Friday, November 20, 2015

Deborah Coonts--Lucky Break

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Fellow native-Texan Deborah Coonts describes her Lucky O'Toole series as "Sex and the City meets Elmore Leonard in Vegas kind of thing." Just that makes me laugh out loud and that's only a peek at what makes her Lucky books such fun. Like romantic mysteries with laugh-out-loud moments (and a little bit of sex)? These are for you. I adore the opening line from the first Lucky book--and admire the determination that brought Lucky to the page.  Here's Deb Coonts to tell us more: 

DEBORAH COONTS: When I was a bit younger and much more impressionable, I wrote what I thought was a stand-alone.  Here’s the first sentence: 
As her final act on this earth, Lyda Sue Stalnaker plummeted out of a Las Vegas helicopter and landed smack in the middle of the Pirate’s Lagoon in front of the Treasure Island Hotel, disrupting the 8:30 p.m. pirate show. (Wanna Get Lucky? By Yours Truly.)
That sentence hid in the hard drive of a computer for five years.  In fact, I had to search through the detritus in the corners of the garage to find the computer so I could find that sentence.  But I knew—that sentence was gold.
Yeah, well, I always was a dreamer.  Still am.
But, that sentence, and the story that followed, did gain an agent and a contract with a Big 5   So, I was stoked.
Until my editor called and wanted to see the sequel.
To be honest, I thought the idea for Wanna Get Lucky? was the only good idea I would ever have.  And, well, I had given the protagonist an HEA and so, exactly how could there be a sequel?
Funny what panic can do.
So, five books later, I find myself in the middle of a series.  HEAs aren’t necessarily forever you know.  I’m living proof.
But, back to the story.  After Wanna Get Lucky? the amount I knew about writing a series you could put in your eye and not impair your vision.
So, I went to the Oracle.
I watched numerous interviews with Janet Evanovich, whose books I loved and whose laugh-out-loud moments I wanted for my own work.  Janet stated in one interview that her approach to the Stephanie Plum series was to keep the main characters static and let the action happen around them.
After noodling on that, and after consulting with my characters, we all decided (yes, this was before the therapy that I eventually decided against) that wasn’t going to work.
Lucky, my protagonist, wanted to learn some things, to grow as her story unfolded.
Of course she did.  My real world is populated with complex, interesting, often difficult folks.  Why would I think my imaginary world would be any different?
Yes, we write what we are.
And the people who surround us are the ones we attract.  That works in the imaginary world as well.
To be honest, I mean really… it took Stephanie Plum a loooong time to learn to use her gun.  With my son’s help, I accomplished competence in multiple firearms one afternoon at an indoor firing range in Vegas.  So, if I can do it, I want to read about folks who can, too.
Anyway, I didn’t have time to get the counseling necessary and still meet my deadline, so I decided to roll with this whole character growth thing.   And now I was faced with the difficult task of creating a series arc as well as an arc for each character in each story. 
(Is there an App for that?  Because my SO is getting tired of the office being wallpapered in sticky notes.)
So, on the home front things might be a bit dicey decorating-wise, but, as a storyteller, how has that worked?  Well, besides feeling like plotting is akin to regression analysis with three variables and a slide rule, and besides the Champagne habit, I’ve emerged relatively unscathed—or so delusional I imagine my own functionality.  It turns out the character arcs are what intrigue me.  The mysteries are an excuse for Lucky to run around the Vegas I know and love, finding the magic and the mischief.
But it’s the people and their troubles who capture me.
At the beginning of each book, I know what I want Lucky to explore and hopefully learn.  The other characters as well, but their growth is a bit ancillary.
Sometimes I get to the end of a story and I don’t even realize that I had a particular theme—like absent fathers or difficult mothers or the importance of girlfriends or the frustration on men (an ongoing theme I have yet to resolve.)  My subconscious is my best writer tool, apparently.
And I do ascribe to the truism that if I as the writer am not sucked into the drama, then the readers won’t be as well.
Apparently it takes a lot to keep me interestedJ 
My mother and the Detention Hall proctors at school could’ve told you that, though.
So, I sustain my interest as a writer by analyzing the growth or allowing it to happen in various characters.  Somehow real life becomes more clear in the analysis.  Yes, for me writing is cathartic.
Life is in the adventure.
So, what about you?  As a writer and/or a reader, do you like to see growth and change in series characters?  Or would you rather just know who they are and be entertained by what happens to them and what they do?

