Collaborating on an International Novel

Yesterday I wrote about collaborating on the Rubicon Ranch mystery series, but that wasn’t the only collaboration I’ve done. I also worked on Break Time with authors I met online, some of whom were good friends of mine even though we have never met. Break Time was supposed to be similar to the Rubicon Ranch series, where the authors took turns writing chapters, with each round of chapters delving deeper into the mystery and the relationship with the deceased and the other characters. Because we had decided on a time travel and Steampunk theme for Break Time, the characters lived in different eras. It was hard to intermix the individual stories as we did for Rubicon Ranch, so in the end, Break Time was published as an anthology, with each story being connected by my character’s story.

Break TimeMy character, Flo Giston was the widowed daughter-in-law of the time traveler. She is grieving the loss of her husband Robert, but when she goes back to the past for the second time, she is shocked to realize how her feelings have changed. In this excerpt, she is standing outside the house, watching her husband, her past self, and the Gistons:

So far, the Gistons hadn’t noticed her, and perhaps it was just as well. Robert had never seemed to be able to handle one of her; two might overtax his feeble imagination.

Horrified at the direction of her thoughts, Flo slipped back into the lab. She’d loved Robert dearly, had mourned him twice, so what prompted her to be so dismissive of him now? Remembering how besotted she’d been, she wondered if love hadn’t been the blessing she’d always presumed it to be, but had instead been a prison, keeping her emotionally shackled to a man for whom she had little respect.

They’d had a good life, though, and had only lived with the older Gistons for two years until Robert had saved enough to buy a starter home in Sun City, a new village on the eastern plains of Colorado. Robert appreciated the proximity to his parents’ place, but Flo loved the house itself with all its new appliances run by steam from a nearby plant.

The sex had also been good. She’d always enjoyed the small buzz of pleasure she’d felt in her husband’s arms. Then an appalling idea hit her. What if the sex hadn’t been good? Robert had been the only man she’d ever made love with, so she had nothing to compare the experience to except the romance novels he hated her reading. She’d always suppressed her passionate impulses since Robert had been satisfied with a quick in and out every Saturday night, but what if there were more to love—and life—than what she’d shared with her husband?

She put a hand to her mouth to stifle a gasp. What would the rest of her life be if death hadn’t parted them? Would she have been the anxious dowd she saw on the porch with Robert, or would she have turned into her mother-in-law, hiding her intelligence and passion behind increasingly vibrant raiment?

While all the authors of the Rubicon Ranch writers were from the USA, the Break Time authors spanned the English-speaking world — Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain, western USA, central USA, southern USA. Now that I think of it, Break Time was an incredible accomplishment — a truly international book. You can buy Break Time at Amazon.

About the authors of Break Time:

Joylene Nowell Butler, Metis Canadian, lives in Cluculz Lake in central BC with her husband and six stray cats. In her spare time, she teaches T’chi.

Dale Cozort, a computer programmer, lives in a college town near Chicago with his wife, daughter, three cats and a lot of books. He is a long-time science fiction fan and writer.

Suzanne Francis has written two series of novels set in a fantasy universe of her own creation. British born, she presently makes her home in Dunedin, New Zealand.

J. Conrad Guest lives in Michigan and is the author of seven novels including the time travel novels, January’s Paradigm, One Hot January, and January’s Thaw.

J J Dare is a native of Louisiana and has been an author since age seven. Love for the amazing worlds the written word opens up keeps Dare writing, mostly mysteries, thrillers, and dramas.

Rod Marsden was born in Sydney, Australia. He has three degrees; all related to writing and to history. His stories have been published in Australia, England, Russia and the USA.

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

 

Collaborating on Writing a Mystery Novel

Someone asked me today how it was possible to do a book collaboration with people I’ve never met. The simple answer is “email,” but that is really no answer because it leaves a lot out of the process, such as how I got the idea for such a collaboration, how I found the authors, and how we managed to write a cohesive book (three books, actually).

A few years ago, I did a round robin with a group of writers, where we each took turns writing the story. It was fun and frustrating at the same time because it seemed as if some of the authors tried to sabotage the others by introducing silly elements. I wondered if it were possible for a group of authors to do some sort of book collaboration, but with the authors having sole control of their character to keep anyone from sabotaging what the original creator of the character might wish to do.

I broached some of my fellow Second Wind Publishing thriller writers and asked if they would be interested in doing such a project as a blog promotion. Several agreed to try the experiment.

