I get that people like kids and enjoy the idea of their favorite characters procreating. They, in theory, love the idea of seeing Bay and Landon raising a little witch – Landon most certainly turning into a pile of mush and sharing his bacon without prodding – or Griffin and Aisling raising the world’s snarkiest future reaper.
The problem is that, in practice, it often ruins the narrative.
My characters are immature by design and, while I like them to mature a bit each book, I don’t think most of them are ready to raise children. Even if they were, though, the odds of seeing my characters toting around an infant are pretty slim.
Why? Because I can’t get over the irresponsible nature of hauling an infant around to a crime scene (or facing off with vengeful ghosts, deranged killers, murderous neighbors, etc.). Sure, there could be babysitters and nannies or … in Avery Shaw’s case she would probably put a dog in charge as long as she didn’t have to do it … but, after a little bit, it straddles the line to bad parenting.
It’s not just the way the characters would have their lives changed, though. It’s the way the kids would alter the story. I mean, could Aunt Tillie curse everyone into a zombie book if no one was around to babysit the little ones? Could Aisling end up thrown through a window or attacked by a mirror monster if she had an infant in her arms?
I’m not opposed to the characters having kids … eventually. That really means that, for the most part, if they have kids it will be at the end. By adding kids you can spin off a series when it gets close to the end (if it’s needed or warranted). Instead of focusing on Bay and Landon eventually, perhaps you’ll meet their daughter. It’s not happening any time soon, but it’s not something that I would ever completely rule out.
As for Avery Shaw, she will never have kids. No matter how you beg and plead, it’s simply not going to happen. I don’t believe people need kids to be satisfied and Avery Shaw is not the mothering type. Period.
Now that I’ve said all of that, there is one notable exception.
On June 6th, the first book in The Dying Covenant Trilogy (the last leg of the Covenant College series) hits. As readers know, Zoe turned up pregnant at the end of The Living Covenant Trilogy. She announced it to her new husband on their wedding night.
The Dying Covenant Trilogy hops ahead thirteen years. Yup. You won’t get to see little Sami Winters as a toddler (although you will hear stories from her parents and get a prologue that revolves around her birth) or even as a precocious eight-year-old. She will be a pain in the butt 12-year-old with her father’s looks and her mother’s mouth. She will be a tyrant on two legs with abnormal role models who prefer messing with her to coddling her.
Why is Sami different? Because she’s part of Aric and Zoe’s story in an important way. She’s her own person by the time you meet her and can be left alone for little bits of time, which means Aric and Zoe don’t constantly have to be on top of her. Sami can actually carry parts of the story (although Zoe and Aric still do the heavy lifting) because she’s twelve and she’s coming into her own.
Also, it should be noted that Sami comes in at the end of Aric and Zoe’s story. While I have plans to have the characters cross over to the Mystic Caravan Circus and probably Charlie Rhodes’ world before it’s all said and done, The Dying Covenant Trilogy is the end of their individual story. That means they can support a kid because Sami won’t be weighing down future stories.
Now, I’m not saying the characters will never have children. I’m merely saying it won’t happen until a shift in the series is due or even until I’m wrapping up a series. Kids are inevitable for some of them, but they cause a narrative stumble a lot of times in an active series so they have to be worked in at the right time.
What do you think? Do you wish there were more kids hanging around?
There are different ways to introduce a series.
When it comes to Charlie Rhodes, I realized I wanted to do it in the witch world for a very important reason: Location.
The hardest part of introducing a new series is to get readers to care about the characters. By introducing Charlie via the witches, I was able to anchor her in a unique way. She got to know characters readers already knew but managed to almost bond, in a way, with readers because she loved the witches, too.
Most people seemed to like the introduction, but a few didn’t. They wanted it to be all about the new characters. I get that. I understand the complaint. I felt that Charlie, Jack and Millie were the most important characters to start with but the rest of the characters will be fleshed out more in subsequent books. The second book, for example, will not involve any crossovers and will focus solely on the new characters.
However, the Winchesters were a nice cushion for Charlie to land on for the first case out in her new world. There will be other crossovers in Charlie’s world (not in the second book, but down the line) but the witches were the natural fit for the world for the first book.
Now, by contrast, I have another new series in development. Before anyone asks, it won’t debut this year. It’s very early on and I’m mostly working on world building (by hand in a notebook). It’s also a series that will allow a lot of crossovers (no hints because I don’t want anyone to steal the idea before I’m ready to debut it). This series will not open with a crossover. Why? Location.
