Saturday, July 04, 2015

The art of story weaving, by Peggy Blair

My guest this weekend is friend and fellow Ottawa author, Peggy Blair. Peggy is a former lawyer and author of three books in the award-winning Inspector Ramirez series. She lives in Ottawa where she works in real estate. Her latest, HUNGRY GHOSTS, has just been released by Simon & Schuster, and in this post, she talks about how that novel came together

Check out her blog at


My third book in the Inspector Ramirez series, Hungry Ghosts, started with a kernel of an idea. I wanted to write about an art heist. The idea of someone breaking into a museum or gallery to steal art seemed kind of romantic and very few of those thieves are caught. An art heist in Cuba, with the difficulty getting stolen art out, would be a challenge for any thief. And I like creating characters who are smarter than I am.

So that's where I started. But I got stuck at around 25,000 words. It was an interesting work-in-progress, but I didn't have enough for a novel. I needed 80,000 to 100,000 words.

Since I wasn't making any progress on that front, I turned to writing an entirely different story involving my Aboriginal detective, Charlie Pike, who is introduced to Inspector Ramirez (and readers) in my second book, The Poisoned Pawn.

I've always thought Charlie Pike should have his own series and since the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women is one I care about greatly (I was an Aboriginal lawyer for decades), I decided to write about him investigating a few of those cases. But once again, I got stuck at about 30,000 words and couldn't figure out where to take the plot.

Then my daughter Jade came home for a visit, and somewhere in our conversation, we began talking about entomology. I loved the idea of having a forensic entomologist who could help Hector Apiro, my Cuban pathologist, determine a time of death for murder victims by using blowflies recovered at the scene. When I looked up these remarkable insects, I discovered just how beautiful these shimmering iridescent insects are: they are absolutely gorgeous! (How macabre is that!?)

A little more research about these amazing creatures and I had a whole new character: a Chinese entomologist visiting Cuba who can tell when someone died almost to the second but who is also wildly eccentric. (She loves her bugs too.)

And then I realized I could put all of this together. There was no reason why Inspector Ramirez couldn't investigate an art heist and have a cold case involving a murdered woman at the same time. After all, cops usually have more than one investigation on the go and there's always the one that got away that haunts them. (In Ramirez's case, literally.)

Meanwhile, Charlie Pike could be involved in his own investigation into missing and murdered Aboriginal women up north. The reader would know that the cases were connected, but not the characters. And sure enough, it worked! Within a few weeks, I had finished a first draft that I was happy enough with to send to my agent. And now it's actually a book: pretty amazing, really, when I think about randomly the story line developed.

Hungry Ghosts is my favourite of the Inspector Ramirez series. It's complex and layered with lots of humour, just like life in Cuba and on First Nation reserves.

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