What Would Your Characters Do?

What Would Your Characters Do?
Terry Odell

In my last post, I talked about some of the mishaps on our recent European trip, and how a writer might use them. “Only Trouble Is Interesting.”

What do your characters do when things don’t go the way they want them to? You don’t need to be writing about travel. Stuff happens anywhere and anytime.

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Take our neighborhood. We live in a rural area, in a housing development established back in the 70s. It was designed for weekend getaways. Time marched on, and more and more people decided this was a great place to live. Now, almost everyone lives here all the time, which puts a strain on the water system. Pipes from the 70s are wearing out, developing leaks. Cutting to the chase, there was a major leak that drained the entire system. We have people in charge of this, and they haul water as needed, but between how much water was needed, and the freezing temperatures and snow, we had no water for about five days. The loss showed up late on Christmas afternoon, and I feel for the people who were left with the aftermath of a Christmas dinner and no way to wash the dishes.

Most of us take it for granted that when we turn a tap, water will come out. That toilets will do what they’re designed for. Take all that away, couple it with a community Facebook page, and people’s true colors are waved for all to see.

There were those who said, “This is what rural mountain life is like. The people in charge are working long hours in miserable weather searching for the leak. They will find it, and all this will pass.

In a show of community, nearby RV parks, even though closed for the winter, opened up their showers. Places like Walmart donated cases of water.

Was this enough for some? There were those who demanded minute-by-minute updates. Wanted immediate solutions. “Threatened” to put their homes up for sale. (Good riddance, IMHO). Ranted and raved about how nobody was doing their jobs (they’re all volunteers, btw) and they should be replaced. These were probably the people who made no efforts to conserve water year round, I’ll bet.

Image by César Mota from Pixabay

Other colors were waved when one company’s trash pickup didn’t happen on schedule because of extreme weather (the first time they’ve missed since we moved here 13 years ago), posted their fury and immediately changed trash companies.

Regensburg

An example from our recent cruise. Because of a lot of recent rain and snowmelt, the Danube waters rose to the point that the riverboats couldn’t get under the bridges, even though they had wheelhouses that could be lowered to some extent. The authorities closed the river.

(You can click on the images to enlarge them)

Our ship couldn’t get to its next stop. A sister ship was coming the other direction and faced the same problem. Our cruise director—who probably had very little sleep for several days—and the other ship’s crew coordinated a swap. All our passengers would be bussed to the sister ship, and vice versa.

Yes, it was an inconvenience. We had to pack, but the cruise line took care of transporting our luggage. We got to our scheduled cities, but it required longer bus rides. The ships were in canals now, not in the Danube proper.

I’m glad to say that most of the passengers accepted this as something nobody could have predicted, and praised the crews of both ships for their efficient handling of the unexpected swap.

Historische Wurstküche

The cruise line did offer compensation. They gave us vouchers for lunch at a landmark restaurant. The next day, as we disembarked for the buses to the Nuremburg Christmas Market, they gave everyone thirty euros in cash. And, they refunded everyone the equivalent of 25% of one day’s travel, which was realistically about the only time we lost.

Yet there were some passengers who thought the cruise line should have known about the river rising and should have refunded everyone’s money for the entire trip.

Melk Abbey Courtyard

And then there are the rule breakers. We toured the Melk Abbey, and taking pictures inside was prohibited. Yet there were two people in our group who felt that this rule didn’t apply to them, because … they were photographers with expensive cameras? The guide was very polite, and said, “Please, no photography” but did nothing to stop them. Part of me thought she should have demanded their memory cards (or taken their cameras until the end of the tour), but she let it go.

What about your characters—or people you know—TKZers? Can you use the way they respond to “times of trouble” or “rules” in your stories? What about how other characters react to them? Have you already done so? Have you read books where this was handled well? Or not?

And two more things, totally unrelated to this post. Character naming caveats. Don’t name a character Al. I’ve read two books recently with this name, and my brain insists on reading it as AI, as in Artificial Intelligence. Depending on the font, the reader might not be able to tell the difference. At least if that reader is me.

