Stories Behind the Stories #1

Double Mountain

People have been telling me that I should write some of the true stories that are behind the story of my novel, Gilt Ridden, and other stories that inspire my writing. So, I’m writing a series of blog posts that I’ll call The Stories Behind the Stories.

This is the story of the first rattlesnake that I found in our house when we first moved to our Double Mountain ranch. I included it in some of the first drafts of the book, but later I omitted it and just referred to it in dialogue. People said I had too many rattlesnake scenes already.

We had moved to our ranch Easter weekend. The weather had been hot and dry, but a cold front brought much-needed rain and a drop in temperature. Unfortunately, rattlesnakes were looking for a warm place too.

My husband was off at work at his job in Sweetwater, a 45-minute drive away, and my son and I were playing on the floor of the playroom. We had been playing on the floor for probably a couple of hours and I decided to plug in the phone. (Yes, that was back in the days of phones in the home.) I was looking for the phone outlet and pivoted the couch away from the wall to get to it. I was shocked to find a curled-up rattlesnake. I looked at it for a couple of seconds because my mind didn’t want to register what I was seeing. It was happily asleep, no worries.

I picked up my son and placed him on his bed. He was three at the time. I told him to stay on the bed and I explained the situation. He wasn’t having it. He wanted to stay by my side.

I went back to the playroom to check on the snake. I think it was awake now and not happy with me, but it still not moving. At this time in my life I had seen many rattlesnakes. We had also lived on another West Texas ranch years before, but I had never killed one. My husband had always been around to do it. I tried calling him from the kitchen phone but his employer had not paid their phone bill so my husband’s business phone was not working.

I probably said a lot of cuss words, at least mentally. (Son was still stuck to my leg, not wanting to leave.)

I knew there was a shovel on the porch because we had killed a rattlesnake on the porch a couple of days prior. It had been raining when we were moving in (of course) and it had come up onto the porch. The door had been wide open as we brought things inside. I remember thinking at the time how lucky we were to have found that snake before it had gotten into the house!

So, I got the shovel, went to the playroom, kid still stuck to my leg. I told him to move away and he wouldn’t let go. I yelled at him and stomped the floor to emphasize the importance of listening to me. That only made him hold on tighter. And the stomping on the floor was irritating the snake and he started uncoiling to move to another location.

I think I actually said some curse words aloud at this point.

So, I moved forward and planned my attack. I remember standing there, thinking that I was glad that he was a regular-sized snake, maybe two and a half feet, so his striking distance wouldn’t be far. Even though the shovel was a regular-sized shovel, my arms are really short, I wanted as much distance between us as possible. As I planned my attack, I learned something. Sometimes the more that you think about doing something that you’re afraid to do, the more you can start scaring yourself. I didn’t want to be there. But if I left, then who knows where the snake would hide? And then we’d still be faced with having to get rid of it.

I knew I had to attack before I got too afraid. I hit it with the flat side of the shove, and it got really mad. The second thing I learned that day, killing a rattlesnake on padded carpeting is a lot more difficult than you think it would be. All I did was make it really mad. It started winding and unwinding himself, trying to figure out who the hell I was, why did I wake him up, and what did I have against him?

Since that wasn’t working, I used the edge of the shovel blade. I placed it right behind his head and pushed down. Nothing. So, I pushed harder and sawed back and forth. As my son was still grasping my leg, I was thinking that at least if it left a bloody spot on my new carpet that it would be hidden under the couch. (Hey, I worked really hard to find that good carpet at a decent price!)

I think at this point I had it incapacitated enough that I scooped it up and take it outside to finish the job. After it was over, I had a discussion with my son about the importance of listening to me. Unfortunately, over the next six years we were faced with the same dilemma six more times. But every time I told him to get on his bed until I gave the all clear, he did it. He also got very good at spotting rattlesnakes that I didn’t see.

Maybe for the second story I’ll tell you about the second half of this day and how I learned about the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup.

Thanks for reading this if you’ve made it this far! One of the reasons I write the stories about West Texas is to show the world what it’s like.


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Gilt Ridden Book Club Party

Yesterday a dream came true for me. I got to discuss my book, Gilt Ridden, with my book club. No, you didn’t miss the publication date. It’s not published yet. They agreed to be my beta readers (aka guinea pigs) and give me feedback.

And since we met at my house, I thought I’d have some fun with it. I decided to make it a themed party! Check out those gold coins, delicious chocolate of course.

For food I tried to make snakes with the cinnamon rolls but the eyes didn’t quite turn out right. The nonpareils I used melted and the color ran. Even though they looked like they were hemorrhaging dark blood from their eyes, they tasted good! (Hence, no closeups of the “snakes”.) Yes, that’s a typical result of cooking experiments for me.

The beer you see is some of my favorite. It’s Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. I thought it was a Texas beer, alas, it’s not. But it has a German name so it also goes with my story. 😀 One of my protagonists has a German name. The wines are Texas wines. I didn’t get a chance to taste them. But I’ve heard good things about them. I liked the labels.

What a spread!

