Sunday, August 21, 2016

Three Steps to Creating a Contemporary Setting for your Novel

World Building - Creating Fictional Communities

Red fisheries sheds, Tancook Island
Writers can be inspired by characters or an event, but as the story evolves the characters need a place to live. Setting is a character is it's own right and often dictates direction in the story. Some writers set books in real places. In a large city, this works. However, using a smaller, limited population creates privacy issues and limits events. The solution is to create a fictional community to showcase the story. Caleb's Cove in the Caleb Cove Mystery series is a created community inspired by three real-life geographical locations.

Although a contemporary setting is easier to create than a fantasy world, it's still necessary to define geography, to understand and remember the residents' philosophy and to know who in "town" your characters can trust.

To create your fictional, contemporary world:

Brainstorm what type of community you want.

  • Do you want a large place or a cozy, hamlet? 
  • Will you locate it on the ocean's edge or the prairie's bold sweeping field?
  • Canada has been settled by varied ethnic groups over the years. 
  • What is the origin of the community? Has the town grown from the WW11 interment camps in Canada? Or did its settlers arrive in the 1700s?
  • Is a second language spoken in the area you are creating?
  • What about the geography, the buildings, the occupations in your newly created town?

Find towns and locations that have your wanted ingredients.

  • You do not have to take a whole town,  you can choose elements and relocate them to wherever you like in your town. I found elements in a number of places and combined them to create Caleb's Cove, set on Dane's islands off Nova Scotia's South Shore. following are some of those places. 
  • Several real locations provided inspiration, visuals and ambiance for Caleb's Cove. However, all people and story events are products of my writer's imagination and other than the awesome ocean setting, bear no connection to any real person in the three background communities.

Create your town, describe it, download pictures and draw a map of the areas in your book.

TANCOOK ISLANDS, Nova Scotia, Canada 

Tancook Island started it all. I've had a fascination with Tancook for decades. My sister-in-law's mother worked on Little Tancook and I loved her stories and the name. At eight I thought it a great setting for a mystery and wrote (longhand in a Hilary Scribbler) The Mystery on Tancook Island.

Accidentally, or at the bidding of  my unconscious, my mystery series is set on an island off Nova Scotia. Additional details and ideas for Caleb's Cove came from Tancook and two other Nova Scotia locations. (For more on Nova Scotia visit:


What is know as Bell island today is actually three older islands that were combined when the road through the LaHave Islands was built. The road now joins Jenkin's Island, LaHave Island and Bell's Island into one large island know collectively as Bell Island.


  • Caleb's Cove is on a fictional set of islands modeled on current day Bell Island. Bridges join the three separate parts and the main fictional island is larger than the real one.
  • The hamlet and various buildings and stores are based on Petite Riviere along the 331 and Fisherman's Wharf located in Eastern Passage, back of Dartmouth.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What the heck are forerunners of death?

The East Coast of Nova Scotia, 

as well as other parts of the province, have unlimited stories of forerunners, ghosts, apparitions and all things other-worldly.

Forerunners are those ghostly events that foretell a death. 

They include:
- three knocks on the door with no one outside
- visions of a relative seen in the night
- ghostly figures following you on the road
- non-existent figures seen in a rear-view mirror
- footsteps heard on the stairs with no one there
- footprints seen on a floor where no one has walked recently
- the sound of a vehicle coming to the house but no one is there

Usually these forerunners are followed by a death of a family  member or friend within a few months or less and well before that person has reached a ripe old age.

For two real ghost stories of this generation, visit my blog on legends and ghosts.

Ghost story collections. 

Stories of these events and their outcomes are available in a number of books. The most famous eastern story collector is Helen Creighton whose books, Bluenose Ghosts, are well known.
(All titles are linked to if you would like the book.)

Ghost Stories of Nova Scotia
I've also shivered to the tales of local authors like Veron Oickle and others.

Ghosts of the Titanic
Julie Lawson

Haunted Harbours - Ghost Stories
Steve Vernon

Friday, August 5, 2016

3 things I learned from a fourteen year old.

Have you ever hung out with someone a few decades younger?

Someone who is not a grandchild. I did this recently. The neighbors daughter was visiting her dad for a month. A lovely, curious teenager getting ready to turn fifteen.

I needed help with a glue gun and a stack of things for making steam punk jewelry. My thought that she might be able and also like to help was right. We ended up hanging out together for several days.

