Blog

Roadtripping to the Stanley Hotel

Sometimes a setting can grip our imagination so strongly a story grows out of it like a plant from the soil. Perhaps that’s what happened when Stephen King visited the historic Stanley Hotel back in the seventies. He stayed there one night, had nightmares (rumor has it), and wrote The Shining based on a single night within those walls.

I love travel because I love setting. I collect details like I used to collect rocks as a child; my pockets bulge at the end of the day. Edinburgh’s slick black paving stones take up real estate in my mind, and so does the sensory explosion of the Athenian flea markets, those blue and white evil-eye charms staring, the tall too-perfect pyramids of strawberries at the corner stall.

Is setting story? Not directly. But just as illustrators work from reference art writers draw from real-life places. It happens to me all the time. Just last week, P and I were walking through the city and I pointed at a bus stop. “That’s where Hostile Takeover starts,” I said. And I saw both realities, the one in front of my eyes and the rain-drenched night Jessica hurried through that same corner on her way to a meeting. Nor can I step onto a cruise imagining that Ellie Tappet is behind me, bustling forward with her shopping tote.

Place and story intertwine. That’s what I’m thinking about after visiting the Stanley Hotel. P and I were on our road trip when I remembered that the hotel that had inspired The Shining was hidden in the mountains of Colorado. We looked it up and it wasn’t far. Why not go? I wanted to see how the Overlook Hotel of my imagination compared with the place that story was born.

I wasn’t disappointed.

A stately white hotel with a brown roof. An old-fashioned black cab sits out front with the words The Stanley painted on the side in gold. Dozens of golden keys are arrayed on a black velvet backing behind the sign-in desk. An opulent wooden wall is topped with crumbling old wallpaper. A sweeping view of a hedge maze and forested mountains beyond. Clouds are roiling and dark. There's a hint of a masculine statue at the front of the maze.

The hotel has been updated over the years. They added a hedge maze and some props from the made-for-TV movie. But even stripping those things away I could see the connection between that place and The Shining. We saw the tall, eerie staircases flooded with light from old windows. Those long carpeted hallways. Brass elevators from a bygone age. A lonely ballroom with the piano. And beautiful bar with a long wooden counter. I didn’t mind that the owners of the hotel had added a hedge maze and some old props. Those things might be cheesy, but they were fun too.

Cheri smiles like a dork inside a maze of hedges.

We saw other tourists walking around, delighted, enjoying comparisons with the haunted hotel of their imaginations. I loved it! The magic of fiction is that it has the power to bring us all to the same location in our minds, to sync up our emotions and memories in a powerful way. In that sense, setting becomes a real place, durable and permanent. I’m thinking about the books I love most. How many of us have walked through the Gothic splendor of Mr. Rochester’s house in Jane Eyre? Millions, I expect. Those images and feelings are accessible, a shared experience that transcends time and all other differences.

If you’re a fan of The Shining and you find yourself in Colorado I recommend a quick stop at The Stanley Hotel. They give tours, but the slots were all booked up by the time we arrived. So we walked around the hotel, admired the grounds, and picked up some amusingly Stephen King themed lattes before heading out for our next destination.

Two lattes sit on a bronze colored tabletop. They are labeled 217 and RedRum.

PS: I did not look for the ghost of room 217. 😂

On Being an Author Without Social Media

Good afternoon, internet travelers.

Today’s post is a quick note to acknowledge that I’ve left Twitter and I don’t plan to return. If you’ve been following me on Twitter, thanks! It’s been a pleasure to be connected to so many great people. As an alternative way of staying in touch, I encourage you to sign up for my newsletter or add my blog to your RSS reader of choice.

I hope I can disengage from social media without giving the wrong impression. You’re important to me, and I want to brighten your day by giving you something great to read. But I’d rather serve you by writing the next book than by spending time on social media. Being online like that distracts me and stresses me out, so I’m going to focus on other things moving forward.

That’s my news of the day. Don’t @ me! But you can email me if you have questions. I’ll be around. 😎

With that out of the way, it’s time for me to get back to work! I’m deep into edits on next Ellie Tappet novel, The Case of the Fond Farewell and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you. Take care, and I’ll be back in touch when there’s news to report.

Until next time,

C

Back to Life

Greetings from wild and windy Seattle! We’re back from our road trip and in our familiar digs. When we left town I was so dang sick of staring at the same walls, and out the same window, waiting for the pandemic to end. But my time away has given me fresh eyes and a new perspective. My tiny condo no longer feels like a prison cell. Our couch fits to my back like a comfy catcher’s mitt, worn in all the right places. I’m appreciating all that I have at home, from my ergonomic desk chair and clicky clacky keyboard to the electric tea kettle resting on the counter nearby.

When the sun goes down, the city sparkles. When the sun comes up, my neighborhood stretches and yawns. Shopkeepers flick on their lights, unlock their doors, and carry chairs outside to the shaded sidewalk. Buses roll down the street. Late last night – or was it early this morning? – in the darkness, I half awoke to the sound of a delivery truck idling on the street below, familiar urban music that lulled me right back to sleep.

