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.

Time Flys

Wow! It is already the middle of September and it feels like I’m still in August!

I had a wonderful time at the Sumpter Flea Market with Mary Vine, a granddaughter and my new dog Nia. We sold books, visited, and had lots of laughs.

Mary and I at Sumpter

I came home and judged two days at the Harney County Fair. The first day was 4-H static exhibits. That means I judge food, art, photography, leathercraft, llama wool, scrapbooking, and educational displays. I was sad there wasn’t any sewing, knitting, or crocheting. And fewer entries than in the past. The following day, I judged open class textiles- so sewing, quilting, knitting, and crochet. The next day I watched a granddaughter show her pig and a grandson (who I watched show is goat the day before) show a guinea pig.

This week I had a critique meeting with local writers and am headed today to Mt. Angel, Oregon where I’ll be manning a booth with other NIWA authors at Oktoberfest. I’ll be at the booth from 4-10 pm on the 15th, from 10 am- 4pm on the 16th, then I hop over to the coast to visit family and come back on Sunday from 2-6 pm to man the booth and help take it down.

After I help take the booth down, I’m back to the coast for a week of writing and hanging out with family.

My favorite place on the Oregon coast

I need to write, because I am behind schedule with the books I had planned to write this year. I’m going to be one book shy of what I had envisioned having finished by the end of the year.

But the events that have been intruding on my writing time won’t be a part of my life in the coming year so I can concentrate on more time at home and writing 4 books a year. Unless the ideas start to dwindle. So far, they haven’t. I’m still 3 books ahead with ideas for the Gabriel Hawke books and 2 ideas ahead for the Spotted Pony Casino books.

Speaking of the Spotted Pony Casino, book 3, Double Down, is now available in ebook and print.

Double Down

Spotted Pony Casino, book 3

A donkey, a three-legged dog, and a war-scarred veteran outwit the killer.

Dela Alvaro is the main suspect in the stabbing death of a man she stopped from beating his wife to death. The detective she abhors is ready to toss her in jail and not look for any other suspects. When FBI Special Agent Quinn Pierce is called in and Tribal Officer Heath Seaver is forbidden to work the case, Dela decides to find the killer.

Was it the wife, the drug dealer, or the man wanting to take over the victim’s business? Dela and Heath ask questions and work to prove her innocence. If she is found guilty not only will she lose her new life but she’ll never be able to solve the secret of her father.  

Universal Buy Link:

https://books2read.com/u/4D6Wa7

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

Roaming

So far this month I’ve been to the Tamastslikt Museum outside of Pendleton, Oregon at the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Then over to Orofino, ID and the Dwarshak Fish Hatchery and Dam. Then I went to the St. Ignasius Mission on the Flathead Indian Reservation. After that, I took photographs of the area around Salmon Lake in Montana, and then I spent several days with my cousin and her husband.

It’s good to be home but most of my travels had to do with making my Spotted Pony Casino mysteries and Gabriel Hawke books better.

I was on a research trip. Though a few of the things I researched aren’t for the book in progress.

At Tamastslikt Museum, I wandered through the exhibits, reading and trying to connect myself to the characters I write who live on this reservation. I enjoyed the videos that played at some of the exhibits. The voices of the people and their thoughts helped me to understand a little more about the Umatilla people. I’m slowly making more and more contacts there and reaching out to be able to portray my characters in a realistic way.

A display at the Tamastslikt Museum

At Orofino, I spent the night with my brother and sister-in-law. My brother works for Dwarshak Fish Hatchery. They were getting ready for a ceremony at the hatchery that Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland attended. While there we took a walk up to the dam. I visited when there had been a lot of rain and the Clearwater River was running over its banks.

normally 1700 cubic ft of water per second comes out- this was 25,000 cubic ft per second

My sister-in-law (SIL) and I drove to Missoula, Montana where we had an Airbnb for two nights. The next day we drove north to check out the St. Ignasius Mission and the Flathead Reservation. While investigating the routes we would take, I noticed a gravel road that went from Highway 93 to Highway 83, near Salmon Lake that I also wanted to check out. At the church we asked the volunteer guide if she knew anything about the road. She said it was navigable and it would be a pretty drive.

She was correct! The drive was gorgeous through timber, brush, and many overflowing streams and waterfalls. The best part of the drive was seeing a black bear not thirty feet from the road. My SIL rolled down her window and talked to him while taking pictures.

By the time we reached Salmon Lake we had traveled through rain and snow and it was raining. We circled back on the highways to our Airbnb. The following morning we took the highway back to Salmon Lake and with overcast skies and no rain, I took photos of the Island Resort that will be a setting in my next Gabriel Hawke book. I had wanted to get on the island, but I couldn’t as only guests (and I couldn’t afford the price for a night) were allowed. I tried to talk to one of the staff who arrived at the boat house on the land side of the resort, but he blew me off. I took photos from the boat house and then a road up higher and more north on the highway to get as many angles of the island and the resort as I could. There was a smaller island not far from the resort island that may play into the story as well. I’m hoping the scenario I had in mind for the beginning of the book will work once I do a little more research.

Island Resort

Once I had all the photos I wanted, we continued north and spent two nights with a cousin in Lakeside, MT on the north end of Flathead Lake. Our second day there, our hosts took us to the National Bison Range. There we saw deer, elk, antelope, bison, and grizzly bears. We spent the most time watching a young sow grizzly grubbing. She was up a hill from the road where we had spotted her. She rolled a piece of log to get the bugs underneath and the hunk of wood that appeared to be about two feet around and three feet long tumbled down the hill, jumping and rolling! It was a fun thing to see. Up around a corner of the road we were on, there was an even younger grizzly, also grubbing, in a more hidden spot.

Young Grizzly sow

I would say my research trip was very successful. Now I need to get the Spotted Pony Casino book I’m writing finished so I can start on the Hawke book set in Montana!

Stay tuned as I will be going more in depth in several of the places we visited on this trip in future blog posts. I wanted to get something up as I am late this month with this post.

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?

A Joke Turns into a Book

The one question writers get the most is: “How do you come up with your ideas?” My latest release has a funny story behind how I came up with the plot for Churlish Badger.

When my husband and I moved to SE Oregon 8 years ago, he decided we needed a backhoe. Before long I knew how to run it and helped out with putting poles in the ground for both the shop and the hay barn. Because rattlesnakes are prevalent here, he also gave me a pistol to carry when I walk to use if a rattlesnake appears aggressive. He taught me how to use the pistol and I’ve become a pretty good shot.

The first time he was telling a friend about teaching me to use the backhoe and the pistol, the friend, said, “If you come up missing I’ll know what happened.” Which started my husband telling everyone if he goes missing, it’s because he taught me to shoot and run the backhoe.

This joke has been mentioned off and on over the last 8 years. And finally, I decided to use it for a plot in a book. Though the murdered victim doesn’t get shot. It was fun to use a family joke as the basis for Churlish Badger.

An abandoned vehicle…

A missing man…

Oregon State Trooper Gabriel Hawke discovers an abandoned vehicle at a trailhead while checking hunters.

The owner of the vehicle never arrived at his destination. As Hawke follows leads, he learns the man was in the process of selling his farm over the objections of his wife who said he would only sell over her dead body.

Continuing to dig for clues, Hawke turns up two bodies buried on the farm. Who killed the two and why keeps Hawke circling for answers, backing the killer into a corner.

Buy link:

This will be available in print soon.