The location in the second new series will be stationary and involve characters going to that location for a very specific reason. I’m sorry for the vague blogging but I honestly don’t want anyone stealing the idea, which is something that sadly happens from time to time.
Charlie Rhodes does not have a stationary location. Sure, we’ll see her in the main office from time to time, but her world is a moving target. She’ll be traveling all over the country with her trusty band of misfits. When creating an ongoing location, it’s almost another character. Charlie won’t have the benefit of that stationary location.
Now, when you look at my other series, most of them have very important locations. Hemlock Cove, Shadow Lake, Whisper Cove, Blackstone Bay, Covenant College, etc., they all have a personality of their own. Avery Shaw and Aisling Grimlock live in a real place, which allows for a different sort of story building. Sometimes that’s easier but, frankly, sometimes it’s harder. Avery also lives in the “real” world so there’s no hope of crossover for her. She lives in a non-magical world. Aisling lives in the real world but she can cross to a magical one, so she’s different.
That brings us to Mystic Caravan Circus. Now, they do move around (much like Charlie Rhodes) and have a different location each book. However, they set up their own camp (which is really kind of like a small town) whenever they get to a location. So, even though the part of the country is different, the set up and people are the same. The circus itself is kind of a set location even though you get to enjoy the fun of checking out a new set of fairgrounds each go around.
Charlie doesn’t have a set camp. She will have the same people around her (and a new set of people to interact with because I need suspects, after all) but she doesn’t have a home location to anchor her. That’s why I believe launching her story in Hemlock Cove was important.
Now, as for the crossovers, they will happen. That doesn’t mean they’re always going to happen or that the crossover characters will be as widely featured as the witches were in Charlie’s story. I have ideas for crossing my Covenant characters over to the Mystic Caravan Circus for a book as well as Charlie’s world at a certain point. The grim reapers will definitely cross over to the unnamed series at some point. It’s not going to be something that happens in every book but it will be something that happens if they fit a certain story.
So, that’s it. I hope you liked Charlie and when it’s closer (and safer) to talk about the new series when it debuts next year I will definitely do it. For now, though, I won’t be answering stories about that one.
I actually get a lot of messages about my writing process. I was surprised the first time but now I’m kind of used to it.
I think there’s an inherent curiosity regarding the writing process. Mine is not particularly illuminating (or even unique) but I promised to lay it out for those interested.
So, here we go:
1. I never work on one thing at a time. The reason I can publish things so fast is that I overlap. There are purists out there who believe it’s sacrilege to work on two things at once. That’s not me. Right now, for example, I have eleven things in various stages of completion. We’re talking shorts, omnibuses and novels here. Breaking that down, the omnibuses are completely ready to load up. Three novels are ready to load up (one for preorder, one for Tuesday, one for June). Two are with editors and the rest are ready to go to editors. All except for one … which is the book I’m writing now. I can only WRITE one book at a time. I don’t jump around from book-to-book while writing but I can overlap the various stages of editing (which actually take longer than the writing for me) and formatting.
2. I use an outline when I write. Each series has its own notebook and I outline the next book in the series as soon as I finish the previous book because it streamlines the process. For example, last week I finished the main writing on the next Avery Shaw book (to head off the inevitable questions, it’s for September release and has many rounds of edits to go through so it will not be out early. There is a schedule pinned to the top of the Facebook page that lists releases) and I immediately outlined the next one. That way, when I go back in five months and start writing it, I will already have the outline done and be able to hop right in.
3. When it comes to story ideas, they usually pop up when I’m doing other things … like laundry, dishes, walking or even driving to the store. I jot down the ideas in a notebook and when it comes time to outline I decide which outline I’m leaning toward and go. By that time I’ve had the story percolating in my head for a few days and it only takes me an hour or two to outline. I’m what’s considered a “beat” outliner. That means I write down the most important aspects to cover in that chapter and then let the chapter get to where it wants on its own. It works for me but I know other people who are horrified by my process. I’m also not afraid to break from an outline if I have a better idea as I’m writing.