And don’t give your male character a last name that’s a female name if you’re going to refer to him by last name. If you call Bob Patricia ‘Patricia”, you’re likely to give your reader the hiccups until they adjust. At least if that reader is me.


How can he solve crimes if he’s not allowed to investigate?

Gordon Hepler, Mapleton’s Chief of Police, has his hands full. A murder, followed by several assaults. Are they related to the expansion of the community center? Or could it be the upcoming election? Gordon and mayor wannabe Nelson Manning have never seen eye to eye. Gordon’s frustrations build as the crimes cover numerous jurisdictions, effectively tying his hands.
Available for preorder now.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

A Fond Farewell to 2023

A Farewell to 2023
Terry Odell

Let me be the third poster to ring in 2024, TKZers. Kay and Debbie covered the goals/resolutions topic very well, so I’m not going there.

Someone, somewhere, sometime determined that the transition between December 31st and January 1st was more significant than any other turning of the days. Whatever, I hope your 2024 brings you more than your 2023. And I’m hoping for peace.

In my last post of 2023, I said if all went according to plan, I’d be in Prague the day it posted. Did all go according to plan? Well, I was in Prague, so the short answer is yes. But not everything went as smoothly as I’d hoped. If it seems I’m dwelling on the negative, please understand I had a wonderful time. But I’m a writer, and only trouble is interesting.

Hiccup number one. After boarding the plane in Denver, bound for Frankfurt, settling in our seats, we waited. And waited. Finally, the captain announced that there would be a delay because one passenger decided he didn’t want to make the trip. It’s not as simple as letting him leave, of course. His baggage has to be located in the belly of the aircraft. Another wait, and we were told said passenger had decided he’d join us after all.

My son, in talking with a flight attendant, discovered the passenger didn’t like that his headrest moved up and down and wanted off. Another passenger in a seat without a movable headrest offered to switch, and that solved the problem. We were now an hour or so behind schedule.

Our connection to Prague had enough time so we didn’t miss that flight, although we definitely got our steps in for the day. Have you ever been to the Frankfurt airport? Coming in to the Z gates and having to get to the A gates (with a stop at passport control) isn’t a walk in the park. But we found our gate. Which changed to another gate. Which changed to a third gate. And then we waited. And waited. The weather forecasts hadn’t mentioned the snow rolling in. Flights were delayed, and then, once we finally boarded, we had the pleasure of waiting in line for our plane to be de-iced before we could take off.

We arrived in Prague a mere two hours late. Our luggage had made it. Yay! Our driver hadn’t. Boo! The company was supposed to follow the arrival times and make sure we were met, but our driver gave up when he found out how late we were, and there was another 45 minute wait for a replacement. Dare I mention we were now smack dab in the middle of rush hour traffic?

But we arrived at the hotel, found the rest of our group already libating at the bar, and called it a positive outcome. After all, we were in Prague, and on the date we were supposed to get there.

My plan for this trip, aside from the sights and photography, was to gather fodder for a novel. Would the events of Day One be worth including? Not without adding some stakes, I would think. Like, what would happen if a character didn’t get to where they were supposed to be on time because a passenger didn’t want an adjustable headrest? Would readers believe it?

Overall, the trip was fantastic despite the rocky start. After three days in Prague (two actually, since this Day One was a write-off), we took a train to Vienna. More writing fodder there. After two days there, we set sail on a cruise along the Danube headed for Nuremberg, stopping at Christmas markets. Did you know that they can close a river to boat traffic? But that’s a story for another time.

Glad to be home, even though we arrived with Covid. Vaccinations and boosters probably kept symptoms relatively minimal, although the cough lingers on.

On the writing front, Deadly Adversaries is on schedule for it’s February 22nd release date. (You can pre-order it now.) I’d turned in my edits before I left, so the Covid brain fog and overall meh feeling didn’t mess with my schedule.

Have I started the new book? Not beyond coming up with some basic premises. Indie author here. No guilt, no deadline yet.

If you’ve read this far, how about some of the pictures I took on the trip? I’ll be working on processing the images for a while, but here’s a start.

