Kick Ass Women Who Inspire Me - Part 5

Miss Parker

“God, you're a crazy bitch.” – Mr. Lyle
“You don't know the half of it.” – Miss Parker (The Pretender 2001)

At the #1 spot on the list of Kick Ass Women Who Inspire Me is Miss Parker. For those of you who don’t know, Miss Parker was the main female character on The Pretender. The role of Miss Parker was played by Andrea Parker.

“Jarod's not just a man. He's a Pretender. A human chameleon. A genius who can literally become anyone that he wants to be.” – Miss Parker ("The Pretender: Back from the Dead Again (#2.1)" 1997)

The Pretender was a TV show that was on NBC from 1996 to 2000. After NBC cancelled the show, TNT picked up the series and made two made-for-TV movies. The show follows a man named Jarod, who was kidnapped as a child and then basically used as a science project by an organization known as The Centre. Jarod, who is extremely smart, is known as a Pretender. That means he has the ability to pretty much do anything. One episode Jarod would be a brain surgeon and on the next he’d be a gigolo. As an adult, Jarod realized that he’d being exploited by The Centre and that they are using him to commit evil acts and injure/kill people. After Jarod escapes – and goes off to help people while he searches for his family that he was stolen from – Miss Parker is brought down from The Centre’s corporate offices to bring him back. Miss Parker, whose father is one of the main men in charge of The Centre, grew up with Jarod. They were childhood friends. Now they are adversaries as Miss Parker chases after Jarod and attempts to bring him back to The Centre. Despite the fact that Miss Parker is hunting him, Jarod tries to help her unlock the mysteries of her past.

“You run. I chase.” – Miss Parker (The Pretender: Island of the Haunted, 2001)

I didn’t start watching The Pretender until after NBC cancelled the show. My dad started watching the reruns on TNT. I immediately got hooked onto the show after watching about five minutes of Miss Parker. She’s one of those characters you either love or love to hate. The woman is a stone cold bitch, but she has the occasional moment when you realize that she might just have a heart. Miss Parker’s character is very complex. She has a tough job – not just in her task to bring back Jarod, but in working for The Centre. Regardless of how tough her job is (or how shady The Centre’s hush-hush business is) Miss Parker goes about doing her job with a firm determination to get things done no matter what it takes. She’s an assertive, demanding, and powerful woman. She gets what she wants (aside from Jarod) and commands attention. If she were to walk into the room, you’d know it before she even got there. Miss Parker is very intelligent – just not quite as intelligent as Jarod. She’s a gorgeous, stylish woman who can sprint in high heels and a miniskirt. She also carries a gun – and has no qualms about using it. What I immediately loved about Miss Parker is her cynical attitude and sarcastic comments. I used to have a notebook where I wrote down all of her insults, comments, and one-liners.

“I’m a Parker. And with every new revelation in my life my family portrait becomes a more hideous picture.” – Miss Parker (The Pretender: Island of the Haunted, 2001)

What makes Miss Parker’s character so interesting is that you never quite know what she’s capable of, or even what her job is exactly. We don’t even know what her first name is since everyone refers to her as either Miss Parker, Miss P, or Parker. Mr. Parker calls her ‘angel’, but we know that this is in not her real name. She also has a mysterious past that slowly begins to come out. Miss Parker was a happy child until her mother committed suicide. Sometime between Catherine Parker’s suicide and being brought down from corporate to find Jarod, Miss Parker transforms into the stone cold bitch. Miss Parker later learns that her mother faked her suicide, but was later murdered. Trying to find out what really happened to her mother, and track down the person who killed her, becomes more important than bringing back Jarod. But that doesn’t stop Miss Parker from trying to capture Jarod. She’s been given a task, and she will complete it. Her loyalty to The Centre never wavers despite the fact that she knows they manipulated her just as much as they manipulated Jarod. There is also a question of whether Mr. Parker is Miss Parker’s biological father. Or if he is the biological father of the child he has with his much younger second wife. In the early episodes of the show, Miss Parker trusts her father completely. As Mr. Parker betrays her time and time again, that trust begins to erode. Aside from Baby Parker, Miss Parker has two brothers. The despicable Mr. Lyle is her twin brother. They were separated at birth. Believe it or not, but Mr. Lyle is the evil twin. Miss Parker is downright cuddly compared to Mr. Lyle. Miss Parker and Jarod also share a half-brother.

“The Centre wants us to believe that finding the truth is a mistake, that looking for answers about who we really are is futile and finding any kind of... connection outside their control is wrong. I know you don't want to hear this but you can feel it. You've been a Centre prisoner all these years just like me. And with every discovery you find you're every bit the outcast. Just like me.” – Jarod to Miss Parker (The Pretender: Island of the Haunted, 2001)

While Miss Parker has inspired me ever since the first time I saw her – because how could I not want to grow up and be a bad ass, kick ass bitch like her? – she has inspired the main character of my novel even more. When I was naming my main character, I was torn between Shatner and Parker for Carrie’s last name. I ultimately went with Shatner simply because I knew I wouldn’t be able to refrain from referring to my character as Miss Parker. When I first started developing Carrie Shatner’s character, I was inspired by Miss Parker’s complex character and the mysteries of her past. Miss Parker is one of those morally ambiguous characters. She’s not perfect. In fact, she comes off as pretty evil. I didn’t want to go that extreme with Carrie Shatner, but I did make sure that my character’s moral compass points somewhere other than north. I also loved that Miss Parker is surrounded by these other villainous characters – some of whom have the occasional redeeming quality. I also wanted to give Carrie Shatner a tortured past that can unravel as the series progresses. Part of Carrie’s tortured past involves the criminal activities of her extended family members. More of Carrie’s past will come out as the series develops.

“Turning points only come when you've got something to turn to. I'm sorry. This isn't the different ending you were looking for. But it's just the way the damn story goes, Jarod.” – Miss Parker (The Pretender: Island of the Haunted, 2001)

If Criminal Misdeeds or any of the other Carrie Shatner Mysteries were made into a movie, Andrea Parker would be at the top of my list to play Carrie Shatner.

Kick Ass Women Who Inspire Me - Part 4

Lita / Amy Dumas

At the #2 spot of Kick Ass Women Who Inspire Me is my favorite professional wrestler – Lita (real name Amy Dumas). While I respect and admire all of the women who climb into the squared circle and compete as professional wrestlers, Lita will always be my favorite.

My dad started subjecting me to professional wrestling not long after I was born. I grew up watching Macho Man Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, and Shawn Michaels. I remember watching the Monday Night Wars play out between the WWF (now WWE) and WCW. And, despite the fact that they warped me for life, I have fond memories of D-Generation X.

