Sunday, January 15, 2017

Introducing Megan McCree

by James M. (Jim) Jackson

On February 7, 2017, I’ll be introducing a new member of the Seamus McCree extended family to the reading world. Her creation did not come easily, and I worried whether I was doing her justice. Let me explain.

Megan first entered my consciousness four years ago. I wrote the first 40,000 words of a novel set in the future. The YA main character had an older sister, a real tomboy. I thought the kids would be Seamus McCree’s distant descendants (just to keep it all in the fictional family). As I worked through the story, the sister role faded out and the first sparks of this female character were extinguished.

Then I decided to bring the story closer to the present and made Seamus McCree’s son, Paddy, a very old man—well over a hundred (medical improvements and an organic vegetarian diet worked). But Paddy at 140 was still too close to the present. That’s when I decided to utilize Paddy’s child, Seamus’s grandchild, the very old person. As I considered what internal forces would drive this character, I decided she should be female. Eventually, that project faltered and still awaits future attention. And so this as yet unnamed Seamus McCree granddaughter faded into the background.

When I started writing Empty Promises, the fifth in the series, hopefully coming out later this year, I recalled my vision of the ancient woman, and decided to bring Megan McCree to the stage. I wanted to show in this girl the seeds of the woman who in the very distant future would became a marvelous “ancient.” Because of the planned time gap between Doubtful Relations and Empty Promises, Megan will then be age three and a half.

I worried about what I knew about three-and-a-half-year-old girls. My daughter had been that age in the mid-1980s. Even my granddaughters are now preteens and teens. Could I carry off developing this short person in a way that was realistic?

When I sent a draft of Empty Promises to my developmental editor, I specifically asked for a critique of Megan, and then I held my breath. The editor had lots of suggestions, but none of them related to Megan as a character. Whew!

While continuing to work on Empty Promises, another opportunity for Seamus and family arose: a novella set in Georgia’s Lowcountry. What could be better than to bring Seamus, his darts-throwing mother, and Megan to Tybee Island, Georgia—the barrier island near Savannah—for vacation and havoc? But for this vacation to make sense in Seamus McCree’s overall arc, this story takes place several years after Empty Promises. Megan is a shade over six.

More worries for me. Could an old guy depict a six-year-old girl that mothers would accept? (Fathers accept any daughter, right dads?) Again, my development editor had no issues with Megan. I polished the novella and recently sent it to two terrific beta readers. Both know the Seamus McCree series and have an eye for errant homonyms, misspellings, misplaced modifiers, and the like. Again, I held my breath. These folks had never heard of Megan. Would they accept her?

Beta reader one gave me her corrections. She loved the story, and particularly loved Seamus’s mother. I broke down and asked if I had drawn Megan realistically. “Oh yes, she was fine,” she said. “But I really like Mom—probably because of my age.” Her grandchildren are older than mine, all out of high school. I didn’t take that as a vote of confidence on Megan.

Just this past week I received corrections from reader number two. She started her note with, “I just now finished the book and thoroughly enjoyed it! I fell madly in love with Megan.”

I think I’ve been holding my breath for four years—a long gestation period even for a fictional character. It’s nice to breathe naturally again.

You can meet Megan in the novella titled “Low Tide at Tybee” in Lowcountry Crime: Four Novellas to be released in print and Kindle editions on February 7, 2017.


  1. Jim — Writing young characters is always tricky business as far as I'm concerned, but with the extra backstory (or, um, frontstory?) on this character here and the added weight of trying to do justice to her future self by accurately laying the seeds here.... well, that clearly ups the ante. I'm glad that you've heard such positive things about your work here so far. Congrats!

  2. Megan sounds great, I enjoyed your saga of how you built the character, and look forward to reading your novella. But the bird...what is it?

  3. If it's any comfort, a great many of your readers may not know if your portrayal of a young child is accurate or not--we've long since been around them--at least for any length of time. If she is even half as entertaining as Seamus's mother, she'll be a hit.

  4. Jim, I'm sure Megan will win hearts. Even at that age each child has a different personality. Some are quite precocious, some are shy, some are clingy, some want to please others, and some can be extremely annoying. However you made Megan, no one will see any problem with her. I can't wait to read the four novellas coming out.

  5. It may have taken a long time for your Megan to come into her own, but starting her off as a very young character leaves you plenty of room to develop. It certainly sounds like Megan is one of those characters who is so "real" to you that she will dictate her own place in your work.

  6. Very interesting to read about your thought process and the evolution of this character, Jim! How old will Megan be in the novella collection that's coming out soon? Continued success with your series!

  7. Margaret -- the bird is a Sharp-tailed Grouse. The picture was taken early one morning from a blind I hauled Jan to so we could see the males dance on their lek (an area they dance on year after year and in the process keep the vegetation short so they can be seen by the ladies).

    Shari -- thank you for your observation. I remember the first short story I wrote from a woman's perspective (the story hasn't been published, but the woman was Abigail Hancock who appears in the Seamus McCree series). In the critique group I belonged to at the time, the critique process was to go around the table, and very early on, a guy ripped the story to shreds because I had "clearly written the female POV from a male's perspective." No one would find her believable. That, of course, was my fear and for those few minutes I was totally devastated.

    Thanks Gloria -- I can't wait for you to have a chance to read the novellas either!

    Fortunately, the next three critiques were all from women, who specifically rebutted the guy's analysis. They had had no problem with my characterization while suggesting other things that could make the story stronger.

    The one great thing about children is they can tell truth in a manner very few adults remain willing.

    KM -- I probably shouldn't admit that many of my characters are as real to me as those corporeal folks who I know, but we'll keep the secret among friends and the NSA.

    Becky -- If I recall correctly, Megan is "a month and a half past her sixth birthday" as the novella "Low Tide at Tybee" opens.