Liz Milliron on Bibles (No, Not THAT Bible)

Edith here, still delighted with having my long-distance son home for a long visit.

I’m also delighted to have Liz Milliron back on the blog with her new Laurel Highlands Mystery releasing today! Check out the blurb for Harm Not the Earth:

When Southwest Pennsylvania’s summer rains flood the Casselman River, State Police Trooper Jim Duncan finds a John Doe body in what is initially believed to be a tragic accident. But when a second victim, John Doe’s partner in an environmental group at odds with a nearby quarry operation, is rescued, all thoughts of accidental drowning are abandoned. After Jim is invited to join the official investigation, he begins to think a career shift might be in his future.

Meanwhile, Assistant Public Defender Sally Castle is approached by an abused woman who is accused of murdering her abuser. Although the rules prevent Sally from taking the case, she steps outside her office to help the woman and discover the truth. As their separate cases become intertwined, Jim and Sally struggle to determine if their new paths can be traveled together or if they will divide their newly repaired relationship. And equally important, will they be able to bring a killer to justice before another innocent life is lost?

Read Your Bible

Thanks to all the Wickeds for having me back for the launch of Harm Not the Earth, the fourth in my Laurel Highlands Mysteries series. It’s always a pleasure to visit.

Now that I’m four books into the series, I figured it was time to get serious about a series bible. Dedicated readers and authors know what I’m talking about – that record of all of your characters and locations in a series that keeps you straight. What color eyes does your character have? What kind of car does she drive? Where is the post office in relation to Bob’s Diner? That kind of thing.

I thought this would be an academic exercise. After all, I use Scrivener to write and I kept Character and Location sheets for every book. All I had to do was transcribe that information into a central location. Piece of cake.

The first step was to decide on a tool. After some waffling, I decided to use Airtable, which is a kind of online spreadsheet, but it allows for more templates and options than plain old Excel. Bonus: it’s free and I was already using it for something else.

I sat down and cracked open Root of All Evil, the first book in the series. There were all my character sheets, all nicely filled out. I had a little backfilling to do, but not too bad. I’d have this task done in a day.

On to Heaven Has No Rage. The main character sheets were pretty good, since I’d copied them from the first book. But the secondary characters were…spotty, yeah, that’s a good word. And hey, where was the sheet for one of the key antagonists? Well, I’d come to that character a bit late in the process so it was understandable they didn’t have a sheet. It wasn’t too hard to fill in the information. I only had to search for the type of car they drove.

Next up, Broken Trust. Never mind trust, I’d broken my record-keeping. The character sheets had little information, mostly age and where they lived. Maybe a few physical details and the character’s role in the story. Um, what had I been thinking? I checked the sheets for the main recurring characters. I hadn’t updated them for the new story. Oops.

Finally, Harm Not the Earth. Oh wow. I’d really lost it. The character sheets were little more than name, age and town of residence. No physical details. No cars. No…nothing. It’s like I’d become so confident in my record-keeping, I’d assumed I’d done it when I really hadn’t. I spent over an hour searching the manuscript for details, trying to remember motivations. Ugh.

Then the locations. Dear reader, it wasn’t much better.

After this, I took a break. I need a snack and an adult beverage.

I was afraid to move on to The Homefront Mysteries. I was right to be afraid. Aside from my main recurring characters, I had little information in any of the three books, including next February’s release, The Lessons We Learn. Mama mia.

An exercise that should have taken no more than and hour or two, turned into two days of rifling through manuscripts, digging through memories, and, in some cases, backfilling information (such as birth dates). The best thing I can say is that it’s done. Well, almost. There is one more Laurel Highlands book to backfill, Lie Down with Dogs which comes out next August. But I’ll do that later this year as I’m revising the manuscript for submission.

At least I’ve learned my lesson. From now on, complete those character and location sketches as I think of them. And I mean more than a name. Because we all know the biggest lie we tell ourselves: I’ll remember that, I don’t have to write it down.

I’m sure future me will be thankful.

Edith: Speaking as someone about to write book #11 in a series, I can attest: future you will be ecstatic, Liz! And grateful.

Readers: Is there something you were sure you were doing, but later found out that you hadn’t been as diligent as you thought? What happened?

Liz Milliron is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries series, set in the scenic Laurel Highlands of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and The Home Front Mysteries, set in Buffalo, NY during the early years of World War II. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Pennwriters, and International Thriller Writers. Now an empty-nester, Liz lives outside Pittsburgh with her husband and a retired-racer greyhound.

38 Thoughts

  1. For me, I have to keep to a schedule for my blog activities. I have certain days for certain tasks and if I miss a task, it puts me back.

  2. This is such a great post. I am into book two – don’t use Scrivener, have a bulletin board with notes tacked on with character “stuff” and location “stuff” – thanks for reminding me to keep better track now to save myself headaches later – but the adult beverage break sounds irresistible – might do the tracking late in the afternoon with a glass of wine by my side.

  3. Happy release day, Liz! I’m so excited about being part of tonight’s launch party!

    As for slacking off on recording of character details the further I am in a series? Guilty as charged. And I’m on book #11! It’s going to take me a month to update my bible at this point!

    1. Annette, I can’t wait to see you!

      Yeah, that’s exactly the place I didn’t want to find myself at. Maybe your reader group can help fill in the details.