So, TKZers, are you looking at a fresh start for 2024, or are you (like me), just going to plug along and hope for the best? Every day is a new beginning no matter what the calendar says.


How can he solve crimes if he’s not allowed to investigate?

Gordon Hepler, Mapleton’s Chief of Police, has his hands full. A murder, followed by several assaults. Are they related to the expansion of the community center? Or could it be the upcoming election? Gordon and mayor wannabe Nelson Manning have never seen eye to eye. Gordon’s frustrations build as the crimes cover numerous jurisdictions, effectively tying his hands.
Available for preorder now.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

New Outlets for Creativity

New Outlets for Creativity
Terry Odell

Decades ago, I was a photography hobbyist. Long enough ago so I was shooting black-and-white film and processing in my home darkroom.

Fast forward a slew of decades, and I’m getting back into it. Still at a hobbyist level, but as I said on my own blog last week, having more than one creative outlet can help deal with any frustrations in your primary field. People come to TKZ to talk about writing, so we all have that in common, but many of us have other channels we can turn to as well.

Given my books often include some aspect of photography, be it the kind of camera my covert ops agent is using for surveillance, or a character looking to become a professional photographer, I’ve enjoyed expanding on simple research and moving more into the hands-on. The more I know, the more my characters know. If the research satisfies an underlying need, so much the better. Right now, I’d say my skills lie somewhere between Kiera in In the Crosshairs and Belinda in Cruising Undercover.

I might know something about photography but it’s new all over again. Cameras bear only a vague resemblance to the ones I learned on, just as word processors or writing software bear only a vague resemblance to the Underwood and Remington uprights I learned to type on.

My son’s business includes photo trips where he takes clients to a variety of locations, both domestic and international, and leads them in picture-taking. I’ve been on several with him (as a paying client, no “mom” favors), including Alaska, the Caribbean, the Galapagos, and Croatia, and most recently, Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico. Getting away from home, seeing new sights can add depth to characters and settings.

I’m the newbie in the workshop group on this trip. My little camera might have felt inferior next to all the big fancy ones with multiple lenses. (Okay, I own other lenses, but the advice I got was that a 14-150 zoom would cover virtually every shooting situation, so that’s the only one I carried.)

Listening to the others on this tour is like hearing a new language. Everyone else is fluent, yet they’re all here to expand their “vocabularies”. For one—not a newbie by far—it was simply pointing out a better way to hold his camera. Nobody had ever told him that before. Another learned about long exposures for clouds. And one member is interested in mystery writing, so we were able to compare places we lacked significant knowledge, but had significant interest.

For me, it’s almost all new. They’re talking about swipes, zoom blurs, multiple exposures, blue hour shots—and I’m hoping my settings are close to correct, period. Histograms? I’m supposed to look at them? What are they supposed to look like? All I see is something interfering with the image.

But that’s the point of the workshop. To have people show you (often more than once) better or different ways to do things. We were shooting in areas that almost always required moving in close for detail shots. The overwhelming amount of “stuff” made it impossible to capture everything in a single shot, so zooming in on details was the way to get better pictures. As it compares to writing–we’re always learning new skills, improving the craft.

How many times have we read passages from books and said, “Damn, I wish I could do that?” With my photography, I don’t compare my work to that of the experts, but I can look at what I create and try to make it better. Just as everyone’s voice in writing means 7 people can be given the same story prompt and no two will be alike, 7 photographers can shoot the same subject, and every image will be different.

On Monday, Kay talked about words and pictures. As the final activity in our workshop, each of us was to share three images for discussion. Photographers notice things non-photographers don’t. They point out little details that add or detract to the picture–things most of us wouldn’t notice. Kind of the way writers notice things like POV issues, descriptions, overused words, etc. One group member talked (and talked) about the emotions he was trying to convey in each of his shots. Did I get the same feelings? Not really.

Several in the group chose pictures of a very old cemetery taken at the Taos Pueblo. Each had a different approach. Different angles, and different renderings–one in black and white. Instructors made comments about things like leading lines, rule of thirds, toning down or playing up shadows.

One group member was from the east coast and had never experienced anything like what she was seeing in New Mexico, and she focused on details that spoke to her. She liked the shapes and colors of things.

