Author Archives: Peggy Staggs

About Peggy Staggs

Since the age of eight, mysteries gave Peggy an escape to unseen worlds and now she brings the promise of adventure and romance to her readers.

Bad Guy Tree

No, this isn’t a new exotic cultivar. It’s my take/process of keeping track of all the plot lines so they don’t fall through the cracks of the story. Since I write mystery that’s the model I’ll use.


The Bad Guy


The narrowing of suspects


Suspect Number 1      Suspect Number 2      Suspect Number 3


Flesh out the motive


This is a good place to slip in a twist.                Eliminate Suspect Number 3


A clue that change everything                                 The resolution of a red herring


Hint at the Motive


A twist sending everyone in the wrong direction      Evidence that points to several people


The collection of evidence                                   Chasing clues


Introduce the bad guy in a subtle way


The change in the real world


The murder


The real world

The roots are the backstory. They’re there, but you can’t see them. And as with plants, if there’s a problem, you look to the roots/soil first for the problem.

The idea is a sort of outline that really isn’t. (My traumatic memories involving outlining sentences in my childhood prevent me from labeling anything an outline. But that’s for my therapist.) I put mine on a white board so I can turn around and look at any time. It also allows me to erase things or switch them around as the need arises. Using paper, in my case, is a terrible waste of forest resources.

The tree allows me to make notes around the edges—I’ll have a brainstorm in the middle of a scene about something that has nothing to do with what’s going on at the moment. These brain flurries are always flashes of brilliance…especially when I try to recall them later and can’t. The tree highlights the main points and allows me to keep track of what’s going on when.

In a mystery, you must know who the bad guy is before you start. If you don’t, you run the risk of wandering around your plot looking for him and the story becoming hopelessly convoluted. A mystery is all about the puzzle…and characters. But the puzzle has to be there or your readers won’t go along for the ride. And if they do once, a true mystery fan won’t pick up your next book. This happened to me with an author I enjoyed. Her books were humorous and fast-paced. Then she committed the ultimate sin in mystery. The puzzle fell apart so she just ended the book. Needless to say, I won’t spend another dime on one of her books. Yes, I do hold a grudge.

The beauty of the tree is you can add as many suspects, clues, red herrings, and twists as you like. And if you decide a red herring has promise, you can make it relevant. If a new twist occurs to you, drop him/it in and add the leaf to the tree.

If you’re one of those who likes to have parallel plots, this is a great way to keep track of both of them. Simply, hang them side-by-side.

You can also plug in the Writer’s Journey steps and characters. Or use the tree for romance. You can also keep track of the myth you’re employing, plug in a romance, slip in twists and turns, and keep track of them all.

I hope this sparks some ideas to help you with your process.


Posted by on October 1, 2013 in Idaho



Staples is one of my favorite stores. I know, writer—office supply store. Who’s surprised? I was looking at all the incarnations of office supplies and it brought to mind the things you can do with them that aren’t related to back-to-school.

Here are some things I came up with.

Plastic cases for three X five cards. Sticking either Post-it notes or three X five cards in them and clip a pen to the top. Stick it in the car or purse and the notes stay clean and unmolested, so you’re always have note-making material. I gave my husband one and he uses it all the time.

Pencil cases—the short skinny kind. You can put all sorts of things in them that aren’t pencils. I have fingernail files and other long manicure items in one. Makeup brushes fit in nicely. Make-up items like mascara, lipstick, chap-stick, or anything in a tube for your purse. They work great for a first aid kit.

Pencil cases—the long skinny kind. These are essential for travel. Great for curling irons, hair brushes, anything long and skinny you don’t want mingling with the rest of the stuff in your suitcase.

Pencil cases—the square kind. Everything. No really. I have sewing stuff in a ton of them. You can label the end and everything is right at hand. They’re great for seeds and plant labels. If you have a hobby that involves small items they’re essential. Makeup when you travel doesn’t get crushed. Those pretty soft carriers are…pretty, but they don’t have hard sides to protect lotions and tubes.

