Thursday, April 3, 2014

Death with all the Trimmings @LucyBurdette


 As you guys know, I write mystery series. When I start the first book, there is much that I don't know about the setting and the characters and the sidekicks--and of course, the plot! A lot evolves over time.

In the past, I've put many of my characters into psychotherapy--and their lives have definitely improved:). But my Key West food critic character, Hayley Snow, did not want to go. She doesn't mind consulting her psychologist friend or her mother for advice, but when she's really worried, she goes to Lorenzo, the tarot card reader.

I had seen a tarot card reader at the Sunset Celebration on Mallory Square--in fact I got my cards read from him. But I wrote AN APPETITE FOR MURDER without meeting the reader as a real person. Here was the first iteration of Lorenzo in Appetite:

After leaving the bar, I drove my scooter the length of Whitehead Street toward Mallory Square to see if Lorenzo was working. Every night at sunset, except in the very worst weather, street performers marked off sections of the pier and set up shop to entertain tourists and part them from a few of their dollars. Along with the zaniness of Duval Street, the spectacle of the sun setting over Mallory Square tended to stick in the minds of visitors more than anything about Key West. 

Lorenzo has been working the square for almost twenty years, wearing a star-studded turban, a deep blue cloak with a matching blue stone glued to his forehead, and a mustache waxed into loops. Sounded hokey, but even I felt more confident having my cards read by a guy who took the time to look and act professional.

But since then I've had lunch with Lorenzo (whose real name is Ron) a couple of times and gotten a better understanding of who he is and what he does. He has evolved in real life too--he no longer wears the turban and the make-up, because the tourists were treating him as a sideshow, not a serious person.

I was nearing the end of book 5, DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS, when I realized I needed help with Lorenzo's scene. He agreed to meet me for lunch and we had a wonderfully interesting talk about tarot and Key West and life. "I'm so glad I caught you," I said. "Without your input, I'd have no idea what to write."

"But you do know," he said. "You know."

And do you know what? When I returned to the scene I'd written, I found he was right. I put in a few telling details, but otherwise, this is how it goes:

Ten minutes later, Lorenzo took the seat beside me, carrying a cup of tea and a slice of pie.  His dark hair curled like mine in the humidity, and he wore Harry Potter-style round glasses, and red clogs. I felt instantly calmer in his presence.
    “I was hoping you weren’t on a diet,” I said, pointing at his plate.
    “The cards say never pass up key lime pie,” he told me as he swallowed the first creamy bite and rolled his eyes with pleasure.
    We chatted for a few minutes about the politics of the street performers at Mallory Square and their difficult negotiations with the city about a new lease. I wasn’t the only person struggling with a crazy workplace.
    “I got worried this week when we cruised through Sunset at Mallory Square with Mom’s guests and you weren’t there. There was another tarot card reader where you usually sit,” I said, lifting my eyebrows. “Is she your new competition?”
    “It all depends,” he said. “Do you want a performance? Or a reading?” He placed his deck of cards on the little table between us.
    “A reading. Definitely. No drama.” I began to shuffle the cards. “I’ve got enough of that in my own life.”
    He smiled warmly and dealt out three cards, and then shook his head.

“There’s change ahead. Upheaval. You may feel trapped by feelings and emotions that no longer serve your current purpose,” he said. “You may feel that you're out of control, but this will help you evaluate the ways you felt trapped. Don't let yourself remain in the position of refusing to see the truth.”    
    There were so many ways I was feeling stuck and out of control--my job, my love life, just to mention two. Lorenzo paused, still studying the cards. But it seemed as though they had given him all they had to say. And I needed to do some serious thinking, alone.

    “How are you otherwise than the Mallory Square business?” I asked Lorenzo.
    “I'm good,” he said. “I'm busy. I'm feeling calm and centered.”
    “I'm glad someone is,” I said.
    “Just remember, there are two worlds--a world of love and a world of fear. You choose where you want to live, okay?”

So on Monday, I sent in the draft of DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS (Key West mystery #5) to my editor in New York.  (YAY!) Who knows how many changes she will want, and who knows whether it's great or whether it stinks...but in the meanwhile, I think I'll take Lorenzo's advice--live in the world of love, not fear. (The book will be out in December, just in time for Christmas stockings.)

For readers (and writers), how important is it to see series characters change?


  1. Tarot cards are way outside my realm of experience but your scene with Lorenzo was quite captivating and I’m looking forward to reading “Death With All the Trimmings” . . . .

    I think some change in characters is expected as a series progresses over time. It’s only reasonable for it to parallel the reality in which people do change. The only time I can think of that it’s not such a good thing is when the change is so abrupt or so monumental that it is difficult for the reader to accept it. I think the reader should expect to see character changes over the course of time as life and experiences occur.

  2. Congrats on finishing the book!!!

    I'm torn on characters changing. Sometimes an author can pull it off and keep the characters static and I don't mind. But most of the series I read do feature evolving characters, and I enjoy that. In makes the series much deeper as the books go by.

  3. I love that quote, that we chose which world we want to live in. And can't wait to read the new book, Lucy!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I agree Joan--the change has to fit the character or it jars the reader out of the book.

    Mark, it's hard for me to even think how to write a static character. I think you'd have to focus much more on the mystery and the plot, right?

