Character Traits

Character Traits: Meet Lily West of Bleak Waters

In this next installment of the Character Traits series, Lily West, a creation of author Gary Kruse, is featured. Gary describes himself as a writer of thriller and horror fiction about people on the edge of society struggling to discover themselves. That includes Lily West. Now, I will let Gary take over on this post.

Lily West is the main character in my new supernatural mystery, Bleak Waters. She’s in her early 20’s and when we meet her in the book, she’s standing on the water’s edge of Hickling Broad in the middle of winter, struggling to process the suicide of her father the previous summer. 

As a child, Lily used to get severe migraines which bought on ghostly visions, but these faded after a vicious intervention from her mother, Hetty. 

She lives and works in the Whippet, a fictional pub in Hickling village, and the villagers are like an extended family to her, and some of them stepped in to help after her father’s death. It’s a close-knit, rural community.

But like all villages, it has its secrets, and one secret in particular will shatter everything Lily believes. 

How did you come up with the character and his/her name?

Lily was one of the first characters I came up with for the book. I was on holiday in Hickling with my sons in spring 2019, and as with Badlands, the more time I spent in the area, the more my writer’s brain started whirring and I started getting ideas for a new story. 

In the first serious brain-storming session, I decided that the MC would be a barmaid in the village pub as she would be able to naturally interact with all the characters and also face conflict with them when she started asking questions about the central mystery. 

Initially, I struggled to come up with her name. I brainstormed a list of about thirty names, and as I was making notes and developing the character, Lily was the name that stuck.

Tell us more about Bleak Waters.

It’s part ghost-story, part mystery, part crime novel. A stranger, Theo Sinclair, arrives in the village of Hickling in the dead of winter asking questions about the disappearance of a young woman called Claire Baldwin twenty-five years earlier. At first Lily doesn’t trust Theo and won’t help him. She’s already got enough on her plate dealing with the questions raised by her father’s suicide, questions that make her wonder how well she really knew her Dad.

Theo’s arrival also seems to stir Lily’s long-buried curse of seeing the dead as the night after his arrival, she experiences the first twinges of a migraine and senses a shadowy presence haunting her room. 

Theo persists in asking Lily for help, and as Lily learns more about him and why he’s come to Hickling, gradually her reluctance breaks down. She starts to help him and as she and Theo dig deeper into Claire’s disappearance, the ghostly visions grow stronger, and Lily finds disturbing links between her father and Claire.

Already harbouring suspicions about her father after his suicide, she starts to realise that finding the truth may destroy everything she loves and holds dear, and force her to finally confront the ghosts that haunt her. 

Was a real person your inspiration for this character?

No, Lily, like all of my characters, is a mix of different influences and inspirations, not one real person. When I look back at the first notes, as I say, the character came from a need to have someone who could act as a go-between for the stranger arriving in the village, and the villagers themselves. 

The Whippet, the Pub in the book, was inspired by a real Pub in the village of Hickling called the Greyhound, and what struck me about the Greyhound was how it seemed to be a hub of village life so that naturally suggested making the main character someone who worked in the pub.

From there, Lily’s character evolved first through the notes and planning, then through the drafts. And naturally, the main character has to be the one who hurts the most, who suffers the most, and by the end of Bleak Waters, Lily has certainly done that.

Is your character likable or not?

According to the beta readers, yes! It’s interesting because when you read the reviews of my first book, Badlands, a lot of people felt that Willow was a tough character to like, but that characterisation came from her harsh back-story. 

When we meet Lily, she’s not world weary in the way that Willow was. She’s haunted, and guilt-stricken yes, but she’s still living at home, in her cozy village with people she loves, and she’s got a big heart. She cares and in some ways she’s an emotional open book, whereas Willow is more guarded and more defensive. But none of that was deliberate for either character. It all evolved naturally from the respective story’s needs.

Extract from Bleak Waters

Lily threw her phone down on the bed. Eyes gritty, the need for sleep clouding her thoughts now, she stripped and slipped on a pair of thick woollen pyjamas. She cleaned her teeth, peed, washed her hands then slapped out the light. In the dark, she crossed to the bed, yawned, and stretched wide. As she lowered her arms, a sharp pain stabbed over her brow. 

