Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Careful--Or You'll End up in My Novel!

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
          by Elizabeth Heiter

     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.
    In her latest adventure, SEIZED, Evelyn has recently solved the case of her career (the disappearance of her best friend in book 2 of the series, VANISHED), and she’s feeling adrift.  Without that goal pushing her forward, she isn’t sure where she belongs anymore.  So, of course I trap her inside a cult, where a person’s identity is as fluid as a good cult leader’s ability to mold it.
      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.


  1. Well, that’s an easy choice . . . if I could have my name in a book, I would definitely choose to be in law enforcement. As for how I like my characters, I really prefer a blend because no one is strictly good . . . or evil . . . and realism works for me.
    I’ve really enjoyed your Profiler stories and I’m looking forward to reading “Seized” . . . .

  2. Would it be bad of me to admit that I would kinda want to be the villain? Or at least not a totally "good guy." I think of all the actors/actresses who say playing a villain is so much more fun. Of course, my name does not really lend itself to menace.

  3. If I could choose, I'd be the character in law enforcement. I'd definitely want to be on the side of justice.

    Since nobody is perfect, I like reading about characters who have their faults, but I do prefer their faults to be true to life. Sometimes a character who is supposedly one of the "good guys/gals" has a fault that makes me question whether a real person in their position would actually be that way.

    I once read a mystery in which the best friend of the victim had the same first and last name as one of my nieces. It kind of freaked me out, to tell the truth! Nothing happened to that character, thank God, but she made some bad choices!

  4. Your books sound great! I don't want my name in a book, but if I did, I'd want to be a good guy teetering on the brink of bad, or a bad guy teetering on the brink of good. Like you, I'm all about shades of gray.

  5. Yes,I agree--it's so strange to see a familiar name. Especially one's own!

    And one year at Malice, I saw a woman whose name tag was Frances Neagley. It was SO familiar--I said--do we know each other? And she did have you read the newest Lee Child book? And I said--sure. ANd she said--well, I won a naming contest, and Lee used my name! ANd indeed, that's why I thought I'd met her! VERY confusing!

  6. I think it's kind of weird when names of folks I know pop up in books. It always throws me for a loop. My mind can't seem to separate the person I know from the person on the page.

    I'd much rather be mentioned in the acknowledgements. I am one of those folks who loves to read those pages (and the dedication). Always seems to heartfelt and represents a feel good moment before entering the craziness of the crime story.

  7. Dear Elizabeth, welcome! It was wonderful to meet you at the library reading a few years ago and I've absolutely fallen in love with your books and ADORE Evelyn Baine. Seriously. I just love how tough she is, but still how vulnerable.

    I've never had the opportunity to raffle off a character name -- for me it would be hard, as most of my characters are British and from a certain era -- not necessarily the same as today's names. Most times when I'm thinking up names I pinpoint the year the character was born and then go to the census for that year and look at what names were popular.

  8. I've wanted to be in law enforcement since the 9th grade and then J. Edgar dampened my enthusiasm by suggesting I (and another friend) apply to become secretaries!!!

  9. AH, Gram. That's a wonderful (and telling) memory, now that all the time has passed. ANd you turned out better than he did!

    I am so annoyed with our blog post font gremlins--they re unpredictable, ridiculous and unfixable. Sorry, gang!

  10. I auction off character names, too, and I just did a massive search-and-replace to change a character's name accordingly. It's one of the main characters in the book, and I think the person who bought the name iwll be pleased because for now her name is in the book's opening sentence.

    You know, I don't think I actually want to be in a book... maybe as a walk-on.

  11. I think it would be a great marketing tool for an author to use my name for a character. There are approximately 5 gazillion people with my name, so if they all thought it was them, the book would be an instant bestseller!

  12. Jeff, too funny.

    Hi Elizabeth! So nice to have you here. I've done plenty of character auctions for my books, and have always struggled to finding fitting characters for the names. Names are so important for me--they define character. And I've never been comfortable using an auctioned name as a major character, especially a villain. But a lady who won a name auction recently said she WANTS to be a villain. She's a criminal defense attorney, so she should know whereof she speaks:-)

    I don't really want to be in a book. There's a character with my name in David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, but I've never been able to bring myself to read it.

  13. Gram, I actually majored in law enforcement in college--then called Police Science. But in 1969, when I started, the only way for women to get into that field was with a Masters in Psychology or Sociology. Even then women were not permitted to do much more than be desk clerks or glorified social workers. Men did not even need a high school diploma, by the way; a GED, or two years in the military were good enough, if you can believe it.

    Nancy Martin used my last name in one of her recent Blackbird Sisters books, which was a cool little Easter egg when I was mid-book. Just a walk-on/off character.

  14. I like Laura's teetering shades of gray character choice. Having read so many books where the law enforcement lead character can be hamstrung by superiors, I can envision myself as a character who is good, but who is frustrated by the system and tempted and maybe occasionally gives in to working outside the law.