4. Once I’m done with the main writing I walk away for a week or two and work on the main writing on something else. By the time I come back I have just a bit of distance which helps for editing purposes. I then edit the manuscript and get it off to the first editor as soon as possible. I have a line editor and two proofreaders I utilize (and, yes, typos still get through). Once I get it back I have to go through it one more time, format and then upload. Because the process is so long and overlapping, that’s why I can’t always do preorders even though people want them. Preorders are great when they work but I refuse to put anything up for preorder that’s not 100 percent complete (there have been horror stories about Amazon sending out the wrong file) so I can only do what I can do. I put what I can up for preorder and the rest doesn’t get preorders.
5. As for ideas, I have so many ideas that I can’t keep up with them. I know other authors who say they struggle for ideas but I have the opposite problem. I will never be able to write all of the ideas I have. In fact, sometimes I get taken over by an idea. That’s kind of happening now with a series that I had an idea for and it was kind of stalking me so I started working on it to get it out of the way. I like it because it has a lot of crossover capability with characters from other series. Despite that, though, if I don’t put some work into it I will become distracted while trying to write something else and it will actually slow me down over the long haul. I have a tendency to get obsessed with stuff.
So, that’s basically it. My process is relatively easy but it’s long and I have a lot to cover between stages.
I’m attached to my characters. All of them.
I’m even attached to the ones that readers write to me about and say “I love every single one of your characters but … .” Guess what? I love the “but,” too. I don’t ever really want to end a series but it’s inevitable and I would rather pick the right time than let something linger longer than it should.
As an author, you walk a fine of trying to make readers happy but doing the story justice. I can’t tell you how many times people have written to me and said that my series should be no more than three books. Each and every series. If it goes longer than three books I’m a hack who is just out for money.
On the flip side, a lot of people write to me that they never want a series to end. They want it to go until the end of time and if I ever stop writing the series they’re going to hate me forever. That’s great in theory, but it’s not so easy (or pragmatic) in practice.
The longer a series goes you risk tipping into “diminishing returns.” What is that? At a certain point you stop sucking in new readers for a series and you start losing them. That happens to everyone.
Now, I’m not someone who pays much attention to diminishing returns. I am lucky enough to be able to write full time and I never end a series before I decide it’s done. I always have an idea of what I want the end of a series to look like, a set story so to speak, but some of the stuff between can be more vague. I try not to focus on the money angle over everything else. That’s why I keep my books at $3.99 and in KU.
Other authors or publishers give a series one or two books and then yank it without an ending if it doesn’t perform. I don’t do that. I always finish everything. I’m a bit of a completionist.
Take Hardy Brothers Security, which I wrote under my pen name. That series didn’t sell well and I still wrote twenty-four books. I was attached to the characters and had a specific story I wanted to tell.
I don’t know anyone else who would’ve written that many books in an underperforming series. That’s simply how I’m built.
Now, when it comes to series like Wicked Witches of the Midwest and Mystic Caravan, I’m honestly not sure how long they’ll run. I know I have quite a few stories still to tell. I “kind of” know how they will end but I have a lot of room to play in between.
My grim reapers, however, will go nine books. That means they end next year. I already know how they’re going to end. In fact, I know what the final line in the book is going to be. That doesn’t mean I won’t revisit the series at some point. That’s not something I just say either. Covenant College folks can attest to that. I had a set five books for that series and then had a fun idea and added six more books in two follow-up trilogies. That could easily happen to Aisling Grimlock. However, right now it will be nine books (although the grim reapers are most likely going to pop up in my Charlie Rhodes series and another series I’ve been working on outlines for) and then there will be a break before anything else is decided. It’s always nice to step back for a little bit, because when I have ideas for new series (or a continuation of an old) it’s usually when I take a step back.
As for Avery Shaw, I keep going back and forth. I believe she’ll go fifteen books but she’s honestly my favorite to write (yes, I know other people hate her, you message me all of the time). She’s essentially me, though, so when you write that you hate her it’s kind of like you’re hating me. Luckily for you, just like Avery Shaw, that only makes me stronger. Anyway, if Avery Shaw goes longer than fifteen books – and that’s honestly up in the air – it will turn into a series where there is only one new entry a year. Like I said, I keep waffling on that one.
Why is this important? Why do you care? Unlike other authors, I have more ideas than I can write. I honestly have outlines done in another twenty series or so because I have so many ideas. Whenever I have an opening and can start a new series I’m excited … until a great war wages inside of me to pick a series to focus on. I just had another idea this past weekend I’m dying to write but I don’t have time.
The thing is, I never want to stop a series because I love the characters. However, I do want to get to know new characters and series going forward, too. It’s honestly a double-edged sword (I have two future series where swords would make regular appearances, by the way). I do give it a great deal of thought, though.
