HELEN STARBUCK – Coloradoan – OR Nurse – Award-Winning Author

Helen Starbuck is a Colorado native, former OR nurse, and award-winning author of the standalone romantic suspense novels Legacy of Secrets, Finding Alex, The Woman He Used to Know, and the Annie Collins Mystery Series. She loves mysteries, suspense, romance, and any book that is well written. She’s a huge fan of books with independent, strong, women characters and, as Neil Gaiman says, “…stories where women save themselves.”

People often ask, what made you decide to write a book? It’s a valid question based on my career. I began as an art major and lasted two years until I discovered that my talent wouldn’t support me. I transferred to nursing school thinking I’d always have a job, and I did. I quickly learned I wasn’t a ‘bedside nurse,’ and I much preferred working in the OR where you care for patients, but for a limited time. I was fascinated by how the body worked and the procedures we performed. I still am, and that adds a note to my books that others may not have. I then became a nurse editor for a specialty nursing journal. I learned to edit articles for publication and help nurses, who generally aren’t writers, develop their articles and publish them.

I have written for my own pleasure since I was a teen, and that continued until I went part-time as an editor. Years ago, working in the OR, I helped care for a patient who had a very puzzling neurological symptom. Those puzzling symptoms were behind the plot of my first novel, The Mad Hatter’s Son, which took about two years from start to finished published book. I indie published the book because my dad passed at 71 and my mom at 94. It brought home to me that we have no idea how much time we have, and I didn’t want to wait for years to see my book published.

I’m a pantser. I can outline a professional article, but I cannot outline my novels. Because of that, probably the hardest part of writing for me is getting through the middle of a book to the end. I know how the book starts and have a pretty good idea how it will end, but that darn middle can be very elusive. Pantsing also requires a lot of revising because the story often deviates from what you thought it would be. You then have to go back, fill plot holes, and make sure timelines are accurate.

People often have questions about creating characters. The most common are How do I come up with names? How do I know who they are? Do they change? Characters come to me in a basic form as if they were real people I’m just meeting. They have names, I’m not sure where they come from, and I have a general idea about how they look, who they are, what their roles are. That can change–sometimes with input from the character. I remember thinking that Alex Frost, the detective in my first book, would be a one-off character, but he became a major player in the series.

In my new book, The Woman He Used to Know, Elizabeth Harper was much less formidable than she ended up being. The plot behind what happened to her and her husband changed a lot. The villain changed as well.

Writing characters of the opposite sex can be a challenge. I don’t want them to be caricatures like you see in some books, both those written by men and those by women. My best defense against that is to run things by several male friends of mine, who graciously put up with my questions and help me make my guys real. One thing I don’t like in romance or romantic suspense books is the ‘alpha male’ character who is rude, obnoxious, condescending, and borderline abusive. The most unbelievable character arc is when he meets the female character, suddenly falls in love, and does a 180-degree turnaround to become thoughtful, kind, romantic. That’s a huge turnoff to me. I don’t think anyone changes that much based solely on meeting someone. My guys may have issues, but they aren’t jerks, just a little wounded or wary of involvement. It takes a while for them to process their feelings and become involved with the woman in the story.

My books are all set in Denver, with the exception of Legacy of Secrets, which takes place on the eastern plains of Colorado. That was a fun book, and I based the town, which is fictional, on a couple of small towns I am familiar with in Montana and Colorado. Colorado is familiar territory, having grown up here. I don’t feel comfortable setting my stories in places I’m not familiar with. Unless you spend a lot of time in a place, you really don’t know the nuances well enough, and you don’t get that by visiting periodically. At least I don’t. The setting is one thing I hear about from readers all the time—how much they enjoy reading about Denver and Colorado and the memories it brings back if they no longer live here.