    However, like Kristopher, my biggest thrill would be to see my name in the acknowledgements. Something like, "thanks to Annie Wilkes, my number one fan." Hahaha!

    Mary Sutton, I'm not sure that you should write (pun intended) yourself off as a villain because of your name. Remember Mary Surratt, who was hanged as a conspirator in the death of President Abraham Lincoln.

    Elizabeth, your character Evelyn Baine sounds intriguing, so I guess I have yet another series to check out. Thanks!

  15. Been there, done that, died horribly.

    I don't suppose there was any doubt I would be a victim, and a lady with a very shady past to boot, when I won a contest at Meg Gardiner's blog some good few years ago.

  16. Hi everyone! Thanks very much, Reds, for having me here today! I love visiting your blog, and Hank, that was such a great intro story. So funny that it all worked out in the end to happily kill off your reader! ;)

    Thanks so much, Joan - I hope you enjoy the new one! (And I'm with you; I'd probably pick LEO too!)

    Mary, I love that you want to be a villain but have such a sweet name - it could be part of the psychology. Your character SEEMS so sweet and innocent, but lurking inside is a very dangerous villain...

    Deb, I'm glad the character made it through the story - I think that would freak me out too! (If it was my name, I'd probably like it, but for family, not so much!)

    Thank you, Laura! I love those characters who are teetering and you're just not sure which side they're going to choose in the end...I'm actually expecting revisions to the fourth Profiler book, STALKED, any day now, and there's definitely a character there who's teetering, not sure which side to choose.

    Hank, that is so funny! I never thought about that...also, I love that you want to be a TV reporter in a book, too! :)

    I love writing the acknowledgements, Kristopher (sadly, they got left out of the print version of SEIZED - they're in the e-book, though - so I need to post them somewhere!)

    Susan, thank you so much!!! I'm really thrilled you're enjoying Evelyn (she was so much fun to create!). And that was a great program - I hope we get the chance to do one together again sometime! So funny about your books and the character names - that's totally true. Maybe you could do something where the person's name gets "converted" into a version of their name that was popular then!

  17. I don't know if I'd want to be good or bad. If bad, my character must be absolutely charming so readers don't want me killed off. If good, the character has to be flawed or it wouldn't seem real. Flawed but charming. See a pattern here? My minor but charming character could pop up in subsequent books by popular demand! Ha.

  18. Gram, wow - it's good that the times have changed (some!), but I remember reading about the women who wanted to be Special Agents in Hoover's time. We need a book about a woman who applied, Hoover told her to be a secretary, and so she decided to solve crime on her own (like a P.I.!)

    Hallie, I've never given away a main character's name (in part, because that's challenging with a series, and in part because I get attached to those names!). I usually do a smaller role, but I try to make it a crucial one! In SEIZED, one of the Special Agents at Quantico is a reader who won the chance to be in the book at a Launch Party!

    Jeff, that's so funny! {writing this idea down for the next book...}

    Deborah, I hear you on the major characters! That's part of why I do smaller roles, too. So funny that you were in Mitchell's book - was it a total coincidence?

    Karen, that's so're all making me want to write a character who encountered some of these challenges! (Although Evelyn does run into issues being the only woman in the FBI's BAU unit in my series!)

    Kathy, thanks very much! I hope you enjoy the series! (I think you'll find quite a few "shades of gray" characters...generally, even my villains have some redeeming quality or reason to pity or empathize with their upbringing.)

    Susan, that's great! (And funny!)

  19. Pat, nice to "meet" you! Ha ha ... it sounds like you should be a flawed, charming character who is alternately helping and causing trouble for the main character, but keeps showing up at just the right (or wrong!) times...

  20. Nuanced and flawed characters make the journey more interesting. I can relate to both sides of the struggle if they are real.
    I was once given a choice, and chose the helpful secretary, mostly because she was smart, whereas the manipulative sexpot was just too stupid to deserve my name.

  21. Elizabeth, I don't know David Mitchell, or anyone who knows David Mitchell (that I know of...) My name isn't that common so I thought it was really weird and kind of creepy. Especially in context (a friend read the book so I know who the character was). At least she was minor!!!

  22. Night, all!

    Elizabeth, you are such a rock star! Hope you are selling piles of books---and that our paths cross in person soon. Love to you and your dear family..xoo

  23. Elizabeth! Go! Go! Go!

    Hank, you are such a great TV reporter! Boy do we miss seeing you back in Boston!

  24. Hank! Hank! Not that you aren't still there! We're not still there! xo

  25. Happy Thursday, everyone! Mary, I like your reasoning for picking the helpful secretary!!

    Deborah, that's what I was thinking ... your name doesn't seem particularly common, so I figured maybe the writer had picked it on purpose. What a weird coincidence!

    Thanks so much, Hank!! Love to you and yours as well!!! :)

    Reine, thank you! It sounds like you're going to have to settle for reading about Hank as a TV reporter in her cameos in books!!! ;)