Whenever I give a talk about being an author, the aspect the audience seems to enjoy most is knowing the inside tidbits about a book and how it came about. My friends often tell me how much fun it is to see bits of my life in my books. So I am including some of those fun tidbits here so you too will be “in the know.” I will keep adding to them as I think of more.
One bit of warning, however: some of these are spoilers, so don’t read this until you’ve read the book!
WHAT LIES IN SHADOW (Feb 2008)
I did some Internet searching for lofts that were on the market, and I found a fabulous loft that I knew belonged to Jonna and her husband. It was only after the book was finished that I was able to travel to Boston for setting research, and when I found the actual building, it felt so familiar to me. So, yes, someone’s actual apartment is in my book. The décor, however, is my own.
The strange sound in the back bedroom thing, that really happened to me. My husband was out for the evening, of course, and I was in my office working when I heard…the sound. I was working on a scary novel, so I was completely suggestible. I went downstairs a few times to check it out, but it would always be silent (more fodder for my imagination). Gremlins? Ghost? Psycho with bloody knife? Finally I couldn’t work anymore and decided to hole up in the bedroom. On my way there I passed my husband’s office…and heard the sound! I crept in and saw the source of my fear: a piece of paper moving in the air conditioner current. Ack!
UNTIL THE DAY YOU DIE (July 2007)
Portsmouth, New Hampshire was the setting for my first book, one that will probably never see the light of day (though I still love it). I was enchanted by Portsmouth when my aunt and uncle took me there, and I knew then that I would set a book there. It only took about fifteen years!
What inspired this book were the many true crime stories I saw on television where the police knew who had committed the crime but couldn’t make an arrest because they didn’t have enough evidence. No, I don’t particularly advocate lying to the police, but sometimes…boy, you gotta do what you gotta do to put the baddie away.
IN TOO DEEP (October 2005)
This story was inspired by an Unsolved Mysteries episode I watched years ago. Three women were out on their boat one evening. As they were heading to the marina, a speedboat rammed them, actually sailing over their boat. It was a miracle that no one was killed, but one woman was severely cut by the propeller. The speedboat lingered out on the water for a moment while the women screamed for help. Then the driver sped away.
The injured woman’s face was cut horizontally. But what struck me was her plea to the viewing public. While she looked fine, after going through many surgeries, she also looked different than she had before. She needed the driver of the boat to take responsibility for what he’d done so that she could have closure. I tucked that in my files where it sat for a long time waiting for the right heroine and the right story to come together.
When I wrote the scene where Winslow is in Ashlyn’s apartment and sees what she thinks is her reflection on the glass door…I actually got the chills when I wrote that scene. And then something like that happened! I was in my husband’s office one evening and could see my reflection bounced back at me in the window…and then I realized that I was seeing another face imposed behind mine. A mask. Beady dark eyes. A raccoon, trying to get into the bird feeder!
WHAT SHE DOESN’T KNOW (October 2004)
This book started with a question: Where do souls go when a person is in a coma? It got me to thinking about a plane of existence where souls mingle when they’re not present in a conscious way. Then I thought, What if one soul talked to another? What if that soul had something important to say?
Another component to this book was a small article I read in a magazine (Time, I think) about an unnamed baby boy who was accidentally maimed during a circumcision. His doctor thought it would be easy to “make” him a girl. I wondered, What would that do to a person? That could really screw someone up. I later read more research on this anonymous boy/girl, how they physically made his girl parts and gave him hormones. How no one would tell her that she’d been born a boy. More fodder for my character. Only some time after I’d written the book did that boy come forward and write his own book: As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised a Girl by John Colapinto. My character, in now way, resembles John. Only their tragic circumstances link the two.
The setting of the book came easy. During a trip to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras, I was enchanted by the city and its decadent holiday. Linking the city of masquerade to my story about other kinds of masquerades came quite naturally.
