Author Archives: Nichole Bennett

Hidden gems

In the time since Ghost Mountain was released, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about writing in general and my writing in particular.

The questions have run the gambit from things like “what kind of books do you read?” (I prefer mysteries but will read just about anything that’s been recommended to me) to “what do you do when you aren’t writing?” (Knit, read, work as a web site designer at my day job).

However, the most asked question has to be “how’s the next book coming?”  I’m finally able to answer with something besides “I’m working on it.”

sturgis2010Sleeping Bear, the sequel to Ghost Mountain, is in the publication process and I really couldn’t be happier.  The story takes place in August during a well-known motorcycle event in South Dakota.  The influx of tourists during the annual affair increases the small town’s population 100-fold.

Bear Butte, called Mato Paha by the Lakota people, also plays a role in the upcoming novel.  The Butte—like Devils Tower from Ghost Mountain—is a sacred site located in the Black Hills, and is really not a butte but a small mountain.  Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull have all prayed at Bear Butte.  Today vision quests, sweat lodges and other ceremonies are held there and the trees are filled with colorful prayer cloths.

I don’t think I consciously set out to write about the sacred sites of the Lakota people.  I do, however, set my stories in the Black Hills and Western South Dakota.  I live here and it’s easy to visit the site and get a “feel” for the location.  Devils Tower and Bear Butte are two of the most beautiful places around.  And they both have a history that is long and fascinating.

I think everywhere has places that set the tone—historical sites, geographical anomalies, sacred places.  It’s the responsibility of people today to recognize those places and preserve the spot, the legend, and the history for future generations.

What are the places in your area like that?  Those “hidden gems” of the community?  More importantly, do you visit those sites?  Let me know!

Nichole

Nichole R. Bennett has been an avid mystery reader from a young age.  Her first novel, Ghost Mountain, is available from Second Wind Publishing. When she’s not writing, Nichole can be found doing a plethora of crafty things, drinking coffee, eating chocolate, or spending too much time online.  Oh, and reading.

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Asking about books the best conversation starter

I read a post on Facebook the other day about how to talk to girls.  Having two girls, the title of the post intrigued me.  Well, that and I am all about strong females.

So, I followed the link to a blog.  The blog’s author is a journalist and lawyer who has written a book about “girl power.”  This particular 2011 post was specifically about talking to little girls about their minds.  Not mentioning how cute they are.  Or how pretty their dress is.  But what are they reading?  What subjects do they enjoy in school?  

It made sense to me as a woman, as a mother, and as an author.  I can’t imagine someone calling my main character, Cerri Baker, cute.  Perhaps her husband would tell her she was beautiful.  And her mother might comment that Cerri’s curly red hair was a bit mussed.  But the average person wouldn’t walk up to Cerri and call her cute.  Cerri is a smart, educated woman who enjoys time with her family.  She may not always be confident in her abilities, but she is more than looks.

Of course, gender roles and stereotypes go the other way, too.  Cerri’s husband, Matt, is an associate professor and the major breadwinner for the family.  However, he would happily spend the day playing with their kids.  I can’t imagine someone asking Matt about fixing a car or discussing sports scores.  That’s just not the kind of guy he is.

As an author, I think it’s important that we make our fictional characters as multi-faceted as the real people we know and love.  Not every woman is crafty and not every man is at home behind the grill.  

Every person, however, should be a reader.  Romance.  Mystery.  Science fiction.  Non-fiction.  There’s a genre out there for everyone.

So next time you meet someone new, instead of commenting on their appearance or even their occupation, try asking them what book they read.  Maybe we can make the world a better place by expanding minds.

Blessings!
Nichole

Nichole Bennett has been an avid mystery reader from a young age.  Her first novel, Ghost Mountain, is available from Second Wind Publishing. When she’s not writing, Nichole can be found  knitting socks, drinking coffee, eating chocolate, or spending too much time online.  And reading. 

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Summer daydreaming already….

Yesterday was Memorial Day in the United States and marked the unofficial start to summer.  Soon kids will be out of school and (at least in the Black Hills) families will arrive for vacations.

Summer in South Dakota is too short.  Well, I would probably think any summer consisting of less than 350 days of 75 degree weather or greater would be too short, but that’s beside the point.

As a child, my summers were spent outside reading, trying to convince my mother to take my sister and I to the local pool (where I read during pool breaks), and visiting my grandparent’s cabin I could fish and swim on the lake and read sitting in the sand.

Looking back, there seems to be a theme to my summers.  Is there any wonder that I’m now staring out the window at the sunshine hitting the overgrown grass, wondering if I could sneak out there with the latest book I’m reading?

Today, though, that’s not going to happen.  Today, I have “real” work to finish before I can play.

