Saturday, November 5, 2016

How to Restore a Character’s Edge When the Weather Gets Him Down. By: C.T. Collier

Carly's View welcomes guest blogger and author, C.T. Collier. Ever lose your character's voice? Ever get to that point where no matter what you do the words just will not come? Do you ever wonder if the story in your head will make it onto paper? How many times has this happened? It's happening to me right now and one of the methods I use is music, just as C.T. talks about in her blog below.

Farmers and gardeners in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York had a tough time the summer of 2016 with its endless sunshine and severe drought conditions. As an author I had a different problem with the endless blue skies. My protagonist, Kyle Pennington, is Cornish and he’s got a chilly stormy personality that fits nicely with the lashing rainstorms and fierce winds that buffet the wild Cornish Coast. The weather put him off his game as a murder investigator. It took a while to understand the problem and find a solution.

The Finger Lakes is mild by comparison to Cornwall, but summers typically bring crashing thunderstorms, winds powerful enough to satisfy sailors and windsurfers, and the occasional gloomy stretch of gray rainy days. Very British and definitely sufficient to keep my vision of Kyle alive and well without effort. But there I was in the summer of 2016 having trouble with book two of my mystery series, The Penningtons Investigate. With all that sunshine and stillness and tropical heat, Kyle was out of his element.

He’d lost his edge. We needed a fix. We needed atmosphere. We needed inspiration. Where’s a slam-bang lightning storm when you need one? It came to me one evening at the end of another unproductive day that the solution was simpler and less costly than booking a trip to Cornwall.

For dark and stormy atmosphere, I dusted off my stereo, stacked up a dozen CDs, and queued them to play. Among them were classics inspired by the pounding of the Atlantic against the coast of Great Britain, like the Hebrides Overture, Fingal’s Cave, and Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony. Also in the stack were amateur pianist Kyle’s favorite finger-twisting solo piano pieces by Brahms and Chopin and Beethoven. After a few days of filling the house with music, my protagonist perked up and took renewed interest in tracking down a brazen thief who might also be our murderer.

However, Kyle had been quiet so long, I’d lost his voice. I needed to hear or at least read descriptions of the extraordinary beauty of the Cornish coast that Kyle misses now that he lives here in the Finger Lakes with his beloved wife, a professor at Tompkins College. Who could provide the words and the voice? The inspiration came when a friend sent a link to Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s reading of his visually stimulating poem Postscript. Although I couldn’t very well write while listening to evocative poetry being read aloud, I did stock up on Cornish mysteries by native author Janie Bolitho. Then, just for an hour each evening, I set about reading them in order, savoring the descriptions, phrases, values, lifestyles, and beauty of Cornwall.

One evening as I marked my place, I swear Kyle gave a great shuddery exhale and said in his most charming accent, “Thank you, my love.” The next morning—once again sunny, windless, and warm—my Cornish hero and I got on with the business of murder.


It’s Monday of spring break when Professor Lyssa Pennington’s backyard garden project unearths a loaded revolver. With no record of violence at their address and no related cold case, the Tompkins Falls police have no interest. But the Penningtons and a friend with the State Police believe there’s a body somewhere. Whose? Where? And who pulled the trigger?

Lyssa sobbed and punched her pillow and finally fell deeply asleep.
Sometime after midnight, a hand rose from the hole in the center of the garden, found her in the guest room, and grabbed her by the throat.
She bolted upright and sucked air with noisy gasps. Stroking her throat, she scanned every corner of the room. She was alone.
White window curtains fluttered as the heat came on. She studied the lacy pattern traced on the linen panels by the streetlamp as it shone through the branches of a tree.
Her breathing eased, and her hand slid instinctively lower, to her breastbone, where she massaged with soothing pressure. Her newfound calm brought awareness. She wasn’t alone.
Death was in the room with her.



C. T. Collier was born to solve logic puzzles, wear tweed, and drink Earl Grey tea. Her professional experience in cutthroat high tech and backstabbing higher education gave her endless opportunity to study intrigue. Add to that her longtime love of mysteries, and it’s no wonder she writes academic mysteries that draw inspiration from traditional whodunits. Her setting, Tompkins Falls, is a blend of several Finger Lakes towns, including her hometown, Seneca Falls, NY. Entirely fictional, Tompkins College is no college and every college.


Facebook: kate.collier.315
Twitter: @TompkinsFalls

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for hosting us, Carly! Hey folks, that blank spot between "stimulating poem" and the period is a link you won't want to miss! Thanks for stopping by, and please let us know what is you favorite way of tuning into a character's voice and emotional state?!