I’LL BE WATCHING YOU (December 2003)
I’ve been waiting for the right story to set in the Everglades, and this was it. It’s inspired by the story of the woman who testified against her grandfather in a church bombing that occurred decades earlier. I decided not to use the racist underpinnings of that situation, however. What I liked was that this woman was willing to testify against her grandfather, a powerful man in his community. And so Kim was born, who bravely testifies against her powerful stepfather…only he gets acquitted.
I named my town Cypress, because I usually like to rename the town for literary license issues. Besides, if the law is involved, it’s probably a good idea not to slander them on the page. I also changed the landscape a bit to suit what I saw in my story. Kim’s grandmother’s house is set in a dense hammock, but there’s simply not that kind of hammock anywhere near where she would reasonably live. So I made one up! That’s the fun part about being a writer.
Kim was named for a long-time friend of mine who grew up in the Everglades. She helped a lot with my research and even took me out to her family’s zoo and on an airboat ride. Wooten’s is well known down in the Everglades. The airboat ride didn’t fit into the story, but I got a lot of good setting details from the trip.
Her boyfriend inspired Zell’s profession of alligator surveyor. When Kim told me what he did for part of his living, I “knew” that’s what Zell did. Michael graciously let me pepper him with questions during dinner one night, and I was fascinated by the synergy of ecology and economics of alligators. The alligator farm was a great backdrop for both the characters and some of the pivotal scenes in the book.
NOW YOU SEE ME (October 2002) — reissued as BLINDSIGHT
This story was born from my musings about psychic connections and destiny. Oddly enough, just before its release, the news was inundated by news reports of missing girls. It was eerie. I hoped they all would get the happy ending Phaedra got in my story. Thank God some of them did.
People ask where I got the name Phaedra. Well, first, I was looking for a name that was unusual. I didn’t want to name the girl Lisa, for instance, and have every mother who picked up my book and read the back shudder because her daughter’s name was Lisa, too. That’s how the name Phaedra popped into my head. As a child I knew a sweet girl of that name. I only used the name, though, and not the girl’s likeness.
As you can tell from the book’s page, Stasia, is based on a real character. After the book came out, I was able to spend some time with her and her person, Denise, at the Romantic Times conference. I really felt as though I knew Stasia so well because of the book.
For the characters, I based them on Madeline Stowe and Jason Behr of the now defunct Roswell. I chose him because he’s such an intense actor and he really fit my character. I named him Max, his character’s name, because that too fit so well with the man in my book. Other than that, there is no similarity to him or his role. I had to age him a bit in my mind, since he played a teenager.
UNFORGIVABLE (November 2001)
I hadn’t factored in the fire when I was planning this story. As I was writing it, though, a wildfire was blazing through nearby woodlands. From my window, I could see the smoke obliterating the sun, the helicopters hauling water, and the ash flakes floating through the air. And I knew that a fire had also started in my book as well. Sometimes it works that way.
Silas was one of those rare characters who came to me fully realized, both physically and emotionally. He isn’t based on anyone in particular. Katie was based on an old picture of a runway model I had in my character file.
[SPOILER: don’t read this if you haven’t read the book]
This book contains a few things that touched me in some way. The raccoon’s death, for instance. We were walking around a house that was under construction and saw this young raccoon obviously in pain. Since it had no external wounds, and looked otherwise healthy, we came to the conclusion that someone had left poison out for it. It was awful to see its suffering. The owners of the house called animal control. This stayed with me for some time, and surfaced during the writing of the book. It became a pivotal point in Katie’s life and thus, in the story.
For some reason, this book became an “animal” book, with deep and painful issues surrounding them. I didn’t intend it to be that way, honest. I love animals, and it was in fact my outrage at the cruelty to a kitten that inspired this book to begin with. A couple of people have asked how I could have let the Boss get killed. But that’s just how the story had to be. I tried to write a different turning point, but it wouldn’t work. It was so hard to write his scene and the raccoon’s scene. I cried while writing about the dog. But his death, too, was such a pivotal scene in the book. To help, I made him old and in pain. Silas should have put him to sleep, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. So, it was done for him.
