Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Unforgettable Characters


Jungle Red will never forget. September 11, 2001.

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HANK ON TOUR! The Wrong Girl is in Milwaukee today! Come say hello at Mystery One Bookshop at 7pm.  Hope to see you there..
And the winner of Sue Grafton's W is for Wasted is: Mary Martinez! I'll email you directly!

So--speaking of  unforgettable characters! Sue Grafton herself is amazing..and her creation, Kinsey Millhone, is one of a kind. (I can't help but think of the Reader's Digests I devoured at my grandmother's house. Remember that feature? My Most Unforgettable Character? Why do I remember that--but not where my phone is?)

ANYWAY--speaking of unforgettable characters--how about Jon Land? We always love having him visit--he's a whirlwind, nonstop best-selling author and reviewer and ITW big shot, and and and...He's--a character.  And that's why it's so perfect that he's here to day to talk about, what else? Characters! 


Jon Land:   When I began writing the Caitlin Strong series, the latest of which STRONG RAIN FALLING has just been released, it was with the idea of doing something new and different in the thriller genre.  That started with creating a female protagonist who was every bit as strong and capable as more traditional male heroes, a kind of female Jack Reacher (Lee Child’s wonderful hero) you might say. 

            But that wasn’t enough.  I also wanted to add layers of emotion along with personal growth and angst seldom seen in thrillers.  So I came up with the idea that Caitlin would have a love affair with Cort Wesley Masters, the most notorious outlaw in modern Texas history who she once put in prison after he was framed.  The conflict inside each of and between them is there right from the start of the first book in the series, STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE, since it appears a recently exonerated Cort Wesley is going to come gunning for Caitlin.

            The fact that he doesn’t and, quite the opposite, opts to save her life in a wild gunfight instead, is due in large part to the fact that Cort Wesley has two sons he’s never met.  He sees his release from prison as a second chance he’s not quite sure how to exploit and the last thing he wants to do is risk getting jailed again, likely for good this time.  It isn’t too much later when the mother of his boys is murdered because of him, leaving Cort Wesley no choice but to become a father and take responsibility for raising the two boys who’ve never even laid eyes on him.

            See what I’m getting at here?  In traditional tales, it’s the woman who tries to get the male gunfighter to give up his guns and settle down.  But I decided in the Caitlin Strong series to reverse that paradigm and define the relationship between Caitlin and Cort Wesley based on his struggles as a single father and her gradually acceding to her maternal instincts to become a surrogate mother for Cort Wesley’s sons.

            Thrillers especially, you see, normally have loads of action and plot, but what’s the difference if we as readers are not emotionally vested in what happens to the characters?  We need to root for them, care about them, worry that their next gunfight might be their last.  Emotional vesting derives from building characters through the relationships they form, and I personally have not encountered a stronger relationship in this kind of book than the one between Caitlin and Cort Wesley.  The struggle to get past their own natures is constant.  Caitlin wants to have things both ways, but Cort Wesley wishes she was around more.  This as he acknowledges that the times that they’re the closest, when their relationship feels the strongest, is when their lives are threatened and they need to go back to their guns.

            But STRONG RAIN FALLING brings that emotion to a whole new level.  The book opens with Caitlin taking Cort Wesley’s eighteen-year-old son Dylan to visit Brown University in my own hometown of Providence, Rhode Island—about as parental, and maternal, a thing as you can do.  But this is a thriller, of course, and before you know it both Dylan’s and his younger brother Luke’s lives are in jeopardy, and Caitlin and Cort Wesley are both gunning down bad guys to save them.  The stakes are higher and more personal here than in any of my previous books, as Caitlin comes to realize even more how much these boys mean to her.  And that, in turn, continues to showcase the wonderful push-pull that defines her character as she struggles with the conflicting impulses driving her.

So in my visit to Jungle Red today, let’s explore what makes you care about a character and root for them to triumph over adversity and bad guys alike.  I think it was P.T. Barnum who said “Always leave them wanting more.”   What do you think?

Hank: And Reds,  who's your current favorite character? Not of all time, because, well, we want to hear about someone new!