So, what do you think? How long do you think is too long for a series?
So, a lot of people are worked up about Bay.
I didn’t foresee an issue, but apparently I was wrong.
Here’s the thing, Murder Most Witchy was a “transition” book. What do I mean about that? I mean it was setting things up for what is to come next.
I don’t always like the television season analogy, but I think that’s the easiest one to go with. When you break it down, the first three books were the first season. It was your introduction to Bay and the other Winchesters but you were in learning mode more than growing mode.
The next block of books were as much about Landon adjusting to a magical world as Bay adjusting to having him in her life. She grew up thinking no one would want to put up with the magic and ghosts – let alone Aunt Tillie – but slowly learned maybe that wasn’t true. She was still insecure, though, because she believed one thing her entire life and wasn’t sure she could ever break from that belief.
I spent a lot of time building the witch relationships how I wanted them, and now it’s time for another shift. Bay and Landon have to take the next step – moving in together – before they can take more steps after that. To make that happen, I needed Bay’s worst-case scenario to come to fruition. I needed Landon to go undercover and things to go badly.
It wasn’t just about Bay being “whiny,” which she fully admitted herself. It was Bay coming to grips with the fact that even when things change, that doesn’t mean she’s going to lose everything. There was a lesson in there that she needed to learn.
Going forward, I want to set up four different households. The Overlook is one, the guesthouse is another, Marcus’ stable and funky house project is the third and the Dandridge is the fourth. Now the witches, who are extremely codependent, need to learn to live in new environments. Even though Bay isn’t moving, it will be a new environment because the old pieces are being replaced with the new.
All that being said, November’s mystery and December’s fantasy (and even some of the book following that) will involve Bay, Landon and Thistle (and Marcus by extension) living together. Landon and Thistle being on top of each other is too much fun to ignore. After that, though, there’s new avenues to stroll down and they’re bound to be exciting.
How will Bay, Clove and Thistle deal with not being under the same roof? Sure, Clove is already out but with Thistle and Bay left behind it wasn’t that different. When Thistle leaves, though, we really are in a brave new witch world. That witch world will be different for Landon, too. He will go from spending half his time there to all of his time there, and it will still be an adjustment.
For those upset with Bay’s reaction, I’m sorry. Bay needed for the absolute worst to happen to prove that it wasn’t the end of the world. Did she act in a mature fashion? No. I never even considered that. I wouldn’t have been happy in her position and I didn’t ever think that was the way to go when writing it.
Moving forward, though, the witches will be braving new things and new scenarios. Will they always be mature when they respond? Absolutely not. That’s not the way they (or I, for that matter) roll.
They learned from Aunt Tillie, after all.
When it comes to the worlds I’ve created, my general rule is to make sure the emotions are true to the characters rather than have every action and reaction be based in reality.
What does that mean?
It means that it’s more important to me that Landon and Bay sit down for a serious talk if they’ve had a misunderstanding than worrying about the fact that real witches don’t curse people to smell like bacon.
Yes, I’ve had a message complaining about that. For the record, I know. I know there’s not a bacon curse and that it doesn’t really exist – so there’s no reason to keep messaging me about it. That’s not the point of the story.
I want the emotional bonds between the characters to ring true. The other stuff – the ghosts, curses, wraiths, pouting reporters, and magical mages with glowing hands – isn’t as important to me.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore the action when it comes to the meat of the story. I still focus more on the characters even when mirror men are trying to kill my heroine.
That being said, a lot of the character actions ARE based in reality despite what some people think.
ARGUMENT ONE: No one would ever talk to his or her boss in the manner that Avery Shaw talks to her boss.
The thing is, I often talked to my boss the way Avery Shaw talks to Fred Fish. Out of all of my characters, Avery Shaw is the most like me. Newsrooms are not “office” settings by any stretch of the imagination. They may be housed in offices, but they’re not “normal” business settings. Strange, but true. My former co-workers and I used to have a good laugh about the oddballs in our newsroom.
I always had a theory that the journalism profession appeals to oddballs and loners. You’re not expected to dress in a suit and kiss the boss’s butt in a newsroom. That’s simply not the way it goes. Instead you’re allowed to come as you are (unless you’re covering a charity event or court case) and snark about with your co-workers while making fun of the television reporters.