Of course, that isn’t stopping me from staring out the window, daydreaming about a book or two or ten…

This might be a long summer.

Nichole

Nichole Bennett has been an avid mystery reader from a young age.  Her first novel, Ghost Mountain is available from Second Wind Publishing. When she’s not writing, Nichole can be found  knitting socks, drinking coffee, eating chocolate, or spending too much time online.  And reading.  And daydreaming.

 

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The beginning of…

An accountant, an elementary school teacher, and an author stumble into a bar in the middle of the night…

Okay, so it wasn’t a bar, it was a restaurant.  

And it wasn’t the middle of the night, it was 9 p.m.  

And we didn’t stumble, we walked just fine.

But it sounds like the beginning of a great story, doesn’t it?  It was definitely the beginning of an evening filled with laughter.

I’ve long been convinced that people are either creative or they aren’t.

That belief is reinforced every April when my accountant friend starts discussing the trials and tribulations of her job.  As she counts down the days to April 15 (the day all income Tax forms are due to the IRS here in the States), I get filled with dread at having to file my own government forms.

I do it, and they aren’t easy.  (Being self-employed adds forms, of course.)  

But, frankly, the one set of forms is all I can take.  I spend hours preparing and filing.  When I’m done, I spend hours curled up in the corner vowing to do next year’s taxes earlier.  A promise long forgotten by the following April, of course.

My school teacher friend and I are more on the creative side.  She does a variety of hands-on and crafty things with her daughters as well as her students.  Her craftiness, however, is limited.  

Not so much by her ability, but by her time.  Her girls, while not “young” aren’t of driving age yet and she’s a very active parent.

That leaves me.  My jobs are creative.  I write.  I design web sites.  My hobbies are creative.  I knit.  I spin.  I sew.  I paint.  I draw.

Yet the accountant and the teacher are two of my best friends.  When I have a character that is more analytical than creative, I think “what would the accountant do?”  A character more middle of the road has touches of the teacher running through the ink.  

Isn’t that what writers do?  We take the things we see–and sometimes the people we love–and share them with the world.  As a mystery writer, I don’t “live out” the exact stories I write (meaning I’ve never killed anyone), but I try to make the characters realistic and their responses accurate.  

Those are the things that make for a good story.  That understanding, the willingness and the ability to look through another’s eyes makes for a good person.

And that’s why the accountant, the elementary school teacher, and the author stayed in the restaurant for hours laughing it up.

I highly recommend it.

Nichole

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Headed for adventure

My husband and I are world travelers.  Norway. France. Germany. Hungry. 

Of those places, we’ve only both been to Germany. 

And we weren’t there at the same time.

Such is the life of an active-duty military couple.

To be perfectly honest, we didn’t even know each other when we went to some of these place.  However, each spot shaped our personalities and we have fond memories of the people and places we’ve seen.

Our travels together, though, have been much more limited.  We’ve visited family in Texas and Nebraska.  Took a vacation to Yellowstone National Park.  And…nope, that’s it.  We never had a honeymoon and our weekend getaways can be counted on one hand.

In about six weeks, though, all that will change.  We’re going on a cruise to the Caribbean.

Yes, we’ve seen the news.  Cruise ships are having a few issues lately.  It happens.  Our ship was even one of them that made the news.  Does that worry me?  Nope.  Chances are that our ship will then be fixed before our departure date. 

I love the water.   I’ve lived near the Atlantic Ocean when I was stationed in Virginia and my grandparents had a cabin on a small lake in Nebraska.  I’m not sure my grandpa’s fishing boat will even compare to the city on the water I’m going to experience. 

Image

My basic training photo

Don’t get me wrong.  We’re both nervous about this trip.  But it’s an excited “what’s going to happen” nervous.  Heck, I’d never been on an airplane until I flew to Lackland Air Force Base for basic training.  Talk about nervous!

No matter what, my husband and I are going to have an adventure.  Together.  We’re looking at it like a belated honeymoon.  An adventure to remember in the years to come.

And neither one of us needs to pack combat boots.

Nichole

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How writing is like playing a professional sport

In case you’ve been blissfully unaware, next weekend is the Super Bowl.

I’m really not a huge football fan.  Frankly, I don’t care who wins the “Big Game” and I had to look it up to find out who’s playing.  If I watch any of the festivities, it will be for the commercials.

My husband, though, is an avid football fan and will be screaming at the television—I mean, watching the game—even though his favorite team didn’t come close to making the trip to New Orleans this year.

As the game gets closer, all the major networks are doing stories on the teams (by the way, it’s being played by the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens).  This morning, I heard some player for one of the teams (clearly I wasn’t really paying attention) talking about his “game face.”

His comments got me thinking.  Does an author have a “game face?”