I didn’t seriously get into watching professional wrestling until Monday April 24, 2000. On that night, my dad was watching the WWF’s Monday Night Raw while I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s These Happy Golden Years for at least the fifteenth time. I was mentally hanging out on the prairie with Laura when a wrestler’s entrance music captured my attention. I looked up, and there were Matt and Jeff Hardy running down the ramp. I was hooked…

Lita made her WWF debut around the same time that I found myself becoming increasingly more obsessed with professional wrestling. The early 2000s wasn’t the best time to be a female professional wrestler. The Divas (as they were called) weren’t always taken seriously. Even Chyna, who was bigger and had more muscles than at least half of the men in the locker room, got stuck playing the role of a male wrestler’s girlfriend. And that’s a role most of the female wrestlers were forced to play – girlfriend, love interest, or manager/valet. The Divas were also forced to compete in ridiculously sexist matches such as Bra and Panties Matches (where the two or more women ran around the ring tearing at each other’s clothes until one of them was stripped down to her underwear), Paddle on a Pole Match (where a paddle is suspended from a pole above the ring and whoever grabs it first has to spank her opponent), and matches that took place in inflatable pools full of mud, gravy, or some other gross substance. Lita, as well as the other Divas, was involved in questionable and demeaning storylines throughout her time in the WWF/WWE. But she made the most of it, and helped pave the way for future generations of women’s wrestlers. Lita not only dominated the Divas’ Division, she also mixed it up in the ring with some of the male wrestlers. And she proved she was a lot better of a wrestler – and had more impressive high flying moves – than a lot of them.

Lita, who had already trained as a professional wrestler and worked on the independent circuit and for ECW, made her WWF debut on the February 13, 2000 episode of Sunday Night Heat. She was initially paired with a male wrestler named Essa Rios, but that didn’t last for long. By the end of May 2000, Lita joined up with Matt and Jeff Hardy to form Team Xtreme. Lita continued to work with the Hardys until she was injured filming a television show in April 2002. Due to the extent of the neck injury, Lita was forced to have surgery. She didn’t return to the ring until September 21, 2003 at the PPV Unforgiven. That year Unforgiven took place at the Giant Center in Hershey, PA. And I was there, cheering on my returning hero as she teamed with Trish Stratus to defeat Molly Holly and Gail Kim. Following her return, Lita was involved in storylines with Trish Stratus (as friend, frenemy, and enemy), Matt Hardy, Kane, Edge, and others. After four reigns as the Women’s Champion, Lita retired in November 2006.

What I loved most about Lita – aside from the fact that she was an extremely talented wrestler and played a major role in revolutionizing the women’s division – is that she was so unlike the other Divas. She dyed her hair a dark red, and sometimes she had hot pink highlights. She had a big tattoo on her right shoulder. And instead of the skimpy, girly outfits that most of the other Divas wore, Lita rocked baggy pants that sat low on her hips so that the top of her thong could show. A lot of her tops were fishnet or animal print, or had skulls on them. Lita was unique, and being unique made her stand out from the other Divas. But none of her uniqueness was an act. Yes, ‘Lita’ was a character that she played. But the real Amy Dumas showed through. She was fearless, extreme, tough, edgy, and a rebel and a tomboy. Amy was, and still is, a woman who is not afraid to be herself. And it was Lita’s fearlessness and commitment to being her own unique self that inspired me during my teenage years. Because I had such a strong, kick ass woman to look up to, I was able to rise above the criticism and judgmental comments made by the people I went to school with. I was able to flourish as the person I knew I was instead of falling into the cookie cutter, ‘Everyone else is doing it so I will, too’ trap that so many other teenager girls fall into. Because Amy was Lita, I had a guiding light on the path to discovering myself. Having Lita as a childhood hero helped me become the woman I am today.

Lita / Amy Dumas is a kick ass woman who inspires me not only because of what she did in the ring, but because of who she is as a person outside of it.

Kick Ass Women Who Inspire Me - Part 3

At the #3 spot on my list of Kick Ass Women Who Inspire me are the twenty women who made up the United States’ roster for the 1999 Women’s World Cup: Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Michelle Akers, Briana Scurry, Kirstine Lilly, Carla Overbeck, Joy Fawcett, Cindy Parlow, Shannon McMillian, Tiffeny Milbrett, Tisha Venturini, Kate Sobrero, Lorrie Faire, Christine Pearce, Tiffany Roberts, Sara Whalen, Danielle Fotopoulos, Saskia Webber, and Tracy Ducar.

The thing about this team is that the core group of players had been playing together on the US Women’s team for years prior to the 1999 World Cup. The core group started out together in 1987 (the year before I was born). And they would continue playing together for a few more years before they began to retire – with Kristine Lilly being the last of the core group to retire in 2010. They started out as teenagers and grew old(er) together. That’s something rarely seen in team sports. And it’s something to admire. These weren’t just individual women brought together to play in a tournament. These were a group of women who were already a team long before the opening game of the 1999 World Cup. They formed the first ever US women’s soccer team. They had no history to live up to because there was no history of women’s soccer. They were forging a path and making history one game at a time. It wasn’t always glamourous, and it was never easy. Because they had been playing together for so long, these women formed bonds both on and off the field. Because they knew each other so well they were able to communicate and work together on the field in a way that other sports teams have never and will never be able to. At times, watching these women work together on the field was like watching a choreographed dance. They knew each other so well that they could just seamlessly work together.

Leading up to the 1999 Women’s World Cup, the US women’s team tried to build up some hype to generate interest and support for the tournament. One of the things they did was make some pretty hilarious commercials showing their dedication to their team and to each other. In my favorite of the commercials, a few of the players are at the dentist. Brandi Chastain comes out of the back and tells her teammates that she had two cavities and, therefore, needed to get two fillings. Starting with Mia Hamm, whose checkup had gone well and didn’t need any dental work, Brandi’s teammates all stand up and declare “I will have two fillings.” While an exaggeration on the extent of their friendship and teamwork, it’s also a testimony to this team.

So here’s to the twenty women who took over my life during the summer of 1999. The twenty women who I cheered for, followed, and admired. The twenty women who did more than just inspire me as an athlete, but inspired me as a human being. To the twenty women who proved that women’s soccer matters. That female athletes matter. And that they can kick ass.

I will have two fillings!          

~*~*~

Women’s professional soccer was a new concept to me in 1999. I hadn’t known what soccer was when the women’s team won the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991. I was three years old.

I was only aware of men’s soccer when the USA Women brought home the gold in the 1996 Olympics. By then I was eight. It was the first time women’s soccer was played on that stage so I guess I can’t really be blamed for not knowing what was going on. The Women’s team was never given the spotlight before then.

Until the summer of 1999 when the Women’s World Cup was played across the US. The face of soccer was about to change. It was about to get a lot more feminine.

The former Giants Stadium sold out to 78,972 fans for the Opening Ceremony of the 1999 Women’s World Cup. It was the second largest audience ever in that stadium, coming in behind the Pope. He had God on his side and chairs on the field. On June 19, 1999, Giants Stadium was full of another type of devout follower – soccer fanatics. It was a sell-out crowd. The US Women were going to get the last laugh. They were told that they could never sell out the big stadiums for the 1999 Women’s World Cup. The fans of women’s soccer proved the critics wrong. There was tail-gating in the parking lot and the party atmosphere continued inside the stadium. It was more than just a soccer game; it was the kick-off of a summer event that would take the world by storm.

I was one of the 78,972 people that showed my support for the US Women’s team that day at Giants Stadium. I was just a kid in a Mia Hamm jersey. While it had only been a short time before that I had been introduced to the Women’s Soccer Team, I knew everything there was to know about the team, its history, and its players. I may have come in late, but I was no fair-weather fan. I was die-hard.

