Oh, I know a lot of hard work went into it but, to me, it still seems magical. I blogged on creating this series last year. At that point I was in the process of planning it out. For the first time in my life I sat down and seriously (and sometimes not so seriously) thought out what I wanted in the series. With the help of Power Point, Pinterest and Lisa Wells’ class on building a series I was well on my way.
Chocolate Worth Dying For, a cozy mystery series would be set in Victoria and revolve a chocolate shop owner and caterer, Maxine Peters. Smart, sassy and too nosy to keep her nose out of other people’s business she’d have to find out who was behind any crime committed around her. In real life I don’t advise that. There’s a certain truth to the saying, ‘curiosity killed the cat.’
Then I came up with a side kick, Heath. Part of it was practically. Catering requires a lot of heavy lifting so her side-kick Heath is 6’2′ and a recent graduate of cooking school. He’s young, enthusiastic, works for cheap and he can do the heavy lifting, as well as giving her moral support. I gave her an on again off again love interest who was a policeman. There’s more but that’s the backbone of it.
I’ve stuck with the backbone and all those ideas and pictures of what the characters wore, car they drove etc really paid off. Plot points changed. Characters were added or deleted and I’m sure that to many looking at the starting ‘bible’ and the end result, it would seem as if I should have just started from scratch. They’d be wrong.
Since then I’ve been to ThrilllerFest and heard some exceptional writers such as Michael Palmer, Catherine Coulter and Michael Connelly talk about their writing and how they do it. Most didn’t give such formalized directions on creating books or series. But most did spend a fair amount of time thinking about their characters and ideas for their books before they actually started writing them. In their own way, whether they’ve admitted it to themselves or not they’ve all come up with their own ‘bibles’.
Michael Connelly KNOWS his main characters such as Harry Bosch better than many of you know your friends. Michael Palmer spends months thinking about what will be the McGuffin or central idea his book revolves around and reading everything he can on the topic before he types, prints or electronically produces that first word. Characters get major thought and research before they make it to the page in Catherine Coulter’s books.
Given that I also work full time with no assistants in sight to help organize my work or life creating a ‘bible’ is a smart way of keeping track of the details so that I can create another in my Death By Chocolate series.
A Ghostly Affair
“There are no ghosts here,” Maxine said, as Heath helped her carry in supplies. They were catering the Castle Society’s annual fundraiser and here was Craigdarroch Castle.
The Castle was large and grand, the house Robert Dunsmuir had promised his young bride, Joan, before they made the trip to the new world, from Scotland as a young immigrant. It also announced to the world that he, Robert Dunsmuir, was a man of substance. In fact, he was the richest, most important man in Canada when he started building it in 1887. He’d died in 1889, before the castle was finished leaving his wife, Joan to live out her days there, along with her daughters.
But Maxine wasn’t going to let herself be swayed by stories of ghosts in the castle. She certainly wasn’t going to allow her staff to scare themselves silly over tales of Joan showing up out of thin air. Maxine didn’t believe in ghosts.
The kitchen she was using, though, was hardly state of the art. While undoubtedly updated since the original inhabitants lived in the castle, it left much to be desired. Maxine had not made a success of her business as owner of Au Chocolat and caterer by letting such things stop her. She brought in warming pans to keep the hot appetizers heated and made sure another cooling unit was available for anything in need of cooling.
With over a hundred of Victoria’s most prominent citizens expected to attend, it was up to her to make sure the event went off without a hitch.
“You mean richest,” Heath said grinning at her. Six feet two with spiked brown hair and a tattoo on his arm he’d been with her from the start. Only a few years younger than her he had an irreverent attitude towards life but he’d earned her trust many times over and she’d have been lost without him.
“They are trying to raise money,” she admitted. “But I’m sure there will be at least one person here who’s invited not just because he, or she, can afford to make a hefty donation.”
“Maybe a ghost.”
“Bite your tongue.”
“A ghost would only add to the affair. And Craigdarroch is known to be haunted. They even talk about it during school tours.”
“Well, tonight,” Maxine said determinedly, “they can stay away. I have enough to deal with as it is. Why is it so many catered events are staged in venues where people have to run up and down stairs to serve anything?”
“At least everyone’s on-board and ready to go tonight.” Everybody included Jane, Marcus and Ally, along with Sara and Danielle.
“Still, 85 stairs. I don’t care how authentic they’re trying to keep the place they could put in an elevator.”
Already a few of the guests were arriving although the event didn’t start until eight and it was only seven thirty now. Whatever happened to fashionably late Maxine wondered.
Trays filled with chicken satay skewers and salad shooters, cucumber and lox twists, bacon wrapped meatballs and several other hors d’oeuvre ensured guests would be well fed.
And then there were the chocolates. Trays and trays of the truffles she was so justly famous for. Raspberry, Kahlua, Pumpkin Spice, Buttered Rum and a myriad of others, along with chocolate covered caramels and numerous other delights Victorians had come to know her for.
She looked up to see Wendy Carr approaching her. Dressed in a ball gown which could easily have been worn at one of the dances held by the Dunsmuir’s, oh so long ago, she carried a fan which she fanned herself with. Maxine half-expected to find her little dog, Toto, hidden in her skirts.
