Monthly Archives: March 2012

Character Creation

I may have mentioned I enjoy role-playing games, specifically Dungeons and Dragons, though I have also played Traveler, Middle Earth, BESM, Mage and Feng Shui. The systems vary in mechanics, but in all of them you need to create characters to play. You also need to determine what your character might be good at, what they’re less good at, and how you want to focus a set of skills. When I start building say, a D&D character, I first determine what they do (D&D calls that a class). I currently play a fighter in one campaign, so her main statistic is strength. Because her focus is strength and she’s going to be fighting up close with swords, she needs to be pretty nimble to keep out of harm’s way, And so on. She’s not the brightest character on her team, but there’s a wizard in the group that brings a lot of intelligence to play. The rules will not let you have a super-duper-good-at-everything character. If you bring your character all the way to an Epic level in D&D, she’ll be pretty awesome, but she still won’t be good at everything.

When I create a character for a novel, I try to keep that kind of balance in mind. Partly because I don’t want to be accused of being a MarySue, and partly because I want to write three-dimensional, believable characters. A lot of times I start with a name. Sometimes I will look for a name with a particular–Zofia means “wisdom,” for example. Once I have a name, I can start getting a picture in my head.of what kind of person they’ll be like. Tall or short, slender or round, old or young. Age, race, education, general attitude, and because life revolves around books, what they like to read.

I sketched out a lot of Zofia’s past before I started writing Bloody Murder. I wanted to know who she was growing up, how her upbringing enhanced her good traits and exposed her bad traits. She doesn’t have a great relationship history. I figure with so many people (mom, dad, her brother) falling out of her life and her fiancee betraying her, she doesn’t trust too easily. That wouldn’t make for a lot of stability socially. She’s not the type to lean on people, with the exception of Marie, who has known her the longest.  I wanted her smart, but not so smart she couldn’t communicate with the people around her, so she probably pulled B’s in classes she didn’t like and an A- in anything to do with writing. Except maybe poetry. I’m still learning things about her myself.

Feliz, on the other hand, wants to take care of the whole world, starting with her kids and ending with her customers. Maybe a little too much–when her kids hit their teens, we’ll see how well that worked. She acts like she has to make up for people not being there–James is on his own, so is Zofia, and she needs to be both mother and father to her kids. She seems to have no interest in romance, but that will change in a few books. I hope you’ll stay with me.

I suspect this will be a topic I’ll be coming back to. It’s fun to noodle over. Thank you for reading



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Ethnicity and identity

One place I won’t be able to take you in future Bloody Murder books is a wonderful bar that used to be on Toulouse called O’Flagherty’s. They had two rooms, a Listening Room and a more traditional bar. In the listening room, two of the brothers who owned the place would sing. You were quiet in the listening room, enjoying songs ranging from Seven Drunken Nights to Four Green Fields.  O’Flagherty’s, unfortunately, did not survive the rent gouging increased that happened all over the city after Hurricane Katrina and hightailed it to Texas.

I grew up listening (not by choice) to an Irish music show every Saturday, all day, for a lot of years. While it wasn’t the pop music I would have preferred, the passion in Irish music is hard to resist. Catchy tunes, fun songs about fighting, drinking and wenching.

It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I knew I actually had a bit of Irish blood in the family. Heavily diluted of course and from a side of the family I never knew (my family has a complicated history I won’t go into).  It seems my maternal grandfather’s mother was half Irish. She was also a bit of a bigot, not approving of my Catholic grandmother. I knew my grandfather’s sister, who was a very nice lady, but I never saw her much.

Most of my blood is Eastern European. From the maternal side, there is the aforementioned Irish, a touch of English (which might explain my tendency to make tea in a crisis), but a lot of German and Lithuanian. I remember trying to find Lithuania on a map when I was young and I didn’t realize it had been subsumed by the Soviet Union. The other side of the family is Polish. The name Kulig is a word for a special kind of winter party. Basically, you get a bunch of people in a sleigh, visit a friend, knock on the door, rattle the windows until you’re good and cold, then your host opens the door and welcomes you in with food and drink. Eventually, everyone piles into the sleigh and goes on to the next home.

When I was first sketching out the character of Zofia, I wanted her to have a strong Polish identity, even though the only family she had was her parents and brother. I envisioned her parents, having run away from everything they knew, wanting to give her a sense of community that they couldn’t provide by blood.

It’s led to some interesting research, like a folk tale about the origin of Poland, including the white Polish eagle. I took it upon myself to try and duplicate my paternal grandmother’s mushroom soup. What I didn’t realize at the time (and was corrected by my aunt Barbara) is that a Polish Christmas Eve is vegetarian. I honestly did not remember that part of Christmas eve growing up, I remembered the mushroom soup, the pierogi and the heavily sugared cookie that I can never remember the name of.

I plan to do more for Feliz as well. The person I used as a template for her, is both Hispanic and black (her words), but I’ve also heard of and read about (and I believe another friend has a distant relative who was of) Free People of Color, or freed slaves in the Louisiana territory, especially around new Orleans. Look for some more of this in future books.

Thank you for reading. Also, if you won a book during my giveaway, please email me at so I can make sure you have your copy.

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What I’m reading

I wasn’t really bit on non-fiction as a kid, unless it had to do with animals and nature.  My parents had a Time-Life series of books about the natural world as it was known mumble years ago. I did read some, but mostly I looked at the pictures.

Most recently, at my boyfriend’s urging, I downloaded 1491 New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus which I’m really enjoying. Charles Mann discusses a lot of the history my generation was taught and some new and interesting facts about the native cultures in North, South and Central America. I didn’t know, for example, that the Inka had a road system that covered most of the continent’s west coast. What’s fascinating, is they were built for a culture that used llamas (watch out, they spit), so they could build roads that were literally steps in the mountains. Pizarro and company had a hell of a time leading horses over these.

I’m also on the verge of finishing The Jew in the Lotus, which is a fascinating story of a group of rabbis who travel to India to meet with the Dalai Lama for a sort of cultural exchange. What commonalities were there with these exiled cultures? It’s a great read, no matter what your religion.

For fiction, I’m hanging out in Asia these days. Since I never read the whole series, and in fact lost track of where I was, I stared Laura Joh Rowland’s Sano Ichiro books again. The series takes place in the seventeenth century, mostly in the district of Edo. Sano is a samurai with an academic background who is charged with solving murders. He has to navigate through a world of politics and class distinctions,  and be blunt where normal behavior is very polite and often indirect.

If you want to escape to more modern Asia, there are a variety of ways you can visit Thailand. Google any of the following names; Jimm Juree, Vincent Calvino, Sonchai Jitpleecheep. Adventures galore!

In the fantasy realm, I’m currently reading Mistborn: the Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. I really like the metal-based magical system, and the main character who was supposed to be dead at the hands of the Lord Ruler is planning a revolution that just might work. Might. I don’t want to give any spoilers.

If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll follow me on Twitter @katekulig. When I reach 100 followers, I will release the title of the second Bloody Murder novel.

Thank you for reading!

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