20 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

The difficulty with picking a “favorite” character is . . . there are far too many to pick just one. But it is true that the ones I care about the most are the ones whose stories put them in positions that reveal their true natures even as they as struggling through the things that define them. I have enjoyed all the Caitlin Strong stories [“Strong Rain Falling” was superb!] . . . Julia's Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne . . . Hank’s Jane Ryland . . . I think readers tend to care about them because they are realistically drawn, because they do struggle and learn and grow . . . they "jump off the page" because they are real . . . .

Reine said...

I like characters in community. It doesn't have to be a village in the Eastern Townships. It can be the community of colleagues and coworkers, fellow students, a family or any group of people who must interact with one another.

I don't know who my favorite character is—Gamache maybe. He negotiates his communities well through the best and worst of it. I need a Gamache especially right now. But Jane, Skeet, Gemma, Towner and Zee... All my reading companions must be good company...

Marianne in Maine said...

There are books I crave because of the characters. All the names mentioned above and Martin Walker's Bruno Courreges, Deborah Harkness' Matthew Clairmont, Linda Castillo's Katie Burkholder (and John Tomasetti), and - as my guilty pleasure - the Mackenzie clan in Jennifer Ashley's Highland Pleasures series. (Yes, I admit it.) ;-)

I must see about adding Caitlin Strong to that list. Thanks for introducing me to that series.

Kaye Barley said...

Hank, m'dear - I know you and Jane are knocking 'em dead on this tour - Have Fun!

Like everyone, I have quite a few favorite characters. Since you've asked us to choose a new character I would have to say Stephanie Jaye Evens' Sugarland, Texas minister Walker "Bear" Wells. Not being a particularly religious sort, myself, Bear's goodness - along with his flaws - speak to me in a way few new characters have recently.

Jon Land said...

Joan: I just loved your comments and couldn't agree more about there being just too many great characters to follow. I'd add Lee Child's Jack Reacher, James Lee Burke's Dave Robichaeaux, and Michael Connolly's Mickey Haller to the mix too. They key in series fiction for me, though, is for as much as possible to have recurring characters who are just as interesting as the leads. Like Hawk in the Spenser novels or Guillermo Paz, the giant Venezuelan assassin in the Caitlin Strong series. Rest assured that many more books are planned for Caitlin and she will never be exactly the same in any of them!

Jon Land said...

Reine: Your comment is extremely well taken because characters portrayed in a community type setting is the perfect recipe for conflict and conflict is what drives a story more than anything. In thrillers you can never have two people just talking. They always have to be trying to resolve something between them. There needs to be a constant push-pull. And the greatest relationships are the ones that are a bit strained and complex. We can't make it easy on our heroes, after all. They have to be challenged, both by themselves and others. Indeed, the best thrillers and books in general for me are the ones that present moral challenges to the leads and how those leads struggle to resolve them.

Jon Land said...

Marianne: I fully believe you will absolutely love meeting Caitlin Strong. She's truly grown into a great series hero. On that subject, you're going to find that I place her in a lot of situations that lead to action and violence which is where my books become full-bore thrillers. I find these kind of situations are the best way to fully define and develop a hero like Caitlin. The crises she's racing to deal with in STRONG RAIN FALLING are constant. Everywhere she turns, something comes up which keeps the pace of this book the fastest of any book I've ever done. I don't think that's for everybody but I'm hoping it'll be for you!

Jon Land said...

Kaye: Given that you're hooked already on another Texas-based series, I really look forward to hearing your thoughts on Caitlin Strong. The thing I have the most fun with in these books is weaving in a sub-plot set in the state's colorful past involving one of Caitlin's similarly Texas Ranger relatives. And the historical sub-plot in STRONG RAIN FALLING, going back all the way to how the Mexican drug trade began, is probably my favorite of any I've ever done. Look forward to hearing if you agree!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Of course, I love Red Julia's Clare and Russ, Red Debs' Duncan and Gemma, Hank's Jane and Jake, and Rhys' Georgie and Darcy, but you wanted someone new, didn't you, Hank? I just recently encountered Sara J. Henry's Troy Chance, and this is a character who really drew me in--strong, awkward, struggling emotionally, suddenly in love with a child when maternal is the last thing she ever thought she'd be and desperate to protect that child.