Newsrooms are loose and fast with the rules and I had a tendency to whine when I didn’t want to cover something. In the books, Avery Shaw has a pair of shark mittens she uses to do puppet shows to explain to her boss why she doesn’t want to cover something. I got several messages about how unprofessional that was. Here’s the thing: I do have those shark mittens, although the mittens I utilized for my puppet shows were snakes (I still have them).
Why the snakes? They had long, floppy tongues that made the puppet reenactment so much more interesting. I did argue with my boss when I didn’t want to cover something but the puppet show was mild compared to what I saw other co-workers doing. The co-worker Marvin Potts is based on, for example, was prone to flying off the handle and yelling and stomping around whenever the mood struck.
And he not only got away with it but also was considered the best reporter in the room.
So, yeah, reporters are odd. Newsrooms are odd places, though, and they’re nothing like regular office settings.
ARGUMENT TWO: Grandpa’s antics in Avery Shaw are completely off the charts.
They may be but my Grandpa is based on my grandfather and he did a lot wilder things than what I have in the books. My family is also that co-dependent and we fight with each other constantly. We snipe, blackmail, mess around with and threaten to get our way when nothing is going on. We also turn up in a crisis and help, no questions asked or apologies for earlier fights offered. It’s simply how we roll.
ARGUMENT THREE: No one would put up with Avery, Aisling, Zoe, Harper, etc. and actually stay long enough to fall in love with them.
That’s actually a legitimate argument. In the real world, I can’t imagine anyone putting up with the stuff Avery does on a regular basis. She thinks nothing of it and Eliot is pretty much a martyr where she’s concerned. Aisling isn’t quite as bad but I know very few people in the real world who would put up with meddling brothers (to say nothing for a threatening father) like Aisling has. The same for the Winchester family. Bay honestly isn’t all that hard to deal with (for the most part), but putting up with Thistle, Aunt Tillie and Winnie on a regular basis would be soul-crushing for most men (delicious bacon aside, of course).
That’s why it’s a book, people. If I wanted everything to be exactly like it was in the real world I would stop writing and sit on my front lawn and watch the neighbors do nothing eight hours a day. The fun of a book is escape. I don’t pretend for a second that the bulk of my characters are people who would have an easy time of it in the real world.
ARGUMENT FOUR: The characters are selfish and not good role models.
I like to think the characters are more than one thing. They are certainly selfish when they want to be. People in the real world are selfish, too. The characters are also giving and loyal when things go bad, just like the people in the real world. As for the role model argument? I don’t set my characters up to be role models. I write them to be true to themselves and that’s pretty much it.
This goes back to the beginning, though. I like emotions that are realistic and actions that can be fantastic. That’s probably one of the reasons I like soap operas so much. I never once believed the Cassidines were going to freeze the world on General Hospital but I always believed I wanted Luke and Robert to stop them. To this day, I’m still rooting for Robert and Anna because of the characters … not the ludicrous stuff hey did throughout the years, like both of them dying and coming back from the dead, Anna being a double agent, Anna being kidnapped by a crazy person, their daughter dying and coming back from the dead, etc.
None of that bothers me because I’m invested in the character. Since that appeals to me, that’s what I focus on when writing.
So, for me, it all comes down to character development above all else. I don’t see that changing and that’s simply what I like to focus on.
What about you? Do you prefer a more realistic plot or are you focused on how the characters interact with one another?
There are some authors who know every character’s path before they even start writing.
I’m not one of those authors.
I’m the one who often surprises myself while I’m writing when it comes to certain things. Character development is one of those things.
Take Eliot in the Avery Shaw series. When I first envisioned the series I knew I wanted him to be a viable love interest but I ultimately expected him to lose to Jake. As things progressed, though, I realized it wouldn’t end up that way.
As romantic and fun as it is to imagine first love turning into forever love it doesn’t fit for Avery and Jake because it’s not fair to ask either character to completely change to fit in the other’s world. Eliot doesn’t have those issues and he grew in different and exciting ways as the series progressed.
Sometimes even I’m surprised by how much I like Eliot.
There are different characters in each series that ended up with bigger roles than I initially envisioned.
One of the biggest (other than Eliot) is Chief Terry in the Wicked Witches of the Midwest series. I always wanted him to be a friendly and amiable guy who cared about the witches but he’s ultimately taken on a huge role in the series (he’s very involved in the upcoming mystery installment).