It took a long time before a singlRubicon Ranche word was written because each author had his or her own vision of the project. Some demanded a contract for when the book was made into a movie (this was before a single word was written, mind you). Although the book was always intended to be available on the Rubicon Ranch blog, some of the authors thought we should post all but the last chapters and make people buy the book to find out what happened. I did agree to the contract, but refused to agree to cheating readers by withholding the ending.

We decided on a murder mystery, beginning with a child found dead in the desert, and continuing with each of the authors creating a character who had reason to kill the little girl. But we couldn’t agree on how to resolve the murder. Some of the authors wanted to know the killer ahead of time to make it easier to write their chapters, some wanted to be the only one to decide on the killer, some (me) wanted us to write the book first, then all decide on who did what and why.

By the time we actually started writing, the whole collaboration had moved away from my original idea of a blog promotion where the writers would post their own chapters with no one having to shepherd the book through to completion, and I ended up being den mother, drill sergeant, secretary general, and editor all rolled into one. (The authors were busy so they didn’t always get their chapters done on time and often didn’t have a chance to read the previous chapters so inconsistencies kept creeping in.)

And all this was done by email. Lots of emails.

Despite various starts and stops, confusions and conflicts, we did finish the book. Although it turned out to be a good story, it was a far cry from the fun and easy collaboration I had envisioned, so I tried again with a sequel. And then again. By the time we did the third book, the kinks were ironed out, the authors got their chapters in on time (mostly), and some of them finally understood what I had originally intended, for the collaboration to be sort of a literary role-playing game.

All three Rubicon Ranch novels are available to read online at http://rubiconranch.wordpress.com.

Or, if you prefer to read on some sort of e-reading device, you can click here to download a free ecopy of Rubicon Ranch Book One: Riley’s Story in the ebook format of your choice from Smashwords.

Click here to download Rubicon Ranch Book Two: Necropieces in the ebook format of your choice from Smashwords. Only 99 cents!

Rubicon Ranch, Book Three: Secrets is coming soon!

Although the books are part of a series, with many of the same characters, they can be read as stand-alone novels.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

More “More Deaths Than One”

I seem to be fascinated by characters who die “more deaths than one.” In my novel of that name (taken from Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” — he who lives more lives than one / more deaths than one must die), poor Bob Stark returns home after living in Southeast Asia for eighteen years to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again.

The steampunk anthology I am helping put together begins with my story about Florence Giston, Flo for short. (I couldn’t resist that name. Flo Giston. Phlogiston. Seemed appropriate.) The opening paragraphs of that story read:

The first time her husband died, Florence Giston felt such feral grief, she feared she’d never survive. She’d always tried to look on the bright side of things, but she could find no bright side to this situation. Her husband was dead, and she felt as if she had died, too.

“You can’t let it get you down,” said Alexander Giston, her father-in-law. “Just because Robert and Mary died, it doesn’t mean they are gone forever.”

The second time Robert died, Florence’s already broken heart shattered beyond repair. Robert had been her whole life, and to lose him twice seemed unbearably cruel. She vowed never to go through such trauma again, yet when Al announced he intended to try to save his wife and his son again, Flo begged to go with him.

“I need to see Robert once more,” she said. “Need” seemed a paltry word to describe the yearning that clawed at her, but Al must have understood her desperation, because he agreed to let her accompany him on his second trip to their shared past.

Time travel brings with it delicious ironies. In this case, Flo’s view of Robert — and herself — isn’t exactly what she expected.

A young woman stepped outside. “What’s going on?” she asked, her voice soft and tremulous.

Flo stared at herself, at the brown lace stockings, the brown gored skirt, the brown jacket, the brown plumed hat. What was I thinking? She vowed to throw out all the brown clothes she owned, including the brown shirtwaist she now wore.

“This is dad from the future,” Mary said. “He’s come to save us from certain death.” Catching the irony in her mother-in-law’s voice, Flo wondered if she’d underestimated the woman. Mary had always seemed so drab despite the bright colors she chose to wear. Was nothing as she remembered?

“Good of him,” Robert said. There was no irony in his voice, no affection. “We can take the aeroship.”

“Well, no.” Al scuffled his feet. “I already saved you once. I came back and made you take the aeroship, and it crashed. They never found your bodies.”

Flo stifled an urge to laugh, but Robert didn’t even crack a smile. “I’ll drive the Steamer,” he said.

