggy bed next to my desk when I wrote. Losing Tink, a min-pin Chihuahua cross was hard.

I received her as a gift from an older couple we knew. They had been given a Min-pin/chihuahua male from their granddaughter as a gift. Whenever we visited them or they visited us, I would hold, pet, and enjoy that dog.

Tink liked to ride on tractors, so hubby made her places to ride.

Several years after they’d received Mokie, they showed up at my house and said we were going for a ride. We drove out to what is called Crooked River Ranch in central Oregon and walked into a house with 8 puppies playing. Their male had fathered the litter and they were giving me the pick of the litter. I sat down on the floor and watched the puppies play. One waddled over to me, they were only 5 weeks old, and I picked her up. She had the same coloring as her father and little kink in her tail. After holding her for only a minute, I said, “This is the one I want.”

Instead of them keeping her for a few more weeks they told me to go ahead and take her as the mother didn’t have enough milk and they had been feeding them puppy chow anyway. So I carried Tink home in my cupped hands. That’s how small she was!

It was November and we had snow on the ground that was deeper than she was. I cleared a spot to take her out to go to the bathroom, but she would shiver and not take care of business. That winter she was trained on pee pads in the laundry room. She was a quick learner and smart.

Tink at a booksigning

Because my husband worked and there weren’t any kids at home anymore, Tink went everywhere I did rather than leave her home alone. She loved the research trips where we’d travel on gravel roads and walk through historic places. She didn’t care for other dogs and thought she was a person.

She went to outdoor booksignings with me and on walks and even horseback rides.

I think our favorite trip together was Silver City, Idaho. Tink rode shotgun as we wound our way up to the near ghost town on the top of a mountain.

And when we arrived, we walked all over the old town. Tink liked the creek that ran down between the town and the cemetery.

I miss her and had said I wasn’t getting another little dog for a while…

A month ago, hubby and I were in the Verizon store getting his phone looked at. We walked out, sat down in the car, and we both saw a sign at the same time- Puppy Love. Puppy adoptions. We glanced at each other. “It doens’t hurt to just look,” he said.

We walked around looking at all the puppies. A shy chiweenie (chihuahua/dachshund cross) caught my eye. I picked her up and she tucked her head under my chin. Yes, I fell in love. However, hubby took one look at the price and said, “Let’s go.” I put her down and followed him out to the car.

On the 3 hour drive home, I mentioned the puppies a few times. The next morning, we got up and hubby asked me if I’d dreamed about the puppy. I said yes. I was going to be back in the area on the weekend and he told me I could get the puppy.

And that is how I ended up with Nia- She is not so shy anymore! She loves to run, to play, and to bark at my poor husband. He wants to make friends with her, but she hasn’t come around completely to thinking he’s okay.

Nia being tall.

She lays on a bed by my desk while I write. She is proving to be a good traveler. We’ll see how well she does when we go to the Sumpter Flea Market on Labor Day weekend and spend three days selling books.

She likes to grab rugs at the corner and pull them back. And she has a stubborn streak when we go on walks if she finds something that she wants to sniff longer, she straightens her little legs and pokes them in the ground to make her harder to pull away. She is definitely not as willing to please as Tink, but I think she will be a lot of fun.

Now to wake her up to help me plot the next book. 😉

Cool Off with a Book

With the warm weather of summer, you might be interested in reading a book where the characters are battling a snowstorm to help cool you down. Book #9 in the Gabriel Hawke novels, Owl’s Silent Strike, is now available in ebook and print and soon in audio.

This book was fun to write and took a bit of research. It is set in the Wallowa Mountains of NE Oregon in December. An early snowstorm hits the mountain as Hawke is helping his friend Dani travel up the mountain on horseback to retrieve her helicopter at the Lodge Resort she runs during summer and fall.

I had to read up on frostbite, do an experiment on blood drops in snow, learn about setting a facture, and my retired LEO explained some police procedures and protocol after reading the first draft, which meant I had to change three scenes. 😉 But that’s why I have beta readers. My daughter also had me changing up things in my scene where Hawke set Dani’s fractured leg. They both had excellent information that made the book better.

Then I had to contact a person who is my go-to for aircraft information. I wanted to know if Dani could still fly the helicopter with a broken leg and if the radio in the helicopter could be used to call for help. He was very informative and answered my questions with added information to make my character sound like a pilot. That is always a plus!

