Monday, November 9, 2015

THINGS OUR CHARACTERS TEACH US


**BREAKING NEWS!! HOORAY for Susan Elia MacNeal who hit the New York Times trade paperback bestseller list at #7 with MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE! CONGRATULATIONS SUSAN! 

Now, on to our blog for today...



LUCY BURDETTE: I know I shouldn’t read reviews, but I can’t help it. One thing that has stood out scanning these is the descriptor most often used for Hayley Snow (after dizzy in the debut book): loyal. Sure, loyal to the point of foolhardiness, but loyal all the same. She goes to extended lengths to support her pals and her family members and nose around looking for alternate answers if someone she loves is accused of something bad. It makes sense for the protagonist in a cozy mystery to have this quality, as she needs a reason to investigate a crime that would otherwise be none of her business. But I do love it when a reader says she wishes she had a friend like Hayley, someone who would step up and vouch for a friend in trouble. I aspire to be that kind of friend.

Reds, what has one of your characters taught you?
 

HALLIE EPHRON: Two characters in THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN showed me how two women, one 92 years old and another 30-something, can develop a real friendship despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that they're not related. I've read too many books in which old woman are reduced to caricature or helpless victim and Mina is definitely neither. I hope I turn out to be as feisty and tenacious as she, and I hope, even in my final years, I continue to have friends decades younger than me. 


LUCY BURDETTE: That’s so funny Hallie, because Hayley has an older woman (Miss Gloria) with whom she’s become friends and roommates. Readers love her. And they love the relationship between the two women.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: That's a wonderful sentiment, Hallie. I've noticed that the older people at my church who seem the most vital are the ones who are involved with and have friends of all ages. If it doesn't keep you young, it at least keeps you up to date with slang!

I think Clare Fergusson has given me a negative example. One of her most enduring traits is her impulsivity. She leaps into political positions. people's problems, volunteer jobs and crime scenes without stopping to ask herself, "Is this a good idea?" It's a terrific trait for an amateur sleuth - after all, she has to be drawn into investigations somehow - but in real life, it can lead to moments such as arriving in a romantic beach town and discovering there are no rooms to be had. And you forgot sun screen. And your bathing suit.

I used to be very impulsive myself, but as the years go by (faster for me than for Clare) I've learned the joys of pre-planning, scheduling, and buying tickets well ahead of time. Not to mention making reservations. Part of it is parenthood - it will be interesting to see, going forward, if Clare begins to stop and, as Russ says, "Measure twice and cut once," now they have a child.

RHYS BOWEN: I think both my main characters share my strong sense of justice although they are braver than me, more impulsive than me. Molly Murphy is most often described as feisty. Lady Georgie as delightful. So I wouldn't mind being both those things, Especially Molly, taking on assignments in an era when women were supposed to be helpless and stay home, when she was hampered by skirts and petticoats and yet kept  up with men in a man's world. She should remind me that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. And Georgie? That it doesn't hurt to have royal connections. 


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: True, Rhys! But commoner Jane Ryland is--more confident than I am. She talks back to power, stands her ground.  Isn't afraid to do the right thing--often to her employment peril! I got an email the other day from a worried reader, asking me to make sure Jane stopped quitting, or getting fired over her ethics. She was worried Jane's unemployment benefits would run out!

When I was Jane's age, I put off having children and family because I was focused on my career. Though I have ZERO regrets, Jane, now in the same situation,  is showing me, again, what a very tough call that can be.

  Jane's often described as determined and honorable, and I get that a lot, too. But we're different in that Jane doesn't feel she has to please everyone all the time. I sometimes ask myself--Do I really need to say yes again? Or can I stand my ground and say no? I think-what would Jane do? And then I burst out laughing.



SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Wow, this is a tough question. I feel I've learned a lot from Winston Churchill — not that he's perfect, or even close to it — but his sense of honor, duty, justice, and doing the right thing are inspiring. (We won't discuss Churchill and India here, ahem.) 


I also love Churchill's sense of humor. And his perseverance. His love of language. His tenacity. And his willingness to speak out when it's not popular and it seems as though no one is listening. I'm continuing to learn from him (and also his mistakes) as I write the Maggie Hope series.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: So interesting, Lucy. What I'm reading in the others' responses, and what I'm thinking about, is that we seem
to write characters that we aspire to be. When I was writing A FINER END, an older woman named Erika Rosenthal popped up, one of those convenient secondaries who come along to move things forward for our primary characters. But Erika had her own story to tell, and later her own book, WHERE MEMORIES LIE. She survived leaving her country and losing her family during WWII, she lost her husband and then the love of her life, and yet she made a good life for herself in London, her adopted home. I love that she's developed a deep friendship with much younger Gemma, and especially that she continues to encourage and inspire Duncan's son Kit, who has also suffered great loss. I'd like to thing I'd be half as brave and compassionate as Erika.

Red readers, can you think of a character who's taught you something important or even become a role model? 

16 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Congratulations, Susan . . . what great news!

I love Hayley's loyalty, Clare's impulsiveness, Jane's confidence. I think all of the characters everyone's mentioned are great role models. Me, I could wish to have some of Jane's confidence . . . .

