by Barb, in Maine, where it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Our guest today is a woman who needs no introduction, at least to crime writers in New England. She’s a founding member of the New England Crime Bake, Level Best Books, (first publisher of several Wickeds) and the Maine Crime Writers blog. She’s been publishing for twenty-five years and writing longer than that. She’s here today to give us the benefits of her wisdom.
Take it away, Kate!
There are those who will meticulously research the field before embarking on their first story. Most of us, though, have an idea, a character, and incident, a story to tell that we manage to put down despite our terror of the blank page and the certainty that we have no idea what we’re doing. Our mistakes often begin when we have no idea that we’re embarking on a series.
He wasn’t supposed to be a major character. Thea was supposed to rescue herself. For the next several books, I was stuck with the battle of two strong-willed characters, both of whom are rescuers, trying to create a relationship where he can give her the space she needs to be who she is. Not part of my plan.
Conventional series wisdom suggests that you don’t let your character get too entangled in relationships, because having a significant other makes it hard for the amateur detective to leap out of bed at three a.m. to go asleuthing. Someone is going to say “Are you okay?” or “Where are you going?” or “I’m coming with you.” Or someone is going to say, “It’s too dangerous. Don’t go.” Especially when that someone is a “serve and protect” kind of guy. Some of this can be solved by long-distance relationships: Thea in Massachusetts and Andre in Maine. But in the long term, that couple who weren’t meant to be will want to be together.
A mistake that time will make? The writer gets older and the character does not. Technology changes. Music changes. Clothing styles change. Over a quarter of a century, Thea will age a few years. I will age, well, a quarter of a century, and be calling on my nieces and daughter-in-law for advice about the music in Thea’s car.
Don’t let your character get married. Relationships are okay but don’t tie your character down too much. I dragged it out for a few books, but then the inevitable happened. Perhaps there was a nudge from readers when several other series writers killed off their character’s significant other and I started getting mail that said: If you kill off Andre, I’ll never read you again. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting how much readers get invested in your characters.
Biggest mistake you can make? Bring children into the picture. As a former attorney for the Maine Department of Human Services in the area of abused and neglected children, I always used to say that I would take Dave Robicheaux’s daughter away from him because he was such a careless, risk-taking parent. Now I fear I may have to do the same to Thea.
For a while now, Thea and Andre have called their prospective child MOC, for Mason, Oliver or Claudine. They don’t know the sex of their child, so they, and readers, will learn it together in the next book. All they know so far is that they will be the parents of a acrobat. Meanwhile, before book eleven, this writer had better find them an excellent nanny, or readers will be writing to say she’s not taking good care of the baby.
Here are two Christmas stories for you:
Readers: Is there a mistake you’ve made that only could be revealed with time?
Flora divides her time between Massachusetts and Maine, where she gardens and cooks and watches the clouds when she’s not imagining her character’s dark deeds.