We built the jewelry. 

She turned out to be a whiz with the glue gun and had a great eye for adding one more detail that just made a piece "pop."

We  picked cherries off the neighbor's tree (with permission) and made cherry juice. She picked, squashed, stirred and strained to get her own jar of juice.

Shopping and hair things

Shopping at a thrift store for old jewelry to convert is way more fun with a teenager. But the crowning piece (and that is a pun) was my hair cutting visit. We stocked her with a full Mac Meal, and she ate as I took the chair.

A visit the day before had left her hair an amazing mix of blue, black, and sort of a pewter color with a funky short one-side cut. At my hair salon, she sat in a chair backing on the main store and people stopped to comment on her "do." It is an amazing, creative statement of  "look out world, here I come and I'm ME."  (Photo here does not do it justice.)

Meanwhile, I mentioned that I'd have loved hair like that as a teen. Both my young friend and my hairdresser jumped right on that comment and said, "so what's stopping you now?" I absorbed the possibility while the stylist fetched the samples of colors available. The teen picked purple and the stylist went to work.

End result: I now have purple streaks and I LOVE THEM. 

(they are plum purple in real life)

3 things I am taking away from this week

1) Teenagers have optimism and expansive creativity. 

And occasionally the let it all hang out and it is infectious. I enjoyed my designing and jewelry building way more because of her presence. A few "old" scales have fallen from my eyes, and I'll work to make sure they don't come back.

2) The young, when alone with an older person not a relative, just might ask surprising questions.

 And make comments they wouldn't with a parent. The opportunity to be invited to drop small bits of information into their lives is a gift. It reminded me of how much I've learned over the decades. A satisfying and rewarding feeling.

3) They tackle what is at hand without worry.

 Although sometimes confused about what life should be and where it will take them, they power ahead. They have a view unencumbered by decades of layers of trying, failing, hard times and pain. That reminder of all the wonderful, new things to learn, and the known things to enjoy in life, is great.

We usually recognize that babies and younger children offer a renewed view of the world. But teenagers sometimes get a bad rap for their attitudes and habits. I learned that they too have much to offer us.

My advice to you: 

If the opportunity to hang out with a young teenager arises, take it. I believe that there are more great teens than not. When they have nothing to prove to parents, teachers and friends, they often show their true selves. And those selves are terrific.

Monday, July 18, 2016

How to use the 5 senses for more vivid writing

Using the five senses enriches the setting, enhances character and shows your reader the story.

Used wisely and folded into the world of your characters, the senses ground your reader in a unique location, add textures and atmosphere to the story, and draw your reader in.

The five senses at work.


What does you character see in the surroundings? What is unique to the current location?

Trees crowded the road but here and there squares of cleared land sported buildings. On the inner side of the island he saw a house with an outbuilding and a circle of trees at its back. The clearings on the left, the ocean side, often left gaps and he caught glimpses of water, dark, rolling and cold looking. Some of the houses were older two story places— weathered and over-painted, houses of time and displayed character. (A glimpse at Dane's Island and Caleb's Cove in the Caleb Cove Mystery Series.)


Are the sounds those of a city, an ocean, a mountain? A city boy at night in the country will be aware in a different manner than a country boy in the same spot. How does your character react to the sounds around them? What memories or anticipations do those sounds trigger?

Frank tipped his head against the tree and closed his eyes tuning in to the sounds. Two birds nattered above him. A slight breeze brushed the tree, the sound not soft enough to be a rustle, not sharp enough to be a clatter. He'd spent years drunk, sleeping in parks and culverts in good weather and heading to the homeless shelters in bad. Back then he wouldn't have noticed the birds or the breeze. He'd have been too consumed with locating the next drink.
A cough echoed around him, and he jerked up. He checked the open area, the rock pile off to the right and the bush on the left. There was a second cough. Tension drained away. Some poor slob was behind the bushes. A drunk who couldn't or wouldn't get sober. (Excerpt from Came Home to a Killing, Book 2 in the Caleb Cove Mystery Series)


This is much more than a hand on an object. It is the brush of air against a cheek or the chill seeping into toes about to freeze. Air can be perceived as soft or harsh, breezy or still. The elements, air, water, fire, and earth create touch.

