It’s a lot of years later and the habit has stuck.
My crochet mystery series takes place in the area of Southern California where I live, so you I pay careful attention to everything, starting with my own backyard (which happens also to be my character Molly Pink’s). So every morning when I look out through my kitchen windows, I take in the exact color of the sky. Is it the deep cloudless blue when it’s very dry and the air feels like silk? Or is that lumpy sort of angry gray that means rain? I look at the clouds and decide if they are thick mounds that remind me of whipped cream that’s been beaten almost to the point of turning into butter or if they are mere wisps that seem to have been smeared across the sky.
When I checked the flower beds this morning, the dirt was black and still damp from the rain we had a few days ago. With the colder weather, the carnations have come back to life and have a few brightly colored spicy scented blooms. Beyond, the orange trees are covered with two kinds of fruit. There are a few of the very ripe oranges left that are so sweet and juicy just waiting to be eaten. The rest are the new crop, more green than pale orange and hard to the touch.
I frequently go walking in the Santa Monica mountains and have set scenes in my books up there. It affects the way I experience the walk. I look and smell and feel everything as if I’m going to write about it. How to find the right words to describe the sandy colored rocky outcroppings. Or the way the air smells of wild sage and a bushy tree whose shiny green leaves have a pungent fragrance . Or the way a red tailed hawk, almost eye level with me, rides the wind. Or the way the search helicopter flew along the side of the mountains looking for someone and later landed not far away from me, sending out a rush of turbulent air and rocks.
The locale of my yarn retreat series is the Monterey Peninsula which is either in Northern California or on the Central Coast depending on who you talk to. Personally, I consider it Northern California. Cadbury by the Sea is the fictitious town where the books take place and is really Pacific Grove with a little Carmel thrown in. It is such distinctive area, I want to capture all that makes it special and put it into the books. So, when I go up there, I really look at the Monterey cypress trees and the way the wind gives the foliage a unique horizontal shape. I notice that the air around the real version of the hotel and conference center where the retreats are held always smells of wood smoke, but then it’s is always fireplace weather there.
I spend time walking along the beach and note how it goes from white silky sand to piles of jagged rocks with danger signs posted nearby. As the waves roll in, I look at the color of the water which is really sea foam green like the crayon.
When it comes to the yarn part, I focus on the way crochet and knitting make me feel. How my hook moving through some yarn takes me to a calm place and I am unbothered by the bumps and jiggles of the plane I’m on as it goes through choppy air.
It’s not just scenery and stitches that I pay close attention to. People, too. I’ll let you in on a secret. I use a lot of the people from my gym as characters. While the rest of the class is zoned out doing aerobics, I’m watching the women in the mirror. I look for what is distinctive about them and then make up my own backstory. One woman comes to mind. There was something about her placid expression and choice of exercise clothes that struck me. Most of the other women wear some kind of stretchy stuff, but she had on regular long shorts, a well worn tee shirt and instead of the high tech sports shoes most of the group had, she wore old white Keds. I imagined her as one of those salt of the earth sort of people. The kind who’d helped out at PTA bake sales and chaperoned Girl Scout trips. Her hair had some gray streaks and my version of her had her kids grown. But what if her husband had left her and was marrying someone else? What would that feel like from the inside. And suppose her kids are torn between going to the wedding and siding with her.. It went on from there. The funny part is, I have no idea if any of it could be true or even what her name is. And I’ll never find out because she stopped coming to the gym, but she has become a continuing character in my books.
Thanks to writing nothing just goes by me unnoticed. The color of the sky when there is a forest fire, the way moon looks so big when it is close to the horizon, the fragrance and taste of tea with rose petals mixed in, and on and on. You could say I that I truly do stop and smell the roses and then stick it in a book..
Betty Hechtman writes two national best selling mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. Her Crochet series features Molly Pink and the Tarzana Hookers, who get tangled up in murderers and yarn. For Better or Worsted, the eighth in the Crochet Series is her November release. If Hooks Could Kill, the seventh in the series, also just came out in a paperback edition. Yarn to Go is the first book in the Yarn Retreat Series which follows Casey Feldstein, a dessert chef, who puts on a knitting retreat at a slightly sinister hotel and conference center on the Monterey Peninsula. All the books include recipes and patterns. In addition she has written a middle grade mystery Blue Schwartz and Nefertiti’s Necklace that will be re-released as an e-book in December. For more information or to read excerpts go to www.BettyHechtman.com. Betty blogs on www.Killerhobbies.blogspot.com on Fridays. Connect with Betty on Facebook and Twitter.