I think we do.  In fact, I think writing can be a lot like playing a sport.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way an athlete.  The only time you’ll catch me running is when someone is chasing me.  My idea of a balanced breakfast is coffee in one hand and a donut in the other.

However, I still see some similarities.

  1. Training.  Athletes practice.  Writers create that first draft.
  2. The drive.  Athletes play, at least at first, because they love the game.  Authors write because they love to write.  They can’t not write.
  3. The regular season.  Every sport has games or matches or races.  Most of them are shown on ESPN.  Otherwise, what would be the point of having a 24-hour sports channel?  Authors have that second draft.  And the third.  Granted, our “regular season” isn’t out in public, but it’s there.
  4. The Championship.  I’ve already admitted that I’m not a big sports nut, however, I can’t think of one sport that doesn’t have some kind of championship competition.  The Super Bowl.  The NBA Finals.  The World Series.  Authors have awards.  Best seller lists.  Book club picks.
  5. The fans.  Every team has it’s die-hard fans.  The ones who don’t miss a game and can spout every statistic there ever was.  According to just about all the sports interviews I’ve ever seen (or heard) athletes say the fans make it worthwhile.  The same can be said for writers.  As an author, I love it when someone tells me they loved my book.  Or asks when the next one will be out.  (Currently, it’s in the “regular season” phase.)  Even though I write because I love it, the fans are an awesome added bonus!

Baseball great Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”  Personally, I think the same can be said for writing!

Nichole

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As 2013 approaches….

I considered writing about New Year’s resolutions.  But, let’s face it, without a plan, those resolutions don’t mean much.  And, frankly, I haven’t thought mine through enough to make a plan yet.  It will happen.  Just not this morning.

My next idea was to write a “year in review” post.  However, the things that touched me and my family might be very different than the ones that touched yours.  And some might seem flat out petty.  For example, we lost a dog this year.  And a cat.  I cried for days.  But that’s nothing compared to the pain of the families affected by the Sandy Hook School tragedy.  Or those who lost loved ones in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I even thought about skipping the “bad news” and only focusing on happy news.  That seemed like cheating, though.

My New Year’s Eve plans aren’t worth sharing: I’ll be in bed by 9 p.m. since I have to be at my part time job at 5 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

So, I guess I’ll just make this short and wish each and every one of you a happy, healthy, productive 2013 filled with magic and love.

Blessings!
Nichole

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Planning by the seat of my pants

I’m a planner.  Mostly.

I like the structure of a plan, but I don’t get upset when things don’t go awry.

Most of the time, anyway.

For example, every Monday morning I plan out a week’s worth of dinners, but I’m okay with the idea of my husband deciding to grill steaks or (better yet) take me out to dinner.

Even in my writing life, I only vaguely plan.  When I sit down to write, I know the crime, the victim, and the perpetrator.  I know how the crime was committed, and I usually have a pretty good idea of why the crime was committed.  How the perpetrator will be caught, however, remains a mystery to me until closer to the end of writing the book.

There are true advantages, I think, to writing this way.  I can allow my characters to grow as the story progresses.  If a red herring presents itself, I don’t need to feel guilty about following that lead.  I don’t accidentally create a formula for my mysteries that bores readers.  (At least, I hope not!)

However, right now I’m struggling with a huge disadvantage to my minimal planning.  I had someone show up who, frankly, I wasn’t prepared for.  Not even a little bit.  This up-until-now minor character had been wandering contently in the background, or so I thought.  She had been talked about, but not talked to.  Perhaps she took offense to her status.  Perhaps she was tired of being discussed.  Perhaps she can add something to the mystery.

Whatever the reason, I have this new voice, with seemingly new information, to add to the story.  I think this new voice adds to the storyline, it just wasn’t something I was expecting.  I’m hoping readers won’t expect it either.

I’ve thought about planning things more.  I just can’t do it.  Mostly because when things don’t go the way I plan them, I get frustrated.  Like “stomp around and throw a tantrum” frustrated.  Well, maybe not that bad…

I guess it doesn’t matter.  I’ve been an “outline planner” for my entire life, and I don’t think I’m going to change after 40-plus years.

What about you?  Are you a “whatever will be, will be” kinda person?  What happens when you’re forced to plan???  Or do you plan every detail of your life?  Then what do you do when your plans fall apart?  I really want to know!

Blessings!
Nichole

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13 Halloween Facts by Nichole Bennett

Even I get into the Halloween spirit!

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays.  It doesn’t matter if you are “in a relationship” or if it’s “complicated.”  There’s no expectation of a perfect recreation of your great-grandmother’s chocolate meringue pie.  You don’t have to stay up hours past your bedtime.

Instead, you get candy, can dress up as someone you aren’t, and are expected to have a good time with friends, or not.  It’s as low-stress as a holiday can get.  Did I mention you get candy?