No matter where you are, looking at everything around you as a writer provides story and character fodder as well as a photographic image. Driving down the highway and seeing articles of clothing strewn about triggers story ideas. Is there a body somewhere?

If you’ve stayed with me this long, here are some of the pictures I took. Consider them first drafts, as I’m still learning how to spot those details that will make them better images. Normally, I wouldn’t talk about ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, the same way you don’t share first drafts with the general public, but this is The Kill Zone, after all.

 

The Traveling Writer

The Traveling Writer
Terry Odell

Traveling Writer I’m back on my mountain after a 12-day “vacation.” (Can writers ever take vacations?) I was part of a photography tour of the Dalmatian coast, starting in Split and ending up in Dubrovnik (with an add-on day to Bosnia & Herzegovina). I’m recapping some ‘travel’ bits on my own blog, but this is a writing blog, so I’ll talk about the trip from a writer’s perspective.

In my current WIP, one of my main characters is an aspiring photographer, so I’ll be able to incorporate some of the lessons I learned into this book. Of course, I didn’t have to go to Croatia to learn these techniques, but as long as I was there …

However, this is about using travel for a book that hasn’t been written yet. Last time, I talked about things I’d be looking as writing fodder. While I don’t want to downplay the fantastic time I had on the trip, as writers we know that only trouble is interesting and it’s critical to create tension. With that in mind, here are some observations that might make it into the book I hope to write next.

Characters

  • There’s the one who’s always got his head down, looking at his phone, who’s up-to-the-minute with current technology.
  • Contrast him with the one who doesn’t even own an ATM card. How’s he going to get cash in the local currency?
  • The one who can’t grasp that the entire world doesn’t work the way it does at home.
  • The one who hasn’t learned to use his inside voice.
  • The one who won’t try any local cuisine or eat anything that looks the least bit different—even if it’s salad greens.
  • The one who can’t seem to think for himself (or read the daily itinerary/schedule) and has to ask for explanations of everything.

Setting

  • To Americans, so much seems old in other countries. Diocletian’s Palace in Split, for example, was built back in the 300s. Here, if we have a building over a hundred years old, it’s likely going to be torn down and replaced with glass and chrome. There, they simply cobble on improvements like better wiring, air conditioners and the like.
  • Weather is unpredictable, which can lead to plan adjustments. We had an unexpected appearance of Bura winds, which brought high seas and colder weather, meaning we didn’t get to follow our itinerary precisely.
  • Hotels and the cruise boats run EITHER heat or a/c. No quick adjustments when there’s an unexpected change in the weather.
  • Plumbing can create tension. Figuring out how to adjust the water temperature in the boat’s shower challenged many of the passengers.A character might have the wrong clothes, with no place to buy more.
  • There’s no grace period in schedules. If they say the bus will leave at 19:00, as soon as the clock ticks over, it takes off.

Docking in ports. The ships line up parallel, often 5 deep, so you have to cross through them to get to the dock. “Minding the gap” could become an issue for a passenger with mobility issues. (You can click any of the images below to enlarge)Traveling Writer
Traveling WriterLanguage. That can be a biggie. I’m guessing most Americans aren’t as familiar with Slavic languages as they are with Latin-based ones. Even if you’re reading signs along with a tour guide, what she’s saying doesn’t look anything like what you’re seeing. Our phonics don’t work there.

The Croatian alphabet has the following additional letters: č, ć, dž, đ, lj, nj, š and ž but doesn’t have q, w, x, or y.
There’s a death of vowels (Island of Hvar, and Krka National Park) and they seem to toss Js in at random.

Traveling WriterHint: Download Google translate, set it to the language of the country you’re in, and you can use the phone’s camera to get a translation of writing. Great for notices on shopfronts, menus (although almost all have English translations), brochures, signage at venues. Schools start teaching English at an early age, so most people have a rudimentary grasp of the language, especially those in the service industry.

Okay, that’s enough “trouble.” A little more about the trip from the tourist standpoint.