I sat in one of the end zones of Giants Stadium, behind a drunken British man that was decidedly pro-American and far too excited about doing the Wave. When the wave was two sections away, he would jump up and yell, “The Wave is coming! The Wave is coming!” The Wave would come through our section and he would enthusiastically throw his arms up in the air, dousing beer on those sitting around him – myself included. The Wave would be two sections away, and he would still be clapping and talking about how we could do it better the next time. The Wave circled the stadium, always coming back. It went on all day. And to think, that British man was my soccer instructor and the reason I was at Giants Stadium in the first place.

While my soccer instructor’s antics were hilarious, my concentration was solely on the game between the USA and Denmark. I didn’t even care that NSYNC did a short concert during the opening ceremony even though I was a huge NSYNC fan. I was waiting for the opening whistle, and when it came, the stadium erupted in cheers. The 1999 Women’s World Cup was officially underway. I was on the edge of my seat, cheering on my team when Mia Hamm, our star player, put us on the scoreboard in the 17th minute. The fans cheered and then breathed a small sigh of relief. We were ahead. We needed to stay there. Finally, in the 72nd minute, Julie Foudy gave us an insurance goal. Kristine Lilly brought home the victory in the 88th minute, putting the USA ahead 3 – 0. The US Women won the first game of the World Cup and proved that Women’s Soccer was a force to be reckoned with. There was still a long way to go.

I will never forget what it was like sitting in that stadium packed full of soccer fans. It was my second time seeing the women’s team play – the first time I saw them was two months earlier at Hersheypark Stadium. The atmosphere was decidedly different. Hersheypark Stadium could fit inside the old Giants Stadium. The crowd was much smaller in Hershey, and a lot less enthusiastic. Going from a tiny stadium to a massive one was shocking. I’d never been in such a huge crowd before. Or encountered a crowd that was so passionate and lively. I will never forget the party atmosphere, or the excitement and tension that gripped me until the final whistle blew. It might not mean much to other people, but sitting in that stadium for the opening game was one of the most exciting moments of my young life. I felt like I was part of something bigger than me. I felt like I was part of the team.

 On June 24th the USA took on Nigeria in their second game of the group phase. Since Nigeria was not considered to be much of a threat, I went to see “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.” Looking back, I am ashamed of myself for not staying home and supporting my team. But I was still a kid, and the impact of the 1999 Women’s World Cup had not fully settled in my young mind yet. I didn’t know that it was only the fans that cared about the event – that big name sponsors, the media, The United States Soccer Federation, and FIFA (the world’s soccer organization) had no faith in the World Cup being a success and were showing little to no support for it. It wasn’t until after the World Cup was over that I would realize the importance of my support.

No one viewed Nigeria as a threat to the United States’ dominance until Nigeria scored in the first minute of the game. Across the country, US fans were shocked. I was sitting in a movie theater, but I was shocked when I heard about it later that night. It didn’t matter that I knew the outcome of the game when I found out about Nigeria’s lone goal. If they could score in the first minute, the US had to step up their game against fiercer opponents. The US team that had seemed so invincible possibly had a chink in the armor. The fans didn’t doubt the US team for long. The US came back and won the game 7 – 1. Three days later, the US played the final game in the group stage against North Korea. The US was guaranteed to advance to the quarter-finals, win, loss, or tie. They won 3 – 0.

Two days before the quarter-finals in Washington D.C., I found out that I was going to the game. I remember dancing around the backyard in excitement. I was just happy to be going to another game. I didn’t know that I would be witnessing history. We tailgated in the Jack Kent Cooke Stadium (now FedExField) parking lot. My friends and I made a sign that said “USA Kicks Grass.” We crossed out the “Gr” in heavy black marker. We were still at the precious age where writing “USA Kicks Ass” was still seen as a bad thing to do. But we knew what we meant. The US Women did kick ass. The world was beginning to see that. My friends and I also used spray on hair dye, and painted our faces red and blue. It was a decision I would come to regret as sweat mixed with the paint and ran down my face and on to my Mia Hamm jersey. It was annoying and uncomfortable, but I had more important things on my mind.

The US was playing Germany and things were not going well. In the 6th minute, communications in the back line fell apart and Brandi Chastain accidently scored an own-goal. A collective groan rose above the stadium into the night sky. This was the second time we had fallen behind during the tournament, but Germany was a fiercer opponent than Nigeria had been. Confidence returned in the 16th minute when Tiffeny Milbrett tied the game. The fans went wild. We were back in business. Elation only lasted until the final minute before halftime when Germany once again went ahead on the scoreboard. The fans looked at each other wildly at halftime. We had supported our team and cheered them till this point. They would do their job on the field during the second half, and we would do ours in the stands. In the 46th minute, fresh out of the locker room, Brandi found redemption as she tied up the game. And in the 66th minute, Joy Fawcett took the team to the semi-finals when she scored a header off of Shannon McMillan’s corner kick. The fans went wild. Tears mixed with the sweat that was running down my face, mixing with the paint, and discoloring my Mia Hamm jersey. I try not to think about what might have happened had the US Women lost that night. It’s a thought best saved for nightmares.

On the 4th of July, the US Women celebrated their Independence by defeating Brazil 2 – 0 in the semi-finals to advance to the Championship game against China. The team and the fans had reason to worry. The US had beat China in the gold medal match in the 1996 Olympics, so they could be beaten. But the US had lost to China in 2 out of 3 international friendlies that spring.  If the team was worried, the fans did not know it. Had we known they were worried, we would have been worried as well. Instead, we remained confident. The US had chinks in the armor, but we were still invincible.

It was Saturday July 10, 1999. The US Women’s Soccer Team was about to make history. It was the most important soccer game of my life and I wasn’t at the stadium in California. I was watching it from my couch in Pennsylvania, gripping the edge of the recliner until my knuckles turned white and my fingers went numb. My legs fell asleep, but I barely noticed. My blood pressure was through the roof. My heart was beating wildly. I was at a stress level that no 11 year old should ever encounter. I had more important things on my mind than my personal comfort. There was nothing but me, the TV, the game, and my stress. I was the 12th woman – along with a lot of other 12th women and men. It was my team. As I wrote in my journal later, “Not much happened in the 1st half. A few injuries, some shots on goal, and some nice saves.” It was the same for the second half – save one thing. In the waning minutes of the 2nd half, the team’s enforcer, Michelle Akers, went down with a concussion. It was a blow to the team and to the fans. The team had to regroup and the fans had to give into the worry that had been building in our hearts since the starting whistle. With the game about to go into overtime, the team needed Michelle. We had lost her in the 1995 World Cup and the team fell apart and lost. As Michelle was helped off the field, everyone lifted their chins a little higher. Michelle had helped us get this far, we could and would carry on without her. We had to.      

The championship game went to two 15-minute overtimes. It would be sudden victory if the US scored. It would be sudden defeat if China did. But if someone scored, it was over. It came close to sudden defeat when China had a shot that went past goalkeeper Briana Scurry and headed straight for goal. Whether it was fate or not, Kristine Lilly’s head was in the direct past of the ball. She headed the ball away from net as she stood on the goal line. A scream of horror switched to that of elation mid-scream. I jumped from the couch, rushing to embrace the TV and Kristine. She had saved the game by being at the right place at the right time. It could have ended right then, but it didn’t. Another thought best left for nightmares.

