I had written Shug’s Place, the forerunner to Stories Not to Tell, back in 2013. After its publication, many people told me how much they enjoyed the book, and I toyed with the idea of a sequel. But then I began my historical fiction trilogy: Burning Time, A Fire to be Kindled, and Embers On the Wind and that idea sort of slipped by. Following the last book in the trilogy, it just felt like a good time to revisit the characters from Shug’s Place and add a few more. Stories. Not to Tell was the result.
I did a good bit of research on the historical events—such as the David Koresh/Waco siege and the World Trade Center bombing. I also looked into the Nazi Lebensborn birthing program and the history of the Black Muslim and White Supremacy movements. Most of the research was done online, but the Black Muslim and White Supremacy research came from the book: God & Apple Pie: Religious Myths and Visions of America by Christopher Buck.
Inasmuch as possible I like to end a scene (or chapter) with something that makes the reader want to know more. It’s usually an internal question or thought that validates the character’s internal conflict. Or something that surprises the character (and, often, me). I try to use humor as well; it sets the stage for releasing the tension before bringing the hammer back down when you least expect it.
I’ve always been told that first chapter, that first sentence, even that first word or two must hook the reader immediately. I don’t necessarily buy that. I give the reader more credit than that. Sure, I try to make that first paragraph interesting, but I believe making that first character interesting is as much a hook as some event. If the reader doesn’t care about the character—good or bad he or she may be—they won’t bother to read further.
As I just said, character development is something I focus on, and I suppose it’s something that’s come along fairly easily for me. I enjoy making up new characters with all their back story and all that’s been done to shape their perceptions of the world around them. It’s fun. But I love setting scenes as well. I view most scenes like a TV series: Interactions between characters, internal dialogue, making something happen—then jumping off to another scene and other characters. It helps keep the reader interested and moves the story forward.