He’s a surrogate father for Bay, Clove and Thistle. He’s a sounding board for Landon. He’s something to spar over for Winnie, Twila and Marnie. He’s also someone Aunt Tillie can’t help but rely on when she gets in trouble.
On the flip side, because I’m so enamored with Chief Terry I don’t often give the fathers enough character development. In my head I know I need to fix that and yet I remain a huge fan of Chief Terry and love writing for him. It is what it is.
When it comes to the Mystic Caravan series, I knew I would be able to have a lot of fun with the characters. One that stood out was Nellie, though. I thought he was going to be an occasional funny character. I mean … who doesn’t find joy in a cross-dressing dwarf masquerading as the bearded lady at a magical circus? Fairly soon when I started writing that series, though, Nellie’s role grew and while he’s not the main character, he’s definitely in the top tier of characters. He’s not all about comedy either. I like it when he has some emotional growth (which you’ll see a bit of in Freaky Games).
Sometimes I know going in that a character is going to be huge … like Jerry in the Grimlock series. Just envisioning him had me laughing and he still makes me laugh six books in. The big issue with the Grimlocks was creating a unique relationship between Aisling and all four of her brothers. At the outset I found Braden lacking so I had to concentrate hard on developing him and (hopefully) I’ve managed to create a unique relationship between Aisling and each brother that manages to stand out.
It’s always hardest at the beginning of a series. It’s a balancing act to give new characters life without doing an info dump (which is boring for everyone involved, readers and author). Launching the Charlie Rhodes series (which will debut in May) in the Wicked Witches of the Midwest world was an added trial because I wanted to give the witches some time to shine while introducing the new characters. I’m not a fan of revealing every single thing about a character in the first book, though, so there will be plenty of books to get to know them better while the witches get a lot of time to interact with the new characters in the first book. It was fun to write the witches through a new character’s eyes. There’s a lot of “wink, wink” for readers but there’s fun in the new discovery, too.
Sometimes I get messages asking how a series is going to end. I know in some cases how it’s going to end. In fact, I know exactly how the Aisling Grimlock series is going to end. I know who is going to say the last sentence. I know what the words are going to be. I have a few ideas about the witches, but that’s way down the road. I also know in a general sense how Avery Shaw will end. I have no idea how Mystic Caravan or Charlie Rhodes will end, though. Not even a notion. Sometimes it’s fun knowing. Sometimes it’s fun discovering things as I’m writing.
Even though I know exactly how the Grimlock series will end I’m still excited to enjoy the ride to the finale. And, like anything else, that ultimately may not be the end. I ended the Covenant College series at five books and then more than a year later I had fun ideas for two follow-up trilogies, which increased the books in that world to eleven. I also have plans for those characters to visit the Mystic Caravan Circus and very probably they will ultimately cross paths with Charlie Rhodes down the line.
I’m always open to new ideas so when people ask how I plan on ending something I’m not playing coy when I say I don’t know. I honestly discover something about the characters each time I start a new book. They come alive and entertain me even though I’m supposed to be the one creating them.
My mother thinks she’s the mother in every book I write.
Even Aisling Grimlock’s mother, apparently. I don’t know what that says about her but she also refers to Avery Shaw as “you” when talking to me, as if I’m the character.
I’ve told her numerous times that the characters are not people she knows, but she doesn’t believe me.
In truth, a lot of my characters are based on people I know but none of the characters are exact duplicates of anyone I know (if that makes sense). It’s more that I pick out certain elements of an individual’s personality – usually something funny – and apply that to a character and then embellish even further.
Take Aunt Tillie. She’s a mixture of two people. I based her looks on a great-aunt and overlaid personality traits from that great-aunt and my great-grandmother.
My great-grandmother was a fascinating woman who took my mother and siblings (her grandchildren) to the cemetery and made them serve as lookouts while she stole flowers from the dead because “they wouldn’t miss them.”
She liked to take walks in the woods, pick out full-grown trees she loved, and make my grandfather dig them up and move them to her yard.
She glued false eyelashes on ceramic frogs and considered them art.
She also enjoyed a good fight when necessary. Does that sound like Aunt Tillie? Yes, and no. My great-grandmother obviously didn’t curse anyone to smell like bacon but she would’ve happily done so if given the chance.
The entire Wicked Witches of the Midwest series became a thing because one day – after listening to my mother and her two sisters argue for what felt like forever – I wondered what it would be like if I turned them into witches. Hence Winnie, Marnie and Twila. No joke. They’re the same … and yet different.
