I like creating characters. I was a lonely child and had lots of imaginary playmates. Now as a writer I get to put all those fun people down on paper. The thing that’s most interesting to me though, is the way those secondary characters tend to capture the imagination of my readers. I put in a lot of work on my primary characters. They typically have long a long backstory much of which doesn’t make it into the book. My secondary characters are typically created on the fly. Take Nate Randolph, the hero of my current WIP Dark Star. Nate was part of Tonya’s backstory, her long-lost love who takes off for the Peace Corps and is never heard from again. So when I was writing Rock Star I knew someday I’d do this story reuniting her with this secret agent man. The interesting thing is the way he popped up in Try a Little Tenderness. In that story once I’d stranded Koss and Lola on Ile de Lina, I needed a way to get them out again. As initially written Koss was going to do a rescue type thing and save Lola, but really that made no sense. Koss is one sexy geek, but he’s no commando, it seemed crazy to have him going up against professional mercenaries alone. So, I went through my catalogue of characters for a fighting man, it worked perfectly to have Nate show up and help them out. Also, Nate was talking to me incessantly the whole time I was writing Try a Little Tenderness. It was deucedly hard to finish that book because he simply wouldn’t SHUT UP! I had to put him in the book or lose my freaking mind. It wasn’t a big part, but boy did it have impact. I’ve had more emails about Nate than any other character I’ve created besides Tonya. And once I revealed that he was Tonya’s long-lost love the interest went stratospheric.
Another more recent character is Jacinto from Buttercream. He doesn’t even appear in the book, yet something about the adopted Vietnamese man with the Latino name who lives in a yurt in Kansas making goat cheese struck a chord with people. I do plan to do a whole series of novellas about this quirky little family which is near and dear to my heart, but this interest in both him, and Poppy’s sister, Daffodil caught me by surprise. I love off-beat characters and I think I’ll have a lot of fun with these ersatz hippies.
For the writers who read this blog, how about you, do you have secondary characters that have taken on a life of their own? Forcing you to write their story NOW! Readers, how do you feel about secondary characters, how much is too much? Do you enjoy having them, or are they a distraction?
Dark Star will soon be at the point where I need new eyes to look it over. Looking for a few good beta readers. This doesn’t mean you have to edit the book, but you do need to be able to provide good feedback. Let me know what works and doesn’t work for you and in a timely fashion. So, if you’d like to be one of the first to get a gander at the manuscript, post in this thread. Looking forward to hearing from you.
I’ve only got a few more scenes to add and Dark Star will be finished. Then I’ll let it sit for a minute while I work on something else. I like to do that when I have time, letting a book marinate brings out all kinds of new ideas. This is especially true if I work on something else in the interim. Like right now I’m working on Dark Star, my next book, Diamonds on the River is driving me insane. When I come back to Dark Star I’ll be able to see all those typos and grammatical errors as well. For some reason, editing yourself is darned near impossible. Lisa will be editing this one for me, and she’s absolutely brutal, so I have to write clean or she’ll hurt my feelings.
I’m going to try my hand at self-publishing with Dark Star. A lot of my friends have encouraged it and I’d like to see how it turns out. I had wanted to get it out by Christmas as a gift to my fans, but I don’t know if that will be feasible. Maybe it’ll make a lovely Valentine’s Day present instead. Whit is designing an absolutely gorgeous cover that I can’t wait to share with y’all.
I’m still working very hard on Dark Star, and enjoying the hell out of the process. Something has come up though: Tonya is a young woman in her early thirties, and I’m so not a young woman in my early thirties. In fact some people think I’m my children’s grandmother. (I guess that beats people thinking I’m the nanny, but not by much). Anyway, I had to vet Tonya’s reactions fairly thoroughly because I suspect a younger woman’s tolerance for male bullshit is a lot higher than my own. At least I know that when I was young I put up with a lot of crap that leaves me wondering just what the hell was my problem back in the day.
Nowadays my bullshit threshold is practically nonexistent. Y’all know I love my husband’s dirty draws (after all I do wash them), but he knows that if he nuts up I’m like, One less egg to fry, motherfucker. As I get older I’m more that way about a lot of things. It’s definitely liberating, but when I’m creating younger characters it can be problematic. This wasn’t an issue with Let’s Do It Again. Those characters were older and had some life stripes on them. I enjoyed writing that book immensely and think I will do more with “women of a certain age.” Never fear, Tonya’s been talking in my head for so long I know I’ve got her right, but it’s a bit disconcerting to create someone who’s a decade and a half your junior. Of all the characters I’ve ever written Tonya is the one who is most like me. I didn’t realize it until I re-read Rock Star in preparation for writing this book. So yes, Tonya’s a bit of a bitch. Okay, actually Tonya is totally a bitch, but I like her. Of course, there’s a strong possibility no one else will.
So I’m driving back from having lunch with the Luke yesterday at school and this song came on the radio. I was so blown away I almost wrecked my car! (I’m not even going to get into all my friends who haven’t bothered to tell me about this group. Y’all know I don’t get out much, and thought from the name that it was some rapper. ANYWAY. I won’t make a “butters” video about y’all, THIS TIME.)
This song is unbelievable. Grown folk music that isn’t 30 years old. It’s perfect for “grown-up time” and it inspired the best love scene I’ve ever written. Tonya and Nate were the perfect couple for it and I absolutely love it.
Writing love scenes can be quite difficult (at least for me). It’s crucial to get the emotional connection, otherwise it becomes pornographic and boring, after all, inserting Flap A into Slot B isn’t particularly interesting unless you’re invested in the characters. But it’s also important to make it steamy and sexy. After all, we ARE grown. Striking the balance is not exactly easy. I often write to music, though it’s not every day that I’m inspired so strongly. Most of the time I don’t include the song in the story, though it happens occasionally, such as DMB’s “Crash” in Let’s Do It Again.
Of course, my entire writing career is inspired by music. Rock Star is essentially a love letter to Layne Staley of Alice in Chains. Many of my books are inspired by songs, Try a Little Tenderness of course and Let’s Do It Again where not only the title but even the characters names (Jack and Dyanne) are from songs I love. That whole story came from me be-bopping along in my car to the Mellencamp classic and wondering what happened to them after the song ended. Santa Baby, is obviously taken almost directly from my fave Christmas song.
I’ve got a ton of story ideas, but if I ever lack inspiration all I have to do is go through my CD collection or kick up Pandora, which by the way is as addictive as crack. The music, combined with my imagination will never let me run out of concepts. And that’s a good thing.
Anyway, I’m going to polish that love scene a bit, then I will post at least part of it for y’all.