The places where my characters live and the Denver police department setting are fictional. They are in real areas, but the houses and buildings are not. For example, the characters in my series—Annie Collins and Angel Cisneros—live in a duplex in Washington park and later in a triplex in the area near Speer Boulevard, but the houses are made up. Elizabeth, in my new book, lives in Cherry Creek. It’s hard to get a tour of the Denver police department, so I let my imagination take over and ask for forgiveness from any real Denver police officers or detectives. I talked with Jennifer Kincheloe, a local author. She works in the prison system in Colorado, about what the Denver Detention Center was like and how prisoners are handled. Still, I don’t describe the physical location.

I sometimes use the names of people I know with their permission, and I will often have a contest when a new book comes out for the winner to be a character in my next book. He or she can choose to be a bad guy or a good guy. That’s fun, and people like the opportunity. Otherwise, names just come to me and either fit or not.

People also ask who’s my favorite author. I can’t choose just one, but I love Tana French, Jane Harper, Stephanie Gayle, Michael Connelly, and Craig Johnson, to name a few. I liked Patricia Cornwell at first, but after a few books, her novels became way too graphic for me. Same with Stephen King when Mercy debuted. I have come back to King’s books, and he writes wonderfully, so I plan to read more of his newer books.

If I have any advice for new authors, it is: no matter how good you think your book is, you NEED an editor and a proofer and not just a friend who knows grammar or reads a lot. You need someone who can evaluate your book with an objective eye and help you correct problems, and you need a proofer because, no matter what, you will not see all the errors.

o Readers can contact me at info@helenstarbuck.com
o My website Helenstarbuck.com
o Facebook at Helen Starbuck—Author
o Instagram @helenstarbuck
o Twitter @HelenSStarbuck (yes, two S’s)
o My books on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Helen-Starbuck/e/B076KPPQ52/

1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    Good blog post, Helen. I’ve always felt that nurses were like the enlisted ranks in the military– They run everything, keep it all on track, and get little of the credit. I love the titles of your books. They sound great. Good luck with your writing.

    Reply

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VICKI BATMAN – This Author is Suffering a Case of the FITS

Hi, everyone! George invited me to return to his blog and write about… I was clueless. My most recent mystery came out last February. Since then, I’ve been working on three short stories that give me fits. I’ve written a lot of shorts; however, I’ve never had the troubles I’m having now. George said, “Write about the fits.”

 

I like to write romantic comedy; in fact, most everything I’ve done has been in the romantic comedy genre. Short ones. Long ones. Mysteries. Now, I’m working on three shorts to combine into my Sommerville days 2 collection. I don’t remember the other stories giving me fits like these.

Pixie Trixie-Is a twist on the Cinderella story trope. When our heroine’s best friend gifts her a beauty package with stylist Pixie Trixie, our heroine is extremely wary about trying something new but is persuaded. “Everyone raves about this place.”

Our heroine is moving forward, trying new things, and even falling in love. So, what’s the problem, the fit?

What does one do when the story isn’t funny like the others I’ve written? My romantic comedy reputation is at stake. OR is it? Can I let one story not be as funny? Or find a way to punch it up?

What are your thoughts?

Blogger Intrusion: Use the comment box to share your thoughts!!!

Kissing School-There’s no problem here with funny. The story’s first line is “Skip told me I’m a terrible kisser.” What kind of guy says that to his sweetie? (BTW, an untold fact: a date did say that to me. In my defense, I’d only been kissed twice. LOL.) This despicable boyfriend isn’t popular with the heroine’s BFF. He regifts his girlfriend a twinset, the color of smashed moldy peas, one his mother wore. Goes to Paris with his mother.

The solution? The BFF suggests Kissing School with online lessons and a meet-up with the “facilitator,” the BFF’s hunky cousin. Oh boy.

My fit with this story is just the other day; I thought everything was perfect, and then, I found a timeline error. Easily fixed, but my head is saying, “what else is back there?”

What are your thoughts?

Remember Me? I need to hit the ending so I can get this story finished. But so far, nothing spectacular is coming in.

Our heroine overhears her boyfriend’s phone conversation with his buddy, saying he wants to “hook up” with her before dumping her. She is pissed and is prepared to bolt four miles in cowboy boots at midnight. As she slips on her boots, she sees his BMW car keys and “appropriates” his treasured ride.