She winced, pressed her fingertips against the bone and rubbed the skin. The pain made her stomach squirm. It bought back memories of the migraines that had plagued her early adolescence. 

Back then, the migraines had gotten so bad they left her speaking in tongues and seeing visions, seeing people that were not, no, could not be there. Still, she had been migraine free for almost ten years now. This was probably just tiredness. Lowering her fingers, she turned to draw back her bedclothes. 

The pain flared. A shadow moved in the corner of her eye. Vague and blurry. Heading for the door behind her. Sucking a gasp, she spun to get a better look. Saw nothing but the door locked and latched. 

The pain faded but didn’t vanish completely. She blinked in the dark but saw nothing now. 

Skin crawling, but convincing herself she was overreacting, she turned back to the bed. As she reached for covers again, she sensed a movement in the dark behind her. And a sound. Like a footstep on the laminate floor. 

She froze. The pain in her brow throbbed. A scent lingered in the air, faint, and ephemeral. It smelt like the ghost of a memory. It was the smell of sweat and sun-cream. Fists clenched tight, Lily turned and peered into the darkness behind her. 

“Dad?” she whispered. 

Her voice broke the silence. The pain disappeared and the feint scent vanished. Lily stood in the dark, heart trembling, breathing quickly, two questions consuming her thoughts. 

Had she imagined that sense of movement, the footstep, the ghostly smell? Or were the migraines, and the visions that came with them, starting again? 


Authors Bio

Gary Kruse is a writer of thriller and horror fiction about people on the edge of society struggling to find who they are, where they come from and where they’re going. He has won and been shortlisted for several short story competitions and his debut novel, Badlands is an Amazon bestseller. 

Bleak Waters is his second novel. 


Bleak Waters:

Author Website:





The Sacred Dog

A Good Guy: Frank Hooker

Yes, Frank Hooker may be a good guy, but he’s also a flawed one in my new book, The Sacred Dog, which is out Dec. 27. That’s what makes him a realistic character in my mind. Let me tell you more.

Frank owns The Sacred Dog, the only bar in Holden, a small, hick town in Western Massachusetts, where the locals like to drink beer and gab about what’s going on in their lives and their neighbors’. He’s a local himself since his family has lived there for generations.

He’s the kind of guy that will greet you with a smile and a welcoming word. He’ll toot his pickup’s horn when he passes somebody he knows. Frank would stop if he saw someone whose car was broken down on the side of the road. If a family in town has a tragedy like a fire or illness, he’d be the first to give. And he’s the type to take in a stray dog and name his bar for the animal.

Frank’s divorced. He thought he and Verona could be happy forever but she was bored with their life and got tempted to cheat with her boss. After the divorce, she took their daughter, Crystal to live in Florida.

A secret in this town: Frank’s not really Crystal’s father. But he married Verona, who he had been dating before, when he found out she was pregnant. Yeah, Frank, who raised Crystal as his own, is that kind of guy. He even made the trip several times to Florida to see her. Now Verona is moving back home after three years. Frank doesn’t quite know what to make of it.

Most people would agree Frank is a good guy, save for Al Kitchen, but he has his reason. Frank unfairly blames Al for his brother’s death. Al and Wes were best buddies who liked to get into stupid trouble. Al was in the car crash that killed Wes, but not at the wheel — a fact Frank won’t accept. He openly hates the man, which naturally doesn’t sit well with Al.

The only reason Frank lets Al come into his bar is because his grandmother begged to let him have two beers. Frank goes along with it because he figures it’s better to keep his eye on someone he doesn’t trust or like. He’s waiting for Al to do something wrong and then he’ll be out for good.

This whole thing is twisted in Frank’s head. I predict nothing good is gonna come from it.

LINK: Here’s how to find The Sacred Dog on Amazon:

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A half pour of IPA brewed by my son Zack at his Floodwater Brewing in Shelburne Falls, Mass. But at Frank’s bar the locals only drink from the bottle.