“Darling, you’ve outdone yourself,” Wendy declared looking over everything. “This evening can’t fail to be a success.” She took a chocolate raspberry truffle from the tray Maxine held out. “Honestly, these are to die for.” She shivered slightly. “I don’t mean that literally,” she said hastily.
Maxine shivered too, remembering another fundraising event a couple of years ago. A man had died, clutching one of her truffles in his hand as he did so. It had not been an auspicious start to her new catering business. By the time she discovered who was behind it another of Wendy’s dearest friends had become a victim. Another turned out to be the killer.
Two years later Wendy Carr had put her life back together. Newly single, having divorced her husband, rather than live in a shell of a marriage, she seemed to show up at events with a string of younger men, while avoiding any serious relationships. And as the fundraising chair of the Historical Society she’d been instrumental in making sure Maxine catered the event.
Though she could’ve been forgiven for becoming bitter she seemed to have softened. Given her sharp tongue of a few years ago that was just as well.
From the floors above music drifted down. 19th century waltzes and other dances of the era had been replaced with a more modern selection. At present the Monster Mash had taken over.
“I somehow can’t see the people invited to this party getting down and doing a graveyard smash.”
Wendy rolled her eyes. “I know but it was unanimous when I asked for volunteers to run the music. George. It’s what he does in his spare time. Along with his teenage son.”
George Dent. The managing partner of the biggest law firm in town. No doubt more than one of the clients he’d acted for in his twenty some odd years as a lawyer would identify with ‘I Put A Spell On You’, as the song echoed throughout the castle.
“Is his son helping?” She pictured him in her mind. Tall and lanky, with legs and arms which seemed too long for his body, at fourteen he had the awkwardness of someone not quite comfortable in his own skin. He made up for it with a shy smile that lit up the room and blue eyes which sparkled with intelligence.
“I suspect it’s George’s way of keeping him out of trouble.” Wendy gave a small smile, “I’d better get out there and start mingling,” she said taking a truffle as she went.
Maxine sent the first round of appetizers out and gave instructions to Marcus and Ally. “A new tray every fifteen minutes, if not more. Start from opposite ends of the room.”
Taking a tray herself she headed up the stairs. The party was destined to be a huge success with over half the crowd there already and it was barely eight o’clock. Ghosts and goblins, princesses and popular cartoon characters such as Batman, Spiderman and Arrow, from the hit TV show, filled the room.
People oohed and ahhed over spectacular, over-the-top and just plain scary costumes.
Tanya came over now, clutching what looked like a martini in her hand. Maxine greeted her with a smile, noting her latest boyfriend, developer Zak Forrestor, had stopped to talk to someone. Dressed as a sexy vampire, Maxine hoped she didn’t over-indulge tonight.
Tanya held up her drink which was red and sparkled like blood in the light. “Pomegranate juice with tonic water! Let me know if you need any help. You are the BEST caterer! Look at the turnout already.”
“I think it’s more Wendy’s doing,” she said modestly. “Try one of these,” she said giving her a cucumber lox appetizer.
“I wonder if Joan will be here tonight?” Tanya asked. A part-time model and full-time friend Tanya was blonde, bubbly and fun. But the blonde hid a razor-sharp intelligence and more than once she’d saved the day for Maxine. Unfortunately she also had a habit of over-indulging so the Pomegranate and tonic water was good news.
“Joan Dunsmuir, the original mistress of this castle. This is just the type of event she’d like. She loved entertaining.”
“So sad though,” Maureen Ruckles said, local historian and author of over five books, one on Craigdarroch Castle. “Her husband built the castle for her and died before it was even completed.” She helped herself to a chicken satay skewer.
“Mm, so good,” Tanya said. “So, they never lived in the castle?”
“Oh, she lived here to her death along with her daughters. Numerous balls were held here. In fact,” Maureen said dramatically, “some claim they can feel her presence in the room and there’s a feeling of happiness when she’s there.”
“Not what I heard,” Jan Meyer said, a local investment advisor. “A friend of mine swears when she went through in high school there was a cold and angry presence whenever they were in Joan’s rooms.”
“So, I wouldn’t want fifty million school kids tromping through my bedroom or private areas either,” Tanya said airily and waved at Zak, busy talking. She headed off in his direction and Maxine headed back downstairs. Originally dumbwaiters had been used to bring food up from the lower levels to the dining room. But the Castle society volunteer she’d spoken to had made it clear they were no longer in use.
She passed Sara and Danielle coming up with more trays of appetizers. They were definitely getting bonuses tonight if everything went well. And she was sure things would. She was less sure a few minutes later.
She watched in horror as a ghostly shape appeared out of nowhere flying straight at Zak Forrestor as he started down the stairs. He turned to see what made everyone give a collective gasp only to have it virtually accost him throwing him off balance and causing him to fall over the staircase. Maxine watched in horror as he fell to the bottom, landing with a sickening thud. She rushed to him along with another lady dressed in a nurse costume. But she was afraid it was going to take more than an ambulance and paramedics to save Zak Forrestor. The way his neck was twisted wasn’t normal.