This year, Halloween falls on Wednesday, so many people celebrated this weekend.  In the spirit of the holiday, I thought I’d share some Halloween trivia.

  1. Halloween is the second most commercially successful holiday, only behind Christmas.
  2. Jack o’ Lanterns originated in Ireland where people placed candles in hollowed-out turnips to keep away spirits and ghosts on the Samhain holiday.
  3. Pumpkins also come in white, blue and green.
  4. The ancient Celts thought that spirits and ghosts roamed the countryside on Halloween night.  According to their “Druid” religion, November 1st was New Years’ on their calendar. The celebration would begin on October 31st ,and last into the following day. The spirits of all who died in the prior year, would rise up and roam the earth on this night.  They began wearing masks and costumes to avoid being recognized as human.
  5. Traditionally, orange and black are the “official” Halloween colors.  Orange is associated with the Fall harvest and black is associated with darkness and death.
  6. Bobbing for apples is thought to have originated from the roman harvest festival that honors Pamona, the goddess of fruit trees.
  7. The first Halloween card was made in the early 1920′s. Today, more than 28 million Halloween cards are sent each year and consumers spend about $50 million on Halloween greetings.
  8. In 2007, an estimated 36 million children between 5 and 13 years old went trick-or-treating.  But Halloween isn’t just for kids.  About 50 percent of adults dress up for Halloween, too.
  9. Scarecrows are one of the more popular symbols of Fall and the harvest season. The origin of scarecrows dates back thousands of years, protecting ripening crops from birds, but were made from many different things. Often, scarecrows were men hired to roam fields and scare away birds.
  10. Samhainophobia is the fear of Halloween.
  11. Halloween candy sales average about 2 billion dollars annually in the United States, an chocolate candy bars top the list as the most popular candy for trick-or-treaters with Snickers coming in on top.  (Personally, I’ll take a Reese’s any day!)
  12. About 90 percent of parents admit to sneaking goodies from their kids’ Halloween trick-or-treat bags.
  13. It’s the last day before National Novel Writers Month!

Whether you participate in Halloween or not, or whether you participate in NaNoWriMo or not, enjoy the turning of the seasons and watch out for the ghouls and goblins–today and everyday!

Blessings!
Nichole

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The business of creativity

Creativity isn’t on a time table.

Writing is a business.

Those are the titles of two recent blog posts.  At first glance, it doesn’t seem that both statements could be correct.

But I think they are.

Let’s start with creativity.  I completely agree that creativity isn’t on a time table.  There’s a lot of creative things in my life and frankly some of them take a lot longer than I had anticipated.  Which means some don’t get done when I hoped they would.  Which means I’m almost always behind in some creative project.

Like the quilt my husband has been asking for.  For the past two winters.  That is mostly cut out.  I think.

Or the kitchen that I had every intention of repainting this summer.  But didn’t.  Then again, in my defense, we never did get around to buying the paint.

Or the novels I’m working on.  Both of which get a few thousand words added to them each week.

Sometimes a person just can’t be creative.  That’s when you need to rethink what you’re doing.  Why don’t you finish that project?  Is it because you’re too easily distracted?  Try shutting yourself in a room.  Threaten the family with lack of food if you’re interrupted.  Refuse to do laundry until you get another chapter (or so many more words) written.  

Do you not have the right “supplies”?  I don’t mean the paper, the pens, the computer.  I mean the backstory.  The idea of where the characters are supposed to end up.  Maybe you didn’t really do all the research you needed.  Without those supplies, I’ve found that I can’t be creative at all because I don’t have the items necessary to do the job.

Do you need a change of scenery?  Take a walk around the block.  Stepping away from the computer might let you see the answer to your predicament a little more clearly.  Or at least a little differently!

Which brings me to the other statement:  Writing is a business.

It is.  An author is more than just a writer.  An author is also a marketing guru, a public speaker, a social media presence and a person with a “real world” life and commitments.  Often times the author has another job (or two!) to help pay the bills.  

And there’s still only 24 hours in a day.  

Can creativity and business be combined?  Yes.  But it takes discipline.  A lot of it.  And that’s something I don’t always have.  I confess that I let my family take priority a little more often then I maybe should.  And it’s hard to try to get those words down when someone is begging for your attention.  Or the dog needs to go out.  Or the dishes need to be washed.  

So what’s a creative soul to do?  Easy.  PB&W.

Plant Butt (in chair) and Write.

The words may not be great, but they are out there.  You can edit later.  

And that’s a whole other issue….

Nichole

Nichole R. Bennett is a creative soul and currently working on her second, third, and fourth novels.  Her first novel, “Ghost Mountain,” is available through Second Wind Publishing.

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