  4. Wow! You are so right! I find that I need to keep a bible for characters and relationships and all the other details, even for individual books. I also have found that I need to keep one for projects in my volunteer activities. When I am
    working on a board approved project, I need to know money to spend, what has been spent, where we are in the project and how much time is left to get it done! Work training helped a lot in that but reproducing the tools you need outside of a paid job gets a little tricky I have more project lists and schedules in my computer than ever before! When I lose track, I drive myself crazy backtracking through notes and emails!

    1. Doris, it’s amazing how many things we need to keep track of, not just in writing but everyday life. Good luck keeping it all straight!

  5. I find it helpful to keep cheat sheets when I’m reading a book, just to keep track of who’s who. I’d wondered how writers kept track from book to book, now I see it’s tricky!

    1. I’m no longer surprised some writers include a “cast of characters” at the beginning of their books.

      And as Edith says, very tricky and very necessary!

  6. Happy release day, Liz! I’m on book 6 of my Allie Cobb Mysteries series and, yeah, my series bible sure got more “sparse” with each book. LOL
    Hope you have a wonderful day. Cheers!

  7. Happy release day, Liz! I’m just starting a new series – it’s like the first day of school, everything is bright, shiny, and organized, but I have hope of keeping it that way. I started the new series with Plottr. It’s fabulous as it has a bible function and it’s set up for series writing. Yea! Of course, I have to remember to update, but it’s fun and so far, works for me. Famous Last Words???? 🙂

      1. It’s got cool visual tools for keeping details straight and plotting not only the book, but the series. I found it didn’t work for me and the way I write, but I see where it could be very helpful.

  8. I keep a character bible and a place bible and I refer to it more than I’d like. I also keep a notebook with a summary of each chapter with page numbers, date, and weather for that day. It really comes in handy during revisions and edits. Just before Front Page Murder was due, I realized I never looked up the weather for May 1942. Fortunately, it was easy to add a sentence or two where appropriate.

    I would be in so much trouble without the notes and bibles!

    Have fun at your launch tonight! I wish I could be there!

    1. Thanks, Joyce. Looking up the weather for my Homefront series is important. Fortunately, having lived in Buffalo for so many years gives me a good general idea of what the weather would be like in whatever period I’m writing the book.

      I wish you could be there, too!

  9. Excellent advice, Liz. I’ve been using Scrivener to track these details–when I remember to add them! For my novella-in-progress, which is under a heavy “this is the last version” edit, I began using Plottr and find the characters and places section very helpful for starting a good character Bible. When I’m finished with this, I’ll do the same for my trilogy-in-progress. I know I’ll be grateful later for the time spent in organizing myself now. I’d not thought of using Airtable, although that’s on my to do list to transfer my tracking spreadsheet for submissions and publications. So many good tools out there for us. We just have to discipline ourselves to use them. Now where’s that wine?

  10. Liz, congratulations on the book! I had a Garden Squad situation where I couldn’t find Ernie’s late husband’s name. For us writing, this can happen. But people who binge on the series are going to find some issues…

  11. The Stories We Tell – I’ll remember that. 🙂

    Congrats on getting all that organized. I’m not an organized person, so the thought of all that work scares me. And figuring out how to keep it all straight if I were to start, too. I’m very impressed.

    And congrats on the new book!

    1. Thanks, Mark. Funny thing is I’m very organized (usually) in everything else. But this just completely slipped out of my grasp. Good thing I got it under control now.

  12. Congratulations on the launch, Liz! I’m terrible at bible-ing. It’s all in my head, although I definitely look back at past books if I’m not sure memory is serving me. I like to think of it as an exercise in brain health!

    1. Thanks, Ellen and happy release day to you, too!

      A new exercise to prevent aging brains? LOL Better than those stupid number puzzles for me for sure!

  13. Happy release day. Liz! I love a Cast of Characters in the front of a book. I refer to it often.

    I am in inveterate photographer. I have probably 10,000 slides and now thousands of digital pix. I’m usually very good about marking each picture with who, what, where, and when on each pic. But sometimes after a long vacation, things get ahead of me. Then there was a time when my computer crashed big time, Carbonite did a great job of saving the pix, but not all the captions got saved. Still haven’t gotten all of them figured out.

    I also inherited hundreds and hundreds of old family photos, many of which were not marked. I tried to get as much info as possible from living relatives, but didn’t have a whole lot of luck (not a lot of relatives for one thing). I did the best I could with matching pix. Then this week, I just received 100+ more from a cousin. Most of them of are not marked! That is on the top of the stack of TBD.

    1. Thanks, Ginny!

      I cannot even imagine going through all the pictures my family has and trying to figure out who’s who and where they are and when. Fortunately, my younger sister inherited all the photos. She’s got a much better head for that than I do.

  14. Congratulations on your new release!! Your book sounds like a great read and the cover is Gorgeous!

  15. So interesting to follow your journey through your characters. I have sometimes been amazed and let down when authors give differeing details about characters in series. Thanks to all authors who strive for consistency in details!

  16. Congratulations on your release, Liz. I’m also a scrivener and airtable user, and appreciate how they help organize
    things I sometimes didn’t even realize needed organizing. I know you’ve done the heavy lifting, but would you be willing to share your Airtable template? Totally understand if you’d rather not, but we all know it’s easier to edit than create!

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