“Couldn’t you just stay home?” Al asked, a note of pleading in his voice.

Mary shook her head. “It’s my father’s funeral. I have to be there.”

“We’ll be fine,” Robert said. “The Stratosphere Steamer is the safest automobile on the road.”

Also the fastest, Flo thought, but she kept her mouth shut. So far, the Gistons hadn’t noticed her, and perhaps it was just as well. Robert had never seemed to be able to handle one of her; two might overtax his feeble imagination.

Appalled at the direction of her thoughts, Flo slipped back into the lab. She’d loved Robert dearly, had mourned him twice, so what prompted her to be so dismissive of him now? Remembering how besotted she’d been, she wondered if love hadn’t been the blessing she’d always presumed it to be, but had instead been a prison, keeping her emotionally shackled to a man for whom she had little respect.

This anthology is scheduled to be published in May. I’m looking forward to seeing it finally in print.

breaktime-3bsmall

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Steampunk Anthology Coming Soon!

Two years ago, a couple of authors approached me about doing a collaborative novel similar to the Rubicon Ranch collaboration I’d been writing with other Second Wind authors. We invited a few other authors to do this new collaboration. Two of the authors suggested we do steampunk.I’d never heard of steampunk. Couldn’t even guess what it was. To be honest, I’m not sure I know even now what it is. Still, we all agreed. Such a collaboration is about stretching ourselves as authors, and how better to stretch than by doing something we’ve never done before.

The two authors who talked us into doing steampunk ended up walking away, leaving us with a story no one knew how to write. The rest of us decided to stick with the project anyway. Why not? We’re writers. We can fake it. We also got the internet with all its research capabilities to help us.

Wikipedia defines steampuSteamnk as “a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is widely used — whether in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain or “Wild West”-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time — that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy.”

In “How Do I Write A Steampunk Story?” Dru Pagliassotti says, “Steampunk fiction consists of two elements — the steam, or gaslamp aesthetic, iconography specific to the genre — and the punk, a critical ideology or political stance that satirizes, challenges, or subverts societal trends.”

Most of us writers were in a strange non-writing mode, so it was hard finding the time or the words. Although a chapter was supposed to be written each week, with each of us taking a turn, life often got in the way, and those weeks turned into months. Instead, the others decided we should finish the book not as a collaborative novel but as an anthology.

The anthology is almost finished now, and it’s actually quite an interesting collection of stories, all written around a single theme of time travel and “killing steam.” (The time traveler’s wife and son were killed in a steam engine accident, and since he couldn’t bring them back, he decided steam was to blame and so traveled back in time to try to divert the progress of the steam engine.)

I feel good about finally winding up this project. I have no real desire for longterm projects right now. My life is up in the air, and I don’t know from day to day what is going to happen. (Well, that’s true of everyone, of course, but generally people feel at least a bit settled.)

The anthology will be published both as a book and as a blog. I’ll let you know when it’s finally available.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Photo of My Muse

Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by authors of Second Wind Publishing.

In Rubicon Ranch: Secrets, the third book of the series and our current work in progress, the body of a local realtor is found beneath the wheels of a blow-up figure of a Santa on a motorcycle. The realtor took great delight in ferreting out secrets, and everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Could she have discovered a secret that someone would kill to protect? There are suspects galore, including a psychic, a con man, a woman trying to set up an online call-girl service, and the philandering sheriff himself. Not only is the victim someone he had an affair with, but he also has to contend with an ex-wife who has moved back in with him, and a jilted lover, both with their own reasons for wanting the realtor dead.

I got tired having my character, Melanie Gray, finding bodies in the desert. Since the story time ended up being around Christmas, I remembered seeing this decoration last Christmas and thought it would be an amusing scene. I didn’t have a photo, so this year I made sure to get a photo of the muse who inspired me.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Writing a Collaborative Mystery Serial

I’m collaborating with several other Second Wind Publishing authors to write a series of mystery novels online. We are posting the chapters on a blog so everyone who wants to can follow the serial as we write it. Actually, collaboration is a bit of an over-statement. Rubicon Ranch is more of a cross between a role-playing game and round robin or campfire tale, with each of us authors taking turns adding to the story without knowing where we are going except toward the solution of the murder. We each create and control a POV character, show who s/he is, what relationship s/he has with the deceased, and why s/he might want the victim dead.