My sixth book in the Lucky series, LUCKY BREAK, is launching TODAY!  I’m giving away five free digital copies, the winners to be chosen among those who comment below.  Here’s the jacket copy.  Hope you find it irresistible.


With Christmas a few days away, Lucky O’Toole, Vice President of Customer Relations for the Babylon, Las Vegas’s premier Strip casino resort, is in a festive mood. The upcoming wedding of her assistant to the Beautiful Jeremy Whitlock and her own engagement to her delish French Chef, Jean-Charles Bouclet have Lucky in full holiday cheer.

And even bigger celebrations are afoot. The national media is focused on the grand opening of Jean-Charles’s restaurant atop Lucky’s very own slice-of-heaven hotel. The opening gets a boost when Holt Box, a retired country-western singing legend lends a hand in the kitchen, adding mega-watt celebrity buzz.

Lucky’s life is humming.

The only sour note is her former lover, Teddie.

Teddie claims Lucky’s father, the Big Boss, has put an end to his return to the Las Vegas stage by handing that stage to Holt Box. Box is returning from retirement, a comeback of epic magnitude that will give the Babylon—and Lucky's career—an incredible boost.

Taken by surprise, Lucky takes the high road. Or rather, she does what she always does when life overwhelms…  She ignores it.

Until she finds Teddie and her father, bloodied and angry, standing over the lifeless body of Holt Box, a dagger in Teddie’s fist.

The media sharks are circling.  A Macau heavy-hitter in town, flying under the radar but making his presence felt.  An old nemesis of Lucky’s is out of prison and salivating for revenge.  Lucky’s mother is ramping up her political campaign while juggling her new twins, who still don’t have names.   And Christmas is racing toward a crescendo.

Time is short as Lucky must discover whether Teddie is a killer.

And why she still cares.

DEBS: READERS,  How lucky do you feel? Lucky enough to win one of FIVE digital copies of LUCKY BREAK?  Tell us how you feel about static characters in the comments!

REDS ALERT: Kathy Reel is the winner of Will North's Too Clever By Half. You know the drill, Kathy:-)! 


Joan Emerson said...

As a reader, I can handle a certain amount of static with series characters but eventually I find myself thinking things like, "Won't she ever learn?" or "After all this time, why doesn't he know better?" and I long for them to grow and change and learn --- just a little a bit.
Having said that, I also figure the writer knows best and presumably that growth will show up in the next book, so I just keep on reading . . . .

PlumGaga said...

I definitely prefer series characters that grow and change. It's one of the reasons I love Deborah Crombie's books.

Mark Baker said...

Character series are best when they grow and change. I know people who don't like Evanovich because her characters don't.

But honestly, you had me at that first sentence of your first book. I love a well crafted first line, and I have to know where you go from there.

Elaine N. said...

I like characters who change and grow. On the other hand, I don't have a problem with Stephanie Plum not choosing between Joe and Ranger. They're both hot; keep them both around. :-)

Hallie Ephron said...

Hmmm, static characters ... Do Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple count? They were static pretty much, book to book (until the end w/Poirot) but it didn't matter because they were, well, they were them. I do like it when characters change, but not when they have some fundamental transformation that doesn't feel earned. A creep "saves the cat." It can be great, or groan-worthy. I's a fine line to walk... er, write.

Hallie Ephron said...

And meant to say, I LOVE that opening sentence! It reminded me of one of my favorite book openings (Alexander McCall Smith THE SUNDAY PHILOSOPHY CLUB)... so different and like your opening, right away tells the reader so much about the book they're about to read:
Isabel Dalhousie saw the young man fall from the edge of the upper circle, from the gods. His flight was so sudden and short, and it was for less than a second that she saw him, hair tousled, upside down, his shirt and jacket up around his chest so that his midriff was exposed. And then, striking the edge of the grand circle, he disappeared headfirst towards the stalls below.

DevidAA said...

Nice stuff! I like the way you write it. Actually I like reading various reviews like this and Evolution Writers ratings. Keep doing what you do, you have great results. The text is really worth reading.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Welcome Deborah! It's a great first sentence, as is the one by Alexander McCall Smith--thanks for that Hallie!

I much prefer growth and change, both to read and to write. (As a psychologist, it comes with the territory.) But I'm finally realizing that not all readers feel the same way. some people love the familiarity of characters who DON'T change. And they get more pleasure out of solving the puzzle.

Mary Sutton said...

What a great opening line.

I like my series characters to exhibit some growth, while maintaining their core values. Or at least give me a really good reason why they change - either redemptive or destructive. As Hallie said, it can work, or be groan worthy.

