By Mary Kennedy
[Originally published in the February issue of The Heartline Herald, the newsletter of the New Jersey chapter of the Romance Writers of America.]
Recently, I sat down with four best-selling authors and asked for advice on creating characters that will go on forever. My own character, Dr. Maggie Walsh, has starred in three Talk Radio Mysteries, but naturally I want her to have a very long life! Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand series), Denise Swanson (the Scumble River series), Avery Aames (the Cheese Shop Mysteries) and Krista Davis (the Domestic Diva Mysteries) shared their secrets and gave me some intriguing answers.
Q: Do you ever get any feedback from readers about the main character's personality – do they want him to stay the same, do they suspect that he's changed? Do readers object if they feel that the character is somehow shifting gears on them?
Avery: I have received a number of emails from readers telling me how much they adore Charlotte¹s commitment to family. Though she’s plucky, she’s not particularly snarky. She rarely says anything bad about someone, though she might think a slightly snarky thought every once in a while.
Denise: The vast majority of readers that I've heard from love that Skye remains the person they like, but changes enough not to become stale or predictable. One of the very few negative emails from a reader was for book #5, Murder of a Barbie and Ken, when Skye finally has sex with her boyfriend. The reader called me the Spawn of Satan because my character had had sex without being married. On the other hand, the mystery must have been a compelling one because, although her minister made her stop reading and throw the book away, she wanted me to tell her who the murderer was. Being the Spawn of Satan, I told her that Dad had said not to tell her (you know he likes to torment people).
Krista: Being a domestic diva is all about home and family and friends. One reader posted a couple of negative reviews about Sophie's willingness to be helpful. Ironically, I think that's the thing to which many of us relate, since most women have people who depend on them. Otherwise, I have only received positive feedback about Sophie. Her character hasn't really changed, but she has grown from her experiences.
Q: What are the advantages of writing a series with recurring characters?
Carolyn: Recurring characters mean the author knows the terrain and understands the characters' mores. It can be great fun to chop through the forest and blaze a new path, but there is charm and comfort in following a familiar path.
Denise: The biggest hurdle is that Skye always has to be front and center, and in my case can't do anything that would make the reader dislike her. The advantages are numerous in that I don't have to create a whole new world and population every time I write a new book.
Avery: Populating a town with not only the lead character but with all her family and friends is extremely difficult. She needs a real world, not just those people at work, but also those people who live in the town, who run the shops, the diners, and the police precinct. Another challenge is to make sure that the protagonist remembers past incidents in the same way in each book. As the author, I must keep the protagonist’s thoughts at the forefront, so the reader feels each action is justified.
Thank you, ladies, I look forward to your new releases.
Mary Kennedy is a psychologist in private practice and the award-winning author of The Talk Radio Mysteries. Her latest release is Stay Tuned for Murder.