Here is the blurb, cover, and buy link if you are looking for a “cool” read this summer.

Unexpected snowstorm…

Unfortunate accident…

And a body…

What started out as a favor and a leisurely trip into the mountains, soon turns State Trooper Gabriel Hawke’s life upside down. The snowstorm they were trying to beat comes early, a horse accident breaks Dani Singer’s leg, and Hawke finds a body in the barn at Charlie’s Lodge.

Hawke sets Dani’s leg, then follows the bloody trail of a suspect trying to flee the snow-drifted mountains. Hawke is torn between getting the woman he loves medical care and knowing he can’t leave a possible killer on the mountain.

Before the killer is brought to justice, Dani and Hawke will put their relationship to the test and his job on the line.

https://books2read.com/u/bw19DG

My Current Writing Project & Road Trip

Right now, I’m working on the next book in my Spotted Pony Casino mystery series. Double Down, has been fun to write so far. A couple of Sundays ago, I was in the area of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation where these stories are set.

I believe in learning as much as I can about my settings. Therefore, I spent about an hour sitting in the Mission Market on the reservation and watched the people who came and went and their interactions. Studying people is one of my favorite pastimes and that day was no exception. I had a fresh, tasty salad made in the store while I people watched.

From the market I went to the tribal police station. I had hoped to get inside the building and talk to someone in law enforcement, but the building was locked. I peered in the windows as I walked around the building learning the entrances and exits and seeing the lay of the building. I have a scene in the current WIP (work in progress) where my character goes to the police station.

After the police station reconnaissance, I went to the nearby casino. While the casino in my books is fictional, I like to keep things close to real as I can. In this instance I wanted to see how real casino guards looked and did their jobs. I flitted from slot machine chair to slot machine chair watching six security guards and studying their uniforms. Then I followed a group of three who were refilling the ATM machines. That was a job I hadn’t thought the security guards would do. I would have thought that would be a job of someone from a bank. That little fact gave me an idea for another book premise. 😉

Yes, it doesn’t take much to spark my imagination. I won’t give the details away, but it would be a plausible premise.

Ignore the dirty windshield. This is Tutuilla where my character lives

I also made a side detour to the area on the reservation where my character lives. I wanted to make sure she could see some things that I had mentioned in the book.

George

Using what I already know, my main character now has a donkey as one of her pets. Since we have had two donkeys, one was Jethro (the same name as my character’s new donkey) and now with us still is George. Donkeys have so much personality, I thought it would make a great secondary animal for my main character. Her large, three-legged dog and now a donkey give her a reason to get out of the casino and go home. I will use some of George and Jethro’s antics to give a personality to my fictional Jethro.

So stay tuned for Double Down, book 3 in the Spotted Pony Casino Mysteries, hopefully releasing in August.

House Edge Released

On February 18th the second book of the Spotted Pony Casino Mysteries released. This series has been fun to research and even more fun to write. Though I do need a trip to a real Native American run casino to get a little more intel on things. That will be a trip I’ll take after Mother Nature has decided winter is over.

In book two I added a new secondary character who has a past with my main character Dela Alvaro. When I first added him, it was to cause friction between two characters other than their being from two different law enforcement branches. However, as I began to flesh him out, it gave me new insight on Dela and how I could incorporate their connection into other books.

I also did something in book 2 that I haven’t done in any other book, I started an event that will be the basis of the next book. The reader doesn’t know it as they are reading the book, but it came to me and I felt I needed to go with it.

To hopefully portray Dela, a lower limb amputee, correctly, I joined an online group for lower limb amputees. They don’t normally let anyone in who isn’t an amputee, but I let them know I was only there to gather information to portray a character like them. And, thankfully, they let me in. I’ve been taking notes on how people feel and what they go through on a daily basis. I also purchased a book titled, AMPossible by Jeffrey Allen Mangus. He is an amputee and he counsels other amputees. His book is the nuts and bolts of what to expect and how you have to change some ways you do things but never say you can’t.

I know I don’t talk that much about my writing here, but when I have a new book out or found did some really cool research, you’ll read about it here.