She breathed in. There is air. I won’t smother. She rolled onto her knees and felt with her hands. One hand plunged in the water. She lost her balance, rolled and hit the ocean's cold, gasping, she sank under the surface. The shock stopped her breath for a heartbeat. She kicked and came up sputtering and clawing at the ledge. Fright once again had her by the neck. (Excerpt: Came Home Too Late, Book 3)


The odors of a farm yard are very different from the local bus terminal. Smell evokes the strongest memories and reactions. Use it to your advantage when portraying your characters.

He sipped his coffee and savored both it and the pungent salt odor of seaweed roiled by the storm and the damp, old smell of the dock soaked by the waves. (Came Home Dead)


This gives you a wide area in which to play. Can we taste the air? Experience city grit when rain hits our tongues? Does the freshness of ripe cherries burst over our senses when we kiss our lover?

Additionally, food eaten is different cultures and areas of the country can add to the texture of the setting. Hodge Podge, a mixture of baby vegetables topped with a butter and cream sauce, followed by a dessert of Blueberry Grunt is a meal indicative of the South Shore of Nova Scotia. (Find the Blueberry Grunt Recipe in last week's blog below.)

Mix and Match

The senses can be combined in various ways. The odor of BBQing pork precedes the taste and texture of the meat on our tongues. The sight of a field of ripe, plump blueberries can bring back memories and summon taste experienced from the past. A vivid mix of senses intensifies the experience of a character.

Heat filled the trailer and voices echoed in the campground and, in one final, jerky movement, Emily sat up. Her hair straggled around her head and strands stuckto her cheeks. Her shoulders ached and her P.J. collar, damp and clammy, clung to her. Her mouth was once again that telltale dryness that followed being drugged. Pounding filled her head and tightened her scalp. One hell of a night. (Came Home Too Late.)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Have you made Blueberry Grunt?

What do you do with your blueberries? 

This year the blueberries are luscious. On the South Shore, Nova Scotia the folk make Blueberry Grunt. If you have never had it, you're in for a hot, steamy, blueberry treat that rivals blueberry muffins.


(From the Pages of Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens, collected by Marie Nightingale, 1975 printing)

The Sauce:
1 Quart of blueberries
1/2 cup of sugar (more to taste optional)
1/2 cup of water

Put berries, sugar and water in a pot, cover and boil gently until there is plenty of juice.

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon shortening
1/4 to 1/3 cup milk

Sift flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a bowl. (I put it in and whisk it.) Cut in the butter and shortening and add enough mile to make a soft biscuit dough. (A bit dampish)

Drop by spoonfuls onto the hot blueberries. Cover closely (tightly) and do not peek for 15 minutes. Serve hot.

For a TASTY BLUEBERRY MUFFIN recipe, go to JOANNE GUIDOCCIO'S BLOG for today, July 11-2016 - National Blueberry Muffin Day.

Monday, June 27, 2016

How to Stumble into Writing a Series.


Photo by Destination Halifax
As readers, we tend to love a series. Getting to know characters and having the ability to re-visit them in subsequent books makes for happy reading. Originally, I'd intended this series to be in Toronto. However, the South Shore of Nova Scotia kept popping into my head and we have The Caleb Cove Mystery Series.

My first book ever (I was about 8 or so) was set on Tancook Island off Nova Scotia. A mystery with an old house, hidden rooms and a ghost, the story starred twins, Pam and Penny. A few years ago, I followed my inner urging and returned to an island off the East Coast for my first published grown-up book. After reading it, a sister-in-law said, "Why don't you write a three book series like Jayne Ann Krentz does?" Off I went and wrote the first three books in the series. (They are not necessarily as well written or romantic as Jayne's.)

I write what I like to read. 

My books are traditional mysteries with a touch of suspense and sometimes incorporate the voice of an evil antagonist. Written in a style blended from my favorite authors, Mary Stewart, Dorothy Gilman and Dana Stabenow with an underling hue of Agatha Christie, they are "clean" reads suitable for anyone from an older teen to grandmother.

Series that Grow After the Fact: 

I had plots for three books and they became linked as I wrote. However, one original character fell off the grid and his sister took his place. She's quite a demanding character and has insisted on her own book. Therefore the Caleb Cove Mystery Series will continue in Book Four. There are also rumblings from the cast for a five and six as well. It's fun to return to a known group of characters in order to throw in a stumbling block (usually a murder). How they handle it is sometimes a surprise to me.
For example, in book three they have formed a club called The Touched by Murder Club. I had not seen that coming.

