This is the first book of the McKnight series, but it's not actually the first story I wrote about the McKnights. I'm not sure whether that one will ever see the light of day. We'll have to wait and see.
The McKnights came into being because I'd been told in my writer's group that my characters all sounded alike. They had my grammar, my vocabulary, my way of speaking. So I set about trying to figure out how to write characters who didn't sound like me. That quest led me to studying regional dialects. I found I could hear the East Texas dialect in my head, which made it much easier to write. All that looking at dialects also changed the way I chose the words I used to tell the story.
This is the easiest story I've ever written. It was like Rachel and Mac were standing behind me while I typed, telling me how their story went. All I had to do was transcribe it. I wish they were all that easy.
I'm not a short story writer, but when I was writing A Dark & Stormy Knight, Claudia started telling this story about the dirty trick Sol had once pulled to drive off a guy she was dating. The event had happened some time before the start of A Dark & Stormy Knight but I found myself wanting to tell the story because, even with Claudia complaining about it, it sounded like a hoot. I'm so glad I gave into temptation because this is often a new reader's introduction to the McKnight family.
I did a lot of rodeo research for this on. Specifically bull riding. Ty Murray"s book, Roughtstock - the Mud, the Blood, & the Beer was a lot of help, as was Professional Bull Riders: the Official Guide to the Toughest Sport on Earth.
The focus on rodeo also impacted the soundtrack which meant that there are a lot of Chris LeDoux songs. Chris was a champion bareback rider and he wrote a lot of rodeo songs, so it only makes sense that Sol would be a fan. It helps that I really like Chris' music too. Especially his ballads. (I really am a ballad kinda gal.)
I really tried to get Georgia to lighten up and see the humor in things, but she was so focused on being a good mother, it made her more serious than most of my characters. It didn't help that her mother was "difficult." Fortunately, she had a grandmother who was a hoot.
Dive Babe was supposed to be a short story. Then it grew into a novelette. Then a novella. Before I knew it, it was a full-fledged novel. I just kept finding ways to extend the misunderstanding between Claudia and Joe. Mind you, it makes me crazy when characters in stories are oblivious to a misunderstanding that's obvious to everyone else, so I was very conscious about making sure that Claudia had not only justification for not figuring things out but that the misunderstanding got reinforced. I think I pulled it off. And it was really fun when I repeatedly got comments from my beta readers like, "Okay, you've made me believe this one more time, but the misunderstanding has to collapse soon" only to have them say the same thing again the next time.
I love writing dialect and I believe that you don't need bizarre spelling to get an accent across, but Bear's Jamaican dialect nearly defeated me. It wasn't that I couldn't hear it in my head, but it's a tough dialect to write while keeping it easy to read. I didn't want to do a bunch of creative spelling to get it across because that sort of thing can knock me out of a story and I didn't want to do that to my readers. Fortunately, even though Bear has a pretty constant presence in the story, he doesn't actually have a tremendous amount of dialog, so I think it works. At least, that's what my beta readers told me.
Bear's Jamaican background also had a significant impact on the soundtrack. Lots of reggae--which also gave me a lovely opportunity to slip in what I think is a wonderful choice for the bride and groom's first dance at Bear's wedding. Should I spoil the surprise and tell you? Hm. Tempted as I am, I think you'll have to read the book to see what they chose.
Having Joe be an ex-navy SEAL meant I got to jump down the rabbit hole researching SEALs and their training. Youtube was a great help and there are videos of the drownproofing training describe in the book. My swimming skills are far closer to Claudia's then Joe's, so I share Claudia's amazement that SEALs actually do that.
Other rabbit holes I went down included scuba diving (of course), methods used to teach swimming, color blindness, tracking devices, The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary off the Texas coast in the Gulf of Mexico, and the current state of robotics. I even attended a robotics convention.
Speaking of robots, the story about the robot at a conference spewing Latin was told to me by a fellow writer (he swears it's true and happened at a robotics convention in he attended in Europe). I vowed I was going to use it and that's what inspired the chase at the climax of the story.
The research was also a jarring reminder that I actually own a robot, so of course, I couldn't resist loaning Otis Addams (my Roomba) to Claudia. Otis normally sits in the corner of my living room, silently charging, until I call him to action. Then he wanders all over the house.
And of course, basset hounds. What can I say? I love the faces on these dogs. And they've got So. Much. Skin. I don't know what it is about that that I find so appealing. I love Shar Pei's too. All those great wrinkles...
And of course, they talk, sing, tail wags, jowls, and snore.
Why in the world did I ever take on writing a mystery? I'll tell you, I sweated the mystery in this. And if you didn't know who did it until the end, well, that's probably because I didn't know very much ahead of you.
Mystery writers have my utmost respect. They have to keep all those balls in the air. The mystery has to be complex enough that it's not obvious who did it but the cover up can't be as airtight as it initially looks. The clues have to unfold in a logical way that keeps the characters moving forward but they can't reveal the answer too quickly. When the final clue lays down, there has to be a logical reason why it didn't come out before. The author has to keep in mind what the detective thinks happened, what really happened, and how the perpetrator covered it up--and how they screwed up their cover up(in a way that won't be revealed too soon or too easily.) To top all that off, they have to tell the story so it holds together when you go back and read it again.
Short stories are not my forte. I can't plan a short story. It has to be inspired by something. This story was inspired one day when a coworker walked in with something that had an image of one of the seven dwarfs on it. I was not having the best day, so I took one look at that image and said, "I'm Bitchy, the eighth dwarf." That's all it took to get me to start thinking about what the story would be like if there really had been an eighth dwarf.
You may have noticed that this story is told in first person (the I voice) from Bitchy's point of view. So far, it's the only story I've written that's told in first person. I didn't make a conscious decision to write it this way. I just started writing it and somewhere along the way I noticed Bitchy was telling this story her way. It worked, so I went with it.
If I ever say I'm writing another story with a mystery subplot, will someone please shoot me and put me out of my misery?
I got lazy and the book Alec reads from is a passage in another one of my books. Context really is everything.