SYKESVILLE — Eileen G. Buckholtz uses reference books to thicken her plots.
The mystery writer often comes home from flea markets with a bag full of how-to volumes, old encyclopedias and histories.
She carries the books upstairs to her office, where she pores painstakingly over them, looking for the perfect way to do away with herlatest victim.
"When I bought 'Deadly Doses: A Writer's Guide to Poisons,' though, my husband got nervous," she said with a laugh.
Unsure how her next character might meet an untimely end, the book helped her detect the appropriate potion. The volume eventually found its way to the office's reference shelf, taking its place among "Modern Weapons," the "Encyclopedia of Magic and Crime Writers Reference" and, of course, "Webster's NewWorld Dictionary."
With her facts at hand, Buckholtz pulls tales of suspense and romance from her imagination to the keys of her computer.
Although she is never sure what twists and turns her plots might take, she said she can back up her stories. And the 42-year-old mother of two said she willingly lends herinformation sources.
"No matter what project the kids are workingon, I have the reference," she said.
In the past 12 years, Buckholtz has written or co-authored more than 50 books. Writing was her first love, she said, but she didn't always use her computer to create tales of murder and mayhem.
For many years, she earned a living writing technical programs. She stuck with numbers and programs even though they were not the stuff of her dreams.
As a teen-ager growingup in Georgia, she often imagined intricate plots, full of romance and mystery. When she went off to Ohio State University, she put thoseplots on hold and opted for a more practical major: computer engineering.
"I grew up reading romance novels and always wanted to writemy own stories," she said. "But I was afraid I couldn't make a living doing it."
While working for the Department of Defense, she earned a master's from the University of Maryland at College Park and waschosen one of Maryland's Outstanding Women in math and science.
Her first publication was a technical report replete with complex computer terminology instead of flowery adjectives. Its descriptive passages dealt with complicated programs. Definitely not the sort of writing that lands an author on the best-seller list.
Her boss at the Department of Defense "bought" the paper, though. He said it read likefiction.
She laughed and took his review as a compliment.
The experience gave her the spur she needed. She decided to put her expertise to work with words instead of numerical theories.
"The stories and characters were floating in my mind," she said. "I just needed encouragement."
She worked up a story proposal and was both "pleased and panicked" when a publisher liked her outline and wanted to seea manuscript. To get help putting her ideas to work, she joined a writing group at Howard Community College.
"Four of us worked on thefirst book," she said. "I knew the most about romances."
That was12 years ago, and it's been write, write, write ever since. She often works with Ruth Glick of Columbia, Howard County, using the pen name Rebecca York.
The pair's most recent effort is "43 Light Street," a continuing suspense series for Harlequin Intrigue.
The settingis a Baltimore office building, "where suspense and romance meet." The series revolves around career women whose jobs lead them into adventure and intrigue.
"If a woman takes an office at 43 Light Street, we guarantee she will meet a great guy," she said. "After a little suspense, the stories all come to a happy ending."
The authors often weave characters into several story lines before giving them the lead in a story.
"We build a repertoire of secondary characters that our readers get attached to," she said. "Readers get so involved, they send us fan mail."
More than 100,000 copies of the fourth bookin the series, "Only Skin Deep," will appear in book stores in January. The books also will be distributed internationally.
Set in thecosmetics industry, with a revenge plot that goes back to World War II, Buckholtz calls it the most exciting Rebecca York has penned so far.
The women usually take about six months to deliver a book to their editor. Hours of research precede the writing.
They often travel to the scenes of their crimes. They even had a lesson is firearmsfrom another Maryland writer, Tom Clancy. Buckholtz said she had visions of dire headlines as Clancy held her arm, demonstrating how to shoot. The lesson proved helpful in later stories.
"We had our women and guns all wrong," she said. "We changed the way we wrote about shooting after that."
The "together" part of the books usually takeplace at Glick's home. An author of several cookbooks, Glick often uses her co-writer as a taste-tester for her latest recipes, while they are working.
"We always start together, bouncing ideas off each other," said Glick.
"We often see things 15 different ways before we outline our story," said Buckholtz.
The publisher allows them the freedom to experiment, she said. They have done a story on reincarnation and ghosts, and one of their heroes has a bionic hand.
There's a trip to Savannah, Ga., in Rebecca York's future, too.
Buckholtz and Glick are hoping to collect an award.
Romantic Times recently nominated the writers for a career achievement award.
Buckholtz called the Reviewers Choice Award "the paperback Emmy," and said she's keeping her fingers crossed.