    Edith--thanks! I loved that line too. That's why it's great to have lunch with Ron--he tells me amazing things:)

  6. It's interesting (and fun!)to watch a character mature over the course of a series. It does happen in real life, after all. And of course there are people/characters who are NOT going to change for the better. It does bother me when reading a series if the protagonist never, ever learns from his or her mistakes.

    I've read all of your Key West books so far, Lucy/Roberta, and I recently decided to begin rereading them. Was I ever disappointed when I realized that I don't own the second one in the series! I thought I owned all of them. I must have borrowed that one from the library. As soon as I can get to the bookstore, I'll purchase book #2!

  7. I am Anonymous above. My finger slipped as I began to type my name!

  8. Now I want key lime pie....

    Wait, what are we talking about?

    Oh, characters changing — yes, I like to see characters change and evolve. It's what I'm doing with Maggie Hope and my other characters — war is changing everyone. How could it not?

  9. Thanks DebR! That's a very good point--not everyone "improves" (as my mother-in-law would say.)

    And Susan, exactly right. How could war not change a person?

  10. So you're telling us you didn't put that first version in an OUT file!

    What a transformation! I try to explain research to people -- this kind of research -- something you don't know you need to find out until you reach that point in the manuscript where it's not singing, and you need those details, the nuance. It's the difference between character and caricature.


    And I like Lorenzo much better as Harry Potter than as an oompa loompa. Now, about his name...

  11. Lucy,

    Congrats on getting the next book to your editor, always an accomplishment worth celebrating.

    I like to see series characters evolve. If they stay exactly the same, I get bored and turn to something else to read.

    ~ Jim

  12. Hurray! And I think one key to changing characters is that you don't trumpet the change-to-come in chapter one... "She had never liked children, somehow ...". You know what's coming !

  13. Mmm, key lime pie. Oops, sorry.

    Love that line - so true.

    Some characters can remain static. But in terms of main characters, I prefer some change - and usually growth. When I see a character doing the same stupid things over and over, well, I just want to slap them.

    But yes, the change is not always positive. And sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.

  14. Hallie, no, the first version was in the first book. I suppose you could call that one big OUT file LOL. And you get full credit for Lorenzo's name!

    Thanks Jim, it is a very good feeling...

    And Hank, perfect reminder. Don't need to hit readers over the head with hints of changes to come.

  15. When you are writing about people who are constantly facing life and death and mystery and romance, they had better be affected by what happens! Otherwise they are cardboard.

    I try to live in love, except when I am enjoying the FEAR reading mysteries!!

  16. Huge congrats on sending off the book, Lucy!!

    And while in the first book I thought Haley's desire to have her cards read was interesting, NOW I think Lorenzo is interesting and I want to know more about him. Seeing you characters evolve as you write them is one of the most fun things about writing a series.

    I think writers can get away with static characters in a mystery if all the reader wants is a puzzle. But I think most readers these days expect much more than that.

  17. Melody T: I picked your comment yesterday to receive the copy of City of Darkness and Light. Contact me at and I'll send it to you.

  18. Woot! Go Lucy! Congrats on the latest release (it sounds fabulous) and good luck with the pending edits.

  19. Congratulations on getting the newest manuscript off! The excerpt was wonderful. I think the books I pick up and discard after a page or two or turn to the end immediately, is because not much is happening to engage me with the characters. And I can see from the beginning where the book will end up. That might be okay if you are a lazy reader, but I want characters and plots that engage and challenge me-- and that doesn't mean I have to like what the characters are doing. Louise Penny--at the end of The Beautiful Mystery, one of the major characters rides off with the bad guys! But my heart ached for him and those left behind. At the end of Julia's latest, I wanted to kick Kevin in the seat of the pants and tell him to grow up! But you better believe I am anxiously awaiting the next book in line, because I'm eager to see what is up with these characters! Those are the kinds of books (and authors) I cherish!

  20. Amen, FChurch! Characters absolutely should change and adapt, particularly when they are dealing with new acquaintances like Hayley. Lucy, I read An Appetite for Murder a couple of days ago and really enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to getting book #2 to see what Hayley does next.

  21. Cool scene and backstory--and since I'm a Tarot fan, I sppreciated it even more!

  22. Thanks you guys, for all the congrats!

    FChurch, totally agree about Kevin in Julia's last book. Can't wait to see how that evolves...

    Debs, hmmm, yes Lorenzo may very well need a bigger role next time around...

  23. I'm coming in late again today, but it's interesting to read all the comments already posted. Lucy/Roberta, I just love Lorenzo as Haley's therapist substitute. I look forward to seeing him in each book, and I am happy that he is evolving and becoming even more that an "act" on Mallory Square. Of course, he was never just that to Haley. As Haley mentioned that she felt calmer just being in his presence, his calmness is one of the traits that I feel is such a necessary balance to Haley's somewhat chaotic life.

    Congratulations on finishing Death with All the Trimmings! I am excitedly awaiting its publication.

  24. I definitely think characters in a series should grow - time goes by from book to book so characters lives grow in one way or another

    I like to "feel I know the characters" in a series and watching them grown makes the book more real to me

  25. thanks Kathy--you are so right that poor Hayley's life is chaotic:)

    Mar, that is exactly why I love series--if I get to know and love the characters, I'm always eager to see how life is changing...