Newsrooms are always full of odd people so populating The Monitor’s newsroom was easy, including Fred Fish (who shares a lot of quirks with my former editor who has since retired) and Marvin Potts, who is close to my friend Mitch Hotts but also just a little sillier. To be fair, though, Marvin doesn’t need a lot of embellishment because Hotts is a quirky individual.
All of the characters pick up a habit or two from people I find interesting. Then, however, I expand on the quirks.
My cousin Kylie, for example, inspired two characters (but kind of split down the middle). Kylie and I were very close growing up and spent a lot of time together. She gave me ideas for Lexie in Avery Shaw (and yes, a lot of the stuff Lexie does my cousin Kylie did – and gladly told me about) and Clove in Wicked Witches of the Midwest.
Ah! People who have read both series probably don’t think Lexie and Clove are all that similar, other than their looks. They are, though. My cousin Kylie can manipulate with the best of them and turn on the waterworks like Clove. She also used to melt down when I made her sneak through the woods when we were doing something we shouldn’t be doing. On the flip side, like Lexie, she has no problem smacking people around with an umbrella and can bring a grown man to his knees whenever she feels like it. She’s fierce and tiny, but neither Clove or Lexie is exactly her. They both have elements of her personality.
Carly in the Avery Shaw books and Kelsey in Covenant College also pick up a few of the traits from the same person.
Mario in the Avery Shaw books is based on my cousin Chuckie, who is as gregarious, self-deprecating and funny as Mario but still manages to have a serious side, too.
The family restaurant in Avery Shaw? It was real. It was called Avery’s and it was in a small town called Mancelona, Michigan for a very long time. It’s gone now but I miss it a great deal. We didn’t have family dinners ever week but we all wandered in and out whenever we want, ordered whatever we wanted and also worked long hours even as teenagers.
Of all of my characters, the one most like his real-life counterpart is Grandpa in the Avery Shaw series. I made him look exactly like my Grandpa Avery. I gave him my grandfather’s larger than life personality and – the thing is – I rarely have to embellish stories about him because he was that much of a character.
He enjoyed skinny-dipping every morning to give the old ladies in the neighborhood their daily “thrill.” In fact, one night my cousin Eric and I were sneaking into the pool and didn’t bother to look at the trampoline. As we were lifting the gate latch, we heard “the water’s wet.” When we turned, we found him naked and drying on the trampoline. He thought our discomfort was funny.
He did go to jail for refusing to report for jury duty (and yelling obscenities at the judge).
He did get in trouble with local law enforcement for ripping up handicapped parking signs in his own restaurant parking lot.
He threw bread at us when he was angry and we were working with him. He also laughed when we were up to mischief and took us for sleepovers on the trampoline in the summers. Of course, he would get up early and time the underground sprinklers to get us wet at six in the morning … but that’s an entirely different thing.
My grandfather loved telling stories about himself so I know that he would be happy with Grandpa in the books. In fact, he would probably think that’s the only fun character.
What do you think? Who is your favorite character, and why?
The Lucy and Ricky Effect is real.
It’s one of the greatest inspirations to my writing. I absolutely loved the show when I was a kid. I take as much inspiration from I Love Lucy as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Roseanne, and MacGyver. Yeah, I loved MacGyver, too.
As for Lucy and Ricky, their relationship always struck me as funny because they loved each other but Ricky was always exasperated by the situations Lucy found herself in. His reaction was often the funniest part of the episode – along with Lucy’s reaction to being caught. Lucy, for her part, couldn’t seem to stay out of trouble and didn’t really think before acting. If you pay attention, none of my heroines can stay out of trouble either.
I get messages every so often that people think some of the men I write are bullies. The ones getting the most flak are Landon, Elliot and Griffin. Some people seem to think that they boss around the females too much. I, of course, don’t see it that way.
It’s not about bossing people around to me. It’s about keeping them safe. Landon, Elliot and Griffin aren’t trying to boss around their mates as much as they’re trying to keep something terrible from happening. I’m all about the girl power and have no interest in keeping down my heroines BUT I don’t think it’s realistic for an FBI agent, cop and security expert to sit idly back and watch the women they love face off with murderers without at least commenting.
