Keeping It Real: Developing Characters Throughout a Series

by Miko Johnston

I became an author when I finished the first in my series of fiction novels – my first book, period. Interestingly, Lala, the character I inaugurated thirty years ago, recently turned thirty herself. Is that a coincidence?

Maybe not.

Petal InTheWindMy writing has matured over those thirty years, as has my heroine. Granted, when introduced in my first book, she was “almost eight”, so her voice and thoughts had to reflect her age. However, the book was meant for adults, therefore it had to present the story at a more mature level. Much of the storyline and the tension springs from a child who’s unable to fully understand her situation and an adult audience who clearly can.

As the story develops, and Lala ages, she had grown up in the eyes of my readers as well as my own. I sometimes feel like thirty years ago I gave birth to this young girl, though I’m thrilled not to have actually given birth to an eight-year-old! Still, having lived with these characters for almost half my life and four books, they’ve become very familiar, and I’ve grown close to them. I sense a greater intimacy between the characters with each novel, in part because of my growing familiarity with them.

I feel the same way about characters in the series I still read. I’ve become invested in their lives, curious to see how they play out. It’s become an even more important aspect of pleasure in reading than the storyline. I’ve stuck with a few series with formulaic plots because of my attachment to the people who populate the stories.  I’ve also dropped a few series from my must-read list and always for the same reason – stagnant characters.

I asked several writers of serialized fiction about how their relationship with their characters – and their characters’ relationships with each other – has changed with each book, and each passing year.

51pZwz0PBbL GOTUMike McNeff introduced his hero Robin Marlette in GOTU (pronounced Got-U, it’s short for Guardians of the Universe). His action/adventure series features a covert ops team that has to balance work with home life. Mike’s currently writing the fourth book in the series. When I asked him how his characters have evolved over time, he decided to let Robin speak for himself:

“We were once cops who tried not to hurt anyone, including suspects. Now we kill just to survive and it has reached the point where killing has become a mere afterthought. I’ve killed sleeping men, men who didn’t know I was near them and men who were simply doing an assigned task at a particular moment. They were all involved in acts threatening innocent people, but I gave them no warning…no chance to surrender. I just killed them.” Robin’s eyes met the admiral’s. “My men and I have become dark and dangerous shadows moving through the night grappling with a squirming underworld. I’ve become unsure of just what and who the enemy really is…I just react to threats to the innocent people on this earth.”

I’ll add that the series has grown darker, but as Mike’s characters have developed into a close-knit team, they’re more comfortable teasing each other, and their humorous banter provides comic relief that lightens up the action.

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41SMl8rQs0L IndelibleWhat began for Heather Ames as a stand-alone novel turned into a deftly blended mystery, suspense and romance series featuring Detective Brian Swift and socialite/club owner Kaylen Roberts (due in part to encouragement from some members of this blog). Ames says, “My characters have evolved from two people who didn’t even trust each other enough to share confidences into two people who have been trying to work through various challenges. They weren’t sure they could work things out by the end of Book one, but they both wanted to try.”

In each subsequent novel she balances the suspense between solving the mystery and navigating their evolving romance. Readers root for the couple, but Ames keeps us wondering as we follow their emotional roller coaster ride. “Being mismatched soulmates isn’t an easy gig. Brian’s profession is a huge stumbling block for Kaylen (while) Brian feels like a fish out of water in Kaylen’s world, and isn’t so sure he wants to try fitting in.”

The couple has progressed with each book. “Kaylen has evolved into a much stronger character than she was at the beginning of the series, while Brian has developed chinks in his armor that make him more vulnerable.”

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41SMgxyg59L Last ConfessionPat Kelley Brunjes traveled a similar route with her characters as I, opening her series with a story loosely based on her family history. In her first novel, The Last Confession,  her protagonist serves as a stand-in for Brunjes. “Maggie was me seeking to find the truth about my grandmother’s relationship to the Catholic Church.” Although based on her research, she fictionalized the story, which allowed her to take Maggie in a non-biographical – and more dangerous – direction. In the sequel she’s writing, her heroine gets entangled in a cold-case murder and human trafficking. “In the second novel, Maggie has evolved into her own person dealing with what fate has thrown her, and how her personal beliefs guide her decision to help others.” Having given herself the freedom to step away from semi-autobiography, Brunjes will have much flexibility in plotting future entries in the series.

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51sKIWU-ULL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_ PaulineAvis Rector faces a unique challenge in writing her historical fiction series, based on the early life of her family on Whidbey Island. In her first book, Pauline, the heroine and her husband settle on the island during the Depression. “So much of the first Pauline was based on my memories of the stories I heard as a child from my father who loved to tell stories—usually real happenings, but many embellished.” However, in her sequel, the story moves into the 1940’s, a time Rector lived through. She’s having to reinterpret her childhood memories through an adult’s perspective. “Actually, I’m having a hard time writing how the adults felt about the time. Pauline has changed.”

Part of that involves Pauline’s maturing. Rector admits she struggles to find the right balance between the irrepressible gal readers meet in the first novel and the responsible parent she becomes after adopting two children. “It was difficult for her to become a mother. She’s no longer the fun-loving young wife (as in the first book), but a serious, not so much fun, mother. I’m sorry about this, and feel I should…try to soften her personality, to enjoy the experience of being a mother like she always wanted to be.”

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Most of us in WInRs have written, or are writing, series – I’m interested in hearing their take on this. I also know some of you reading this post write serialized fiction. What challenges have you faced moving your characters through the years, either in ‘book-time’ or real time? Have they evolved over the course of your series, and if so, how?

 

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Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

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This article was posted for Miko Johnston by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

A Writer’s Resolutions on Social Media

by Jill Amadio

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New Year resolutions?

I have known mine for many, many months, as had a writer friend. Bombarded and burned out by social media ‘noise’ last month, she left her computer and iPad at home and fled to the forest and her grandpa’s cabin in Oregon, Bigfoot be damned. Alas, Hazel was unable to escape her addiction to Facebook and Twitter and she drove miles into town each day to find an Internet café where she continued to pollute the airwaves.

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Linked In, Pinterest, Tumblr, Fomo, Reddit, WikiHow, Instagram and others jam our lives with clamorous demands to log on, read posts, share photos, and comment. The more timid of us comply.

No Escape.

I know dozens of writers who complain about the time it takes to respond to cute comments yet day after day we find ourselves enslaved to the practice, afraid to miss something someone has written. Did they see my latest awards photo on my FB site?  Have they followed my Tweet link to my new mystery web site? While grateful for congratulatory messages online, and helpful tips on feeding hippos, how about admirers sending a snail-mail card instead or a basket of premium wine?

One can barely escape social media even without going to the sites. I receive email messages daily that someone has commented on my status (whatever that means – single, poverty-stricken?) or wants me to Like them.

Procrastination.

We seem to be obsessed with spending hours online replying to friends’ remarks posted on social media sites, laughing at cartoons and jokes when we should be writing the next chapter or polishing an article. For some, it’s procrastination, an excuse not to tackle that elusive plot point, or figure out the murderer’s true motive; for others, perhaps, a means to make a mark upon the vast Internet audience.

Do the networking benefits outweigh the negatives? Many around the world have found long-lost school friends and relatives.  Others bemoan the lack of privacy. I still haven’t figured out how to send a private FB message to my daughter.

Guest Blogging

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Then there are the invitations to be a guest blogger. I was asked if I’d like to join a Blog Hop whereby ten mystery authors answered a series of questions about their books and their writing life.  First, it had to be explained to me how the process worked, then I answered the host blogger’s eight questions, after which I was told to wait my turn for the right day. I was nudged the day before with three emails reminding me, and finally, I was asked to promote the entire Hop through social media for several days beforehand, and several days afterwards: “I am guest-blogging today on Santa’s site.”

It was fun but time-consuming. The new idea prompted other friends who were not included in the Hop to ask me if I’d invite them to be a guest blogger on my own site.   After agreeing to two of them, I realized that probably no one checked out the blog page on my site anyway. More time lost.

An addiction?

How do we escape the trap and refuse to be manipulated? There are plenty of advice columns and seminars on how to overcome the addiction, even a 10-step program on how to recognize the symptoms and treat them.  You can Google the subject and dozens of sites show up. Even the Times of India newspaper has an article on how to handle the problem.

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Kim Fay, author of “the Map of Lost Memories,” was making a deliberate effort to stay “clean.  She said that Facebook terrified her, and she wasn’t sure what to do with Linked In.

Longing for peace and quiet aside from social media noise and actual noise of traffic and sirens outside her home in Los Angeles, she accepted her parent’s offer to holiday in their house in the mountains of Arizona while they went out of town. Once there, she covered all the clocks, researched, napped, and wrote 50 pages of her next thriller without once logging on anywhere.

Kim-Fay“Ideas had space to roll around in my head,” she said. “My thoughts were uninterrupted. It was divine. These days the life of a 21st century writer are frantic, a pressure cooker requiring one to write reviews, connect with fans and friends, and try to stay in the game. ”

 

Well, I gotta go. Time to check my FB page, and wish everyone a Happy New Year.

Capture (1)Jill Amadio is from Cornwall, UK, but unlike her amateur sleuth, Tosca Trevant, she is far less grumpy. Jill began her career as a reporter in London (UK), then Madrid (Spain), Bogota (Colombia), Bangkok (Thailand), Hong Kong, and New York. She is the ghostwriter of 14 memoirs, and wrote the Rudy Valle biography, “My Vagabond Lover,” with his wife, Ellie. Jill writes a column for a British mystery magazine, and is an audio book narrator. She is the author of the award-winning mystery, “Digging Too Deep.” The second book in the series, “Digging Up the Dead,” was released this year. The books are based in Newport http://www.jillamadio.com

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This article was posted for Jill Amadio by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

2020 Visions For The New Year!

Read. Learn. Enjoy.

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

girl-reading 1423501_960_720Try the classics. Try some older writers. Try a new writer and hope they have something clever or interesting to say.

We are losing the language and our sense of humor and even our sense of right and wrong by leaving those books on the shelf. People are afraid to tell a joke for fear of offending somebody. Hey! The joke’s on them. They don’t realize they ARE the joke… and the joke isn’t funny. Suggest a book for them to read.

Some are eye-opening like Orwell’s 1984. Some are riveting like E. Phillips Oppenheim’s spy novels. Some are clever like Mary Roberts Rinehart’s mysteries. Some will stun you like Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan or the Barsoom series. Read. Learn. Enjoy.

What is your reading pleasure in 2020? Will you share a few titles on your TBR list?  Who are your favorite authors? What genre do you like to read?

 

2020 Reading Challenges

 by Jackie Houchin

And, if you’d like some direction, I have several reading plans for you for 2020. They range from DYR20 (Diversify Your Reading) which lists just ONE BOOK PER MONTH, but in categories that may make you “stretch” a bit, especially if you’ve been reading books in just one genre.  Here’s the link:  Diversify Your Reading Challenge – 12 categories  (Follow another link in this site, for the blogger’s 3-book recommendations for each category.)

Could you read ONE BOOK PER WEEK? (Whew!)  New mom, Mommy Mannegren, has a list of 52 categories for you to read in. You can interpret a category any way you choose (“a book with a senior character” could be an elderly woman, or a teenager in 12th grade), and you can read them in any order.  The 2020 52-book Reading Challenge

And…. how about TWO BOOKS PER WEEK??  This site is for the light reader (13 books), avid reader (26 books), committed reader (52 books)  and the obsessed reader (104 books).   About 25% of the book categories at this site are suggested reading for Christians.  (Read in them, or not.)   Multi-level Reading Challenges

And last, but no way least, if you are interested in reading the Bible in 2020, here are  23 Bible Reading Plans to Satisfy everyone.

 

 Wishing you the best health, success, happiness, and reading throughout the New Year!

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Happy Holiday Greetings from Us!

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December 25th post – by Gayle Bartos-Pool

People celebrate Christmas in many ways. Some decorate their homes like a Macy’s window on steroids, others keep a lower profile and enjoy the colors, sounds, and smells in their own quiet way. Some can’t wait for the season to be over. As for me, any time people make an effort to make others happy and to enjoy life themselves is a holiday. Christmas is and should be a time to reflect on the Gift of Life we have all been given. You can’t return it to the store if you don’t like it, but you can make it fit by being the very best you can be and showing others their gift is pretty special as well. Then you will realize Christmas is every day.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

“Cozy Food” a book review

by Jackie Houchin 

(Consider this book as the perfect “affordable” gift for anyone on your Christmas list who loves to COOK and/or loves to READ mysteries.) 

51OCRfcnFpLI loved “Cozy Food” edited by Nancy Lynn Jarvis!  The cover says it is a compilation of 128 Cozy Mystery Writers’ Favorite Recipes, but it is so much more.

Along with the yummy recipes in categories from Appetizers and Beverages to Desserts (of all kinds) and Gluten-Free foods (Even Pet Treats), you will get a “taste” of each writer’s books & series, protagonists & villains. And a “sip” of their own lives in their biographies!

A totally wonderful book, suitable (in print version especially) for your kitchen or living room libraries. (I plan to purchase a print copy.)

In the “hearty” introduction, you will read a thorough DEFINITION of a cozy mystery. If you ever thought of writing one yourself, just use this guideline and all you’d need to do is fill in the details!

The author biographies reveal “meaty” links (live in the digital version) for the many ways readers can find them – websites, newsletters, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and books on Amazon. (I admit, I followed many of them, and even signed up for several newsletters and blog posts.)

  • You can discover how Sparkle Abby and Monica Ferris got their pen names.
  • Some writers write with their husbands, such as Amy Myers and Jim, who have a Jack Colby mystery series featuring a classic car restorer. Their website is split between book news, and fabulous classic cars and events.
  • Tamar Myers was born and raised in the Congo by missionary parents. I ordered the first book from her Congo mysteries (she has other more recipe-related series as well).
  • Maggie Pill‘s Sleuthing Sisters (3) is another series I will try.
  • Karen Robbins writes a series and a blog based on her (and her husband’s) world-wide travels.
  • Joyce Oroz is a muralist, so her protagonist is too. (Love those 3-D murals!)
  • Lee Wait has a series of historical novels for 8+ year-olds among her cozies.

Be SURE to read the biographies, they are a “mulligan stew” of fascinating facts.

Before I go, here is a list I will POSITIVELY be making soon.

  1. Mignon F. Ballard‘s “Lemon Mystery,”
  2. Marja McGraw‘s “Self-Frosted Cake,”
  3. Radine Trees Nehring‘s “Carrie’s Chicken Pie,” and
  4. Josi S. Kilpact‘s “Devil’s Food Cake.”

Here are a few “catchy” unusual recipe titles:

  • “Kitty Cat Tuna Crackers” by Sparkle Abby,
  • “Neanderthal Mammoth Jerky” by Kaye George!

All the biographies and recipe categories are listed in a complete Table of Contents (linkable for digital copies).

Oh, and don’t miss the very end. Like some TV shows Nancy Lynn Jarvis quotes some hilarious “Out Takes” from her experience of contacting the authors for this book.

This is a great Holiday gift (print) for cooks and mystery readers alike!  Find it on  Amazon.

 

Persistence Pays Off!

Guest Post by Bonnie Schroeder*

Bark Magazine cover“A decade ago, I sent a short story to “The Bark,” which is a super-cool, glossy magazine for “dog people.” They rejected it, but the editor wrote a note on the form letter: “We encourage you to keep writing, as you have an interesting voice.”

Those words sustained me through many dark times when I questioned my goal of getting published. This year, after my short story “Vigilantes” took First Place in the Idaho Writers Guild’s Short Story contest, I decided what the heck, let’s try again.

Less than twenty-four hours later, I got an email from “The Bark,” offering to publish my story–and they even paid me for the rights!  It is a short story about a lonely widow and a dog locked inside a car on a sunny day.

This has been the highlight of a busy year so far. In addition to the Idaho Writers Guild contest, I had a flash fiction piece published in Rose City Sisters

Furthermore, I have finished a solid draft of Turn Back the Clocks, my new novel, for which I’m seeking a new publisher. Alas, Champlain Avenue Books, the fine company that published my first two novels, has ceased operation, so I’m back on the hunt. Never fear, I’m determined that this book WILL be published, one way or another. I think it’s an important story and one that has real relevance for our time. So stay tuned!

That’s what’s going on in my world. Hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season.

Cheers, and I’ll let you know WHEN Turn Back the Clocks is in print.”

photo-author-bonnie-schroeder-crop-u1986*Bonnie Schroeder is a former member of The Writers In Residence and has posted here many times in the past. (Use the search box in the upper right to find her posts.)  Since her move to the great North West, she has opted out, but follows the blog and says she misses our monthly lunches.  We have promised her a special spot when her next novel is published, with a “tell all” about the extraordinary research that went into it.

November has been a busy month for Bonnie. She has committed to extra duties in her new Toastmasters Club as well as participating in the National Novel Writing Month challenge,  a joint venture with a friend where each does a quarter of the 50,000 words.

Bonnie’s website: Bonnie Schroeder Books

This article was posted for Bonnie Schroeder by Jackie Houchin

 

Enjoyable Events

by Linda Johnston

 Who knew?

 When I started getting published, I still believed that writers just wrote. That was before I began joining fun organizations like Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America.

 I learned otherwise fairly fast.  I joined MWA after I accepted my Robert L. Fish Award for Best First Short Story of the year in New York.  When I then began writing time travel romances, I joined RWA and also went to meetings.

 Even so, I had to learn that a good part of promotion is agreeing to be on panels and at special writing events.

So why am I talking about this now? Well, last weekend was a lot of fun.

 First, on Saturday, I was invited to attend Cozy Con, sponsored by Kensington at the Redondo Beach Library. I’ve not written for Kensington, but I was one of the authors there nonetheless.  And it was fun, with lots of opportunities for readers and fans to stop at tables where authors sat and chat for a while. Plus, there were giveaways to readers. And they were able to buy books which we could sign.

tri Color Spaniel dog-634031__340Then, on Sunday, I was on a panel for Sisters in Crime at the Thousand Oaks Library, where several published authors were on Dying Laughing, a mystery authors panel, where we were asked questions about our writing–how it starts, how it continues, and a lot more, including humorous aspects.  And I, unsurprisingly and fortunately, was asked a lot about the dogs in my stories.

 And although those were new events which I definitely enjoyed, they were among lots of others I’ve participated in, and will continue to participate in, as an author.  Local events, not just the many conferences I attend.

 So who believes writing is a solitary sport?  Oh, there are aspects of it that are… like the writing, at least most of the time. But getting out there is part of the career, a fun part of it, although I had to learn how not to be shy when out there giving answers or speeches to people.

 Now? Just ask me, and if the timing and location work for me, I’ll see you there!

How about the rest of you authors out there?

 

lindaphotoLinda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, currently writes two mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries, and the Superstition Mysteries.  She has also written the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and also currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries about shapeshifters for Harlequin Nocturne.  Her most recent release is her 44th published novel, with more to come.

 

 

 

 

This article was posted for Linda O. Johnston by Jackie Houchin