In the end, it came down to the most boring way to end a soccer game – penalty kicks. We won the toss and opted to kick second. Only the players knew who would be taking the kicks. The US players were walking around, smiling and high-fiving each other. They looked so calm. The fans sat back and watched as one by one, the players marched forward to the 18 yard box and their destiny. China kicked first and they scored. I booed. Our fearless captain, Carla Overbeck took our first shot and scored. I cheered. China scored their second. I booed. Joy Fawcett scored our second. I cheered. China took their third shot and Briana Scurry blocked it! I went wild. As a former goalkeeper, I knew the elation of blocking an opponent’s penalty kick. Briana had done the one thing that she needed to do. And she was a hero for it. Kristine Lilly scored our third goal. China scored again. Mia Hamm took the fourth shot for the US and scored. China scored their fifth and final shot. It was tied at 4 – 4, the US had one shot remaining.       

Brandi Chastain stepped forward. She had missed a penalty kick against China in the spring, costing the US a victory. That knowledge was in the back of her mind as she stepped up to take her shot. The fans had forgotten. All they knew was that if and when Brandi scored, the US was champion. I watched Brandi approach the ball. She kicked and then she was running around in her black Nike sports bra. It was only on later replays that I actually saw the ball hit the back of the net. But there was no doubt that she had scored. The Championship game was over. The USA had won!           

Life after the World Cup was about black sports bars and girl power. Not the girl power of the Spice Girls that revolved around wearing platform shoes and skanky outfits. This was real girl power. Woman power. This was about showing the men that not only were we as good. We were better.

A few months after the World Cup ended, I met Brandi Chastain while she was giving a speech at Hersheypark. She had been my hero long before she ever scored that penalty kick. I was no bandwagon Brandi fan. She could see that I was a real fan. Brandi signed a personalized photo for me at her speech. She told me to “Dream.” I took her advice. I’ve never stopped dreaming. My dreams may have taken me away from wanting to be the next Brandi Chastain. But my dreams took me to other places. What started out as a sporting event that the critics said wouldn’t amount to much took the world by storm. That squad of twenty women gave me the confidence to peruse my dreams and make them come true. Just because someone says I can’t do it, doesn’t mean I need to listen. I’ve got my own stadiums to sell out, penalty kicks to take, and championships to win. And there’s a black Nike sports bra in my drawer waiting for the victory celebration.

And, you know what, I will still have those two fillings!

Kick Ass Women Who Inspire Me - Part 2

At #4 on my list of Kick Ass Women Who Inspire Me is Caroline Ingalls. (For the record, I'm writing about the real Caroline Ingalls, not the fictional Caroline of the Little House books and TV show. Not that those Carolines aren't worthy of praise.) I know what you're probably thinking - 'Caroline Ingalls' and 'kick ass' do not belong in the same sentence. And I'm sure Caroline wouldn't find the description very flattering. To be honest, she would probably be offended. The thing is that, once you really think about it, Caroline Ingalls is a totally kick ass, strong, and admirable woman.

First, some background information... Caroline Lake Quiner was born 15 miles west of Milwaukee in 1839. She was allegedly the first white child born in that area. She was also the fifth of her parents' seven children (the oldest daughter died as a child). When Caroline was five, her father drowned when the ship he was on sank in Lake Michigan. This left Caroline's mother, Charlotte Tucker Quiner, to raise her six surviving children (all of whom were under the age of ten) as a single mother. Charlotte also had to keep the family farm running. A couple years after her husband's death, Charlotte moved her family west to start over on a new tract of land. (No wonder Caroline grew up to be a strong woman. She got it from her mother.) After a short career as a schoolteacher, Caroline Quiner married Charles Ingalls in 1860. They had four daughters, and a son who died in infancy.

So, what is it about Caroline Ingalls that makes her so kick ass? Following what must have been a very difficult childhood due to her father's untimely death, Caroline married a man who just could not stay in one place. Charles Ingalls was a bit of a maniac, dragging his wife and young daughters all over the Midwest in his quest to avoid people, follow abundant game, and find a successful farm. Sure, Charles probably meant well, but can you imagine how hard that kind of life must have been on the gentle, ladylike Caroline? All the poor woman wanted was a home in or near a town with a church, school, stores, and neighbors. After a lengthy (by Charles' standards) stay near Pepin Wisconsin, Charles packed up the family and prepared to move away from an area that he felt was becoming too populated. This must have been devastating for Caroline considering she was being forced to leave an established area where she was surrounded by family. And where did the Ingalls family move to? Well, they basically wound up illegally squatting on the Osage Indian reservation. They were miles away from town, their neighbors weren't exactly close, and the Osage weren't too happy about the white settlers squatting on their land. During their time in Kansas, Caroline gave birth to her third daughter with the help of a neighbor woman. After getting kicked off the Osage Reservation, the Ingalls family returned to Wisconsin for a few years. They then moved to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, then to Burr Oak, Iowa, and then back to Walnut Grove. These places must have been an oasis for Caroline after the short time spent in Kansas. Then, after too many years of 'civilization', Charles decided it was time to move again - this time to a railroad camp in South Dakota. I'm sure Caroline was thrilled to live in such a rough and tumble place - especially with four young daughters. The Ingalls family wound up staying in the area, and were among the original settlers of De Smet, South Dakota. And you know what Charles wanted to do after living in De Smet for a couple years? He wanted to move farther west. But this time Caroline put her foot down, and the Ingalls family remained. Charles, Caroline, and three of their four daughters are buried in the cemetery outside of town.

Let's face it, the lives of pioneer women in the American West were full of hardships. They lived in sod houses and one-room shanties. They had to raise their children (at least the ones who managed to survive infancy), (somehow) keep their homes clean, do the laundry without the benefit of modern washing machines, sew and mend most of their clothing by hand, basically make all of their food from scratch, help tend to the livestock, work in the fields, and keep up with all of the countless other tasks involved with just staying alive. Oh, and they had to do all this while wearing long skirts and corsets. Pioneer women worked just as hard as their menfolk (if not harder), and all the while they were restricted by their clothing, societal dictations of the time period, and their gender. But just think of what all they got accomplished...

This is the kind of life that Caroline Ingalls lived. And it definitely could not have been easy. But she made the most of it. She kept her home clean - even when it was a tiny, cramped room dug into the side of the creek bank. She kept her family fed - even during that long, hard winter when there was hardly anything to eat. She raised four (strong, kick ass) daughters who were well-mannered, educated women. And through it all, Caroline remained a refined and ladylike woman. And that's what makes her a pretty kick ass, strong, inspirational woman.

Kick Ass Women Who Inspire Me - Part 1

History is full of countless kick ass women, and so many of them have influenced my life. I decided to narrow down that long list and focus on the ones that have had the longest lasting and largest influence on both me as a person and as a writer.