The city is coming back to life.

Our weather is moody and beautiful today. Clouds roll over us like a thick, dark comforter; it rains and rains. Gaps open in the sky and spread wide, revealing blue sky. Sunlight bursts out and illuminates the steel and glass towers. The wet streets shine. We rushed out to pick up a sandwich during one sun break (do other cities have sun breaks?) and when we left the shop we were hit by a gust of wind so strong it nearly toppled me over. Someone had lost their flowers; a fresh bouquet of pink peonies rolled down the wet sidewalk. Rain blew sideways, like darts, and there wasn’t an umbrella in sight.

Seattle felt like Seattle today. And I feel… normal? Yes. I think this is what normal feels like! I’m not fearful. Not anxious. Not grieving. Not angry. Not impatient. Not stuck!

Seattle is coming back to life.

And (what a relief!) so am I. ❤️

On the Road Again

Hello from Wyoming! I’m writing you from a roadside motel that has seen better days, my laptop propped up on my knees, my hair still damp from a shower, my eyes and heart full of all that I’ve been enjoying. The Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective seven days after the second dose, and pretty much the second we felt safe enough to travel, Patrick and I packed our backpacks, rented a car, and blew out of Seattle so fast that the Space Needle was left spinning in our wake.

Where do you want to go? Patrick asked.

Anywhere but here, I replied.

I’ve been missing my mother. We went to see her! Afterward, we headed east over a mountain pass and through rural Oregon. We needed to pin a spot on the map, a direction to aim towards, and we chose Colorado. Along the way, we let our curiosity and serendipity guide us. We marveled at the beautiful rock formations at Arches National park. And we clambered up the soft sand at Sand Dunes National Park at twilight. There’s so much I’ve forgotten. Ordinary things. Like tiny soaps in hotel rooms. (so cute!) Quirky roadside attractions. How good it feels to zoom down a lonely highway with the radio turned up. The unmitigated pleasure of observing the world not through a smartphone screen but through your own five senses!

Speaking of senses, I learned that resting atop a sand dune is a good way to get sandblasted in the eyes! Oops! 😂

Cheri grimaces as she's blasted in the face with sand atop a pale brown dune.

I’ll confess to trepidation about leaving my pandemic bubble. Our first indoor restaurant meal was nerve-racking! But on the whole we’ve felt quite safe on the road. Hotels and motels have been spotless. Fellow travelers have been courteous almost everywhere we’ve gone. We’re still avoiding crowds, and we’re still keeping our distance as much as possible. I know that 95% effectiveness is incredible. Still, I find myself easing back into the world, listening to my gut when it says “go ahead” or “no thanks.” It’s a process.

We’ve seen hikers in muddy boots, cars overflowing with kids and enthusiastic dogs, old men in folding chairs waving at traffic, and nomadic hippies bragging about their mushroom hunting skills. Park rangers are thrilled to be giving talks again! Tiny mountain towns are building patio seating for the upcoming summer rush. Nearly every small restaurant and shop has a Help Wanted sign posted. The wheels of commerce are spinning up, and all the doors are flinging themselves open. I sense the delight at strangers seeing each other’s faces and smiles.

The pandemic is winding down.

Filling the Creative Well

In her seminal book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about creativity as a well that requires replenishment . And it’s true! For more than a year, I relied upon my memory and imagination to help me tell stories, and during the long and lonely pandemic I had very few opportunities to restock my well. What inspires and sustains me? So many things. New sights and sounds. The ability to talk to strangers or even eavesdrop on public conversations. Observation skills. So much of my inspiration is sensory and experiential. I suppose that’s why I took my well-crafted plans for the month of May and chucked them over my shoulder. When I set a deadline, even for myself, I tend to get cranky when I don’t meet it.

I’m not feeling cranky this time! I’m a good 3-4 weeks behind schedule right now, and I’m not even mad. Why would I be? I’m taking to the road like a thirsty plot of soil takes to the rain. This road trip is fun, yes, we’re having a good time! But it’s more than that. I’m filling that well, using my senses, and keeping track of all that delights me:

  • An antelope (Pronghorn)
  • A real cowboy in Durango
  • A nine-foot tall pink metal flamingo
  • A van painted with bright yellow sunflowers called the “Van Go”
  • A carpet store called “Totally Floored”
  • Huge solar arrays in the desert
  • A roadside “portal to another dimension” with UFO/alien statues (Admission fee: $5 per car)
  • Spooky blue mist
  • Beautiful evergreen forests and frosty mountain peaks
  • A famous haunted hotel (more on this later)
  • So much lightning!

The list goes on and on. 😎

Whether you’re a writer or not, you might be craving some new sights and sounds. We all need inspiration! My advice is this: when you’re ready, and not before, sit quietly and listen to what your heart wants. Maybe it’s a weekend roadtrip, or time with a friend you’ve been missing, or an experience that you’ve been putting off for too long. The world is coming back to life! And I bet there’s something grand, right around the corner, waiting for you.

