by Janis Thomas
As a writer, I’m known for my humorous women’s fiction—I call it Chick Lit for the Soccer Mom set. SOMETHING NEW, SWEET NOTHINGS, and SAY NEVER all deal with forty-something women and the trials and tribulations of parenthood, relationships, and finding their place in the world as they enter middle age.
This year, I am embarking on a new adventure with the release of my murder mystery MURDER IN A-MINOR on May 31st—the adventure of writing a series character. MURDER IN A-MINOR features strong, cynical, songwriting Samantha Wedlock, a former detective who has returned to her childhood home of Southern California after botching a huge case with the NYPD.
Although this is my first foray into writing a series, as a reader, I’ve always been drawn to series characters. My love of them began in childhood with Nancy Drew. I read every single book about the high school sleuth. I looked up to Nancy and wanted to be as clever and pretty as she was when I became a teenager. Harriet the Spy was also one of my favorites, and to be honest, I think I more closely resembled Harriet in my awkward adolescent years.
As an adult, I fell in love with Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, Jonathon Kellerman’s Alex Delaware, James Patterson’s Alex Cross, John Sanford’s Lucas Davenport, and, of course, Janet Evanovich’s hilarious Stephanie Plum.
What is it about these characters that makes them so compelling, that makes us want to read about them book after book? All of them are extraordinary, yes, and usually victorious. But their crime-fighting prowess is not the reason I keep coming back to them. What makes these characters rich and engaging is their humanity. Their flaws, their vulnerabilities, their weaknesses, doubts and fears, all of which serve to create three-dimensional characters to whom we all can relate, with whom we can connect, and for whom we can root.
Kinsey Millhone is a great P.I. She’s also a loner who has an obsession with teeth and an abysmal love life. Alex Delaware is smart and intuitive, loves dogs and plays the guitar (totally crush-worthy), but he is troubled by a bad childhood with an abusive father and is prone to bouts of self-introspective mood swings. Lucas Davenport is sexy, wealthy, and committed to his job, but he has a weakness for the ladies and has no problem breaking the law if he thinks the situation warrants it. And Stephanie Plum is probably one of the worst crime-fighters around—she makes more mistakes than Inspector Clouseau and can’t make up her mind when it comes to the two men in her life, but we love her for her failures as much as for her successes.
My descriptions of these characters reminds me of how I might describe my friends. And that is what series characters become to me, and to most faithful readers. They are our friends. While they evolve and learn from their mistakes, they also can be relied upon to be exactly who they are. And that’s why it’s so much fun to follow them through their trials and tribulations. We get to see inside their lives over the course of the series. I’m always a bit depressed when I finish a stand-alone book with a great character because I know I won’t be spending any more time with him or her. Series characters offer the promise of continued friendship.
In MURDER IN A-MINOR, my main character Sam Wedlock is seriously flawed. She drinks too much, has no friends except for her .44 Magnum, and all she wants to do is surf the Internet and hide from her past. But Sam is also deeply committed to finding justice for those who have been wronged. She writes songs to help her work through her problems. She doesn’t believe in happily-ever-after, but she desperately wants to love and be loved. These vulnerabilities give her depth and sincerity, and despite her tough talk and her sometimes spiteful candor, you can’t help but love her and cheer her on.
I hope Sam Wedlock will one day be like the characters I listed above; Stephanie, the Alexes, Lucas, Kay, Kinsey. A character readers will follow, root for, and even consider a friend.