6Ws, Author Series

6Ws with Author Kateri Stanley

Kateri Stanley is the next author featured in this 6Ws series. Her latest book, From the Deep, is a modern day, dark fantasy thriller. She says fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid might enjoy reading it. Now that makes me curious. Read on to learn more about Kateri Stanley — a pseudonym by the way — and her writing.

Who is the author Kateri Stanley?

I’m a British-based writer moonlighting under a pen name, I work a regular office job by day, and I live with my boyfriend and our cat. I love my music, movies, TV shows and a video game here and there. Big fan of comedy. I’m an introverted geek. 

What is your latest book? 

From the Deep is a modern day, dark fantasy thriller. Based in the fictional town of Drake Cove. It follows fisherman, widower and single dad, Julian Finch who finds out that two of his colleagues have been murdered. His hometown is struggling under a huge hot media spotlight as their controversial practice of The Culling hits headlines everywhere.

The suspects of the murders come in the form of radical animal rights group, Fighters Against Animal Cruelty – FAAC. They go wherever the politics is trending and detests the town because of the brutal killings of pilot whales which are eaten.

After a hate attack goes viral, Julian and his daughter, Emily stay with a family friend, Frank Blothio. He is an ex-fisherman turned writer and political activist who does not have the best history with the animal rights movement, or Drake Cove as a whole. As Julian integrates into the Blothio way of life, he discovers heinous secrets and disturbing truths lurking beneath the skin of his hometown that will change his life forever.

Fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid might enjoy it.  It was published by indie publisher, Burton Mayers Books on the 6th May. 

When did you begin writing? 

I’ve been writing since I was a kid whether it was jotting down a diary, ideas, short stories, bad poetry, fan fiction, lyrics. But I didn’t start writing with serious intention to be published till I was a teenager when I started working on my first original idea.

 How do you write? 

I normally have an idea in my head and I let it simmer for a while. If it doesn’t go away, it will naturally mature, spread legs and blossom. I jot them down, might do a bit of research. then I start writing, typing up the first draft. Sometimes the ideas change and I go with the flow of it.

 Where do you write? 

At the moment, I write in my office at home and when I have a breather, I’ll scribble something down or jot it on my phone during my lunch break at work. 

Why do you write? 

It’s linked to my mental health. I have a lot of characters and stories swimming in my head. I feel alive when I write. If I didn’t, I’d probably be in a mental hospital. 

Links to books and social media: 







From the Deep on Amazon:

Forgive Me on Amazon: 

All links: 

The Sacred Dog

The Bar in My Book

As readers of my Isabel Long Mystery Series will note, country bars are an important part of each book’s setting. After all, they are among the few public gathering places for people who live in the rural hilltowns. That’s true for The Sacred Dog, the name of the bar and the title of my book that will be released Dec. 27.

Frank Hooker is the owner of The Sacred Dog. In my last post, I revealed why his bar got that name. Originally, he named it for his wife, Ronnie, but after that ended in a d-i-v-o-r-c-e, it didn’t make sense to keep it. So, instead he renamed it after the dog he adopted, a patient stray who hangs out behind the counter and puts up with the bar’s noise. 

The Sacred Dog is the kind of place where people drink, joke, and get away from their families. Occasionally, newcomers and tourists will stop by, but this is typically a watering hole for locals.

Certainly, I have spent many a Friday or Saturday night at a country bar, drinking, talking, and even dancing when there was a band. I even tended bar once. It’s a great place to people watch, a definite hobby of one. (Working the Beat, no. 5 in my mystery series, is dedicated to Steve and Diane Magargal, the former owners of Liston’s in Worthington, which Hank and I frequented when we lived in that town. No, the bars in my books are not Liston’s, but it certainly has been an inspirational place.)

Frank’s bar has its regulars. Early Stevens, a lifelong friend and most loyal customer, began delivering mail after he gave up his farm. Monk Stevens, his nephew, supports his family with an assortment of jobs, including as the town’s dump attendant. The Dixon brothers, Lloyd and Royal work the town’s only dairy farm and often smell of fresh manure no matter how clean they are. Then there is Jerry Smith who is always hiding out from his wife. Big Mary is the only woman in the group but she knows how to dish it back to the guys.