Pencil cases that fit in a three-ring notebook. These are great for putting editing supplies in and sticking them in your purse or backpack. That way you always have the supplies you need to edit while you wait for someone. They can double as a first aid kit or to hold coupons.

Wire locker dividers. The ones shaped like an upside down flat-bottomed, “U”. I have a trash can on top and a recycle/shred can underneath. They’re fairly sturdy, but without the sides of a locker to support them I wouldn’t put anything like a printer on one. (Note: at the kitchen store, they have plate platforms that are sturdy enough for a printer. I have my laptop on one.)

Back in the commercial, area they have display supplies. I have a stand that has two face-outs on it. On the top I have my calendar. It holds it open to the week and I can see it when I sit down. Very handy when I remember to turn the page to the correct week. On the bottom face-out, I have Post-its. I can put a notebook or other reference in it if I need to.

What do you use for a different purpose than it was intended for?


Posted by on August 29, 2013 in Idaho


Just Because It’s New

I’ve taken a ton of writing classes, read zillions of boPicture2oks, and tried just about everything. What I’ve learned over this process is mostly you already know how to write. I’m not talking about pacing, point of view, or story structure. Nope, those classes are always helpful. I’m talking about the how-to classes. I’ve tried the different colored marker system. It was pretty on the page, but wasn’t helpful for me. Using the outline the whole-book system, my mind tends to wander and the outline quickly becomes scratch paper. The Pages and Pages of Back-Story system, I’ll be honest, my memory sucks and I’d spend so much time rereading the back story that I’d never finish the book. And the classes go on. Through all this I learned one thing. I still have to get the story down on paper the way I’ve always done it.

That’s not to say I haven’t picked up a few very valuable tips that I still use, but my writing process has remained essentially the same. Get title, cultivate characters, develop plot, and BIC (Butt In Chair). Okay, there is a little more to it than that, but not much. The point is I write the way I write.

I’d never tell you not to take classes or give a new system a try. What I am saying is don’t spend months and months trying to force a new system on yourself. It’s not only a waste of time, but it can disrupt your voice and the flow of your stories. There is an organic component to writing. If it’s organic for you to write a hundred pages of back story, go for it. But trying to insert something that isn’t natural to you will only do harm.

royalty-free-fairy-tale-clipart-illustration-1097911[1]If you’re having trouble with a scene, take what you’ve learned in those classes and plug it in to one of the systems you’ve learned about. The marker system can give you an insight into a scene, but to color a whole manuscript…well that’s a lot of marker time. Writing out some backstory can help you clear up a current problem with a character. The idea is to use what you learn in those classes as a tool and not take everything as the end-all be-all to writing.

What tips have you learned along the way that have helped you?


