How Kate & Ruger Came to Be 🐾

Hi all— 
Creativity's an odd duck. Not only do you have to draw on it consistently to grow as an artist, you need to actively nurture its existence. If not, you risk burnout. At least I do. Writers call this nurturing "refilling the well". While I'm told long, lazy vacations are ideal, I still have older kids underfoot, a cat who defies the "aloof" stereotype & an anxiety-riddled standard poodle who panics if I think about leaving a room without him. And there's my husband. He's a plant manager who often gets more calls between midnight and three a.m. than I get all year, so separating him from his job & phone is dicey at best. 
So how do I refill the creative well, especially now? I take "mind" breaks. Fortunately, it doesn't seem to matter what I do, so long as the activity is completely removed from writing—and my office. The only rule is that I don't think about work. I'll often re-read a few chapters of a book by a favorite author, or I'll take my neurotic pup for a walk. The former works because I already know the story, so I'm not trying to anticipate the plot. I'm just savoring someone else's prose. The second works because of all the sensory input along the way—fresh air filling my lungs, the smell of flowers & lawns, the sound of birds. Even the rhythmic feel of the pavement beneath my feet. 
The strangest thing happens when I've given myself permission to not think about writing. I do. The magic occurs deep in the recesses of my brain. When it finally surfaces, the results usually smash through whatever story issues I've been struggling with. And, sometimes, an entirely new idea slips into the fore. 🤗 
It was during a mind break that the premise for THE GARBAGE MAN locked in. For weeks I'd been kicking around the idea for a new detective series. I'd already decided that Kate Holland was an Army veteran turned civilian cop. But that was all I had. Accepting that I was stuck, I hopped on my bike. I was ten miles into my ride, when it happened. I'd just cycled past an infant car seat that had been tossed into a field & was wondering who'd dumped it—when, suddenly, I could see a row of large brown paper sacks stretched out along a gravel road, all neatly spaced with their tops crisply folded over & stapled shut. The moment those bags locked into my brain, I knew what was in them. I also knew Kate hadn't just left the Army, she'd fled it following a horrific POW experience. And while Kate was now filling her deceased father's boots as a small-town deputy, I also knew that those bags and why they'd been left out on that road (and in that condition) went to the core of why Kate had really abandoned the Army...and what she couldn't remember. 
Ten more miles of cycling & I was home—with the entire frame of the Kate Holland series already in place. I confess, the concept had seared in so deeply, I didn't even hit the shower. I headed for my office, where I opened a new file & began madly typing. By nightfall, I'd sketched out Kate's character arc for her initial set of books. By then, I knew she had serious issues from her POW experience—issues that couldn't be glossed over or even solved in an entire book or two. It was going to take a good chunk of the series. But since Kate has also been holding it together—if barely—since her capture and escape, I knew she'd have hit upon a few strategies to help her deal with life and allow her to function. The most important is her relationship with her 3-year-old German Shepherd. 
Weaving a dog into an entire plot—let alone a series—was a surprise for me, especially since I'd never written an animal as a supporting character. But Ruger grabbed me from the opening line of THE GARBAGE MAN, and he refused to let go. I knew Kate had found Ruger when he was a pup. (He was shot & left for dead by a hunter on her wooded property.) Naturally, Kate saved Ruger's life when she raced him to the vet, but it turns out Ruger saved her life too. Ruger's also a bit of stinker who injects a needed note of levity in a series that's admittedly seriously dark & gritty. I suspect he'll continue to do so throughout Kate's books. ☺️
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