But yes, I'm one of those people who will say, "Isn't she every going to learn?" And eventually, I stop reading (or watching, in the case of some TV shows).

Deb Romano said...

Hello and Welcome to Deborah from Deb(orah)!

I LOVE your books! They are just what I need to lift my spirits on a bad day.

I like to see characters grow, but not so much that I don't recognize them. Becoming mature doesn't change a person's overall personality, after all.

Looking forward to continuing to read about Lucky!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hey darling Deb! SO great to see you!

The balance, as I've been thinking, is that a character needs to be imperfect, but not stupid. That may include a few wrong or unwise decisions, but as long as they are understandable--and then later realized--that's good.

And the other difficulty in a series, I think, is that there can;t be a cataclysmic change in every book--they can't recover from addiction, get over a divorce (completely) or whatever. A character can have only so many major flaws, right? So sometimes the change has to be a process.

HOpe you sell piles of books! (Deb and I had a wonderful book tour together a few years ago. We can now give each other's speeches!)

Karen in Ohio said...

Great first sentence! It makes me want to know what happens next, tout suite. And I can't believe there are already six Lucky books! I need to read faster, clearly.

I refer to myself as an omnivorous reader--characters who change, characters who don't change, mysteries, "literary" fiction--I don't care, as long as it's good writing. And the Lucky books contain my favorite reading lagniappe: humor.

We met in Cleveland, over a great lunch with Nancy Martin, and I've been a fan ever since.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Welcome, Deborah! What a thoughtful piece. I definitely like to write characters that change -- but I will read really just about anything that I like. There is something comforting about picking up a book in the series and knowing the character's going to be the same, sometimes.... It's interesting in the mystery/crime genre that more authors don't comment on PTSD. Or is that just me? We put our poor protagonists through so much....

Alyssa said...

For me, part of the fun of a series is seeing the way my favorite characters change over time.

I adore Lucky and can't wait to read about what she's gotten into this time!

Deb Coonts said...

Good morning, everyone!! Gosh, here on the west coast (Im visiting my son and DIL in San Francisco--seems like a good thing to do on launch day, right?) the sun is barely lighting the sky. It seems I am among me tribe--folks who like growth and change....but not too much:) I agree. When someone tells me they enjoyed a Lucky book because it felt like visiting with old friends, that makes my heart sing.

For me, the choice came down to this: I'm a character person, not a plot person. Now, of course, a good book needs both, but, though I love the entire puzzle of storytelling, the people in my stories intrigue me just a tetch more than the who-done-it. So, they grow, they learn, but they still screw-up....sorta like me:)

Grandma Cootie said...

This post was as funny as the Lucky series. Thanks for some laughs with my morning coffee. And thanks for solving the mystery of why I stopped caring what happened to Stephanie Plum many books ago.

I like the characters to stay true at the core so they are still the characters I grew to love, but as things change around them I want them to change or grow or react too, just like in real life. I have enjoyed Lucky's journey. Sometimes I wish her (current) HEA could stay that way because I am happy for her, but life happens and she adapts. And I love it.

Duncan and Gemma also come to mind. Think what a different series that would be and what we would have missed if instead of the arc of their life together they just continued to be partners and solve interesting cases.

Congrats, Deb on release day. Can't wait to read this one.

Ramona said...

An interesting topic, Deborah! IRL, how much do people change and grow? A man who is born stubborn is going to die stubborn, as my grandma used to say. Maybe some traits in our characters remain static, but if they do the same things over and over and make the same mistakes over and over, that's more than stubborn, that's stupid. I can tolerate stubborn but have no patience for stupid. This is why assigning traits and quirks to characters are a decision, instead of happenstance. A stubborn character may not change, but if s/he recognizes this weakness or strength, that in and of itself is growth.

I know you are a fan of the "what does this character want" question. I like it too, but even that changes. That's what keeps stories interesting. And I love the first sentence, too. What's not to love??

FChurch said...

Book 6 already?? How do I stay so far behind? I need a "Lucky" break! ;-)

I like Hallie's comment--change is a process--so, characters evolve over time, from book to book--and I like it when we see this more in bits and pieces--maybe something from their past revealed--maybe an epiphany, maybe something major--a loss, an injury,or a recommitting to values, goals, etc. Life isn't a series of connect-the-dot moments and it's more interesting to me when a character arc mimics this process.

Kathy Reel said...

What a fun, witty post, Deborah! I think people only need to read this post to be hooked on your writing, and that first line of your book has to be one of the best opening lines I've come across. Book #6? I definitely need to do some catching up. Thanks for visiting the Reds today and sharing such interesting info about your character-driven writing.