Stress + Writing ≠ Creativity

Stress is a killer. It not only takes its toll on your health, but it saps your creativity. It isn’t the stress of meeting a deadline…we’d all love that stress. No, it’s the stress that comes with everyday life, events we have no control over, and tragedy. When we reach our individual limit, we shutthCADXPP5Z down creatively.
There is stress eating it’s the I-don’t-give-a-crap syndrome. It’s when your teenager is giving you a full load of attitude, your four-year-old is screaming, “Mommy, look what I did,” as he points to your brand new curtains covered with your favorite lipstick, and the dog is sitting at your feet—tail wagging—the remnants of your favorite pair of shoes hanging from his mouth. Then your husband calls to tell you he’s bringing the boss home for dinner. That’s when you simultaneously reach for a serving spoon, a half-gallon of full fat ice cream and race for the nearest room with a locking door.
That’s not creative-killing stress. No, what I’m talking about is the kind that keeps you up at night staring at the ceiling wondering if you’ll be able to get out of bed in the morning. That’s the stress that kills your creativity.
I’m a worrier, and at this point it isn’t likely to change. You name it and I’ll worry about it. The kid. Someone once said, “When my daughter’s 18, she’s on her own.” Ahhh. To be able to switch off that mother thing so easily. Adult children bring their own set of stresses. Mine chose the Army Infantry for a career. The natural extension of that was him ending up in a war zone (That took a few decades off my life). Now he’s dealing with PTSD and a career-ending foot injury. Then there’s the husband who had to have emergency eye surgery. Sigh.thCAN3MSRM
The point is stress is always with us in one degree or another. We have to learn to deal with it in ways that don’t drown our creativity. Here are some tactics I use to deal with stress…none of them includes pulling out my hair or kicking the dog.
1. Get organized. You’ve heard it, a place for everything and everything in its place. It’s surprising how much stress will flee your life if you implement a system. Just think, no more last minute searches for something you need as you head out the door. It takes a while, but you can get there from here.
2. Sleep. Your brain needs to rest and reset. To do that, you need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. I can hear you! “I’ve got too much to do. And what difference can an hour or two a night make?” A LOT. They used to say you couldn’t catch up on sleep. That’s changed. A short nap (no more than an hour) and you’re farther ahead than if you tough it out.
3. Exercise. You know that drained feeling you have at the end of the Exercise_-_Treadmill_1day? Some physical activity will produce healthy endorphins. They naturally relieve stress and help you get a better night’s sleep. When you feel drained and you think you don’t have enough energy to fix dinner, let alone deal with everyone in the family that’s a great time to leash up the dog and go for a walk. You’ll be amazed how much energy you’ll have at the end of the walk.
4. Massage. I wouldn’t/can’t give up my massages. It’s something I do just for me. It works out all the kinks and I end up relaxed.
5. Friends. There’s no replacement for friends. You know the kind you MB900445508trust with your deepest secrets. They can finish your sentences and turn a blind eye to your stupid stuff. They are hard to find. I love my friends. You guys know who you are and how important you are to me.
Stress is with us forever, the best we can hope for is to keep it at bay. How do you deal with the stress in your life?


Posted by on June 25, 2013 in Blogs, health, stress, writers


The Fairytale of Writing

royalty-free-fairy-tale-clipart-illustration-1097911[1]Once Upon a Time… no, this isn’t about writing fairytales. As a child I loved fairytales, so by natural extension when Once Upon a Time aired, I was right in front of my TV, popcorn in hand.

In a recent episode (The Miller’s Daughter) one of the main characters, Mary Margaret, aka Snow White, was handed a life-altering decision. That got me to wondering whether, my black moments are truly as dark as they should be. Am I putting enough at stake? Maybe not.

All her life, Snow has battled against dark magic by doing the right thing. She holds tight to goodness. That’s what her mother taught her. That’s her core.

Her defeats teach her that good doesn’t always triumph. As a child, she had the opportunity to save her mother’s life, but to do so she’d have to choose someone else to die in her mother’s place. She couldn’t do it and her mother died.

Now the black moment. Snow is forced to make a decision that goes completely against her being. In “The Miller’s Daughter,” Snow’s choices are to either give Regina and Cora (the truly bad guys) Rumplestiltskin’s dagger, thus giving them completeth[3] magic power and saving her childhood nurse, Johanna. Or she can retain the dagger, let Rumplestiltskin die (who has turned into sort of a good guy, and she’s just found out he’s the other grandfather of Snow’s grandson), which will keep the people of Storybrook safe.

Snow ends up giving Regina and Cora the dagger in exchange for Johanna. Their reunion is short-lived when Regina murders Johanna anyway.

Each time Snow has done the right and good thing, it has cost her dearly. With the death of her childhood nurse, she tells Prince Charming she doesn’t care about justice anymore. Wow! This is our hero, Snow White.

If you don’t watch “Once Upon a Time,” it’s well worth the hour. It is so valuable that I’m thinking of counting that time as a writing class and taking my cable bill off my taxes. Um, maybe not.

Here’s the trick (and it sounds easier than it is):

  • Root the current crisis in with the hero’s past.

Thus making the crisis more personal and more rooted in their core.

  • Give the character two choices, neither of which is good.

The consequences of the two choices need to be really bad and worse.

  • Then force your character to pick one.thCAYUR9E3

They have to make the choice or something even worse will happen.