The regulars typically engage in town gossip and playful banter. I use their conversations to create a bit of levity, which I believe helps heighten the book’s dark story, which centers on a nasty feud between Frank and the one person not welcome at his bar — Al Kitchen. That’s because Frank blames him for his brother’s death in a car crash. Al wasn’t at the wheel but Frank won’t believe it. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with Al, who grew up in a tough household. Actually, his grandmother is the only reason Al is allowed at The Sacred Dog. She begged Frank to allow him two beers.

There’s a lot more to this feud. And I will admit nothing good is gonna come from it.

Here’s an excerpt. Frank’s interest perks up when he hears the regulars talk about Al Kitchen.

“Nah. What’d he do now?” Early asked.

“Al’s truck struck the end of the garage after he dropped a load of gravel for a new septic going in at a house in West Holden,” Monk said. “What I heard is Al took the corner too fast as he was leavin’. He just kept on goin’.”

Jerry let out a long whistle. “I mean you don’t hit the side of a garage without knowin’ it,” he said. “I’d like to hear him explain that one away to his boss. You all know what a bastard he is.”

“Guess his granny will have to pay his boss a little visit.” Monk’s head reared back, proud of his joke.

Frank glanced at Early, who tipped his head. So, it was true, he thought. Al screwed up again. What else was new? Early shook his bottle. He was down to his last sip of beer.

Early gave him a wink. “Looks like this bottle’s got a hole in it, Frankie boy. See if you can get me a real cold one this time.”

Frank laughed. “You old son of a bitch,” he said, as he reached into the cooler. “Hey, where’s Mary tonight?”

The row of men in front of him shrugged or shook their heads, except for Jerry, who wore a sly smile. The others turned toward him.

“Oh, a little bird told me Mary has a date,” Jerry said. “I’m not gonna tell you with who, ’cept he lives at Wrinkle City and his wife died a few years ago.”

“Vincent Snow? Him? He must be about twenty years older than Big Mary. Only real old folks can lived in those houses.” Monk sniggered. “Guess Mary’s been doin’ more up there than takin’ out the trash.”

Frank mopped the counter top. The men sitting in front of him, his best customers and best friends, had a good beer buzz working. When he looked at Monk and his Uncle Early, they seemed like young and old versions of the same man. Jerry leaned forward.

“Well, I’ll be. Mary and that guy, Vincent Snow. But, hey, we all get lonely sometimes,” Jerry said.

Monk slid off his stool and headed toward the jukebox. Frank knew what was next. Sure enough, Monk dropped coins inside the slot and moments later King of the Road began a-twanging on the jukebox. Monk, who returned to his seat, slapped in time along the edge of the bar. Beside him, Jerry joined in. Their heads were back, and their voices squeezed high.

Someone at the tables yelled at them to shut up, but it was only in jest, and then the phone began ringing. Jerry began waving his hand when Frank picked up the receiver. Of course, it was Cindy Smith on the other end. Her voice was so shrill Frank couldn’t bear hearing it a moment longer. “Sorry, Cindy, I haven’t seen Jerry tonight. I’ll be sure to tell him you called if he stops by. Night now, darlin’.”

Jerry gave Frank a thumbs-up, and Frank responded in kind as he hung up the phone because tonight he felt all was well in the world.

LINK: The Kindle version of The Sacred Dog is available for pre-order. Dec. 27 it will magically appear in your device. Paperbacks will follow at some point. Pre-ordering helps with ratings and I am grateful if you do. Here’s the link:

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: I saw this amusing sign a few years back in front of a bar.

Pre-order, The Sacred Dog

The Sacred Dog: How It Starts

Right now, I feel like I’m the mother of several children who all need my attention. Certainly, as the mother of six, I’ve had good practice, but I’m talking about the books I have written and soon to be released. Following the Lead, no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, will be out Nov. 3 on Kindle. Then, as announced this week, The Sacred Dog, which has a Dec. 27 release, is available for pre-orders. Of course, there are the others I’ve written.

Today I am going to give a little attention to the next-born.

As I noted before, The Sacred Dog was the first novel I completed a very long time ago. Despite the efforts of an agent, it failed to get picked up. So, I held onto it, giving it the attention it deserved, and now I’m glad my publisher, darkstroke books, has taken it on. Darkstroke also publishes my mystery series.