I start with two of the most iconic women in film…

Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie Hamilton Wilkes

“I’m tired of being Scarlett O’Hara. In my next life I’m going to come back as Melanie Wilkes, fragile and helpless.” – Linda Fairstein

I’m not sure when I first saw Gone with the Wind. But I do know that I saw the movie in its entirety by the time I was twelve, and that’s because I remember reading the book when I was in sixth grade. Regardless of when I first encountered Gone with the Wind, by the time I was twelve, I was obsessed with the movie and with Scarlett O’Hara.

On the surface, Scarlett is probably not the best role model for, well, anyone. She’s manipulative, immature, selfish, vain, and petty. She has horrible taste in men (sorry to all the Ashley Wilkes fans, but I just don’t get the attraction). She steals other women’s boyfriends and then marries men she doesn’t love. She shows her bosom before three o’clock. And, according to Rhett Butler, she’s no lady.

Scarlett is also an extremely intelligent rebel who bucks the rules of the Southern antebellum and postbellum societies. She stays in Atlanta without a chaperone, and then barely escapes the city as General Sherman and his Union troops are burning it to the ground. She lies, cheats, steals, and kills to keep herself and those she loves alive – seriously, she kills a Yankee bent on robbing the plantation house and then buries him in a shallow grave. She saves the family plantation from carpetbaggers. She goes into business for herself – something a well-bred Southern Belle never would have done. Scarlett is a survivor. She won’t be broken. She never gives up because, after all, tomorrow is another day.

Sure, Scarlett has a lot of flaws, makes a lot of mistakes, and does some questionable things along the way. But she knows what matters most to her, and she will do whatever it takes to achieve her goals. Overlooking what’s bad about Scarlett, you can see the good in her. You can see the kick ass woman hidden beneath that airheaded Southern Belle performance and the insane number of petticoats.

As for Melanie Hamilton Wilkes, “kick ass” is probably not a word that comes to mind when describing her. She’s more likely to faint before raising her voice. It took me years to finally appreciate Melanie because I always saw her as boring and weak. But it’s hard to shine through when you’re set up to be Scarlett’s opposite. Melanie is everything Scarlett is not. She doesn’t just play the part of a Southern Belle, she really is one. She’s dependable and loyal to a fault. She always sees the good in people. She’s selfless and caring. Melanie is weak, helpless, and dependent on others because she was raised to be that way. But her strength comes through when she needs it to. After all, she does help Scarlett dispose of a dead body.

Query Letter

This is a (slightly revised since the title of my novel changed) copy of the query letter that I sent out during my search for an agent. My agent search began during the late spring/early summer of 2014. When I began my search for agents who represent mysteries and were looking for new clients, I used agentquery.com. On agentquery.com, you’re able to search the listed agents by genres. It also says whether the agent is currently accepting new clients. It’s a very easy site to use, and is a good starting point. After I had a list of agents who represent mystery novels, I began searching the agency websites for more information. It’s very important to do your research before contacting agents. In my case, some agents only represent cozy mysteries. Since Criminal Misdeeds is not a cozy, it would have been a waste of time to contact agents who only represent cozies. Once I had narrowed down the list of agents that I got off of agentquery.com, I chose the five who I thought I might have the best chance with. One of those agents was Jessica Alvarez with BookEnds, LLC. I don’t know what it was, but even before I emailed her my query letter and sample chapter, I knew she was the one. Turns out my gut was right. Yes, I got lucky. Jessica fell in love with Criminal Misdeeds and Detective Carrie Shatner, and by July 2014, I signed on with BookEnds, LLC. My quest to find an agent turned out to be an easy one. The quest to find a publisher was not. But that’s another story…

 


Dear ______________,

Criminal Misdeeds, a 90,000 word mystery novel, highlights a family of Texas outlaws. The Shatners grow pot, distill moonshine, and break minor laws. While Detective Carrie Shatner’s moral compass doesn’t exactly point north, she’s tried to distance herself from the criminal activities and misdeeds of her family until she is required to cover them up. It’s when a dead body turns up at her family’s New Year’s Eve Party that Carrie is forced to take a step back and look at herself and her family. To make matters worse, the victim is a member of the Palmer family – a family that the Shatners have been feuding with since the Civil War. The only comfort Carrie can take away from the situation is that the victim was murdered elsewhere and dumped at the fairgrounds. Unable to conduct the investigation by herself, Carrie teams up with Texas Ranger Jerrod Hardy.  Though hesitant to allow one of his suspects help him on the case, Hardy knows that if he doesn’t invite Carrie to work with him, she will work against him in her quest to prove her family’s collective innocence and find the killer. At first, the evidence all seems to point to Carrie’s cousin, Dale, who lacks an alibi but also a motive. Convinced that Dale didn’t kill anyone, Carrie sets out to find the person attempting to frame the Shatners for a crime even they wouldn’t commit. While Carrie works alongside Hardy in the official investigation, desperation and family obligation force her to go behind Hardy’s back to protect the people she loves. Unable to find anyone with motive, means, and opportunity, Carrie and Hardy find themselves stumped until a second body is discovered. It quickly becomes obvious that the two victims are linked, and the only person with motive for both murders is Cousin Dale, whose lack of an alibi continues to haunt him.

Criminal Misdeeds is the first novel in what I hope will be a series starring Carrie Shatner and Jerrod Hardy. I have outlined a second novel, and I have ideas for more.

Attached, please find the prologue and first chapter of Criminal Misdeeds.

Please let me know if I can send you the rest of the novel for consideration.

Sincerely,

Randee Green

Character Development

Character development is probably my favorite part when it comes to writing. Sure, I love the entire writing process. (Admittedly there are some aspects I enjoy more than others.) But, for me, creating new characters is so much fun. Creating characters might seem like it would be one of the easier parts of writing, but coming up with a well-rounded, realistic, compelling character can be really quite difficult. Take my main character for example: Carrie Shatner is a female detective who works for the Wyatt County Sheriff’s Department in Eastern Texas. She’s also a whole lot more than that. She’s also a strong, independent, kick ass woman who just happens to be related to a surprisingly large number of criminals. And even that description barely scratches the surface of who she is. I first created Carrie Shatner in late 2005. She started out as a vague silhouette of a woman – she had a name, curly brown hair, and a desire to fight crime. Two novels and almost twelve years later, my notes concerning her character development and backstory are 16 pages long, and they’re still growing.  

TYPES OF CHARACTERS

Just to review, there are four different types of characters.

1.      Central Character(s) or Protagonist(s) – This character is most likely to be the narrator of the story. This character has to be completely developed both externally (appearance, actions and reactions, dialogue, and body language and gestures) and internally (backstory, thoughts, likes and dislikes, memories, and dreams). And keep in mind that contrast between exterior actions and interior thoughts create tension and helps reveal characters and advance plot. As the writer, you need to know everything about this character – from what they look like to how they lost their virginity (if he or she even has). You won’t tell (or show) the reader everything, but you’ve still got to know it. (Just because I will probably never have a scene where Carrie Shatner is sitting around watching her favorite movie doesn’t mean that I don’t know that her favorite movie is Tombstone.)

2.      Major Characters – These characters, who will appear in numerous scenes, are necessary to the story and play major roles. These characters get to have opinions, and they will take part in the story’s actions. When introducing major characters, you’ll want to give their name, age range, gender, appearance, personality, and their relationship to the central character(s). These characters will also have a bit of backstory – especially concerning their relationship to the central characters(s) and/or the plot.