It was unfortunate that, because of how much time passed between the opening scene and the actual book’s beginning that Katie’s cat couldn’t still be around. When she remembers how Gus came down the stairs to the basement so he could be near her when he died actually came from, again, a personal experience. I had a pet rat that had gotten into some bug poison we think. She was in a bad way. I lived at home then and had to leave that morning to go to school. So my mom put her in a box so she could carry her around and keep her company. (Don’t you love a dedicated mom like that?). During those last minutes of her life, she kept rolling out of the box so she could lie next to her leg and pass on next to a human touch. Still brings tears to my eyes!
BACK IN BABY’S ARMS (January 2001)
First of all…not my title. I called the book CHASE THE WIND, for the hero and the sailboat. It was nixed and marketing was very excited about using the Patsy Cline song title. The heroine’s nickname is Baby. People are often surprised when they learn that authors have no say over their titles, at least not in a final way. I have been able to keep a good many of my own titles, so I’m happy about that.
Maddie (Baby) is probably one of my more wimpier heroines, but I loved her process of growth. She was very protected by her family and then her first husband.
I based Maddie on Calista Flockhart and Chase on Keanu Reeves.
A TRICK OF THE LIGHT (March 2000)
Chloe Samms is probably the heroine most like me. I didn’t do it on purpose. A writer can’t really mold a character the way they want, anyway. The character becomes real and asserts him or herself. And that’s what Chloe did. Compassionate to all creatures, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness—I once made my husband pull off a busy road because there was a lizard clinging to the windshield. Chloe hangs bats from her roof to keep birds from flying into the glass. My husband wouldn’t let me do this, so I bought those decals that are supposed to look like a hawk’s shadow. Unfortunately, they don’t work all the time. I even save bugs, and so does Chloe.
Her cat, Gypsy, is my cat, Gypsy. Her aunt Stella is a loose version of my mom, and her dog is actually my mom’s dog, Rascal. All of the silly things Stella does for her dog…yep, all real. Okay, she doesn’t have an actual bed for Rascal, but he does sleep on a pillow. She covers him with a towel and then if she gets up during the night, she makes sure he’s covered.
Around our area we have a lot of waterways. There was an old man who lived on his pontoon boat, and he ended up in the story. Or at least his likeness.
As for my main characters, I based Chloe on Meg Ryan and Dylan on Dylan McDermott.
IN A HEARTBEAT (June 1999)
This story was inspired by Claire Sylvia, who wrote the inspiring and fascinating book, A CHANGE OF HEART. This was her story of the amazing things that happened to her after she got a heart and lung transplant. You’ll see in my book that I had to dedicate it to her “incognito.” I had sent Claire a copy of the manuscript, which she read and enjoyed. But she couldn’t use my book in any publicity, nor could I use hers, because she was contracted to do a TV movie based on her book. It finally did come out on the Lifetime network starring Jane Seymour.
SECOND TIME AROUND (October 1997) — reissued as WOKE UP DEAD
Sam and his dog, Romeo, play a game of hide and go seek. Sam hides the treats and then tells Romeo to find them. This is actually a game I play with my dog. He sits in the kitchen and patiently waits until I’m done hiding the treats and then he happily sniffs them down.
To really get into this role, I spent a day in a wheelchair. My mom and I went to a town just north of mine so we wouldn’t alarm anyone we happened to run into. We wandered through the mall, and did actually alarm one of the gals from the Waldenbooks there. I stayed “in character” the whole day, telling no one else that I was anything but someone in a wheelchair. I was amazed at the difference in both my perception of the world and the world’s perception of me. I drowned between the racks of clothes, couldn’t reach many things, and generally had a hard time getting around in some cases. I have complete admiration for those in wheelchairs. The worst part: going to the bathroom!
As part of doing research, I interviewed a man named Rick Feathers, who has been in a wheelchair nearly his whole life. He gave me such insight and wisdom, and won my instant respect. Nothing gets in Rick’s way. If he can’t reach it on a shelf, he climbs up to get it! Because he was so open and sharing, I honored him by putting him in the book. He manages the building that accommodates mobility-restricted people. He’s even signed a few books with me!
