Friday, November 4, 2016

Guest Post: C.S. Challinor - Judgment of Murder

The Story Behind the Story
by C.S. Challinor

C.S. Challinor, author of the Rex Graves Cozy Mystery series, tells all in her blog post, "The Story Behind the Story."

The recent updating and revamping of my author website at (plug, plug) prompted the subject of this blog, which I trust you will read with the breathless anticipation you would feel for a new season of “Downton Abbey.”

Christmas Is Murder (2008) was the debut novel for my mystery series, which features Scottish barrister-sleuth, Rex Graves QC, and there was some debate at Midnight Ink as to whether it might prove too seasonal, and thereby have a limited shelf life. The acquisitions editor at the time prevailed, and it still sells best of all the Rex Graves titles to-date. I heavily brainstormed the title for that particular novel, as when naming one’s first child. It wasn't, in fact, intended to be the first book in the series. I had started writing Murder in the Raw, but the Christmas idea just sort of took over.

For Murder in the Raw (2009) I really did spend three weeks au naturel (with my husband) at an exclusive naturist resort on Saint Martin in the French West Indies, the setting for the novel. It was the best beach on the island, picture postcard perfect, and when in Rome... Would I do it again now, a decade later? Probably not. For my conservative Scots barrister, it was certainly an eye-opener.

After Phi Beta Kappa came out in 2010, I had several members of the Phi Beta Kappa Society write to my website informing me that theirs was the most prestigious and oldest existing academic honor society in America, founded at The College of William and Mary in 1776. My fraternity at a private university in Jacksonville, Florida, is quite the reverse. I should have called it Phi Beta Kaput, or similar, to avoid any confusion. Mea culpa. I was educated in the UK, and we didn't have "Greek" sororities and fraternities, though I did study ancient Greek in school and can still recite the entire alphabet. My husband who went to a non-ivy league college in Florida came up with the ΦBK, simply because the letters readily sprang to mind. One member of the illustrious society and a fan of my books, bless her, actually took the time to go through each Rex Graves book and send me a list of editorially missed typos for the “Errata” section on my website, an honor indeed.

Murder on the Moor (2011). In 2010, I returned after a long absence to the Scottish Highlands, which I used to visit as a child when living near Edinburgh from age four to fourteen. I picked out the precise spot for Gleneagle Lodge, Rex's fictional “retreat” on a loch near Spean Bridge, a village known to tourists as the crossroads of the Highlands. The euphemistically-termed retreat hosts two separate murderous events in the series and all the ensuing mayhem. I took numerous photos and made a map of the surrounding untamed countryside to refer to for Murder on the Moor and, later, Murder at Midnight.

Murder of the Bride (2012). You will always find a disclaimer at the front of a work of fiction to the effect that any resemblance of characters in the novel to people in real life is purely coincidental. Not so much. Writers inevitably draw on people they have known or met, if only in one or two physical or personality traits. A character in my wedding mystery is loosely based on someone I knew, although the fictitious person is different in nationality, age, profession, and impending familial status. I just couldn't help myself. Most authors leave a little of themselves in their books, subconsciously dipping into the great computer that is the brain where memory lies dormant, and recapturing fragments.

With Murder at Midnight (2014), I tried to emulate Christmas Is Murder, the first novel in the series, but as a New Year's Eve murder mystery; although I was aiming for more sinister and foreboding. The sort of ending I thought, retrospectively, I should have put in, I incorporated into a subsequent novel. I sometimes wish rewriting real life could be so easy!

A third of Murder Comes Calling (2015) was written on the deck of a cruise ship on the way to Aruba. While solving a spate of murders in a sleepy community in central England, Rex’s fiancée takes this same Caribbean cruise. I would get up early, grab breakfast before the hangover rush, and scribble away in a small legal pad on the newly scrubbed deck. This would go on for hours. I was in the “zone,” which I attribute to the invigorating sea breeze. Traveling is my passion. My son is a licensed boat captain, but I hardly ever get to go out on his boat. If I had my own vessel, I would probably call it Wanderlust. (I just love naming things.)

Judgment of Murder (Nov 8, 2016; Election Day!!) evolved from a short story. The publisher asked if I had a new Rex Graves novel in the works. At the time, I was writing a short story featuring my indefatigable and problem-solving barrister-sleuth. My head was in it, so away I went. The initial plot was about the murder of Lord Gordon Murgatroyd, a once redoubtable judge, in Canterbury, England (where I attended university). I added the abduction of a young girl in nearby Dover, of White Cliffs fame. Somehow the two plots forged together and a book was born of a story.

When people ask where I get my ideas from, I can never come up with a single answer. It starts from a concept (such as a snowbound hotel, a fatal wedding reception, a targeted community of homeowners); a place (a luxury resort, a Florida college); a mood (a desolate moor, a murder on the final midnight of the year); a name (a judge whose surname sounds like murder).

The next Rex Graves novel, which I'm within tantalizing sight of finishinghopefully before Christmaswas based on what I decided was a totally brilliant idea, and I even have a brilliant title for it, not an easy feat, since my titles are never more than four words, including any definite article and preposition, and must feature the all-important word MURDER. The second most important word aims to give an inkling as to what the mystery is about. A bit of alliteration can help give it a good ring. I write more confidently when I have a satisfactory title locked down. It's my signpost. It informs the story and keeps me on track.

Thank you for letting me share some of my inspirations and experiences with you.

Happy writing and reading!

It’s a dark day for Scottish barrister Rex Graves when he learns that Lord Gordon Murgatroyd has passed away. Referred to as “Judge Murder” by Rex’s colleagues, the famously severe judge supposedly died of natural causes—but his daughter Phoebe thinks otherwise. Wanting to honor the man who’d always been uncharacteristically kind to him, Rex thinks it would be a good idea to follow up on Phoebe’s suspicions . . . until a meeting with his first suspect. With a target on his back and a child abduction case gripping the region, Rex fears that the judge’s death won’t be an isolated incident.

C.S. Challinor (Florida) was educated in England and Scotland, and has traveled extensively.  Her short stories have been published in women’s magazines in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Visit all of C.S. Challinor's titles at

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