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Monday, March 19, 2018

Author Guest Post - Helen Starbuck

Today we have a guest post from Helen Starbuck, a fellow Coloradan and author.  She recently published her first medical mystery novel, The Mad Hatter's Son, An Annie Collins Mystery.  Please welcome her to M&MM.

The Origins of The Mad Hatter’s Son 

Copyright © 2018 Helen Starbuck, All rights reserved

The Idea for The Mad Hatter’s Son came to me years ago when I worked in the OR. We sporadically cared for a teenage girl for things like inserting a gastrostomy tube to feed her with and a central line for IV fluids (back in the days when they did that in the OR).  Her neurological symptoms were very puzzling and had increased over time until she was comatose. The ICU docs and the anesthesiologists talked about it a lot and were puzzled as to what had caused them. She had no tumor, nothing physical that they could identify for quite some time.

If I tell you what they discovered, you’ll know the plot to the book, so no spoilers here.  Needless to say the diagnosis, when it came, shocked us all. I thought at the time that it was a great plot for a novel and actually wrote several chapters, then life got in the way and I shelved it. I found it again in 2015 and still liked it so I began writing the story.

I started with the central cause for the plot, Libby’s illness and its baffling presentation, the difficulty knowing whether her illness was real or an attempt to get attention from those around her. The idea for Annie’s friendship with Libby, their estrangement, and then Libby pulling Annie back into her life to help solve what was wrong seemed ideal for the story. They are no longer close, there are hard feelings on both sides, and Annie is a very reluctant participant in Libby’s drama. It seemed key to have Annie be an OR nurse, because she is off kilter with Libby both because of the friendship issue and because doing private duty nursing and investigating what Libby’s problem is isn’t something Annie is comfortable with or has any experience with. He’s an OR nurse, that’s what she knows.

What’s funny to me is how characters and plot lines change. Originally I had Angel as a peripheral character, a neighbor, a friend, someone to bounce things off of but not a major character. Ian is the love interest. Angel, however, morphed almost immediately into someone who was in love with Annie, but she had kept him at arms length because of his history with women. He has chosen to remain friends so he doesn’t lose her by pushing the issue of his feelings toward her. The tension between his concerns for Annie and Ian’s jealously about him helped fuel the plot. The villain turned out to be someone unexpected and Libby morphed into a less sympathetic character until her death.

In the next book, I explore Annie’s journey back to normality. One of my frustrations with literature, especially mysteries, is that the hero or heroine can get seriously injured and pop back up almost immediately to save the day. I wanted Annie to be human and experience the PTSD that would accompany an experience like she had. As the series progresses, her relationship with Angel changes and their attempts to adjust to these changes and deal with each other’s failings are part of the plot.

Bonus: Interview with Helen Starbuck the Mad Hatter’s Son

Why do you write? Do you love it or love having done it? What motivates you?
I love writing and have been writing since I was in junior high school. What happens around me is a motivator and the urge to tell a story. This particular story idea came as the result of helping to care for a teenage girl with very puzzling neurological symptoms that increased in severity and which took docs a long time to figure out. I thought it would make a great mystery story. It just took me a while to get it written, and I love having done that and gotten it published.

What is your routine when you're facing your next novel?  Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?
I have a general plot idea and I admit to just writing and seeing where it goes, which means I often have to go back and re-write stuff and sometimes if I’m stuck create a murder board to figure out where the story is going. It’s weird, as I’m writing the current story, scenes come to me, not sure from where, and I write them and file them and it’s surprising how they just fit with the book I’m writing at a later point in the story or in the next book or even the following one. I realized that The Mad Hatter’s Son wasn’t finished when the book ended, which I thought it would be. The characters of Annie and Angel had become very real for me and had more to say, so I have just continued to write their story.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc.) before sitting down and writing?
No I’m not an outliner, which my editor would probably say is my one failing as I sometimes get off in the weeds and she has to pull me back. The story sort of spins itself and then I have to go back and reconsider things. I am getting better at planning ahead.

What do you and your character have in common? How are you different? 
Many people who know me have said Annie is me and she is in many ways, like her being an OR nurse, her humor, cynicism, and bad luck with men. She’s just braver and more persistent and bullheaded.

What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?  How do you handle minor characters?
I can see my characters in my imagination, sometimes photos help and sometimes not. It’s odd that I
cannot find a photo of Annie that looks like I see her. Names just come to me and they seem to fit. The basic personalities of the characters are right there from the start, but they grow and develop as time passes, and they do tell me about themselves often in the middle of the night for some reason.
Characters who I imagined to be minor have asserted themselves and become long-term ones, like Frost, for example. I thought he’d just be a homicide detective get the case solved then disappear, but he didn’t like that idea, so he will continue through the series.

Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?
I write in my office or at the kitchen table. I spend probably far too much time thinking about these characters and their story and when the urge hits I sit down and often write for hours. Some days I don’t write at all.  

I have found music inspires a lot for me. Whenever I hear Santana’s Samba Pa’ Ti, I think of Angel, it just fits him, smooth, seductive, and Latino. P!nk’s Try sort of describes Annie’s relationship with men.  And Enrique Iglesias’ I Wish I Was Your Lover hits Angel’s feelings for Annie on the head, she just refuses to acknowledge it. You and I Collide by the Time Keepers makes me think of Annie’s relationship with Ian.

In literature (not your own) who is your favorite mystery/suspense character?
Boy I can’t name just one. I love Tana French’s Rob Ryan in the book In The Woods, and the character of Rebus in Ian Rankin’s series and Jimmy Perez in Anne Cleves’ series, and I like Eve Dallas in JD Robb’s In Death Series.

Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?
Tana French and Daphne DuMaurier.  French’s series about the Dublin murder squad is brilliant. I’d give my right arm to write like she does.  DuMaurier’s Rebecca and Don’t Look Now are haunting and after all these years still amazing books.

What's the one thing a reader has said that you've never forgotten and perhaps found startling? 
She said she was touched on so many levels by the book and that parts of it made her cry. I was blown away. She also recently told me she’s reading it again.

If your mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your top character's roles?
Jay or Ivan Hernandez from the show Scandal. Both come close to how I see Angel. And Annie? Boy that’s a tough one because I haven’t found any photos of her yet. Maybe Stana Katic (Kate Becket on Castle) but she’d have to be less overtly sexy. Annie is sexy, but it’s pretty low key.  Katic has the right eye and hair color.


Tell us about your next book in the series - or next project? What is your biggest challenge with it?
It picks up Annie’s (and Angel’s) story post Ian. She’s struggling with what happened and trying to get back to some semblance of normal. He’s struggling with not knowing how to help her. The story line is her friend comes to her wanting to talk about a rash of patient deaths, not unexpected in the population of people he’s describing, but more than you’d expect. Then Frost asks her to review charts for him because the hospital has asked the police to see if there is reason to be concerned about the deaths. The investigation helps Annie in her recovery. The biggest challenge was trying not to bore the reader with the medical stuff and come up with a villain that wasn’t too obvious.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thank you Ms. Starbuck for the great post and bonus interview.  

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Mystica said...

Thank you for the interview.

prince said...

You play bazaarfir se apna dil denge tumhe khelne k liye and satta king Kabhi udaas ho jayo to btana mujhe.

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