Everyone was friendly. Our boat had about 30 passengers. Eleven of us were on the photo tour, and another couple was from England. The rest were Germans. The tour company used to give tours only in English, and international passengers were aware and dealt with it. Because of Covid, the company needed to expand its market, and offered dual-language tours. This meant that all communication on board and on our guided tours was given twice: once in English, once in German. I heard a lot of German growing up, although we didn’t speak it at home. I took two years of German in college. After a couple glasses of wine, enough of it came back so I could make myself understood to some of the German passengers. (Impressed the heck out of my son!)

The food was amazing. We had the typical European buffet breakfast every day, and lunches were four course fine dining meals. Any of the courses would have been a full meal for me. How our chef on board produced this in a tiny kitchen never ceased to impress.

Portions everywhere were huge. A personal pizza would feed two easily—and with Italy so close (now and historically), pizza was everywhere. So was gelato.

And perhaps Croatia’s most recent claim to fame (and a boost to its economy): Game of Thrones was filmed there. There are memorabilia shops, special guided tours, and LOTS of people taking pictures.

Traveling WriterAs someone who never watched the show, I simply admired the scenery and buildings for what they were, not what they pretended to be.

Traveling WriterIn closing. This was a photography trip for me, so I have been working on getting my images sorted, processed, and uploaded. If you’d like to see some of them,  I’ve started a slideshow, which is still getting updated. (Click the triangle at the top right to start the show.) A lot of these images are “assignments” from our instructor, so they’re not typical travel-brochure shots. He suggested we try things like car trails, close-ups, long exposures, low angles (hard on aging knees), monochrome, motion blur, multiple exposure, pan blur, panoramic, reflections, textures, varying depth of field. Can’t say I tried all of them, or was successful at the ones I tried, but it was a fun way to look at the country alongside of the history provided by our tour guides.

Notes to self. Take pictures of signs so you know where you were. Update a journal no matter how tired you are at the end of the day. Don’t expect your brain to work the way it does at home. Think of “conference brain” and how all the new input overloads it. I knew I wouldn’t be writing, so I brought along a printout of as far as I’d gotten in the current WIP, thinking I could do some preliminary editing. Despite reading the words, trying to fool myself into thinking I was editing turned out to be a wasted effort. So, it’s back to work I go.

Dalmatian

Image by Rebecca Scholz from Pixabay

One last tidbit. Residents of the Dalmatian coast prefer German shepherds. Dalmatians, they say, are too much trouble.

All right, TKZers. Questions? Comments? Suggestions for others?


Trusting Uncertainty by Terry OdellAvailable Now Trusting Uncertainty, Book 10 in the Blackthorne, Inc. series.
You can’t go back and fix the past. Moving on means moving forward.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Travel and Writing

Travel and Writing
Terry Odell

Writing While TravelingAs I write this, I’m preparing for a photo safari, led by my son. (And, no, I don’t get a discount.)

As you read this, I should be on a yacht on the Adriatic Sea, traveling from Split to Dubrovnik. If things go as planned, and I did the calendar calculations right, today I’m en route from Korcula to Mljet, where the published itinerary says:

In the morning head further south to the Island of Mljet. Join the Cruise Manager for a stroll to the famous salt lakes in the Mljet National Park. Lunch on board and departure for a small village called Slano on the mainland, a peaceful fishermen’s village and the starting point to Ston, another once fortified small village famous for its oysters situated on Pelješac peninsula. Pelješac peninsula is known as one of the best wine-producing regions in Croatia. After exploring the town, we leave to a small nearby village to enjoy the authentic local oyster tasting. Tonight, enjoy Captain’s dinner and overnight in Slano.

Writing While TravelingA while back, I talked about dealing with far away settings in your writing. What am I going to be doing on this trip as far as writing is concerned? (And being able to write off travel expenses is a great motivation for incorporating the setting into a book.) When we toured the British Isles, I thought I’d write a short, sappy romance and be done with it, but I’m not wired that way. There had to be some sort of mystery. I figure that’s what’s going to come out of this trip, too.

I also have a manuscript due next month, so I’ll be spending some time on that, too. How much is unknown, as we’ll have a busy schedule, but my “spare” time will be divided between researching a new book and working on the one I have to finish.