A sunny highway cuts through rolling green hills. In the distance, a hint of brown mountains.

My New Release! The Case of the Red Phantom

Hey, blog buddies. I have a new book out today!

The Case of the Red Phantom is the latest in my Ellie Tappet series. This particular story came to me after watching way too much Great British Baking Show early on in the pandemic. I thought that an international baking competition would be a fun setting for a murder mystery. Quirky contestants. Celebrity judges. Naked ambition! The pressure of the limelight. Surely someone might feel murdery under those conditions. 😂

I enjoy baking, but it’s not something I do very often. For one thing, being a household of two people makes big-batch cooking impractical unless I want to bust right out of my pants. I will eat two dozen cookies if they’re in my kitchen whispering to me. A while back, I made a batch of cookie dough and baked two cookies per night for dessert. That worked pretty well.

Patrick and I are spoiled with good bakery options within walking distance. Usually, when I’m craving something delicious it’s easy enough to walk down to Macrina Bakery or La Parissienne and pick up something wonderful.

Hmm… Now I’m in the mood for pie!

The Case of the Red Phantom Cover

Ellie Tappet Cruise Ship Mysteries

Book 5

Here’s a bit about the new book:

Lights! Camera! Murder?

When the world-famous Sweetie Pie Baking competition comes aboard the Spirit to film their last two episodes of the season, Ellie’s looking forward to some delicious treats and a behind-the-scenes look at the hit television show. But when one of the contestants goes overboard, the perplexing nature of the crime scene has Ellie and security officer Paul Gumbs scratching their heads. Was the death a suicide, or did a bitter rivalry turn deadly?

When a celebrity makes a shocking claim during his evening performance, rumors float through the ship like vapor. Did a murderous ghost push the victim into the churning waters below? Ellie isn’t having it! She knows that ghosts aren’t real, and that the killer was made of flesh and bone. But if that’s true, how did they get into and out of a locked stateroom without leaving a trace?

Available now on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

Amazon UK Store

Amazon AU Store

Amazon CA Store

Amazon DE Store

Paperbacks are on Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Ellie fans, there are more books coming! Next up is The Case of the Fond Farewell. I’m about halfway through the first draft at the moment. ☺️

PS: You can always see what I’m writing and what’s coming next on my Now page. And my newsletter is the best way to get new release updates, book sale notifications, and a summary of my recent blog posts.

Spring Writing Update

Happy Spring, productive people!

This is my second writing update of 2021. These list-y posts help me stay accountable to my goals, and for those who are curious, they’re a peek at what I’m working on and what’s coming next.

What I’m Writing

The Case of the Red Phantom (Ellie Tappet #5) - My new Ellie Tappet mystery is out today! ☺️ I’ll have a blog post up shortly with all the details.

The Case of the Fond Farewell (Ellie Tappet #6) - I’m halfway through the first draft and zooming along.

I’ve also started working on Hostile Takeover, book three in my Emerald City Spies trilogy.

Cover Design During my last update I shared some rough drafts of new covers for the Ellie Tappet series. As much as I liked those covers, I decided not to use them. Instead, I created simpler versions of the existing covers that look better in thumbnail view.

Why? Well, I’ve been learning about marketing, and I need my cozy mysteries to look like cozy mysteries. But did I pout a little about shelving my new designs? Yes!

Businessy Stuff - I’ve been streamlining my non-writing days by setting aside two “admin days” per month to handle things like planning out book promotions and writing newsletters. I hired a proofreader, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

P upgraded our book build system. We can now build updated ebooks and paperback interiors for an entire series of books in less than five minutes. This is super-handy when you need to do something like update back-matter across a whole series. 😄

I’m learning that having a backlist of books is like having a large garden. Over time, files need to be maintained, links need to be updated, blurbs and keywords need to be tweaked, and late-discovered typos need to be fixed. This is the publishing side of self-publishing.

Huzzah for small business wins.

What I’m Learning

I’ve enjoyed reading The Heroine’s Journey by Gail Carriger and 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing .

I’ve got a laundry list of things to improve in my writing, and I’m working it.

Dreaming about the Future

When I need a break from my current projects, I work on outlines, research, and cover art for two upcoming series, which I’m calling Project Mars and Project Butterfly.

Summer is Coming

That’s all for this quarter’s update! Behind it all, behind all my writing and planning, I’m pee-my-pants excited about the shimmering image of a summer where we can reconnect with one another, and the world at large.

I’ve missed my mother, my sibs, my friends, and my father-in-law, so much. I yearn to hoist my backpack, lace up my boots, and hop the Link down to the airport for a fresh adventure. I can’t wait to toss on a jacket and carry my laptop to write at a coffee shop, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of my city. Bring on the hustle! Bring on the bustle.

I’m ready. 😎

Pagination