This book is going on a virtual blog tour starting March 2nd. There are chances at the blogs it will be at to win a print copy of the book and some swag. Here is the list of places it will be:

TOUR PARTICIPANTS

March 2 – Lady Hawkeye

March 2 – #BRVL Book Review Virginia Lee Blog

March 3 – I Read What You Write 

March 3 – MJB Reviewers 

March 4 – FUONLYKNEW 

March 5 – Celticlady’s Reviews 

March 6 – Brooke Blogs 

March 7 – Literary Gold 

March 8 – Mysteries with Character 

March 9 – Books a Plenty Book Reviews 

March 10 – Nellie’s Book Nook 

March 11 – Baroness Book Trove 

March 12 – Maureen’s Musings 

March 13 – Girl with Pen 

March 14 – Sapphyria’s Book Reviews 

March 15 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book 

Zealous Environmentalists

Greedy Power Companies

…and a body

A bitter dispute over the breaching of dams in Idaho sparks emotions at a summit held at the Spotted Pony Casino. When the keynote speaker is murdered, Dela Alvaro, head of security, teams up again with FBI Special Agent Quinn Pierce.

The suspects are many since it appears the victim was playing both sides of the controversial environmental issue. Did someone take advantage of a marital dispute… witnessed by a crowd of casino spectators? Or did an angry wife murder her husband?

Book 2 in the Spotted Pony Casino Mysteries has Dela Alvaro not only trying to keep her job by discovering the killer before word spreads about the murder, but she also has to deal with FBI Special Agent Quinn Peirce butting heads with her high school sweetheart who has returned to the reservation as a tribal policeman.

Universal Buy Link: https://books2read.com/u/bWQ8X0

Research is Fun

I have to say my favorite thing about writing is the research. I’ve always been a nerd and like to learn new things. Not so much about math and science, but the world. However, there are times when I need to do a little science to learn what I want to know.

In this case, it is for book #9 in the Gabriel Hawke Novels. I’m still working on a title for it. I thought I had it and remembered I’d already used fox. It needs to be an animal that is out in the winter. One that lives in the mountains and is cunning or shy. If you have any thoughts, toss in the comments. 😉

The research I’m doing now has to do with survival in the mountains in a blizzard and my character is tracking someone who is wounded. Right now I have blood I saved from meat before I cooked it that I dripped in the snow. I’ve been watching and recording what it looks like each day so Hawke will be able to surmise how far ahead of him the person is that he is tracking.

I could barely see the red of the blood under the 1/2 inch of snow that had fallen.
This shows the blood drops after I’d swept away the 1/2 inch coating of snow on top.

I ordered books on hiking in avalanche country, and winter survival. I’ll be reading those to help me get a feel for what my characters will be dealing with. I have the basic premise of the story thought out but will soon begin writing the opening scene and jotting down events that will happen.

This book will include one or more of Hawke’s Native American ancestors who will help he and Dani Singer stay alive as they battle the elements and the person who doesn’t want to be found.

Have you ever had any experiences in the snow that you think would help my story? I’d love to hear about them.

Continuing my writing voyage

I’ve just finished book 2 in the Spotted Pony Casino Mystery series, House Edge. While I had a premise for the book, I still needed to figure out a way to work the title into the story. After all, I’d decided from the onset of this series that the titles would all be gambling terms. Which makes coming up with story ideas a bit more complex, than coming up with the story and then the title.

The premise of this book was set around the controversy of breaching dams in Idaho to help the native fish reproduce. A summit is held at my fictional casino and one of the main speakers is murdered. The title House Edge has many ways it could be played in this book. And as usual the way I had planned to play it out ended up not being the way I did it.

Which is normal for my thought process. I make a suspect chart when I start a story. I have the idea of how a person is murdered and then I plan out who I think is the murderer. But over the course of writing the story and adding in twists, the real killer ends up being someone other than the person I started with. So the murderer is usually a surprise to me as well.

The fun part is when I go back through to add in the clues to point to that person, I discover I had already sub-consciously added them.

While I usually make each story, even in a series, a standalone book, I have an altercation in this book that plays over into the next book. It just felt right to set it up as a scene in this book. I don’t usually do that, but it felt right to do it this time.

Do you like it when a series starts something even if it seem insignificant in the book at the time and in another book you’re like, “Oh yeah, I remember when that happened?”