In stories, as in life it’s all in the choices. You have to make your characters—all of them—the products of their choices. It’s more work, but your stories will shine for it and be memorable. The Miller’s Daughter is one I’m going to use as a template. If you’d like to read the whole synopsis, go to

How do you make your characters memorable?

How do you make your black moments dark enough?


No Easy Lesson

Recently, Benjamin Carson has been in the news. The poem his mother had him read when he was feeling put upon hit home with me. Ben Carson had all the odds stacked against him. He was born to a mother who was married at thirteen and had only a third grade education. But as all good mothers do, she wanted a better life for her two boys. The boys were going down an all-too familiar path. Bad grades in school, bad influences on the street, bad habits at home. To make matters worse, Ben was convinced he was dumb.

His mother knew better. She turned off the TV, handed the boys books, and told them that they had to read the book and write a report for her. At first, he hated reading. It was a waste of time. But his mother was stronger willed, and he kept reading. When the boys gave the reports to their mother, she’d go over them, making little check marks, and highlighting areas. What the boys didn’t know was that their mother couldn’t read.

It didn’t take him long to realize that he could go anywhere, be anyone, and experience wonderful adventures all through the pages of books.

She also taught them self-reliance. When they’d complain that this wasn’t right or that person wasn’t fair, she’d have them read the following poem.

You Have Yourself To Blame

by Mayme White Miller

You Have Yourself To Blame

for disgracing your own name.

Thinking it’s laborious

meaning it’ll be victorious.

Always pretending to be cool,

so that you’ll be popular in school.

Never caring about others

and trying to be tough to your brothers.

Being in so much fame,

never knew something that came.

I’m looking at you now,

wondering why and how.

Now you’re on your own,

with no one to show.

You’re alone in the dark,

left there in the park.

I hope you now know or conjecture

what you should’ve a long time ago that

You Have Yourself To Blame.

And what became of this boy? He attended Yale and University of Michigan Medical School. He’s a Professor of Neurosurgery, Oncology, Plastic Surgery, and Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University. He won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008. He is the only Neurosurgeon ever to part twins who were conjoined at the head. And as if that doesn’t keep him busy enough, he has written four best sellers, Gifted Hands (an autobiography), The Big Picture, Take the Risk, and Think Big.

When I think the publishing business isn’t fair, I look at the poem on my wall. After all, it’s up to me. I hope Dr. Ben Carson’s story and the poem are as cathartic for you as they were for me.


Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Idaho, inspiration, poetry, power, Psychology



I love finding things that make writing easier. It’s all about the details. And if you don’t get them right, you throw off the story. Readers do check. I’m in the middle of a story set in the fall. My problem? Sunrise and sunset. I can’t have my characters strolling around in the sun at 7:30 when the sun set at 6:53. Bad form. I found a great website that takes care of all those nasty sun details. It’s especially great because you can set it for any place in the world. Not only that but it goes back in time. I got tired of clicking the back button to 1940.

It also tells you what phase the moon is in. It might be very picky to know what phase the moon is in, but it’s one more thing you don’t have to worry about. If your day is October 16, 1940 (no I’m not going to click forward to 2013), we find out that the sun rose at 6:51, set at 17:53 (or 5:53 civilian time), but that the moon rose at 6:17 and set at 7:06, and it was full. If you like you can use UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) or GMT (Greenwich Mean Time.)

Where can you find all this wonderful information? At And to make things even better, you can print off your year of choice. Having a hard copy right in front of me is so handy. I can mark it up or change the day so it works for what I need.

Another great resource is to search the native plants for the area you’re writing about. It will give you pictures of the plants and that, in turn, will give you all you need to put the right plants in the right area.calander2

I know none of this is new information, but it is something we need to remember to use. It’s so tempting just to rely on memory and keep writing, but don’t give in. The more realism you can sift into your work, the more the reader will subconsciously buy the premise. And, after all, isn’t that the goal? Keep the reader grounded in the story.

Keep the research close at hand and use it.

I love nothing more than to have a bunch of relevant websites bookmarked.

What are your go-to websites?


Posted by on March 12, 2013 in Blogs, writing, writing craft