First, the “Can’t/Won’t do” stuff.

  • Use Croatians as protagonists. That would require far more research then I have time for.
  • Have my protagonists solving crimes. They have no jurisdiction in another country.
  • Opportunities for dead bodies might present themselves (like finding a body in a tun in a whisky distillery in Scotland), but realistically, American citizens can’t investigate crimes in other countries, and if they’re on a tour, they’ll be somewhere else the next day.

The “Can do” stuff.

  • Do informal investigating as long as it doesn’t interfere with the local law enforcement.
  • Offer insights and observations to the officials in charge.

What will I be doing?

  • Taking pictures, of course, both what my first photography instructor called “record shots” and the more creative ones that our group will be taking.
  • Noting the food (a given for me)
  • People watching to come up with and flesh out characters.
  • Talking to others on the tour, and the boat crew.
  • Taking note of the climate.
  • Taking note of anything “Croatian” that will add depth to secondary characters.

What I don’t have is a plot, or much of a plan. I want to let the experience drive the story, not me trying to force a preconceived idea into what I find there.

I do know that I’d like it to continue what I began with Heather’s Chase: Not a sequel, but another stand alone novel marketed as “An International Mystery Romance” which leaves the door open for more. That means I’ll need a hero and heroine. They’ll probably meet on the tour, simply because that’s the genre expectation. They’ll have conflicts, but will be drawn together by the mystery in some way. Maybe working against each other, but eventually, they will have to have that promise of a happily ever after.

As I write this, I have no idea what kind of connectivity we’ll have on this trip. I doubt I’ll be around to respond to comments, but I know everyone here at TKZ will carry on the conversation.

What travels/locations have inspired your writing? What advice do you have to share?


Trusting Uncertainty by Terry OdellAvailable Now Trusting Uncertainty, Book 10 in the Blackthorne, Inc. series.
You can’t go back and fix the past. Moving on means moving forward.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tips for Distant Settings

Things I’ve learned about setting a book in real places, especially distant ones.

Distant SettingsWhen the Hubster and I decided to celebrate our 50th anniversary with a trip to the British Isles, of course I had “book” in the back of my mind. However, an international setting wouldn’t have worked with any of my existing series, and since I never plot in advance, I decided to enjoy our tour, taking pictures and notes of what we were seeing and doing and just wait and see what might bubble to the surface.

Distant SettingsOur trip began in Northern Ireland with a visit to our daughter, who had pointed out that she moved there 12 years ago and we’d never visited. From there, we had a couple days in London where I got to meet one of my critique partners face to face for the first time. Given we’d been in our little group for about 15 years, that was another “it’s about time” moment.

From there, we visited Scotland, and then Ireland. When we got home, I decided I’d write a short and sweet romance. Write it quickly, understanding that it’s not my true “brand” but that I had to publish something to justify writing off at least part of the trip.

Well, I soon discovered I’m not a short and sweet romance author, and mystery elements insisted on working their way into the story. What I ended up with is Heather’s Chase: an International Mystery Romance which is closer to my brand, although it’s a stand alone and still a bit of a one off. Nevertheless, it was an educational experience.

My Tips

Distant SettingsLess is more. My first drafts went into phenomenal detail about absolutely everything. Airports. Train stations. Hotels. Food. All the places we stopped, what we saw on the drives. Given we were traveling for well over two weeks, that would have been a LONG book. A sense of place is good. Overwhelming readers is not. I had to keep reminding myself to make sure everything related to the plot and characters. I wasn’t writing a travelogue.

Stay true to time. Readers familiar with the area will know that you can’t get from A to B in two hours, or that when you’ve had your characters on their bus for five hours, it’s really a twenty-minute drive.

Distant SettingsYou’ll always miss something. Unless you’ve got your plot mapped out before your trip, once  you start writing, you’ll have a scene to write and—lo and behold—you missed taking a picture, or didn’t take the right notes. I spent a LOT of time on the internet rechecking facts, looking at maps, and refamiliarizing myself with some of the attractions we visited. If I couldn’t find exactly what I needed, I reminded myself I was writing fiction—another reason not to name real places. On the occasions where my characters were eating in real, named places, I made sure I had pictures and menus. Same for attractions.