We had such a good time sitting around and chatting. It was neat for me to ask, “What did you think about…?” “Were you confused by…?” “Did you catch the hidden mystery with…?” If was so fun! They said they couldn’t put it down. (Whew!)

They gave me constructive feedback and I’ll use it to tighten up my story. Hopefully I’ll be shopping it around soon. I surely know that their comments and encouragement helped me immensely!

A frazzled but happy me.
The red journal was a prize. A journal figures prominently in the story.

If you read the book and would like to host your own Gilt Ridden party, I’ve made a Pinterest board full of ideas! Gilt Ridden Book Club board.You’ll also find other Gilt Ridden pictures on another Pinterest board. I also have boards on History, and Texas History, among other things.


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Interview With AMW Member, V.P. Chandler

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Originally appeared on www.austinmysterywriters.com

This is the last installment of the AMW member interviews. Who did I leave out? Me! So some of my fellow members have asked me questions. I must admit, I was a little nervous. Ask me anything! I’ll give you an answer. And this goes for you too, reader. Ask me anything. I’ll try to answer what you throw at me. *Gulp!*

 

 

 

Kaye George (former member but still active in many AMW activities!)- How long have you been writing toward publication?

VPC- I plead the fifth. (Already!) Okay, I’ll answer. I’ve been working on my book, in its many incarnations, since about 2009. It’s had big changes and I’ve also worked on other projects in the meantime.

 

KG- Do you find it hard or easy to fit writing into your schedule?

Pomodoro timer

Pomodoro timer

VPC- Most days I can fit in some writing. It’s the days that have unexpected challenges, like an emergency trip to the vet, that make it hard. And on some days, like today, I’m doing things like writing a blog post. Lots of things take time away from working on book projects.

I’ll also fess up that I’m also a procrastinator, so I sometimes have to trick myself into working. “I have to work at least 20 minutes.” Then next thing I know it’s been 3 hours and I got a lot of work done.

 

KG- Do you work outside the home?

VPC- I volunteer for my church. I do the website and sometimes fill in for the secretary. I also help with websites, Facebook pages, and projects of organizations like Writer Unboxed and our local chapter of Sisters in Crime.

 

KG- How many rattlers have you actually killed?

VPC- LOL! I know you’re asking me this because you’ve read a draft of my book. The answer is, a lot. Back when we lived at our ranch, I wondered the same thing and started counting them up. At that time the number was about 150. When I got to number 200, I bought myself a gun charm for my charm bracelet. I figured I deserved it! So all in all I’d say I personally killed about 250 snakes.

Charms to celebrate moving to central Texas, shooting rattlesnakes, writing my newest story about a Texas Ranger, love of rabbits, joining AMW, and writing Rota Fortunae.

Charms to celebrate moving to central Texas, shooting rattlesnakes, writing my newest story about a Texas Ranger, love of rabbits, joining AMW, and writing Rota Fortunae.

I have a picture of the dead snakes that we killed on our busiest day, but I won’t post that here. If anyone is interested, I can post it in the comments. We killed 18 snakes that day. It was just after Thanksgiving and that’s the time of year that they are mating and looking to hibernate. I can tell you more about that day later, if anyone is interested.

An added note: I know some people will be upset that we killed rattlesnakes. There were thousands of snakes where we lived and we didn’t kill any of the nonpoisonous one. AND our son was only three years old so it was a matter of life or death. Again, I can discuss more about that in the comments if anyone wishes to.

 

Elizabeth Buhmann- Your settings always have a wonderful Texas feel to them. You are a native Texan, surely, but hasn’t your family been here for a while, too?

VPC- Yes. I have a direct ancestor who arrived about 1834. It’s funny that I’m descended from a Winters and I moved to a town where one of its earliest settlers was a Winters, my

Winters house. www.wimwic.org

Winters house. http://www.wimwic.org

4x great uncle. (I think that’s the right number of greats.) When I learned that, I figured it was meant to be for me to live here!

 

 

 

 

 

EB- Your father was a criminal justice professional, wasn’t he? Tell us a bit about him and how he has influenced your writing.

VPC- He was a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State and he influenced me greatly. I believe his specialties were criminal history and organized crime. He loved to tell stories about cases, including those he was involved in during his time as Director of Public Safety in Corpus Christi. He and my step-mother were also avid readers of mysteries so we often talked about those too.

My father’s parents also had an influence. My grandfather was a pathologist, the first one in South Texas. And my grandmother was an accomplished photographer. She worked with him by taking the photos to document his findings. Both were friends with Erle Stanley Gardner and he sometimes asked their advice on forensics. 144432He mentions them in the Foreword in his book, The Case of the Careless Cupid.

I didn’t get a chance to know them back in those days, but I’ve heard many stories about what they did and accomplished.

 

 

 

 

 

EB- Are you a Texas history buff? Your first novel (which I had the privilege of reading in draft form) is set about a hundred (?) years in the past. What sort of sources did you use to paint such a realistic picture of what Texas was like then?