Here is the blurb for House Edge:

Book 2

Spotted Pony Casino Mystery

A bitter dispute over the breaching of dams in Idaho sparks emotions at a summit held at the Spotted Pony Casino. When the head speaker is murdered, Dela Alvaro, head of security, teams up again with FBI Special Agent Quinn Pierce.

The suspects are many as it appears the victim was playing both sides of the controversial environmental issue. His actions caused a domestic dispute between the victim and his spouse, drawing a crowd of spectators on the casino floor.

Could someone have used the scene to set the wife up? Or is the wife the killer?

Back in the Groove

At least I hope so! I’m trying to get back on top of my writing and keeping my with my blog, and everything else writing related.

Covid didn’t take away my time or creativity, it is having a teenager in the house again and attending all the activities that go with a teenager in sports and her last year of school. When I offered to take in our oldest granddaughter a year ago, after 20 years of no kids in the house, I had forgotten how much time and energy they require.

As I said, this is her senior year, and hopefully, after a year of getting back in the swing of things, I can get my writing back on track.

After taking an online workshop on book covers, I worked with my cover designer to rework the Spotted Pony Casino Mystery books. I went from this:

To this:

Trying to add more suspense/mystery, intrigue to the covers. And I feel keeping them clean and simple also helps the reader let their own imagination work more.

Besides we working the covers, I’ve been doing the final read through of Churlish Badger. Book 8 in the Gabriel Hawke Mystery series. This book will be available in ebook on December 1st. I’m excited for the ideas I have for the two books following this one. They will get Hawke back out in the wilderness tracking. One will be set in the Wallowa Mountains in a snow storm and the other will be set in the Montana Wilderness.

I have started gathering information on tracking in the snow and what pitfalls he’ll have to over come while not only tracking a person they believe is a killer but also keeping his significant other safe. I’m feeling the suspense of it already and haven’t even begun writing it!

Before I can write it, I have to finish up House Edge, which has an incident in it that will be the murder mystery in Double Down. Again, I am excited to begin writing that one, but it won’t happen until after I write Hawke’s book 9.

This is what keeps me writing and enjoying the whole process. I get excited about the plot or concept of a book and that keeps me pushing through each one to get on to writing the next one. I will continue to write until I no longer am excited about writing the next book.

Freezeout Trip

The latest Gabriel Hawke book I’m writing starts at Freezeout Trailhead in the Hells Canyon Wilderness on the Oregon side of the Snake River. An abandoned vehicle is found there by my character State Trooper Gabriel Hawke.

one side of the Imnaha store

While most of this series is set in Wallowa County where I grew up, I didn’t travel around the county as much as my brothers did. I tended to stay home and read, while they were out fishing, hunting, hiking, skiing, and other out door activities.

When I start a book, I look at the maps of the area, and use google earth to discover how or where I want the murder to happen. Then I use the maps, google earth, and hiking books to help me get a feel for the terrain. But it never fails, I always need to make a trip to the area to see it for myself.

That’s what my husband and I did a few weeks ago. We drove to Imnaha. It had been a long time since I’d been to the store and area. We went inside, visited a bit with the owner and I took a couple photos. Then we took the upper Imnaha road to Freezeout Trailhead.

Imnaha River

I was so good we made the trip. The area at the trailhead didn’t look a think like what I’d envisioned from the photos and google earth. It wasn’t as flat nor as large as I’d thought. When I returned home, I had to change up some scenes to accommodate the location and size.

loading ramp at the trailhead

Traveling up the road, alongside the river, we saw some nice farms and wildlife. Some of the farm ground would have been thrilling to try and farm back in the day they used horses. I would have been a bit leery of using modern equipment on some of the side hill fields.

Doe and fawns cooling their feet in the river.

We stopped at a Hells Canyon viewpoint, but it was so smoky from fires all over the Pacific Northwest that we didn’t see much.

Hells Canyon overlook

We could see how families would have lived off the land and enjoyed the solitary life at the bottom of the canyon along the Imnaha River. Since we were headed back to SE Oregon, we continued on up the river and on over to Halfway, Oregon. It had been years since we’d been to this town. Neither one of us remembered it being as populated. We remembered only a couple of buildings. Unless we had mistook another small town for Halfway. We’re still puzzling that. We are excited to go back there again and check it out more.

From Halfway we headed to Baker City and then on home. It was an 850+ mile round trip that weekend, but it was worth it for me to see the area I was writing about.

I love research trips!