Static characters? Well, my quick answer is that I definitely want the characters I read in a series to develop more and learn from their experiences. And then, there are certain characters that come to mind, like the Agatha Christie ones Hallie mentioned, that give stories a comfortable continuity. Although, there is a series that comes to mind from a fairly well-known author that I've read for years and I think is about to book 26 or 27, and I became disgruntled some time ago because the main character and all others are just too darn static. I keep thinking, when will this man ever do something about his personal life that isn't so predictable? However, I am a loyal reader, and I suppose I will continue to read this series due to that. Oh, and it isn't anyone here, of course.

Deb Coonts said...

You guys are bringing up and interesting dichotomy--learning vs. core values. Lucky, at the core, will always be Lucky. One time I received a scathing email from someone who took great umbrage with a sentence in my bio. It reads (yes, I did not change it) "I am proof positive that sex sells." Of course, you guys would've known that was a joke. Lucky is probably the only person in Vegas looking for a relationship that lasts more than an hour or so:) and she'll always be that person--the big-hearted, non-judgemental champion of the underdog who wants to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, sometimes to her peril. That part won't change. But, as Lucky makes mistakes, picks lovers who disappoint, etc. she learns about herself, what she wants, why she does what she does, and why others perhaps do what they do. This is the change part I like. Through life, I hope we all do that. At an age now that is older than dirt, I am fundamentally the person I was when I was younger, but I sincerely hope I've learned a lot and don't make the same mistakes....although, nobody's perfect.

Bonnie Anderson said...

Hi-I have just jumped into the blog-I absolutely love Julia Spenser-Flemings series, and came here from her site. Your LUCKY series looks very intriguing! I am making efforts to obtain the first couple books.
Regarding your question: I like to see characters grow, main as well as secondary characters. I look forward to the quirky towns people evolving as well, also getting their back stories.
and I am looking forward to reading your series!
Do I have to wait til I've read the books to find out what HEA mean???
take care, Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks!!!

Deborah Crombie said...

Hi Deb! Apologies for checking in so late. I'm still a little computer challenged after yesterday's eye surgery.

What great comments from everyone. I had to really think about this. Maybe there are a few static characters in books I would read for the comfort factor, or for setting and atmosphere, but I think I'm 99% on the side of evolving characters. I certainly don't think I'd enjoy writing static main characters.

I think I need to read some Lucky right now!

Oh, and Hallie, thanks for the great opening line from Alexander McCall Smith. I haven't read that series. On my list...

Deb Coonts said...

Bonnie--HEA= Happy Ever After:) I sure hope you enjoy the series. And I hope Lucky and her crew make you giggle:)

Deborah--the trick seems to be to keep the characters true to themselves so they feel like old friends, but then let them grow as hopefully our friends do. Gosh, hope your eye surgery went well and heals quickly! No fun at all!

I tend to get really bored by characters who don't learn. I want to be taken on the journey with them; I want to learn, too:)

Hallie--great first line. I'm behind on my Alexander McCall Smith! So many books, so little quiet in my head to enjoy characters I didn't create. But, as a writer and a human, reading is necessary for sanity.

Everyone has left such great comments and been so very nice today! Thank you! I appreciate everything you've said!!

Deb Coonts said...

Thanks to Deborah Crombie for hosting me today and to all of you who joined us!! Happy Holidays one and all. I'll check back later if I can, but I'm meeting a writer friend for dinner in Sausalito....I know! Am I lucky or what?

Hugs to all!

Libby Dodd said...

If yoru novels are anything like your writing here, I am SO in!

Pat D said...

The characters have to grow and develop or it just doesn't work for me. After all, we're still changing and hopefully maturing (in a good way!) aren't we?

Deb Coonts said...

Libby--same me, same voice:0 I really do like to laugh, and I have a snark streak a mile wide:)

Pat d--Yes! Growth without becoming unrecognizable!

Bonnie Anderson said...

Characters need to grow. That's why I lost interest in Stephanie Plum around book 12 or 13. I read ALOT, and the majority are series & definitely mysteries.

Curtis Albert said...

Characters that grow and change are more preferable to me. This would explain why I'd rather have a book written by Deborah Combie than one by Evanovich. I like how put across your points. That was a post worth my time.
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Emily Blunt said...

As a reader, I can handle a certain amount of static with series characters. It is always engaging to transport one’s self into the quality of life; to see how a crafty person has thought before us, and to what noble crown we have at last.
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