Reine said...

Gemma is committed to the responsibilities she has chosen as well as those those she unexpectedly finds herself in. She's daring and doesn't let go when she is on track even when the outcome seems bleak. She is persistent. Her feelings inform her thoughts while not getting in the way of the facts as they are revealed. That last is something I try to hold up to my own purposeful vision.

FChurch said...

Congratulations, Susan! Woohoo!

I think the Reds' characters have a feeling of authenticity about them--which is why we, as readers, are so powerfully drawn to and involved in the stories you create. To me, that's a reflection of the lives you have led, are leading--your own characters.

Melody comes to mind as a recent character who I admire. She was born in a very specific 'box' with a very definite life mapped out for her. She chose to break out of that box and create her own life. But in doing so, she created another 'box' with its own rigid expectations of how her life should be. Now, she has examined that life, found it too narrow, and taken a chance on change.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Love these comments--thank you all so much for the kind words about our characters.

Hallie Ephron said...

Who knew this question would be such a Rohrschach... So interesting.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

This is fascinating. And thanks, FChurch. I now have renewed strength for tackling my edits...

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yeah, I agree. The "brave" thing keeps coming-out, doesn't it? I mean--yeah. "What would it feel like to be.." and then we choose something GOOD.

We should also talk about writing the bad guys some day.

Back to topic, I also love that I have no idea what will happen to JAne, or to Jane's life. And she doesn't obsess over it. (Like I do. Over HERS, I mean!)

Kristopher said...

I agree with FChurch, all of the Reds characters feel very real, which is why we love them so much. They are not perfect, but who is.

As for the inter-generational friendships, I would like to say that the younger folks learn much from the older folks - as much as those old folks might be kept younger by having youth around them.

I have always had friends of all ages and I credit most of my positive attributes as coming from my interactions with those of other generations. I do my best to pass on this knowledge now that I am well into my 40's.

Mary Sutton said...

First, congrats Susan on your latest NYT bestseller status.

Second, Hank, I was up until 1am on Sunday finishing What You See. Brava. I was as exhausted as Jake was after all that drama! And I'm dying to know what was in that box! I love how both Jane and Jake entertain that "what if I wasn't a ?" when it comes to thinking about each other.

Like so many of you, my characters are me, but stronger, braver, more confident. I love those same traits in the characters you all write, too. I'd love to have coffee with Jane, hob-nob with Mina, cozy up with a cup of tea with Clare. I love their strengths, but I love their foibles, too. Keeps them human and relatable.

Karen in Ohio said...

Susan, I'm so pleased for you! Your books are wonderful, and it's good to see the rest of the book-reading public agrees!

My father-in-law was 93 when he died, in bed at 7:30, after having an early dinner with his 69-year old girlfriend. Who discovered what had happened when she tried to call him to see about having an ice cream together before he turned in, and couldn't reach him. At Karl's funeral, which was jam-packed with friends, I realized how many of his closest pals were so much younger. By this time most of his contemporaries had passed on before him, but he had cultivated friendships with people as much as 50 years younger, and invested a lot of time every week keeping in touch with them. A lesson for us all.

I so agree on the authenticity of the Reds' many characters. That single aspect of your books keeps me reading, for sure.

Reine said...

After reading the other comments I feel embarrassed that I didn't say how much I loved all the Reda' characters. I do, though, as I hope you know. I'll be back when my life straightens out.

Julia said...

Reine, you never have to apologize of be embarrassed! We all love you!

Deborah Crombie said...

Congrats, Susan!!! So exciting, and so well-deserved!!

What interesting comments from everyone. Thanks especially, Reine and FChurch. I'm copying yours into my book diary. So lovely to know when readers see your characters the way you do...

I was thinking about childhood reading, and the first character I really wanted to emulate. I think it must have been Meg Murray in A Wrinkle in Time. Even if she wasn't good at school or confident in every day situations, she was willing to do anything to save Charles Wallace and her father. So brave and yet so human and flawed...

Kathy Reel said...

Susan, let me, too, congratulate you on your New York Times best selling list placement! I had a wonderful last four days with family, but I have to admit that I am rather full of glee today, as everyone is gone, and I can spend the afternoon today finishing Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante. It's such a great read, and I hate that my reading of it got interrupted, even if it was for a wonderful cause.

Of course, I adore all the characters that the Reds write, characters that have truly become like family or close friends. I'm constantly learning from their lives and adventures. If I have to choose one single (or rather double, explanation to follow) character as the most influential, surprisingly influential, character(s), of my reading life, it would be Rose and Ruby, twenty-nine-year-old conjoined twins, from The Girls by Lori Lansens. These amazing characters showed me just how extraordinary the ordinary can be, and how ordinary the extraordinary can be.

Jim Collins said...

Y'all are among my top models in writing characters. In my brief bit of writing, the main thing that my characters have taught me is that sometimes they know themselves better than I know them, and that occasionally I should shut up and listen to them.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Thank you, darling MAry! And Kristopher, too for your astonishing review. Whoo hoo!

(Back to writing--I am at 109,000 words now! Better wrap this puppy up!)