The Sacred Dog, set in 1984, is not a mystery but a thriller about my favorite setting, the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. I feel I know the area so well from my many years living here and certainly when I was a reporter and then an editor. Of course, that includes stories about personal conflicts and feuds between people who live there, but none so dark as between my book’s two main characters, Frank Hooker and Al Kitchen.

Frank is an all-around good guy who runs the town of Holden’s only bar, The Sacred Dog. But he has a fault. He hates Al because he blames him for the death of his reckless brother, Wes. And Al hates him for the way he’s been treated. Al grew up in one of those rough households with an abusive grandfather and a loyal although faulty grandmother.

If that weren’t enough, there is Verona Hooker, Frank’s ex, who will be returning to town with their daughter — and a secret.

The Sacred Dog is fast-paced and as those who have read it already have said, suspenseful. Here I will give you a look on how it starts.

Frank Hooker, tall, broad, and as handsome as an aging cowboy actor, lit a cigarette from the pack he kept beside the bar’s double sink. The rain fell hard, and it had started lightning. The storm, he was certain, would finish off tonight’s softball game at the Rod and Gun Club between the team he backed and Glenburn Sanitation, sponsored by a guy in the next town who pumped out septic systems.

Right now, Frank figured the men were sitting in their pickup trucks and cars, drinking beer, and waiting to see if the weather broke until the ump made the official call. Then, rather than go home to their families and ruin a good night out, they’d head to The Sacred Dog, or The Dog, as the regulars called his bar. Taking a drag of his cigarette, Frank anticipated their early arrival. He made a quick check inside the cooler, satisfied to see it filled with cold bottles of beer.

A pickup truck pulled into the parking lot, its tires grinding into the crushed stone Frank had put in this past spring, and Early Stevens, the only customer in the bar, twisted his head toward the door to see who would be the second. Early, his given name Ernest, had been sitting on his stool since 4:45 that afternoon after he was done hauling the day’s outgoing mail from the Holden Post Office to the one in Butterfield. He drank his usual: a Budweiser with a peppermint schnapps chaser. His topic of discussion today was a story he read in a magazine he found at the toilet in the Holden General Store that claimed the world was going to go to hell in 2000. 

“The way it looks, we’ve got about sixteen years to get ready,” Early said. “What do you think, Frank?”

“I think you should find better readin’ material,” Frank answered.

Minutes later, when Al Kitchen came through the bar’s front door, Early muttered under his breath, “Shit, here comes trouble.”

The muscles around Frank’s mouth tightened as Al lumbered across the room to take a stool one over from Early. Al was all-smiles because he thought maybe he was on decent terms with Frank these days. But Frank stared at him blankly as he stubbed out his smoke. “What’ll it be?” he asked as if this wasn’t Al but someone else in front of him.

“Give me a Bud,” Al said, as he retrieved his wallet.

No tabs for Al. That was one of Frank’s rules. Another was a two-beer limit. Frank came up with the second after Al’s grandma, who raised him, begged to let him have some place to go closer to home, and considering The Sacred Dog was the only bar in town, this was it. For years, Al didn’t have the nerve to show his face in his bar. 

“Two beers. He won’t be stayin’ long at your place if that’s all he gets,” Jenny Kitchen had said. “Besides, what’s the harm in two beers?”

Frank wanted to tell this old lady, who smelled like kerosene, what harm her grandson had already done. Jenny only came up to his chest, but she made her eyes small and defiant when she faced him. He told her if there was a lick of trouble, Al was out for good, and he’d call her and the cops.

Besides, Frank reasoned it was better to keep someone he disliked at close range. Actually, disliked was too soft a word to describe his feelings for the man, considering what happened to his younger brother, Wes. 

LINK: I hope I have interested you in reading The Sacred Dog. Kindle readers, here is the link to pre-order which helps with ratings on Amazon:

And here is the link for Following the Lead:

You won’t have to wait so long to read that baby.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: I spotted this metal sculpture of a duck somebody left on a stone post beneath the railroad trestle bridge in my village of Shelburne Falls.