Distant SettingsDon’t make up real stuff. One of the reasons I made this book a stand alone was because our trip didn’t include visits to police departments (although I snapped a picture of a vehicle in Ireland, “just in case”). Also, it would be unrealistic for my American characters to have any access to law enforcement in several different countries.

Be nice. I also opted not to name the specific hotels or restaurants (mostly). For one thing, it gave me the freedom to change the décor, layout, amenities, or the restaurant menus. And, if something “bad” happened, I wasn’t going to incur the wrath of those establishments.

It’s about flavor. Although my characters didn’t visit Northern Ireland, I did include a character from the same town we’d visited when we stayed with my daughter. I made sure she vetted all his dialogue. For example, people in Northern Ireland use the word “wee” as a meaningless adjective. I was asked for my wee credit card, given a wee receipt, offered a wee bag for my purchases. My British critique partner was very helpful with vocabulary as well.

All in all, I had a great time ‘revisiting’ my trip to the British Isles while I was writing the book, and being able to incorporate my experiences into Heather’s Chase.

Want to see more pictures? Click on the book cover below, then scroll down to “Special Features.”


Heather's ChaseMy  Mystery Romance, Heather’s Chase, is  available at most e-book channels. and in print from Amazon.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Travel Replenishes the Writer’s Soul

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I have my first real vacation coming up in October. It’s been a long time since I’ve traveled to another country. When my husband was alive, he had his passport but never wanted to travel outside the U.S. I wanted him to see some of the countries I visited after high school but he never had the curiosity for international travel. It’s a shame. I would’ve liked to experience another adventure with him. I lost him in 2014 and have missed him every day. It’s been a process of redefining who I am without him, but with every day that passes, I feel stronger and more hopeful.

I didn’t write for two years after he died. I was in a fog for a long time. Faced with selling my large home and an extra car and downsizing was a daunting task, but I had lots of support. After a friend contacted me to write for her Amazon Kindleworlds, I finally got back into writing and that helped me deal with my grief. I wrote about it. In the many characters I developed in my Amazon novellas and in the novels I’ve written after my husband died, I explored my emotional frailties through the eyes of my characters. Writing helped me heal. I will never be whole again, but through hardships, you develop strength and you see how important friends and family can be. In many ways, I’ve been blessed.

This trip is more than exploring the world and meeting new people. It’s an awakening for me. It’s as exciting as it is frightening but I can’t wait to get the first stamp in my passport and I have more trips planned over the next two years.

This year, my travel plans will be to the Lakes District of northern Italy and Milan. The area is nestled into the Swiss Alps, on the border with Italy, and covers beautiful lakes (Lake Como, Bellagio and Maggiore) with quaint villages, shopping and restaurants on glistening waters. It’s picture post card scenery when you see the idyllic images of this beautiful part of the world.

I will also visit Milan, the fashion district of Italy, and there are other daily excursions to different islands using a ferry system. A rail system can also get me into Switzerland on my free time, between organized day trips.

I’m looking forward to seeing the LAST SUPPER by Leonardo da Vinci (housed in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan) and the iconic La Scala Theatre and its Opera museum.

I’m traveling as a solo traveler with a small 28-person tour organized by the Traveling Aggies (an association of former A&M students, but you don’t have to be alumni to travel with them) through AHI Travel. It may be a little intimidating to travel solo, but I am looking forward to meeting the group under the guidance of an established travel guide and Texas hosts.

This is my first adventure, but I have friends and family lined up as travel companions for trips in 2020-2021. I’m planning a river cruise with some dear friends in 2020 into Europe and have a Germany trip in the planning stages with my older brother and his wife for July 2020.

I feel very unprepared for travel these days, but would like to ask help from you seasoned travelers.