I have it easy — my character, Melanie Gray, is a photographer/writer who wanders the desert taking photos for the coffee table books she used to write with her dead husband. (He wasn’t dead when they were working together, of course.) He died in a one-car accident while texting his mistress, though there are suspicious circumstances leading investigators to think that perhaps he was killed. Melanie has a talent for finding strange things in the desert, such as the child’s body stuffed in an abandoned television console in the first book, Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, and the scattered body parts that were found in the second book, Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces. Her presence at these crime scenes is all that leads the sheriff to suspect her, though I do try to add a bit of intrigue to make it seem as if she could be guilty.

The other authors, however, have to simultaneously prove that their characters are the murderer, yet also have a plausible explanation for why the characters acted guilty if they weren’t the murderer. (That’s because we don’t know whodunit until all the end of the book. So not only do readers of the ongoing story not know who the villain is, neither do we.)

In the first book, the authors solved the problem of simultaneously setting their characters up to be murderers while allowing for the possibility that they were innocent by giving their characters strange characteristics, such as sleepwalking, to keep the characters themselves from knowing if they were the killer.

In the second book, there was no way the killer could be unaware of having killed the victim. Even if by chance the character killed in some sort of fugue state, the character was still faced with a dead body, which he or she cut in small pieces and distributed around the area. The authors created some wonderfully devious characters with strong motives for killing the evil man who damaged them for no reason other than because he could. Any of them could be the murderer. And any of them could simply be innocent (or not so innocent) red herrings.

We are through with the second book and are in the process of organizing the third installment of the series. In this one, Melanie won’t find a body in the desert since understandably she’s a bit leery of walking in such a deadly place, so she will have to find it elsewhere, perhaps beneath the wheels of a blow up figure of a Santa Claus on a motorcycle.

We have a victim — a real estate agent, the same one who found the disembodied head of the victim of the second book inside the house where the victim of the first book once lived. Apparently she likes to snoop, and since so many residents of Rubicon Ranch have a secret they are willing to kill to protect, it sounds like the potential for a lot of mayhem!

I’m looking forward to seeing what the other authors come up with. I hope you will follow along with us as we continue this innovative crime serial.

Meantime, if you haven’t checked out Rubicon Ranch, and wish do so, click here: Rubicon Ranch.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Rubicon Ranch ~~ Prepare for Mayhem!

Rubicon Ranch: NecropiecesI enjoy finding out how other writers approach their craft, and especially how they develop their characters. J J Dare, author of False Positive and False World, delights in creating evil characters. As a fellow collaborator in the Second Wind serialization, Rubicon Ranch, J J Dare created the monstrous victim in Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces, the second book of the series, along with a couple of his offspring.  In her blog post Bad Wasps, J J Dare said of her two POV characters:

They’re bad. Bad to the bone. Bad in ninety-five percent of their molecular makeup. If an ice-cream flavor was named after them, it would be “Vinegar and Vinegar” and it would taste just as sour as it sounds.

They are evil, narcissistic, self-centered, selfish and plain mean. Both characters think nothing of climbing over the living and dying bodies of anyone in their way. They are Bad Wasps.

So, why did I write them this way? It’s not a reflection of me. I’m fairly mild, with only a bit of flair once in a while. And I’ve never wanted to murder my parents.

I’m glad she added those last two sentences. Someday J J and I will meet, and I’d hate to have to go to the meeting prepared for mayhem.

Seeing how much fun J J Dare has with her evil characters, I’d considered exchanging my character for a bad wasp (or perhaps revealing a waspish side, which I might someday do), but my character, Melanie Gray still has so much work to do that I can’t just dump the poor woman. She needs to find out who killed her husband and why, and she needs to resolve her feelings for the misogynist sheriff.

J J’s characters might not reflect her, but Melanie Gray is a lot like me. She’s a writer dealing with grief, she wanders in the desert, she’s fairly calm and passive though she can be riled. Even though she started as an alter ego (but younger) she turned out to be a world traveler, which I am not, and she has a penchant for finding dead bodies, which I don’t. Thank heavens for that! Being some sort of human cadaver dog has never been an aspiration of mine.

If you have not yet checked out Rubicon Ranch, now would be a good time. You can download the first book free in the ebook format of your choice here: Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story and you can follow the second book as we finish writing it here:  Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces. And you will have to prepare for mayhem!

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Steampunk Collaboration

I’m cheating tonight. I spent so much time writing a possible time travel scenario for the steampunk collaboration I’m involved in with seven other authors, that I didn’t have time to write a blog. So I’m posting the scenario. What do you think?

