JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Our guest today is Lesa Holstine, eponymous blogger of Lesa's Book Critiques, one of the smartest book review sites on the web. I'm going to quote her own blog profile to give you an idea of her range:
Lesa has been a library manager/administrator for over 30 years, in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and, now, Indiana. Winner of the 2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Library Service Award. She is a contributing Book Reviewer for Library Journal, Mystery Readers Journal, ReadertoReader.com and VibrantNation.com. Winner of the 2009 and 2010 Spinetingler Awards for Best Reviewer. First Fan Guest of Honor for Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Write Now! Conference.
In other words, Lesa loves books. A lot. Today, she shares with us - aspiring authors, pay attention! - that one thing that makes a good story a great read.
“Characters welcome” is the slogan of the USA Network, but it could be the slogan for my mother’s side of the family as well. We’re all readers. I just happen to be the one in the family who writes a blog about books. I started Lesa’s Book Critiques eight and a half years ago as a place where I could talk about what I had read. And, I didn’t care if it was only my family who read the posts. My mother was one of seven children, and there are more than forty first cousins in my generation. So, I not only discuss books on my blog, but I write a book column in the family newsletter. And, it’s not uncommon for my Mom and my sisters to all read a book at the same time, something I featured on my blog.
Why am I mentioning my extended family of readers today? Because I was just home for a week, together with my Mom and both sisters. We do talk about books on the phone, but this was a chance to talk in person. And, we’re all passionate about mysteries. We take characters and mysteries very seriously. We want authors to bring characters to life. And, I know we’re not the only ones. Why else would Rhys Bowen have so many comments on Facebook when she asked how far Lady Georgie and her love interest, Darcy, should go? Readers care.
If you had overheard our conversations this week, you would have heard one of my sisters recommend Jacquelyn Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs books to the other. She referred to them as meaty books in which she learned a lot about British history. And, you would have heard me passionately discuss the development of Jane Cleland’s Josie Prescott series. My sister teased me, knowing my pet peeve. “What? Josie Prescott isn’t Too Stupid to Live?” I analyzed Josie’s growth from a lonely woman to a strong woman who has gathered around her a family made of co-workers, friends and a cat. And, she is smart enough to work with the police, not against them.
Can you tell we care about characters and how they change? My youngest sister’s email notes to me probably contain much better and more succinct reviews than any of mine. She’ll complain about a character who dumps a boyfriend, or she’ll tell me the sleuth’s behavior was inconsistent. I have a cousin who reads the mysteries, and drops me notes commenting on the development of the series.
I wrote the chapter on “Mystery Fiction” for the latest edition of Genreflecting. I discuss Julia’s books, Deborah’s, Rhys’, Jane’s, and Hank’s, among others. Why? Their characters fit my comment. “Most readers of mysteries will also say they read the books for the appeal of the characters.” And, I’ll honestly tell you that I drop a series if the sleuth is consistently “Too Stupid to Live”. I also disliked a recent bestseller that lasted forever on the lists. I hated the characters.
When authors ask what they should write about when they do a guest blog, I often suggest they do an interview with their sleuth, or allow a couple characters to do the guest blog. It’s fun to see the questions an author will ask of the character. And, I’ve seen some very revealing questions and comments come from those characters. Sometimes, the sleuth has interviewed the author, which can be funny.
I want to like your characters. And, my extended family reads my blog, and the newsletter. We talk about your books, but we really talk about your characters. We care, and we can be passionate about our likes and dislikes. We’re not telling you what to write, or how to develop your characters. As readers, we really just want you to know we appreciate what you do, and we sometimes discuss your books and characters as if they were acquaintances. Give us characters to love, and we’ll forgive a weak mystery now and then. I’m sure I’m not the only one who read every Spenser book by Robert B. Parker because I adored the character even when the mysteries grew weak. So, “Characters welcome”, please.
What do you look for in characters, dear readers? Who are the most memorable ones for you? Join in the discussion, and one lucky commenter will win an ARC of THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS!