What if?

You know what I love about writing? It takes me back to the time I was a child and my days – especially summer days – were limited only by my imagination. I lived in a world of What If and could be and do anything I wanted to.

My best buds were a trio of brothers who lived in the house on the corner. Their names were Bobby and Kevin and Sammy Tally. I haven’t seen them again since I was seven but I hope they’re well and conquering every pirate they run across.

We lived in a little tract of cookie cutter houses. Ours happened to be just across the street from John Ross Elementary School. Those were the days when there were no video games, not even color TV. Kids played outside all day till supper time and we were expected to stay within view of our homes so our mothers could periodically stick their heads out the door and see that we were okay.

Boys Playing Near CreekFortunately for us, there was ready made playground right there on the side of the school, monkey bars and all. But did we play there? Hardly ever. Because there was also a drainage ditch that ran the entire length of the school right by the street. There we got together and every day was a new What If. We became pilgrims who’d had the worst of times on the high seas but finally made it to try (or actually somewhat soggy) ground.

When that grew old, we followed the “river” (which was really about 12 – 15 inches wide and no more than 4 – 5 inches deep) to Africa where we fought and daryl-stickcaptured all sorts of scary beasts. Of course they were really crawdads and occasion slugs and things, but they were kind of scary. As long as the water was murky, we knew there might be crocodiles. Those were the days when it was okay to have toy guns and a stick was as good as a sword.

Or the river might take us to Ireland, home of my Grandpa Jackson’s ancestors, or Scottland, where Grandmother MacCormick was ghostmrchickenfrom. Or to see the Tally’s grandparents in Spain. It was like a ready-made portal to anywhere. As I recall, one day we even followed the river in search of the murderer that was in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. Remember we were kids and we’d just seen that deliciously scary movie at the drive-in. That was a source of What Ifs for many days to come.

So when I sit down at my computer and pull up a blank page, if I don’t know what to write, all I really have to do is wonder What If?

How about you?

Angel Killer Blog tour is revving up

Hi all!

The AK blog tour begins today – you’ll find me guesting at Kevin’s Corner and talking about the difference between my publicist chair and my author chair. Stop in and leave a comment if you have a minute! http://bit.ly/15yJbPH

To change or not to change a series character

evil-days-hpI love series characters. They’re like friends you haven’t seen in a while and can’t wait to catch up with. And now that my own books are coming out in print, I’m starting to see them a little differently. Rather than just letting them take their courses as I write them, I’m giving a little more thought to the process of how they evolve. It’s interesting.

I’ve read series characters most of my life and still tend to favor a good series over a standalone novel. But not every series is a good series and that raises a flag for me. I write two series and I want readers to consider both of them good.

One character that I find engaging is fairly new to me – Clare Fergusson, the protagonist in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s series. She was different from the outset and that intrigued me, and I especially like the examination of her conflict in the on-off love relationship with married Russ van Alstyne and her clergy position. Julia does an excellent job of balancing the two without sacrificing realism. I understand that the next book will have Clare taking that step into a milestone moment. We all have them throughout our lives, but they’re not always so clearly defined – those events that we face that irrevocably change us. Whether chosen or not, sometimes we cross lines that can’t be uncrossed. That’s a real challenge for a writer and must be handled carefully.

For instance, one of my favorite characters is Stephanie Plum, Janet Evanovich’s brainchild. I love the Plum novels and they offer great comic relief. We don’t 19coverharddelve too deeply into Stephanie’s psyche, we just go along for the ride. However, after a while (how many books?) the back and forth between Ranger and Morelli gets a little tired and finally, one day, Stephanie crossed that line with Ranger and can never go back. It all happened so fast, if you blink you might’ve missed it and we’re back to the status quo (is she with Morelli this book or not?). Almost. But loyal fans know, somewhere in the back of their minds, that she did the deed. Can we ever really look at her the same way again? Do we really believe if Ranger is, well…Ranger, that she’s still not sure what she wants? She didn’t lose me. I’ll still buy number 20. And 21. And whatever. But I don’t feel quite the same anticipation for the release date I used to feel.

fantasy-in-death-by-j-d-robb1Another character I find fascinating is J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas. I would love to have been a fly on Robb’s office wall when she was writing those first couple of books. Where did she see them going? Her prolific output aside (and yes, I know all the arguments but I’m not going there), Eve is consistent, and yet there is growth. You don’t realize it with the volume, but go back to one of those first books when Eve and Roarke aren’t married yet. There’s change. And yet, you can read 10 or 11 books in sequence and only cover a year in time with little notable change in Eve, Roarke, or Somerset. But wait, there is change, you just find it in Peabody, and McNab, in Mavis and the birth of little Bella. Only Eve, Roarke and Somerset seem to stay the same.  It’s food for thought.

I also love the character of Alex Cross, although author James Patterson isn’t that popular among the writing crowd. I appreciate the way we seem to start at the beginning and see Alex experience Maria’s death. He moves on of necessity but clambers his way from one relationship to kill alex crossanother, trying to be there for his children and Nana Mama. When he finds Christine, we think maybe he’s found true love, but over the next several books we see him transverse an emotional (and sometimes physical) obstacle course. Even the “after Christine” episodes ring painfully true as he fights for custody of little Ali and the horrors that populate his job. I find it interesting (and perhaps telling about myself) that while I was bedridden several years ago, I went back to the beginning of the series and read through it again. With all the hideous crimes and emotional angst, it was still a vacation for me, of sorts. Again, like visiting old friends (which is considerably easier when you know how it will end) and taking a break from your own life.

takenMy favorite characters of all time, at least for now, would have to be Elvis Cole and Joe Pike as presented by Robert Crais. They’ve definitely influenced my writing and my approach to character construction, for which I’m eternally grateful. Cole has experienced a myriad of changes from beginning to end, but is still in many ways the same.

I hope I take enough from these and others to help me create characters in Shari Markham and Jesse Morgan that will be appealing enough for readers to want to see what happens next. I hope they’ll save my books and re-read them as time goes by.

What characters have most influenced you? What do you like and not like to see as far as character growth goes?