Possible time travel scenario:

A tourist is found dead in a time travel machine, clutching some sort of gizmo in his hand. Knowing that a death could kill business in what is supposed to be a safe traveling mode, the operators of the Time Travel Company decide to investigate.

They have some sort of recordings of where the traveler has been, one from each era he visited, (secret, of course, since if the tourists knew they were being recorded, it would put a damper on business) and the Time Travel Company sets employees to watching these tapes (crystals? discs? a sophisticated version of Babbage’s difference engine or analytical engine?). Since it’s real time, they all watch at the same time, otherwise it could take weeks for them to see what went on during the tourist’s trip. Perhaps news of the death leaked, and if they don’t discover the truth fast, they will be ruined, so time if of the essence. This is how we could get by the problem of doing five sets of eight chapters. After each set of chapters, the TTC operator and a trusted employee could discuss what they saw, see if there were any abnormalities, and when they don’t find anything out of whack, they continue watching the tapes.

Since our guy is by himself, posing as a tourist, chances are his reasons for traveling are personal. Considering that coal is such a polluter, perhaps his wife died of lung cancer, and if they weren’t wealthy, chances are they couldn’t get out of the city to clean air. Maybe he studies alchemy texts, finds a way to produce clean steam by means of cold fusion or atomic energy (supposedly the alchemists knew how to do this without producing radioactive side effects) or some other energy source, and he wants to go back to the past to find someone who will utilize the machine so that by the time his era comes around, there is no pollution. (There’s no point in his finding backers in his own time since his wife is already dead.) Another possibility is that he is looking for a way to blow a hole in time to change things, so that perhaps by the time he gets back to his era, things will have changed. He is killed before he can put his plans in motion. It would be up to you to decide why your character would want to kill him to maintain the status quo.

If he is lower class (or low middle class) his clothes would not be out of place in any period in the steam era. This would save him from traveling with an extensive wardrobe.

He and his agenda would be the unifying factor of all the POV characters. You tell the story from your character’s POV, but he is a major character in your substory. During each set of chapters, he grows more and more frantic, since he can’t find what he wants (someone to give his gizmo to, or perhaps a way to use it to blow a hole in time to change the future. We don’t see the end of his story, the TTC has to figure it out, because once he is dead, his story ends. We would not know in which era his story ended, because in the past, all time happens at the same time.

The benefits of this scenario are that the authors can decide what year/era they want their character to live in, can write their story without much regard to other authors’ stories (except to keep the tourist consistent), and the tourist would provide the unifying factor without having to spend weeks trying to figure out what all the chapters have in common. Another benefit is that the scenarios wouldn’t have to be based on history, but could be more personal as long as they were consistent with the time period you choose.

The drawbacks are that you might not be able to tell the story you want — you’d have to keep the story simple, focused on both your character’s agenda and the tourists, and somehow link them. You’d have to pick a past era, rather than a fanciful future era since a future era would do our traveler no good. And you’d have to pay attention to how the other authors develop the character of the tourist to keep him consistent.

If you don’t like this scenario, we can still do the one we talked about where all of our characters once were members of a think tank, and now someone is killing all the members. The remaining members (our characters) get together to figure out who the perpetrator is and why he wants them dead, and they discover that the assassin is one of them.

Either scenario would work for our purposes.

Rubicon Ranch: A Collaboration

Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative novel I am writing online with eight other Second Wind authors. 

A little girl’s body has been found in the wilderness near the desert community of Rubicon Ranch. Was it an accident? Or . . . murder! But who would want to kill a child? Everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone’s life will be different after they have encountered the Rubicon. Rubicon Ranch, that is.

If you haven’t yet checked the story out, you can find what we’ve written so far at: Rubicon Ranch.  Here is the current chapter, told from the point of view of my character, Melanie Gray, a recent widow who found the child’s body.

Melanie had taken the long way home from the restaurant, winding for hours through Rubicon Ranch, stopping to shoot exotic blooms in landscaped gardens and dainty wildflowers in unkempt yards. By the time she reached Tehachapi Road, she was exhausted. She half expected the sheriff to come after her, but apparently he’d accepted her brush-off as final — if you can call a full-fledged tantrum a brush-off.

Why did he keep getting under her skin? He wasn’t her type. Not that she had a type. Alexander was the only man she’d ever loved, and she’d fallen for him so hard she could still feel the bruises twenty-three years later.

