If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

Check out our March author interviews: 3/7--Karen Cantwell, 3/14--Shawn Reilly, 3/21--Annette Dashofy, and 3/28--WWK Blogger Debra Sennefelder (on her debut novel!). Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

Our March Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 3/3-Heather Weidner, 3/10-Holly Chaille, 3/17-Margaret S. Hamilton, 3/24-Kait Carson, 3/31-Charles Saltzberg.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Tina Whittle's sixth Tai Randolph mystery, Necessary Ends, debuts on April 3, 2018. Look for it here: https://www.amazon.com/Necessary-Ends-Tai-Randolph-Book-ebook/dp/B079MS67CM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1520014972&sr=8-2&keywords=Tina+Whittle

James M. Jackson's Empty Promises, the next in the Seamus McCree mystery series (5th), will be available on April 3, 2018 at: https://www.amazon.com/Empty-Promises-Seamus-McCree-Book-ebook/dp/B078XJRYDG/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1520089649&sr=8-2&keywords=James+M.+Jackson&dpID=51kcxPsst-L&preST=_SY445_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

Dark Sister, a poetry collection, is Linda Rodriguez's tenth published book. It's available for sale here: https://mammothpublications.net/writers-m-to-z/rodriguez-linda-dark-sister/

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

Shari Randall's second Lobster Shack Mystery, Against the Claw, will be available in August, 2018.

In addition, our prolific KM has had the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," appears in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

What a Character

It’s been a while since I have been a regular contributor to WWK. My nonfiction work took more time and energy than I anticipated. That was fine, but something had to give, and this blog was part of what I put on hold. I’m back now and assigned to the Sunday slot for your reading pleasure—at least I hope so.

Now to a confession: I enjoy writing short stories more than I enjoy reading them. How do I know this? Back in 2004 when I started writing short stories as an adult, I decided to subscribe to Ellery Queen MysteryMagazine and  http://www.themysteryplace.com/ahmm/  to see how the “best” did it. For several years I maintained those subscriptions. I let the subscription run out after I realized the pile of unread magazines was growing ever larger. As the workload related to my nonfiction projects started to taper, I began to whittle down my pile of unread mystery magazines.

The pile is in no particular order, and last week I picked up the December 2007 issue of AHMM. After skipping the editor’s notes, I read the magazine from front to back. As I started the second story, “Car Trouble” by Jas. R. Petrin, I quickly realized I had already read it. I knew exactly how it would end. The sixth story, “Pandora’s Fort” by Gilbert M. Stack had familiar characters, but I did not recall the story at all—although I did recall the specifics of a previous story alluded to in this one. I concluded that I must have started reading but not finished this magazine and eventually returned it to the TBR pile.

Here’s what struck me about this saga of the December 2007 AHMM: I had exactly zero memory of the first story. Why the difference? The title of this piece serves as the answer: Petrin and Stack wrote memorable characters. Memorable for me may not be memorable for you. Here’s what stuck out for me:

1. A unique name. Petrin’s character is called Skig. As soon as I read the name, I said to myself, “I’ve read a story about him before.” Similarly, Stack’s stories include three main characters, but one stands out for me: Pandora. In fact, the story blurb features the other two characters, not Pandora. Yet for me she is the memorable one.

2. One or more specific character traits or tics. Skig is always trying to ease the pain in his gut. He knows he’s dying. When meeting people he asks, “You heard of me?” They have. Pandora is a female professional gambler in the old west.

3. Memorable side characters: Skig has an ancient boat of a car that he keeps in a garage over which he lives. These are side characters as much as any human could be. Pandora travels with an Irish boxer and his manager (who the editor highlights in her blurb). I could guess their names, but I might be wrong. It is their professions and characteristics I recall, along with their link to Pandora.

The story I couldn’t remember was well written, enjoyable and, for me, forgettable. It didn’t have a character that grabbed my interest enough.

Now, I do realize that my “discovery” is not exactly new. I have a book in my library by Nancy Kress titled, Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint that she wrote to help writers craft dynamic characters. But there is nothing like personal experience to bring a lesson home.

Questions for you: If you are a writer, have you created a character that stands out? If not, how can you fix it? As a reader, what characters are memorable for you and why?

~ Jim


Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, I've encountered similar things when reading something I read long ago. If the characters are good, I remember the story. If the characters aren't that good, I don't.

The protagonist of EVERY LAST SECRET is a half-Cherokee former homicide cop who's now chief of a university police force. I have lots of emails from readers who want to read more about Skeet, and the many reviews of the book always comment on her strength as a character. So I think I've managed it with Skeet.

I can think of a lot of writers who give the reader distinctive characters to enjoy. Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers both did, of course. Rex Stout with Nero Wolfe and Archie. Larry Block with Bernie Rhodenbarr and Matt Scudder. Louise Penny with Ruth, Myrna, Gamache. Julia Spencer-Fleming with Clare Ferguson. Sue Grafton with Kinsey Milhone. Sara Paretsky with V.I. Warshawsky. And the list could go on and on.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

You know you have a winner when people ask what else they can read about your character.

~ Jim

Warren Bull said...

I agree, but then who is going to disagree with a man who lugs around a chainsaw? When I wrote MURDER MANHATTAN STYLE, a short story collection, I got so many questions about the family in the first three stories that I put them in a novel I titled HEARTLAND.

And welcome back, Jim.

Gloria Alden said...

I guess now I can admit my dirty little secret, too. I subscribe to Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen, too, but never seem to find the time to read them. I subscribed mostly because different people I knew had stories accepted in them, and I couldn't read their stories because I didn't get the magazines.

There are many characters I fall in love with like Laurie R. King's Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, and yes, Linda's protagonist, Skeet. There are so many more like Louise Penny's and Jane Langton's characters. It would take up too much space to list all of them.

As for my characters, only time will tell after my books come out. I, of course, like my characters as do my critique partners, but I can't yet tell if other readers will. I can only hope.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Warren, one reason I prefer novels over short stories is that you have a larger canvass to explore character development.

Gloria, as you say, time will tell -- however, I would note that likable and memorable aren't necessarily the same. We all remember Hannibal Lecter, but we probably didn't like him much.

~ Jim