I’ve learned that I can get TSA pre-check for US domestic flights–to avoid the longer security checks by obtaining an early background check for ease of travel–or I can also get something more global. GlobalEntry.Gov is geared more for international travel, but also covers domestic flights. For those unfamiliar, the GlobalEntry.Gov application costs $100 but also pays for TSA Precheck on domestic flights. I had already paid $85 for TSA precheck when I could have paid $100 for the Global Entry and gotten both clearances for worldwide travel. Live and learn.

I purchased Rick Steves’ book on Milan and the Lakes District and he has a video on Youtube. Lots of tips. Steves suggested I acquire a credit card that doesn’t charge for currency conversion with charges. I did my research and have done that. In addition, Italy is part of the European Union so EU currency is what I’ll need.

I’m also acquiring travel accessories, like electrical outlet converters for Europe, neck support & eye mask for sleeping on the plane, money belt with RFID protection, and I’m considering the purchase of a good theft-resistant backpack for the day trips.

Other things I have done to prepare ( in no particular order):

1.) Notify my credit card company of my travel dates, so my transactions aren’t flagged or stopped.

2.) Notify my bank of those dates, in case I need a wire or expect an ATM transaction.

3.) Expand my cell service for international coverage.

4.) Check health warnings for the country I’m traveling to, if any. Get any vaccinations I may need.

5.) Set up email alerts for my country of travel through Smart Traveler Enrollment Program – STEP.com to get State Department advisories via email.

6.) Purchase trip cancellation insurance.

7.) Verify that my present health insurance covers foreign travel. Will I need more?

8.) Set up Mobile Passport in advance, the app for U.S. Customs and Immigration to make my border crossings run smoothly.

9.) Make copies of all my important documents & emergency contact information (keeping them in a separate & safe location – ie locked in my hotel safe) for reference if they are stolen and I need to report it.

10.) Send out my travel itinerary to family (with contact information) for emergencies.

11.) Record emergency contact phone numbers in my cell phone contact list with a hard copy backup if my phone is stolen (ie embassy info, hotel phone number and instructions on how to make a long distance international call).

DISCUSSION:

Any tips that I’ve missed? I would appreciate advice from you more seasoned travelers.

Should I get local currency (Euros) before I leave? How much should I bring? I plan to see my bank this week.

Has anyone been to the northern Lakes District of Italy & Milan? Any recommendations for restaurants or fun places to see?

Hidden Gems

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne


I just got back from London late last week, and, as always, I loved exploring the city and discovering hidden gems – places or items that I find provide unexpected insight or inspiration for my writing. That’s partly why I love traveling for research as well as fun (book research is, after all, always fun for me!) – I get to immerse myself for a brief time in the sights and smells of a place I hope to bring to life in my books. This time, I had no specific research needs and was busy showing my mother-in-law the sights, but nonetheless those hidden gems were still there to be discovered.

The first of these came on our trip to Kew GardensIMG_3711 when we discovered Kew Palace (which hitherto I hadn’t visited). Inside I discovered a little Georgian gem which unexpectedly fed into my current middle grade WIP. There was a hidden staircase for the servants to enter and leave rooms without bothering their occupants, mourning heraldry to be displayed in the event of a death in the family and a meal laid out representing  one of the last meals George III ate (I always love learning more about food!). There was also a wonderful physic garden with some interesting medicinal herbs that I will be able to incorporate into the book as well.

The next few gems were found during a visit to the lovely V&A museum when I discovered an illustrated herbal book that had been digitized and open to the very hIMG_3593erb I was using in another WIP of mine (references to which are found in Greek mythology). I then also discovered an instrument called a claviorgan decorated with the story of Orpheus – an instrument that could slip in nicely to a chapter in this same WIP. I was probably way too excited about these two finds that any normal tourist would be!

IMG_3604By the time we travelled to Bath I was ready for the next few gems, including a reference to a potential character in the Bath abbey and a visit to a charming town in the Cotswolds that had a small medieval church and graveyard that could totally be used in a future book.

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You can obviously tell how much I love deriving inspiration from places I’ve been and the hidden gems I discover are always unexpected and exciting. Sometimes they even spark brand new novel ideas (now just to find the time to write them…).

So TKZers what hidden gems have you discovered on your travels that helped inspire your work?