VP- Thank you! I used to hate history. I thought it was so boring. And, like many things, the older I got the more I found it interesting. I like learning about people and how they overcame obstacles. One of the best resources I’ve found is the Texas State Historical Association website. It’s incredible!

Other sources were just various things I could find by using Google and asking friends who are knowledgeable. My Facebook friends are great! I also collect hard to find, out of print books about Texas.

 

Gale Albright- Has being a member of Austin Mystery Writers improved your confidence in your writing?

VPC- Yes! Tremendously. I can’t imagine where I’d be if it wasn’t for this group and the feedback and support we give each other.

 

GA- Can you tell me the pros and cons of being a member of a critique group?

VPC- One of the best things about a good critique group is getting honest, and polite feedback. Another plus about AMW is that we are a group of people with a variety of backgrounds, so we can approach a story from different experiences. We also have different things that we notice in a story, like punctuation or pacing. So we can give a variety of suggestions on how to make a story better.

 

GA- Austin Mystery Writers’ short-story anthology, Murder on Wheels, recently received a Silver Falchion Award at Killer Nashville. What’s your reaction been to that?

VPC- When we were nominated, I was like, “Whaaaat?” LOL It didn’t sink in for about a day. I didn’t want to let myself get excited. Then when we won, I couldn’t believe it. I was very pleased. I’ve been telling everybody!

SilverFalchionAwardWinner_Web-300x300

GA- You have a big interest in historical novels. Do you think you’ve found a niche for yourself, or do you plan to branch out to other types of writing?

VPC- Good question. This is something I think about a lot. I love historical fiction, and plan to write a series set in Texas. Hopefully my first book, Gilt Ridden, will be the first in a series. I have about five other stories planned out for my characters. I like the idea that my antagonist, Kay Stuart, solves current problems (murders), by finding the answers in Texas history.

I also have an idea for a series using one of her best friends, Jessie Reese, who is a modern deputy sheriff. Those will be straight up mystery/suspense with no history.

BUT I also love to write horror. I’m working on a story that may be a novella or novel that is sci-fi/horror.

So I guess my answer is that right now I’m focusing on historical fiction/mystery with a side jaunt into horror. But I find I’m having so much fun writing horror, it may be more of a focus of mine in the future. I plan to just write what is fun to write. And when I do that, the writing is better anyway.

 

GA- What’s the most fun part of writing for you? What is not so much fun?

VPC- I love writing squeamish or emotional scenes. I like the idea of making the reader laugh or cry. Such power! Bwa ha ha ha ha ha !

On the other hand, I hate it when the plot or the scene just isn’t coming together. It’s excruciating! I literally have to get up and walk around. Sometimes I have to stand at the table to write. I also don’t like long descriptions. I hate reading them and I hate writing them. I like to get to the point.

 

GA- Do you have any fun research trips planned?

VPC- I wish! I will be going to Bouchercon in New Orleans next week with fellow member Laura Oles. I guess I’ll keep my eyes open for inspiration. I’ll also be going to the Writer Unboxed Un-Conference in November, which (witch?) will be in Salem, Massachusetts. Kathy Waller will also be there with me. Maybe we’ll find some ghosts!

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Salem trip to Writer Unboxed Un-Con in 2014

Thank you for all of the questions! I love being a member of AMW. I can’t imagine going through this journey of being a writer without their support and guidance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does anybody have anymore questions? Bring ‘em on!

Questions


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Thank You, Lizard Brain

The other day I had the “privilege” of sitting at the DPS office (DMV to most folks) and got to do one of my favorite things, people watch. The DPS office is one of the best places to see folks from all walks of society- men, women, immigrants, teens, and the elite. (Although, I don’t think I saw any high society types that day.)

 

And as I surreptitiously watched from the corners of my eyes (Do you think they thought I was creepy?) I came to a conclusion. You can’t really judge a person by what they wear, what hairstyle they have, or even their body language.

 

Why? I saw two guys who were dressed similar, looked about the same age, both even leaned against the wall in the same manner, but they gave off very different vibes. I couldn’t put my finger on it for a while. What made them different? And then I realized, it was the eyes. The guy who gave off a “danger” vibe wasn’t frowning, grimacing or pressing his lips together. He wasn’t wringing his hands like a villain in a penny dreadful. There was no sign of animosity on his face, but his made me want to stay away from him. The other young man had several tattoos, but his eyes were kind. It was fascinating.

 

At that moment I thanked my “lizard brain” for the eons of evolution that gave me the ability to pick up on potential danger.

 

I believe it’s a part of our makeup that we tend to ignore in our modern “polite” society. How many times on the news have your heard people say, “I was picking up a weird vibe. I don’t know why, but I knew something just wasn’t right about that person. I wish I had listened.” I think this is particularly true when it comes to women. We’re taught to be nice to everyone. Please follow your instincts!

 

Don’t worry, no major drama happened. No one knew I was watching. But in the future I think I’ll be paying more attention to the eyes. Maybe the proverb is right, maybe they really are windows to our souls.

Have you ever had a moment when your gut was telling you of danger? I’d love to hear your story.


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