Tears welled up in her eyes as she remembered her husband when they first met. His hazel eyes had blazed with golden lights as he smiled at her, and young fool that she’d been, she’d been dazzled. They had a great life, or so it had seemed. She’d felt safe with him as they traveled the world over. And free. What need had she of a house, a car, kids when she had him?

Well, now she had nothing but debts. And doubts. Had Alexander ever loved her as she loved him?

“Are you okay?”

The voice startled Melanie. She scrubbed away her tears and looked around. An old woman with tan, leathery-looking skin and dark eyes shaded by a wide-brimmed straw hat was standing by an open mailbox, envelopes clutched in her hand.

“Are you okay?” the woman repeated as she closed the mailbox.

Melanie curved her lips in what she hoped was a friendly smile. “I’m fine. Just hot.”

The woman brushed a forearm across her brow. “Too hot for this time of day, that’s for sure. Tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter if you can imagine that. Well, at least all this sweat is good for the complexion. Keeps one looking young.”

Laughing, the woman minced up the sidewalk to her front door.

Melanie let the smile drop from her face, glad she didn’t have to pretend to be amused at the woman’s feeble joke. Nothing amused her any more. Not the irony of Alexander dying while texting. He hated texting. Said it was creating a new language and a cult of idiocy. Not the sheriff and his unsubtle attempts at flirtation. Not finding a little girl stuffed in a television set. Had that been someone’s idea of a joke? A fitting resting place for a child who watched too much television?

She hastened up Tehachapi, but her footsteps slowed as she reached Delano Road. This neighborhood had never been welcoming, but now it felt threatening, as if unseen storm clouds were gathering above the custom-made houses.

Maybe, finally, the sheriff was going to investigate the murderer instead of investigating her. Maybe, finally, he was going to turn his predatory gaze in the right direction.

She almost felt sorry for the villain.

Putting the “Who” in Whodunit

I’m collaborating with several other Second Wind Publishing authors to write a series of novels online on a blog. The first novel is about the death of a little girl. Her body was found in the desert outside a bedroom community that once had been a working ranch, hence the name of the series, Rubicon Ranch.

Collaboration is a bit of an over-statement. Rubicon Ranch is more of a cross between a round robin or campfire tale, with each author taking turns adding to the story, and a role-playing game. We each create and control a POV character, show who s/he is, what relationship s/he has with the deceased, and why s/he might want him dead.

I have it easy — my character, Melanie Gray, is a photographer/writer who wanders the desert taking photos for the coffee table books she used to write with her dead husband. (He wasn’t dead when they were working together, of course.) He died in a one-car accident while texting his mistress, though there are suspicious circumstances leading investigators to think that perhaps he was killed. Melanie has a talent for finding strange things in the desert, such as the child’s body stuffed in an abandoned television console in the first book, and the scattered body parts that will be found in the second book. This is all that leads the sheriff to suspect her.

The other characters, however, have to simultaneously prove that they are the murderer, yet also have a plausible explanation for why they acted guilty if they weren’t the murderer. (That’s because we don’t know whodunit until all the end of the book. So not only do readers of the ongoing story not know who the villain is, neither do we.)

In the first book, the authors solved the problem of simultaneously setting their characters up to be murderers while allowing for the possibility that they were innocent by giving their characters strange characteristics, such as sleepwalking, to keep the characters themselves from knowing if they were the killer.

In the second book that we are in the process of organizing, there is no way the killer can be unaware of having killed the victim. Even if by chance the character killed in some sort of fugue state, the character will still be faced with a dead body, which he or she will cut in small pieces and distribute it around the desert.

So how do you write a character from a strict third person limited point of view, from inside the character’s head, proving that your character is the killer, while at the same time giving yourself an out if the character turns out to be innocent?

Well . . . If your character has killed before, you can have him/her worrying about if the sheriff will find out what s/he did, without being specific as to which crime s/he is wondering about. You can have your character act guilty — perhaps desperately trying to cover something up. You can have him/her try to pin the murder on someone else, offering assistance to the sheriff, which would make your character seem guilty, but in the end (if your character is not the killer) have an alternate explanation. You can be hiding something in your house that can be construed as your having Morris’s body that you’re cutting up bit by bit. I’m sure you can come up with better ideas than these, but you get the idea.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the other authors come up with.

Meantime, if you haven’t checked out Rubicon Ranch, and wish do so, click here: Rubicon Ranch.