3.      Minor Characters – These characters play minor roles that are necessary to the story. They only appear once or twice, but they should make enough of an impression to be remembered. As the writer, all you really need to provide is the minor character’s name, age range, gender, and a few telling details. These characters probably won’t have any backstory beyond what is necessary to showing their character.

4.      Walk-on Characters – These (usually) nameless characters are more of an element of the setting than actual characters. They should get no more than a sentence or two of description. (Example: your central character is at a bar and is waiting for his/her date to show up. A bartender is necessary to the scene if your character is going to get served a drink. But the bartender doesn’t need a name or backstory. S/he just needs to take the central character’s order and then serve the drink.)

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

NAMES

Choosing names for characters can be a bit of a struggle. Personally, I use a book of baby names to help me out. When I’m coming up with a new character, I flip through the book and glance over the names until I find one that I feel fits my character. (Though I’ll admit that I use names I like for characters I like, and vice versa.) When looking for a name I try to find one that conveys the character’s age range, gender, region of origin, ethnicity, social class, family background, and time period (keep in mind that there were no Savannahs or Beyonces in Regency England).

I also make sure that I haven’t already used a name that look or sounds similar. (Example: Since my main character’s name is Carrie, I will never have characters named Barry, Sherry, Terri, Katie, Carol, or Karen.)

APPEARANCE

The problem with appearance is that your readers are most likely never going to picture your characters the exact same way that you do. I know what my mental picture is like of all of my characters, but your idea of them might be different. And that’s fine.

When creating your character’s appearance, consider their age range, physical build, eye color, hair color and style, facial hair, and dental work. Did your character have any plastic surgery? What are his/her typical clothing choices? Do your characters have any tattoos, body piercings, or scars? What is your characters’ ethnicity? Do they have health problems?

PERSONALITY

Unless you want to have a two-dimensional, boring character, you’ve got to give your characters some personality. Are they happy, depressed, cynical, outgoing, introverted, or homicidal? Think about what motivates your character to get out of bed each morning. What are they afraid of? What upsets them? What makes them laugh? Consider their usual mannerisms and gestures, their attitude(s), major and minor flaws, etc.? When creating your characters’ personalities, think about what makes them unique from your other characters? What makes this character stand out from the rest of the crowd? Think about what kinds of skills and talents your characters might have, as well as what their hobbies and interests are.

BACKGROUND

Just because your character only comes to life on the first page of your novel doesn’t mean that they don’t have a history. The central and major characters need to have some sort of life prior to the novel’s beginning. They had to get to where they are somehow. Knowing your characters’ past helps shape who they are in the novel. When creating your characters’ background, consider their immediate family (parents and siblings, and their past and current relationships with them), where they grew up and what their childhood was like, what their education was like, their work history, the best and worst days of their lives, and anything major that will have affected who they are as a person. You don’t (and won’t) tell the audience everything about your characters’ pasts, but you’ll need to provide them with enough details to show that your character didn’t just spring to life, fully-formed without a past, the first time they make an appearance.

YOUR CHARACTERS RIGHT NOW

All right, now you know what your characters look like, what their personality is like, and where they came from. But who are they right now? Who are they from the first page to the last page? Are your characters married or single? Do they have children or pets? What’s their current job, and do they like it? Where does your character currently live? How does s/he live, and with who? And what does your character want for the future? What is driving them throughout the novel?

CONCLUSION

Creating characters is fun, but it’s also a lot of hard work. The minor characters don’t matter so much, but you really need to get to know your central and major characters. So go on and create them. Figure out what they look like. Go online and look at pictures of houses until you find one that suits your character. Then step inside – check out their furniture, peek in the fridge, and raid the trashcans. Spend some time with your new characters and let them introduce themselves to you. Yes, you’re the one creating them. But don’t get in the way of them creating themselves.

Little House, Big Impact

Over the years a number of people have had a positive impact on my life, but I don’t think anyone has affected me more – as person and as a writer – than Laura Ingalls Wilder. (I’m talking about the real Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Laura of the Little House books, not the Laura of the TV show. Though I’m pretty sure I encountered the TV Laura before the book Laura.)  

I first met Laura Ingalls in Mrs. Patricia Ziegler’s second grade classroom. Every day, after recess, Mrs. Ziegler would read to us for about half an hour while we calmed down from playing. As an avid lover of books since before I could read, this was my favorite part of the school day.

I will never forget the day that Mrs. Ziegler held up a book featuring an illustration of a little brown-haired girl cradling her ragdoll. Behind the little girl was her smiling family – mother, father, sister, and the baby. Mrs. Ziegler told us that the book was about a little girl named Laura who lived many years ago. The best part was that it was a true story – the little girl grew up to write books about her pioneer life. The book was Little House in the Big Woods.

I was hooked from the first page. But, looking back, I can’t tell you exactly what it was that drew me into Little House and has yet to let me go. Was it Laura herself? The Ingalls family as a whole? The history? The pioneer life? The writing? The story? Or a combination of all of that and more? Whatever the power was, it still has a grip over me.

It’s the reason I am a writer.

Mrs. Ziegler was partway through reading the first chapter of Little House in the Big Woods when the rest of the classroom just faded away, leaving me with the book. Just me and Laura. That’s when I sat up a little straighter and thought, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a writer.” It was more than a childish wish. It was a revelation and a declaration. A promise to myself that I spent years striving to fulfil.

After a week or so, Mrs. Ziegler finished reading Little House in the Big Woods and prepared to move on to another book. I was distraught that the book was over. At seven, I knew that all books have to an end at some point. But why did this book have to end? I wanted it to go on and on, just like the Big Woods of Wisconsin – stretching farther than the five-year-old Laura could imagine.

Just when I thought that all hope was lost, Mrs. Ziegler announced that there were more books about Laura and the Ingalls family! Little House in the Big Woods was the first book of the series that followed Laura and told her story. I was ecstatic that there was an entire series about Laura Ingalls! Little House in the Big Woods was just the beginning! “The End” didn’t really mean THE END! There were more books! Laura’s story was far from over! Hope springs eternal!

After Mrs. Ziegler set me on the path to Little House, there was no turning back. I can still vividly remember going to the used bookstore with my dad and finding Little House on the Prairie on the shelf. The next book in the series! The next adventure! I believe my mom wound up buying me the rest of the books in the series except for The Long Winter. Mom felt that the fictional Laura was getting a little too old for me to be interested in and put off buying me the next book. So I snagged it from the bookshelf in my third grade teacher’s classroom and then “accidently” forgot to put it back. (Sorry Mrs. Loht…I swear I’ve never stolen anything else in my life!) I might not remember how, where, or when I got the rest of the Little House books, but I do remember holding them in my hands for the first time. I remember looking at each cover, and then opening the books to the first page. Overall, it took a year or more for me to get the rest of the Little House books and read them in order. And then I kept reading them – returning to Little House in the Big Woods as soon as I had left The Last Four Years.

Over the years, I have also snatched up every book I could find either by Laura, about Laura, or in some way related to Laura. Whenever I get a new book concerning Laura or Little House, I am overcome with the same sensation of pure joy I had that day in second grade when the world of Little House opened up before me.