With the help of her old friend contractor, she arms herself with a “toolbox” to deal with the jerk. Naturally, our heroine will utilize her “toolbox” after confronting the ex and ride off into the sunset with the contractor.

I’m a pantser, meaning I write from the seat of my pants. Usually, divine inspiration explodes in my brain, and voila! The ending. Only this time, yeah, I have nothing.

My fit? This is my toughest story. I might have to write anything and revise, revise, and revise more to shape it into something worthwhile.

What are your thoughts?

 About Vicki Batman: Funny, sweet, and quirky, Vicki Batman’s stories are filled with hallmark humor, fun, and possibilities. She has sold many award-winning and bestselling romantic comedy works to magazines and, most recently, three humorous romantic mysteries. An avid Jazzerciser. Handbag lover. Mahjong player. Yoga practitioner. Movie fan. Book devourer. Cat fancier. Best Mom Ever. And adores Handsome Hubby.

About Temporarily Out of Luck: Great job. What man? And murder. Newly employed at Wedding Wonderland, Hattie Cooks is learning the industry from a woman she greatly admires. When her former brother-in-law is found dead in his luxury SUV, all fingers point to Hattie’s sister, who is planning her own I Dos.

Detective Allan Wellborn is caught between a rock and a hard place—Hattie’s family and investigating the murder of a well-connected Sommerville resident. The same loser was once married to Hattie’s sister. Determining who’s the bad guy—or gal—isn’t going to be easy and sure to piss off someone.

Can Hattie beat the clock to find out who murdered Tracey’s ex before she is charged with the crime and her wedding is ruined?

Excerpt:

In my Book of Debts, I didn’t owe him one iota. However, I could hear my mother in my ear, trotting out a page from the “Right Thing to Do” lecture. What Stuart’s mom did broke all wedding protocol, and Allan doing his saintly thing, told her he would help, which translated meant he desperately needed somebody else’s help.

“Fine. I’m in, but you owe me more, like a date to the”—I grasped on the first thing that popped in my head—“opera.”

“Opera? Since when do you like opera?”

I held back a giggle. “Since yesterday.”

Allan blew a huge sigh. “Done.” He paused. “Opera?”

Find books by Vicki Batman at: https://www.amazon.com/author/vickibatman/

And: https://www.vickibatman.blogspot.com

5 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    It sounds like you’ve got three winners there, Vicki. Just take some time to figure them out. (Every pantser’s dilemma.) I’ll offer my two cents, since you asked.
    Pixie Trixie– I’d have the place actually be terrible. Everybody raves about it because, like the Emperor’s New Clothes, they’re afraid to admit what they really think for fear of being labeled dumb or having someone say, “You just don’t get it.”
    Kissing School– Any guy who’d say that to a girl has to be an idiot, and a cruel idiot at that. She should present him with a gift that has a mirror on one side and a picture of someone’s posterior on the other and say, “Take your choice.”
    Remember Me?–How about having your heroine take the car only to subsequently find out that the BMW is about to be repossessed and she arranges to “return” the car just as her ex shows up so he can be confronted by a big bruiser of a repossessor?
    Anyway, best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Vicki Batman

      Hi, Michael. Your “three winners” comment is much appreciated. I am considering your advice for Pixie Trixie. Kissing School lessons force the heroine to stop thinking of the jerk as her beloved and look at someone knew. I just worried I’d overlooked something. And it is sooo funny. As for Remember me? I will look at the repossessor idea. Thanks so much for your insight! VB

      Reply
  2. Marsha R. West

    Hey, Vicki. Yikes! You seem to be writing all three shorts at the same time. That would make me nuts. You are a clever writer and while you are known for romantic comedy, your fans will forgive you one that’s not as hysterical as your others.

    Reply
    • Vicki Batman

      Thx so much Marsha for the advice. Im using read aloud feature in word and thats helping. Hugs. Vb

      Reply
  3. Vicki Batman

    Thank you for hosting me today, George. I hope I find some answers for my fits!

    Reply

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