DREAMS OF YOU (October 1996) — reissued as TOUCHED BY LIGHTNING
Part of the inspiration for this story was a rock and roll song from the 80’s called Street of Dreams by Rainbow. It’s about a man who has “seen” this woman in his dreams. I loved that spiritual, destiny aspect and used it in my book.
The dog, Crackers, was not supposed to be in the book. I usually put some animal in my books, but this book simply didn’t lend itself to the characters having pets. He traveled all the time, and heck, she lived as a homeless person. So in the scene where Crackers shows up to love on Nikki at the Laundromat on page 49, he did exactly that—showed up. Out of the blue. I was writing along and all of a sudden there’s this dog that she’s been feeding crackers to, and viola, he’s part of the cast.
The hero is based on Adrian Paul from the television series The Highlander and now from Tracker. When Columbia/TriStar Pictures expressed interest in this book as a possible movie, I, of course, was planning to lobby for Adrian to play the lead role. Alas, no word yet…
SHADES OF HEAVEN (October 1995) — reissued as STRANGER IN THE MIRROR
I based my hero, Jessie, on the country music singer, Billy Dean. Billy embodies everything a hero should have: generosity, humility, a tender heart…and oh yeah, he’s gorgeous. I sent a copy of the book, which is dedicated to him, to his sister, who at that time headed up his fan club. She passed it onto him, and he sent a sweet, gracious note of thanks to me. When he was due to perform in a nearby arena, my husband arranged, through his sister, to have me meet him backstage. It was a great experience!
Jessie’s sister, Jane, was based on a very good friend of mine, Kyle.
ON THE WAY TO HEAVEN (April 1995) — reissued as UNTIL I DIE AGAIN
The lizard in the book, Greenpeace, was based on a lizard that was hanging around our back porch for a couple of years. I, like Chris, used to talk to the lizard. I think the green anoles are the coolest lizards, very sly and wary. The monkey I totally made up, but he seemed so real to me.
Chris’s dogs, well, one of them anyway, is based on my real dog, Phoenix.
When I say I base my characters on say, an actor, it’s really very loosely based. I keep their pictures posted by my computer as I write, and their general characteristics match. But as I get to know them, they invariably change a bit in my imagination and become their own people. There is sometimes a rare instance where I will see someone and “know” them as my character. A young lady on a magazine cover snagged me that way. Without knowing a thing about her (she’s not famous), I knew that she was Kristy, the heroine in a book that was just beginning to form in my mind. It sometimes happens that way, but usually I dig through my character file and “cast” the roles in my book.
I put my husband Dave’s name in every book. Usually it’s just a minor character, something fun to include. He’s been an architect (himself, in ON THE WAY TO HEAVEN), a little boy, a shelter manager, a cop, and many other numerous characters. He used to tell his friends that I named a dog after him, but I told him if he said that again, I would!
Often, whatever I’m into at the time will pop into my stories. When I discovered Oregon Chai Latte on a visit to New York City, I had to put it in the book I was writing at the time. Music very often ends up in my books. I try to create a soundtrack for my books, and so certain songs become married to certain books. I was just beginning to write IN A HEARTBEAT when I first heard the Savage Garden song, “To the Moon and Back.” I got chills! This was Jenna’s song! I could feel it. As I drove, I jotted down the name of the group and went directly to the music store to buy the CD, which became that book’s soundtrack. Even now, when I hear that song, I’m instantly transported back to my story. In I’LL BE WATCHING YOU, I included a South African artist, Mandoza. When we were on a cruise, someone brought the CD into the disco and asked the DJ to play the song “Nkalakatha.” It is the coolest song, though I haven’t a clue as to what the words mean. And so that became Kim’s story, and like me, she bought the CD and plays it often. The scene where she plays it in the jukebox of her grandmother’s honky tonk bar is quite funny.