Please join me in giving a warm Murderati welcome to Carolyn Haines, the author of the Sarah Booth Delaney Mississippi Delta Mysteries from St. Martin’s Minotaur. GREEDY BONES, her newest book, will be released July 7.
See you next week,
Readers frequently fall in love with a character and want to know more about him or her, and it’s the same for authors. Having written both standalone and series characters, I find great joy—and sometimes sorrow—in both types of books.
One of the real pleasures of writing a series is the ability to see the characters grow and change over a lengthy period of time. To get to know them in a multitude of situations. I’m now writing the tenth book in a series, and in that time, my protagonist, Sarah Booth Delaney, has grown up a lot. Not physically, but emotionally. Sarah Booth is an amateur sleuth, but over the past nine years, she’s developed some skills at the profession she fell into by stealing a friend’s dog and ransoming it back (in her defense, she was about to lose her family home, Dahlia House, and she suffers a lot for this betrayal). The dog’s owner, a woman Sarah Booth perceived as somewhat shallow, shows real heart and courage in the books and eventually becomes Sarah Booth’s partner. This isn’t necessarily the kind of change that can occur in the span of a single novel. But in a series, there’s room enough to let this happen naturally.
I’ve spent such a long time with the Zinnia, Mississippi, characters, that they’re like old friends to me. That familiarity is wonderful. Each year, the “friendship” with these characters deepens. They still do things that surprise me—just like real friends—but I know and understand their motivations.
The downside is that throughout the nine finished books, a lot of things have happened, and I am the “keeper” of all the facts about made-up characters and a fictional town. The geography of the town can be troublesome. In prior books I’ve established where the bank, the café, the beauty salon are all located. This “world building” affects every other book. It’s a lot to manage, and with each additional book written and published, it becomes harder and harder. Consider, too, that I do a lot of re-writing, so things are cut—but three years later, I’m not sure what was cut and what was left in. I’ve tried different tactics for handling this, but it’s just plain difficult any way I tackle it.
A writer still has to attend to these world-building details in a single-title book, but there is less to remember. And think of the time that’s passed since THEM BONES first came out—a decade. That’s a long time ago. My brain has only so much space. When new stuff is added, old stuff is pushed out.
Aging the characters is another consideration. Different authors handle this challenge in a variety of ways. In my world of Zinnia, Sarah Booth has aged only eighteen months. She was thirty-three when the series started, and she’s about to turn thirty-five. That creates some difficulties, as you can imagine. I’ve made the choice to include new technology as I learn how to use it (not at a very fast pace, I fear). But some authors keep their character in the same decade the first book took place in. Either choice has benefits and drawbacks.
When reading books, particularly mysteries, do you like growth in the character? Or do you prefer the character to remain somewhat unchanged? What are some of your favorite characters in either mode?