Jon, I love the dynamic you're describing in your Caitlin Strong novels, so I see I must get them and read ASAP.

Jon Land said...

Linda: I think what you're getting at is the entire nature of relationships and how much they add to the texture of a book in bringing that book to life. Too often, especially in thriller series fiction which is what I do, heroes develop in a vacuum since they meet entirely new characters/foils from book to book. While that's part and parcel of my Caitlin Strong books as well, as a person and a character Caitlin's persona is grounded by her relationship with Cort Wesley Masters and his sons. And, here's the key: those relationships, that dynamic, evolves from book to book. It's fluid, not static, just like real life and that lends STRONG RAIN FALLING and the others in the series a moral relevance that make the characters credible and relatable. You won't be disappointed and that's a promise! Jon

Hallie Ephron said...

I think we like characters who are human, conflicted, and it sounds as if Caitlin Strong fits the bill.

Jon, I wonder if you named her to imply strong/vulnerable internal conflict? Asking because the other night watched the wonderful George Gently series on public television and thought about the name.

Lisa Alber said...

I like characters that are flawed, have troubles of their own outside the principle story arc, and interesting backstories that unfold naturally. Sounds like Caitlin Strong fits that bill! And I love that you flipped the usual gender roles!

I don't have anyone new to add to the names listed here...So many great series characters!

Vickie Radford said...

I,too,would mention Gamache and Robichaeaux, but also Clete Purcell, Val McDermid's Tony Hill, and Sandford's Virgil Flowers.

Jon Land said...

Hallie: That's a great question and the answer is wholl commercial. I named her specifically to brand the series with her name. Initially, my plan was to have all the books follow the STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE title theme and STRONG ENOUGH TO (blank). But my publisher told me bookstores inventory (at the time anyway) by the first eleven letters in the title in which case following my original plan would have caused massive confusion. So now STRONG is always the first word in the title. Next up is STRONG DARKNESS followed by STRONG LIGHT OF DAY.

Jon Land said...

Lisa; Very perceptive and, yes, this is exactly what I'm going for. I like your use of the word "naturally." For the it's "organically" where the flow and rhythm of the story dictates all and credibility is defined in term of context. It's very easy for me to "sell" my Caitlin Strong books because I believe in them more passionately than any other books I've done.

Jon Land said...

Vickie: I'm reading James Lee Burke's CREOLE BELLE right now and couldn't agree with you more about Clete Purcell. The very definition of a brilliant but flawed character. He just chews up the scenery in every scene he's in to the point where he dominates the book even more than Robicheaux. Is it just me or does it seem he's getting more and more pages with each installment in the series.

Bev Fontaine said...

Characters - oh my goodness, I've discovered several in the past year or two that I just can't get enough of: Molly Murphy, Duncan and Gemma, Maggie Hope, Maisie Dobbs and Longmire! And the characters of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series keep sucking me into their most unusual lives. Characters are what make novels work - or not. And I was devastated to hear of Barbara Mertz's death - NO MORE AMELIA PEABODY!!!!

Jon Land said...

Bev: I love your mention of Longmire, an absolutely wonderful television show that just finished a fantastic first season. As I recall Craig Johnston's books were doing pretty good, okay, before the television series. Now they're doing great, backlist included. A great example of what another platform, especially done so well, can do for the success of a book series. Caitlin's being enthusiastically pushed by Sony Television which has assembled a terrific team to get her on the air that includes the head writer/show runner on JUSTIFIED. But ABC has another series headed by a female Texas Ranger called KILLER WOMEN coming soon, so we're going to have to wait a bit longer. Talk about getting to the party just a moment too late! Oh boy . . .

Jon Land said...

Hey, everyone, I'm off to the gym for a time but will be back on right around 7:00. So keep the great comments coming and check back tonight for my responses. If you have further questions or comments about Caitlin afterwards, you can always find me at jonlandbooks.com or e-mail me at jonlandauthor@aol.com. Thanks for the interest and for participating and back at ya soon! Jon

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Running in! Just got to Minneap--no, Milwaulkee! ANd right now my favorite character is the guy who upgraded my boarding number! Yay, guy.

I thought about George Gently, too. Naming a character is such a delicate issue..

more to come--YAY Jon!