But it wasn’t just the books by and about Laura that filled my young life. Laura became my childhood imaginary friend, and my backyard transformed into places like the big woods of Wisconsin and the prairies of Kansas, Minnesota, and South Dakota – places so far removed from south central Pennsylvania that I wasn’t even sure that they were real. I dressed my four dolls up in prairie-style dresses and renamed them Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace. I spent hours playing Little House with the dolls. I also built a log cabin out of Popsicle sticks and a covered wagon out of a cardboard box. I then bought miniature dolls to represent the Ingalls family, and miniature furniture and food to fill the house and the wagon. I would spend hours loading and unloading the wagon, moving in and out of the Popsicle cabin, and acting out the pioneer adventures of the Ingalls family.

One of my biggest wishes was (and still is) to go back in time to hang out with the Ingalls family. I don’t think I would want to stay for long – I really enjoy indoor plumbing, electricity, and air conditioning, and I’m positive that bras are more comfortable than corsets – but I would like to pop in to frolic around the prairie with the Ingalls girls for a little while. And then pop back out before chore time…

By the time I started fourth grade, I had read the entire Little House series. I knew the Laura from the books was a real person and that she grew up to write the books. But I didn’t quite comprehend her realness until the first day of fourth grade. Early on during the first day of school, my new teacher was in the process of handing out the reading textbooks that we would use throughout the schoolyear. Having a name at the beginning of the alphabet meant that I got my book before the majority of my classmates. To pass the time, I scanned the table of contents to get an idea of what I was in store for. As I glanced over the list of authors and story titles, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name jumped off the page.

Eagerly, I flipped to the pages containing chapters from Little House on the Prairie and came across something unexpected. A full-page photograph of Laura with her sisters, Mary and Carrie. There was also a picture of Laura and Almanzo not long after they got married, as well as a picture of Ma and Pa Ingalls. The only one missing was Laura’s youngest sister, Grace. I remember just sitting there, staring at those three pictures in awe. Here they were – the Ingalls family. Not the illustrations, but that actual living, breathing, prairie-conquering people. They were real, and this was what they looked like. Like I said, I knew Laura was a real person. But seeing that picture in the textbook proved it. Laura wasn’t just a character in a series of books. She wasn’t just my imaginary friend. She was real.

I was still staring at the photo of Laura and her sisters when the teacher finished up handing out the textbooks. Deciding to get a jumpstart on the school year, the teacher immediately gave out a reading assignment. When I kept staring at Laura, lost to what was going on around me, the teacher brought it to everyone’s attention that I was on the wrong page of the textbook. Instead of turning to the assigned page, I pointed at the photo and said, “But . . . it’s Laura.”

 “Who?” The teacher glanced over at the photo and then said, “I don’t care. Turn to the right page.”

It was then that I knew fourth grade was going to be a long year. But I also knew that, when I needed her, Laura would be right there in my textbook to get me through it. She had survived Eliza Jane Wilder as a teacher, I could survive this teacher.

And I did survive fourth grade and moved on to fifth where I had another Laura Ingalls moment that would change my life. One of our projects in fifth grade was to do a report on the history on one of the fifty states. I was one of the last few students who got to choose, and there were only about half of the states left. And none of them were the ones that I had originally wanted. I glanced over the map and saw that Missouri was left. It wasn’t that I was overly interested in Missouri – but Laura and Almanzo spent the last sixty-or-so years of their lives there. If it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me!

While doing research on that state of Missouri, I looked up some of the more popular travel destinations in the state. And that’s when I found out that people can visit Laura and Almanzo’s farm! Rocky Ridge was a tourist attraction! And so were all of the other Little House sites where Laura had lived! Twelve years after making that discovery (fifteen years after first meeting Laura), I drove down State Highway A in southwestern Missouri and pulled into the parking lot for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum. It was the first stop on my Little House Pilgrimage that I took the summer after I graduated from college. It was the first stop on my journey home to Little House.

Now, over twenty years after first meeting Laura Ingalls Wilder, she is still one of the most (if not the most) influential person in my life. When I was seven, she helped me figure out what I was meant to do when I grew up. She helped me realize that I was meant to be a writer. She shaped and guided my young life, and ushered me into adulthood. Laura used to be my imaginary friends. Now she’s my muse.

A Few Words on the Second Carrie Shatner Mystery

As I am wrapping up the first complete draft of the second Carrie Shatner Mystery, I thought I would take a couple minutes to explain the unconventional process I went through while writing this book.

Way back when I first invented Carrie Shatner, I had grandiose dreams of this being a multi-volume series of at least twenty books. In my naivety I had gone so far as to plot out ideas and pick out titles for each of the books. It didn't take me long to realize that (A) that's not exactly how this works, and (B) I was trying to bite off far more than I could chew.

By the time I signed my contract with BookEnds LLC in July 2014, and my agent began sending out Criminal Misdeeds to publishers, I had long since left behind my grandiose dreams behind. I still had dreams of there being a Carrie Shatner Mystery series, but I had scaled back on how many books I was planning to write. Instead of twenty or more books, I scaled it back to four. I figured that four is a much more manageable number. I could tell Carrie's story in four books. And it still left the possibility open for more books in the series.

Still, that's not quite how this works.

After more rejections than I want to count, Camel Press made an offer for the first Carrie Shatner Mystery. The offer included two more books. Two, not three. Which was fine with me. I happily and enthusiastically accepted the offer. (Thank you, Camel Press!)

After accepting the offer from Camel Press, and signing the contract, I had to sit down and decide what to do next. As I said, I had been planning for the series to be four books. The first book was with the publisher, and I had a second book written. I also had ideas for the third and fourth. So what was I going to do?

A few weeks before Camel Press made the offer, I went back and reread the manuscript for the second Carrie Shatner Mystery. I finished writing it back in 2015, and hadn't really touched it since. There wasn't much point considering the first book hadn't sold yet. But, deep down, I must have sensed that things were about to change, because I woke up one morning and knew it was time to get back to that second book. After rereading it, and making notes on sections that I felt needed rewritten, revised, or completely redone, I then set it aside for a couple weeks. I needed time to think everything over. I still liked the book, but I now felt like there were parts that just didn't work. I was still trying to sort things out when my agent called and told me I had been offered a three book deal.

In some ways, getting the three book deal made things easier for me. The plans I had for the fourth Carrie book got bumped up to the third. Yes, some of the secondary storylines have to change, but the main storyline (the actual mystery) will stay the same. For me, what will happen in this book - the murder Carrie is tasked with solving - will bring up ghosts from her past and cause her to finally take a good look at her law-breaking, morally deficient family members. This is how her story has to end.

But what about the second book I had written, and the ideas I had for the other book I had planned out? What was I going to do about those? Like I said, there were parts of the second book that I still really liked. And there were parts that I didn't. I also loved my victim and circumstances surrounding the murder that I had come up with for what I had planned on being the third book. It seemed I only had one option when it came to the second Carrie Shatner Mystery - I decided to take the second book I had written, and completely redo it to fit the victim/circumstances of my other idea.

In some ways, this was easier said than done. I had a complete book written - with major and minor storylines. Deciding what needed changed to fit my new major storyline wasn't always easy. I must have rewritten the first five chapters twenty or more times - changing sections over and over until the right muse finally spoke to me. Once that muse spoke, everything seemed to just fall into place. I also had to ditch one of the minor storylines because it no longer fit into the book. But it took me a couple weeks, and a lot of rewrites, to finally realize I was trying too hard to include something that was no longer relevant. Once that storyline was no longer in the picture, it also made figuring out the rest of the book very easy.

As I wrote new scenes and revised scenes I had previously written, I was able to quickly power through the first draft. A lot of it was already written, and just needed some small changes to fit the new book. Some scenes needed more revision than others, but the majority of the book was already written.

The first few weeks of redoing the second Carrie Shatner Mystery were stressful, frustrating, and made me question my sanity on an almost daily basis. But once I figured it out, the fog cleared and all of the puzzle pieces fell into place. Melding the two ideas has resulted in a much stronger and compelling story. It wasn't a conventional process that I went through to write the second Carrie Shatner Mystery, but, in the end, it worked.

A (Not So) Brief History of Carrie Shatner and "Criminal Misdeeds"

I first came up with the Carrie Shatner and Jerrod Hardy characters when I was a senior in high school. This was way back in 2005/2006. At that time, I was reading a lot of mystery novels starring strong, female sleuths, and I decided I was going to attempt creating one of my own. I also liked the idea of writing a series. Even as a teenager who was still trying to figure out this novel writing thing, I instinctively knew that, once I've created a character, I am invested in his/her life. I want to give my characters more than 300+ pages to tell their story. To grow and change as people as they carry on in their adventures.

I don't really remember when or how Carrie Shatner exactly came to life. Like Athena, who came kicking and screaming into the mythological world directly from Zeus's forehead as a full-formed and armed adult woman, one day Carrie Shatner was there. And I immediately knew that she wouldn't be leaving anytime soon. This kick ass woman had a story to tell, and it was up to me to put that story into words. Not long after Carrie sprang from my brain, Jerrod Hardy appeared by her side.

Over the years, Carrie Shatner and Jerrod Hardy have gone through many transformations. In every version, they were in some form of law enforcement, but their job and place of employment changed more times than Cher would change outfits during her shows. Carrie's and Jerrod's relationship to each other, and their work situation, also changed as well. Sometimes they already knew each other prior to the beginning of the story; other times they only met in the first chapter. Sometimes they were partners (whether established or brand new), and other times they were in different fields and were brought together to work on the case. Sometimes they worked for large police departments in big cities, and other times they were in small towns. Finally, after bouncing around all over Texas (because these characters came to life as Texans and there was no removing them from the Lone Star State), Carrie and Jerrod finally found a home in the Piney Woods of East Texas. Carrie works as a detective and crime scene technician at the sheriff's department in the made up Wyatt County. And Jerrod has landed himself a job with the Texas Rangers stationed out of Tyler. Prior to the beginning of the novel, Carrie and Jerrod have not met. She doesn't even know that a new Texas Ranger is covering Wyatt County until he shows up at her crime scene.

If this all sounds really confusing and frustrating, trust me, it was. At this point, the only thing about Carrie that hasn't changed is her name. Even Jerrod was christened with a new first name for a few years before I switched back to the name I had originally come up with. For years, I labored over Carrie's story - sometimes taking extended breaks as college and life got in the way. But I always came back to her because I believed in her story. And because Carrie was both the angel and the devil perched on my shoulders, constantly reminding of my obligation to her.

As the years progressed, and Carrie Shatner’s character continued to change and develop, I realized I had to provide her with something that made her unique. Something that made her stand out from all of the other female characters who were solving all sorts of crimes in between the book pages. I started out by giving Carrie a small family of eccentric individuals to act as a foil to her no-nonsense attitude, and also to provide some comic relief. That eccentric family soon began to grow, and they slowly became a band of criminals whom Carrie feels obligated to keep out of jail. Carrie’s desire to do the right thing clashes with her responsibility to protect her family members not only from the crimes they commit, but from themselves.

It was in January 2011, while I was working on a Master of Arts in Creative Writing, that I began to write the novel that would become Criminal Misdeeds. By this point Carrie and Jerrod had found their homes and their jobs. And Carrie's criminally inclined family members were driving her nuts. That's not to say there have not been major changes in the story between the first draft and the version that will soon be going into print. Characters came and went, whole scenes (some of which I still really like) were relegated to the "Dead Darlings File", and the killer changed multiple times.

During the spring of 2014, I finally felt like Criminal Misdeeds was ready to be sent out to agents. Looking back, the novel wasn't quite ready, but the timing was perfect. I began researching agents who work with mystery novels, hoping one of them would be the one who would fall in love with my novel and my characters. As I was looking over the list of agents, there was one name that stood out - Jessica Alvarez with the BookEnds Literary Agency. I don't know why, but my gut feeling was that she was the one. My gut was right. Jessica saw potential in Carrie Shatner, Jerrod Hardy, and the rest of the gang. I signed a contract with BookEnds in July 2014, and, after some revisions, Jessica began to send out Criminal Misdeeds to publishers.

Then began the frustrating, and sometimes heartbreaking, wait as we muddled through rejection after rejection. It's not that these publishers didn't like Criminal Misdeeds, they just didn't think their publishing house was the right home for my novel. I'll admit that the stream of rejections left me bitter, and I began to question whether or not I should give up on my dream of being a writer. I had already written a second novel for the Carrie Shatner Mystery series, and I had ideas for more books. But there was no point in working on them if the first book was never going to get published. Unless I self-published, which I was beginning to consider. Jessica was pushing for me to start work on something new, something that wasn't about Carrie Shatner, but I just couldn't seem to move on. Carrie was still sitting on my shoulder, whispering her stories in my ear and keeping me from coming up with a new idea that didn't involve her. After ten-plus years of hard work, I wasn't ready to give up.

By January 2017, Jessica felt like we were reaching the end of our options. She'd sent my novel out to nearly all of the houses that publish mystery novels, and none of them were willing to take a chance on it. On January 20, 2017, Jessica emailed me to let me know that she had sent Criminal Misdeeds  to one more publisher - probably the last publisher since we had exhausted all of our other options. Ten days later, Jessica called me. When I saw her name pop up on my caller ID, it hit me that she and I have not spoken on the phone since I signed the contract a year-and-a-half earlier. I knew there could only be one reason she might be calling - we'd finally found a publisher! One of the publishers/editors at Camel Press, an imprint of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc., had fallen in love with Carrie Shatner and her story. I should have been screaming and celebrating, but all I could do was collapse into my chair in relief. And not only did Camel Press want Criminal Misdeeds, they also want two more novels for the Carrie Shatner Mystery series. Two more novels in which I can tell her story.

It's been twelve years since Carrie Shatner sprang from my brain as a kick-ass, crime fighting woman with a Texas drawl.

Twelve years of labor, love, and sacrifice spent telling the first part of her story.

Twelve years of doubt, insecurity, and frustration as I constantly questioned whether I was wasting my time or if my novel would ever be worthy of publication.

Twelve years of Carrie Shatner sitting on my shoulder, telling me her story and convincing me to keep going and not give up.

And, I'll be honest, that crazy bitch still won't shut up. Not that I want her to.