HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: True story. I auctioned a character name in one of my books—I always do it, and I have a million stories about it, but here’s my fave.
The winner wanted to be the victim.
I winced. No, I said, I’m so sorry, I really can’t do that. It might sound funny now, but when you read it in the book, you’ll be creeped out. And it’ll be creepy for me to write it. So, no, I said. I can’t.
He insisted. Please, he begged. I really want to.
I said I couldn’t, and if he wanted I could give him his money back, and reopen the auction.
Well, okay, he said. Do whatever you want.
I knew I was right, so I made the winner a secondary character. A cool guy, whose car had been hit, but he wasn’t hurt.
Fine. But as the story progressed—and you all know I have no idea what’s going to happen in advance—it became clear that this character had to die. HAD to. So I guess my subconscious was –at work. And the winner was thrilled. THRILLED!
All this to introduce the topic for the amazing Elizabeth Heiter. At JRW, we always say—I don’t know how she does it. Elizabeth is a true powerhouse. Non-stop, and unstoppable, with the best reviews ever for her page-turning suspense. Plus, she’s wonderful. But hey—her turn to talk.
What a Character
People fascinate me. Maybe that’s why so many of them end up in my novels.
I like my characters real, flawed, and relatable. Whether they’re the heroine or the villain, I think everyone has shades of gray, and I like to show that in my stories.
The heroine of my Profiler series, Evelyn Baine, is a dedicated FBI profiler who joined the Bureau because her best friend went missing when they were twelve years old. Evelyn’s goal for most of her life has been to finally find out what happened to Cassie. But that’s not her whole story.
She’s become a gifted profiler, but she’s socially awkward and doesn’t trust easily, not even when people have proved they’ve earned it. She’s independent to the point of foolishness sometimes, but if a colleague or a victim or a family needs her help, she’s the first to jump in and the last to give up.
I surround her with a group of survivalists who really don’t like having a biracial federal agent in their midst. Among the group are Ward Butler, the leader, and Rolfe Shephard, his second-in-command.
Early in the story, Evelyn describes Ward Butler like this:
Most cult leaders were charismatic. Narcissistic sociopaths, too, but they had to be able to conceal that. They had to exude enough charm to get a group of people to give up everything they owned and follow them.
Not this guy. As far as Evelyn could tell, he was a hundred and eighty solid pounds of pure menace.
Butler is a danger to Evelyn, but she’s not the only one. He’s on a mission, and Evelyn soon learns that it’s not as simple as just leading a cult deep in the Montana wilderness. He seems to have a plan that’s much, much worse, and Evelyn needs to get word to the FBI, or the cult may unleash a deadly attack.
If the FBI breaches the compound, Evelyn knows Butler will make her his first victim. Her only hope to stay alive is Rolfe Shephard, Butler’s only lieutenant, and an enigma to Evelyn.
In order to reach such a high status in the cult, Evelyn knows Rolfe must believe deeply in their mission. But more than once, he’s risked his own life to save hers. She doesn’t know if she can trust him, but he’s her best chance at making it out of the compound.
Although none of the characters above are truly based on real people, I do sometimes mesh bits and pieces of real people – characteristics that interest me – and put them on the page.
At Launch parties for my books, I’ve also had some drawings for readers to get their name in a book. I don’t base the character on the person, but I do let them choose if they want to lend their name to a law enforcement officer or a criminal…so far, everyone’s chosen the side of the law!
What about you? If you could have your name in a book, would you choose to be in law enforcement or to be a criminal? And how do you like your characters…strictly good and evil or more of a blend?
HANK: I’ve actually thought about this! (Sadly.) And I’d like to be a TV reporter. (In fact, Linwood Barclay and Ace Atkins both did that in their books—as a surprise! I am still thrilled!) But Reds and readers, how about you?
Danger is all around her...
What should have been a routine investigation for FBI profiler Evelyn Baine turns ominous when she's kidnapped by a dangerous cult of survivalists. As her worst nightmares become a reality, she begins to question what she's seeing. Because the longer she's inside their compound, the more she realizes this cult is not what it seems to be.
The next terrorist threat is right beside her...
As the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team closes in, Evelyn suspects she may have stumbled onto an emerging terrorist threat – and a leader who has a score to settle with the FBI. If Hostage Rescue breaches the compound, Evelyn's dead for sure. If they don't, the cult may unleash a surprise attack that could leave the whole country shattered.
Critically acclaimed author ELIZABETH HEITER likes her suspense to feature strong heroines, chilling villains, psychological twists, and a little bit (or a lot!) of romance. Her research has taken her into the minds of serial killers, through murder investigations, and onto the FBI Academy’s shooting range.
Elizabeth graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature. She’s a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America. She writes two series: the psychological suspense series The Profiler, featuring FBI Profiler Evelyn Baine, whom Fresh Fiction called "one of the most amazing characters created in print" and the romantic suspense series The Lawmen, the third of which was just nominated for Best Intrigue of the Year by RT Book Reviews.