Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by mystery novelist and short story author Jerry Last.
The Three Rs of Book Series Characters: Recycle, Reuse, Resurrect
One of the decisions the author of a series has to make is whether or not to recycle your secondary characters through subsequent books. For green-thinking authors, recycle, reuse, and resurrect is a natural answer to this question. If you’ve already invented Joe and Mary, why start over from scratch the next time? You already know what they look like, what they sound like, and a little bit about their character. Who knows, there may be a few Joe and Mary groupies out there who will buy your next book because they want to know whether Joe got his promised promotion at work or whether Mary’s unborn child from the previous book turned out to be a boy or a girl. Maybe Mary can work her way up the literary food chain to star in her own novel some day.
On the other hand, recycled characters can easily become boring as they make their guest appearances in subsequent books. They really need to be there to advance the story, not just to pad out the book length by introducing extraneous subplots centered on them. And if they do show up, readers expect the author to peel away a few more layers of the onion so we get to know them better, in more depth, in each succeeding appearance. A year and a half ago I did a guest interview for Pat Bertram’s blog from the point of view of the character Eduardo Gomez, a Paraguayan policeman who had first appeared in my second novel, The Ambivalent Corpse. In that interview, Eduardo indicated that he wanted to play a bigger part in subsequent books. He gets a chance to do this in Book #4 of the series, The Matador Murder. And we get a chance to get to know him better. There are still some things we don’t really know about him—-but we’ll be seeing more of him in books to come.
Vincent Romero from The Surreal Killer gets a short mention about his new career in The Matador Murder, but doesn’t rise to the status of a major character. He plays a much bigger role in the sixth book in the series, The Deadly Dog Show. It seems that when I wasn’t watching too closely Vincent moved up to Los Angeles, where he now works for Roger’s growing detective agency, supplying bodyguard services to the stars and potentially some spooky stuff in the future. I think we also might want to do more with Bruce the nanny in future books; we’ll see.
Another big decision is whether our characters should age with the series or whether Peter Pan rules apply, as in Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone alphabet series. I think we’ll keep them all young for a while, but that too can change as their infant son Robert grows up. I have a friend and colleague who continually urges me to set a novel in a modern Medical School and base my characters on several of our more colorful colleagues. Maybe this one should wait until after I retire????
When I started graduate school at The University of Wisconsin several of the older students in the laboratory were into target shooting and plinking with handguns. We had a regular trip out to the Madison garbage dump to shoot rats, which were a pretty challenging target when they were running. I kept the hobby, at least the target shooting and plinking, for a long time after, and know a lot about handguns. Thus far, neither Roger nor Suzanne has carried a gun nor needed one. If we leave South America and get them into more cases at home, this might have to change.
Decisions, decisions, decisions. Suggestions would be most welcome in the comments.
Morgen: I love re-writing about characters I’ve already included elsewhere, especially if they were minor characters and now play a major part. It’s like revisiting an old friend (although I often bump off my characters so maybe I should be careful with that comparison!). Thank you, Jerry.
Jerry Last is a Professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of California’s Medical School at Davis, near Sacramento in Northern California. He has a Ph.D. degree in Biochemistry and does research in asthma and on health effects of air pollution on the lungs, as well as teaching and lots of administrative stuff. Jerry’s a big fan of mystery novels. His popular Roger and Suzanne mystery series currently consists of four novels, two novellas, and an anthology of short stories. The fifth novel, set in the Galapagos Islands, should appear on Amazon Kindle early in 2014.
The settings and locales for the novels on Amazon KDP, The Ambivalent Corpse, The Surreal Killer, and The Matador Murders and for the novella The Body in the Bed are authentic; the author lived previously in Salta, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay, and selected the most interesting South American locations he found for Roger and Suzanne to visit while solving the miscellaneous murders. He continues productive research collaborations with faculty members in Salta and Montevideo.
Jerry and his wife Elaine live in Northern California, where Elaine breeds prize-winning German Shorthaired Pointer dogs and provides technical advice for Jerry’s novels like The Deadly Dog Show, and editing for all of the books. Elaine and Jerry also enjoy having three granddaughters (one brand new) and a grandson. A blog describing the background and birth of Jerry’s books; Jerry, Elaine, and the dogs’ lives; and all things mysterious can be found at http://rogerandsuzannemysteries.blogspot.com. Please feel free to visit it and take a look.
And now more about his book, ‘Five Quickies for Roger and Suzanne’…
Thousands of readers have enjoyed a series of mystery novels set in South America and California featuring Los Angeles-based private detective Roger Bowman and his wife biochemist Suzanne Foster. “Five Quickies For Roger And Suzanne”, a novel-length anthology of five stories—three short stories (“The Dog With No Name” for dog lovers; The Haunted gymnasium, an off-beat paranormal mystery set in Fortaleza, Brazil; and an old fashioned whodunit entitled “Someone Did It To the Butler”); a novella entitled The Empanada Affair, where Roger and Suzanne meet for the first time set in Salta, Argentina; and a whodunit novelette, “The Body in the Parking Structure”—features the regular characters from this popular South American mystery series. Enjoy the quickies, which introduce several of the recurring series characters from this series and are a great place to begin this series. One reviewer said, “Five Quickies For Roger And Suzanne”, a novel-length anthology of five stories—three short stories (including “The Dog With No Name” for dog lovers, an off-beat paranormal mystery set in Fortaleza, Brazil, and an old fashioned whodunit entitled “Someone Did It To the Butler”), a novella where Roger and Suzanne meet for the first time set in Salta, Argentina, and a novelette, “The Body in the Parking Structure”—features the regular characters from this popular South American mystery series. Enjoy the quickies, which introduce several of the recurring series characters from this series and are a great place to begin this series!”
- and from this blog, my guests who have written on this topic are… Armand Rosamilia, Carol Crigger, Chris Redding, Christopher Starr, Ditrie Sanchez, Graham Smith 1, Graham Smith 2, Jane Davis, Morgen Bailey, Nina Munteanu, Paul Lell, Sandra Humphrey, TJ Perkins 1, TJ Perkins 2..
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