My advice to writers:

 If a your characters want their own stories - go ahead and create a series. But do start recording details early so you know who is in town when you start the next book. If about book three you realize things will be ongoing, backtrack, re-read your first books and get that character/setting Bible up to date!

The first three Caleb Cove books are the Came Home books as in ...Dead, a a Killing and ...Too Late. I am looking for a set of titles for three more with a different prefix. (Suggestions welcome.)


Caleb Cove Mystery #3
Please enjoy the current release--Came Home Too Late, (Monday, June 27th, 2016) and if you haven't already done so, check out books One and Two as well. They can be read as stand-alones, but if you'd like to meet the recurring community start with the first one, Came Home Dead**.

What do you like best about a series? 
How many books do you think should be in one series? 

**For an explanation of the term Came Home Dead, visit my interview with Makenzi Fisk on her blog.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

3 mystery/thrillers with a truly evil, female antagonist.

If you like strong, evil and female antagonists, then you need to read the Intuition Series by Makenzi Fisk. Today I'm featuring this mystery/thriller writer, and getting answers to some of the questions I've been meaning to ask her.

Makenzi Fisk, Author

Makenzi Fisk's novel, Just Intuition, earned her the distinction of Golden Crown Literary Society Debut Author as well as Mystery Thriller Finalist. Her books take readers to crime's gritty underbelly, northern-style, where few can tell the bad guys from the good ones, and a little bit of intuition always helps.

Retired from urban policing, Makenzi currently lives in Calgary. She looks forward to her summers in the ruggedly beautiful Canadian Shield, the inspiration for her backwoods thrillers. 

Welcome, Makenzi,

Q. Your first three books have a strong thriller element. When you started the intuition books, what was your intent for the story? for the number of books? How did that change, if it did, as you wrote?
A. When I began to write Just Intuition, I did it out of an overwhelming need to tell a particular story. The catalyst was the antagonist, who was a combination of a number of pathologically toxic personalities I had been personally impacted by, either in my professional career as a police officer or in my private life. All the worst qualities of those people were rolled into one character who wreaks havoc on every person with whom they interact. I'm always interested in the psychology behind human motivations and that is why I wrote the antagonist in first person. I needed to understand and I also wanted readers to have insight on the thought process of a developing psychopath.

My intent for Just Intuition was to get that story out. Partway into the writing process, I realized that this antagonist would not be so easily contained. There was more substance here than could be confined in a single novel, or even two. Three novels felt right and the Intuition Series was conceived.

Q. What is your "work" schedule when you are in the midst of a book?

A. My schedule is relatively inconsistent. There is a lot of humming and hawing and foot shuffling before I reach my stride. I start and stop and then do it again. When I finally get into it, I can't wait to get out of bed in the morning because I'm eager to write the next part of the story. On those days, I write around 3000 words, and usually don't slow down until I'm done. As soon as I type The End, I take a short break and then I'm eager to start revising and editing. I want to polish the story until it feels right.
Q.  Are there times when your characters seem real to you and do you ever get creeped out when you realize your characters aren't real? Do they "live on" after the book, and do they demand more story time? How do you handle that?

a. I can't say that my characters ever feel real to me. Some of the actual people who are influences come to mind but I don't usually write a character very close to an actual person. I find that even when if I have a particular person in mind, a cranky boss for example, the character becomes quite different as  write them.
That being said, it may seem different to others. When I've discussed characters during a brainstorming session, I once heard my daughter remark that it sounds like I'm talking about real people.

Q. You have solid characters in your first series. Will you continue their story in a book four? If so, what can you tell us about book four?  OR - what is your current project and what can you share with out about it?
A. The Intuition Series is complete and there is resolution at the end of book three, Fatal Intuition. I did enjoy creating a female FBI character from that book and will spin her off into her own adventure in my current work-in-progress, a thriller set in Northwestern Ontario, tentatively titled Smoke and Murder. I plan to finish writing that novel on location this summer.

Thanks for joining me, Makenzi. 

I read your books "in progress" and again once they were published. All three kept me glued to the page to find out what happens. Your criminal is as delightful (to read about) as she is evil. I will be watching for your next release - Smoke and Murder (if that stays). Enjoy your summer writing in your northern Ontario hide-away.

Connect with Makenzi at: