Today, I bring you a guest post from romance author McKenna Dean. She has been an actress, a vet tech, a singer, a teacher, a biologist, and a dog trainer. She’s worked in a genetics lab, at the stockyard, behind the scenes as a props manager, and at a pizza parlor slinging dough. Finally she realized all these jobs were just a preparation for what she really wanted to be: a writer. She lives on a small farm in North Carolina with her family, as well as the assorted dogs, cats, and various livestock. She likes putting her characters in hot water to see how strong they are. Like tea bags, only sexier
Crafting a story can be a bit like a recipe for apple pie. How you ask? I'll let the author explain.
A friend of mine makes a wicked apple pie.
No, seriously, it’s amazing. The combination of tart apples, sweet sugar, and spicy cinnamon is sublime, but then she pairs it with a made-from-scratch, flaky, buttery crust that is sheer perfection. I can’t get enough of it. I don’t care if I’m already stuffed from a full course dinner, I’ll always accept a huge slab of this pie, preferably with steam rising, warm from the oven.
I once asked her for the recipe. When I got the magic formula written down, I unfolded the paper and read:
Six peeled, cored, and sliced Granny Smith apples
¼ to ½ stick of butter
¼ to 1 tsp
Two dashes of nutmeg
Add white and brown sugar and cinnamon until it looks right.
I tried to get clarification, she just shrugged. She’d been taught the recipe by her grandmother, and the measurements were never the same twice. She learned to bake the pie by feel and repetition.
That’s often how it is with writing. People frequently ask me where I get my inspiration for various story ideas, and the answer isn’t always readily available.
So many elements go into creating a series or a set of characters that jotting down the exact formula is tricky. I can recite the ingredients, however.
When it comes to the Bishop and Knight books, I’d already created Redclaw Security. The idea was to build a series around an elite paranormal agency that investigated and policed matters in the secret world of shifters. I’d installed the enigmatic Ryker as the leader of this organization, and given him an antagonist in his mysterious half-brother, Rian Stirling. The idea was I’d write a series of interconnected stories featuring a new hero/heroine with each book and introducing the stars of their own stories along the way.
In my universe, all shifters live a long time compared to the general population, but those of the “old” origins--the dragons, gryffins, phoenixes and the like--are practically immortal. This opened the door for me to write an origin series for the agency, and the idea caught fire with my imagination. And so Redclaw Origins was born, still manned by Ryker, and with Rian Stirling causing trouble along the way.
I wanted a heroine who was plucky and independent to a fault—something alone the lines of a Peggy Carter or Phryne Fisher. I wanted to play in glittering high society, so I made Rhett Bishop a former socialite trying to earn a living. I decided to make her outside the shifter community so we could learn about this world through her eyes. It tickled me to make her love interest Peter Knight, so I could have the fun of the wordplay that came with “Bishop and Knight.” And then I set the series in the 1950s because in my universe, the “new” shifters (lions, tigers, and bears, etc) came into existence as a result of nuclear technology waking dormant genes in the population. I confess, I also loved the idea of a heroine who was comfortable with a Browning and flying an airplane but became helpless and flustered when faced with an oven and recipe for apple pie.
This plunged me into a world of research. I collected books on the 1950s, read about Betty Crocker, Levittown, and the rise of suburbia. I discovered that the reason so many old-time recipes had variable recorded measurements was that volume, seasoning, and cooking times often depended on the type of flour or kind of oven used. I learned about fancy hotels, what Macy’s was like in 1955, and how restricted the life of the average housewife was during this time. Did you know that before 1955, it wasn’t legal for a woman to serve on a jury in Texas? I think one of the favorite tidbits I ran across was a recipe for Beef Fudge (yes, you read that right) created by an intrepid housewife with a freezer full of beef that needed to be eaten and a strong desire not to let anything go to waste. (I’m told that the testers of said recipe preferred it to the fudge we know and love…)
The facts collected about the time period influenced the actions of my characters and their actions affected the story in turn. It’s all part and parcel of the same. Each element became pieces of a puzzle that were necessary to complete the whole picture.
The first book in the Redclaw Origins series, Bishop Takes Knight, introduces the agency, the secret shifter community, and our budding agent, Rhett Bishop, to our troubled hero, Peter Knight. The year is 1955. Rebel without a Cause and The Seven Year Itch are playing in the movie theaters. The Chevy Bel Air is the most popular car in America. Gas is 25 cents a gallon and you can get a hotel room for $4 bucks. This flirty, fun series takes us back to the beginning and shows us how Redclaw Security got started.
While ultimately victorious, Rhett’s rash actions get her in hot water with Redclaw. Book Two, Bishop’s Gambit, opens with Rhett reluctantly agreeing to an undercover assignment with Peter to pose as a married couple in Suburbia in order to determine if a series of strange events are paranormal or not. Rhett is anxious to improve her standing with Redclaw, but in Forest Grove, she finds that malice is served with a smile and a slice of apple pie. Her wit and Peter’s ingenuity are put to the test as she, her trusty ray gun, and her little dog with a strange secret of his own, tackle the mysteries of Forest Grove.
Someday, I’ll master my friend’s apple pie recipe. In the meantime, there are stories to write.
If you would like to check out McKenna's work, click on the links below.