Rhonda Blackhurst is a die-hard indie author and enjoys empowering and educating others in the process. She has ten published novels: The Inheritance, a Hallmark-style fiction stand-alone; seven in The Melanie Hogan Mysteries; and the Whispering Pines Romantic Suspense.
In her day job, she has worked in the law enforcement arena in the victim witness field and as a paralegal for the past 20+ years; she recently took an early retirement from the Adams County District Attorney’s Office.
In addition to being an author and indie author consultant, she is a certified life coach with a program called “Rise From Victim to Victor—How to Make What Happens to You, Work for You.” She enjoys running, biking, hiking, spending time at their Arizona house, and anything outdoors. She, her husband, and their very spoiled Fox Face Pomeranian reside in a suburb of Denver.
What brought you to writing? I began writing at an age when no one realized where it would take me—four years old, and unfortunately, it was with crayon on the knotty pine walls of our family home. I didn’t draw pictures. I actually wrote what I thought were words because I apparently had something to say. And it’s never stopped. I spent endless hours sitting on the dock by the lake we lived by or in our fishing boat, dreaming of worlds and words. I wrote a lot of poetry back then. In Jr/Sr High School, I saw the movie Absence of Malice with Sally Field and Paul Newman, and from there, I was determined to be a journalist in New York City. To start, I wrote a few articles for the city newspaper about school events. I got derailed a bit in college, and when my babies were little, I wrote two novels with pen and paper. I still have those manuscripts in boxes. After moving to Colorado, I began writing as a stringer for the local newspaper, but my heart was in fiction. After my last child left home, I began taking writing seriously, joined writers’ groups, and published my first novel in 2012.
What are you currently working on? This past April, I published the last book in a cozy mystery series, Shear Misfortune, in The Melanie Hogan Mysteries.
When a fitness center is a locale for both health and murder,
exercise enthusiasts must weigh their odds of the outcome.
I am writing the first draft of Inn the Spirit of Murder, book one in a new cozy mystery series, The Spirit Lake Mysteries, and having a ball with it. It stars Andie Rose Kaczmarek, the Spirit Lake Inn owner and a life coach, who has a feisty nun as a sidekick. It contains a bit of paranormal activity and all the colorful small-town characters. New ideas for books in the series keep popping up as I write—a writer’s dream! I’ve worked in the law enforcement arena in some capacity—mostly as a paralegal and in the victim witness field—for the past 20+ years. I was immersed in the darkness of the world where there are often no winners in the end. Writing cozy mysteries was my way of being able to leave that darkness in the evenings while I wrote and tied up the ending of the story with a pretty red bow. Cozies give me hope because the good guys win in the end, something I didn’t often see in my day job.
How do you come up with your character names? Naming my protagonist and antagonist is perhaps the most indecisive part of my writing. But when I finally decide on a name, it solidly clicks. In the Abby series (The Whispering Pines Mysteries), the name Abby brings to mind both vulnerability and strength. I have no foundation to hang that on, but it’s such a strong connection in my mind that it’s become a fact. Her ex-husband’s villain in that series makes it his mission to track her down, so he is appropriately named Hunter. In the Melanie Hogan mysteries, I chose the last name of Hogan because one of the most famous governors of Minnesota was Hulk Hogan (Jesse Ventura), and it just seemed to fit. The protagonist in my new series, Andie Rose Kaczmarek, I struggled with the most. I think I changed the first name several times and went back to the first name I chose. And at this point, even if I wanted to, there’s no going back because she’s a character in the last book of the Melanie Hogan Mysteries, which is already published. However, her last name solidly clicked because Kaczmarek is Polish for “Innkeeper.”
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? A resounding Yes! I think writers’ groups are essential to an author. Just being in the same room as a bunch of creatives is energizing. And learning from one another is such a huge benefit. Writers are one of the most giving, helpful groups of people I’ve known. I’ve met so many who are willing to share what they know and help in any way they can. The first writing group I belonged to was Northern Colorado Writers, and theirs was the first conference I attended. They hold a special place in my heart. I’ve added Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Sisters in Crime. I’m currently President of Sisters in Crime—Colorado Chapter. I strongly encourage writers, no matter where they are on their writing journey, to get involved in whichever groups they belong to, as well as conferences. Volunteering is the best way to get full advantage of the experience.
Do you have any advice for new writers? There is only one solid rule—write! You will never be a writer if you don’t eventually stop thinking about it and write. And don’t let anyone “should” on you. Your path is uniquely yours. For every person who says you must do it one way, there’s another who will disagree. Your path is your path. Have fun with it!
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” ― Louis L’Amour
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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/