What’s funny to me is that no one ever says any of my women are bullies. While I wouldn’t call Bay a bully, I would call Aisling and Avery bullies every once in awhile (Avery more often than not, in fact). It’s just the way they’re made. Aisling grew up with all brothers and found a way to stand up for herself that’s just as loud and demanding as the people telling her to behave herself. And Avery … well … Avery is just Avery. She’s going to do what she’s going to do and think about the consequences later.
Aunt Tillie is another story. She’s a bully because she likes it. She’s ten times the bully any of my men are and no one ever complains about that. They think it’s funny (as do I).
When approaching relationships, in general I try for a solid balance of power. In truth, the women have the bulk of the power. Let’s not kid ourselves. Still, the men occasionally like to pretend they have power and that’s what leads to some of the funnier bits.
When it comes to Avery in particular, I’m not sure there’s any “real” man who would put up with her. She’s growing and learning, but she’s a pain in the ass. She could be a junior Aunt Tillie, quite frankly. Aisling tends to trend in that direction, too, but she does it because she’s always felt overshadowed by testosterone. Bay is actually fairly easy to get along with. It’s her family that causes the bulk of the drama.
Still, I don’t write the men to be bullies. I do write them to occasionally have a spine, though. If they didn’t, the fun interactions would be lacking. If everyone got along and said “Oh, sweetie, the sun rises and sets on you and I don’t care what you do” there would be no drama and I might as well end the stories now. You need drama to move the narrative along, help the characters grow and inspire laughs.
That’s just how I think, though. What do you think? Are my men bullies?
I’ve decided that I’m not a fan of triangles.
A lot of authors include triangles into their work because it’s supposed to increase longevity for that series, and that means more money for the author. As a reader, though, I’ve found that triangles frustrate me.
If you do a triangle where the heroine is constantly waffling, you get to the point where you can’t move forward. Period. You’re left treading water in the middle of the ocean and it’s fruitless to swim in any direction. If the heroine is torn between two men she can never achieve true intimacy with either one of them.
I started the Avery Shaw series first. I was a reporter and that was what I knew best. I love the character. She is the most like me. As for love interests, when I first started writing the series I thought she would end up with Jake. Eliot was only supposed to be a distraction.
As time progressed, though, some things became evident. When looking at the characters as real human beings, Avery and Jake could never work. He’s a politician. She can never be a politician’s wife. Fans of Avery wouldn’t want her to try to fit in that world for more than a book or two (granted, it would be funny at first). It would be excruciating by the end, though, because she would suffer. Fans of Jake might not realize what she would have to give up to be with him, but it’s practically everything.
I’m not sure when I realized that Avery and Jake couldn’t be together. Whenever it was, though, things got easier when it came to the narrative. Letting go of the idea of Avery and Jake was freeing. I didn’t have to work to mature Avery at an unreasonable pace. Maturity is important. Doing it in a reasonable manner is more important. Eliot would never ask her to change and Jake would never be happy with her if she didn’t change.
That doesn’t mean Jake and Avery can’t be close. They ARE close. Eliot and Jake are good friends, too, and I look for that to move forward. There is no realistic world where Jake and Avery could be together, though. One of them would have to give up everything. That doesn’t seem fair to either character.
When it comes to Covenant College – the only other series where I had an ongoing triangle for more than a book – I always knew it was going to be Aric and Zoe. In fact, when I envisioned the series, it was because I could never understand what a centuries-old vampire would see in a teenager. If he has endless knowledge, what does a shallow girl have to offer?
I like that Rafael can love Zoe for what she is. I also like that they recognize they have nothing in common. Aric is Zoe’s soul mate. They understand each other and are on an even level. Rafael and Zoe could never be equal.
The final Covenant College trilogy revisits that relationship one more time. You never worry about Aric and Zoe’s marriage, but it’s fun to have individuals looking back on a relationship that never had a chance to work. It’s even funnier when the 12-year-old child develops a crush on the vampire.
For me, as a writer, I am willing to go to “out there” places as long as I feel the emotions are real. I love soap operas (Sonny and Brenda forever!). Absolutely. Positively. I never believed the Cassidines were going to freeze the world on General Hospital. I always wanted Luke and Robert to stop them, though.
That’s what is important to me.
What’s important to you?
When I was a kid, I was torn between whether or not I was going to grow up and be the Incredible Hulk or Wonder Woman. I flirted with being a Jedi Knight for awhile, but I wasn't up for the intense travel associated with the gig. In my teens, I settled on being a writer -- although I had no idea the effort that would entail.