Sunday, August 30, 2020

What We're Writing: For Batter or Worse

Jenn McKinlay: My series seem to be in lock step with a wedding happening between our protagonists, Lindsey and Sully, in ONE FOR THE BOOKS,  (book 11 of the Library Lover's series)  coming out this week. Unless, of course, a murderer mucks it all up...as they do. 

Available Sept 1st
And another wedding is happening (maybe) between the main protagonists, Mel and Joe, in my current work in progress, FOR BATTER OR WORSE, the 13th Cupcake Bakery mystery, coming out next May. 



Side note: Two things - one, this isn't the cover and, two, this will be the longest stretch of time I've had between book releases - eight months!!! - in over eleven years. Normally, I'd book a trip to a place with a beach and loll in the sun, but...2020 :(

So, here's snippet of my WIP. Be warned, we are in very rough first draft form.


Chapter One


     “Wow, I just realized you’re going to be a DeLaura and I’m not,” Angie Harper said.
     “Maybe.” Melanie Cooper opened the door for her friend as they exited their co-owned bakery, Fairy Tale Cupcakes, and walked to Mel’s car.
     Well, Mel walked, Angie waddled. At thirty-two weeks pregnant and being slight in stature, Angie carried her baby high and tight, looking like she’d strapped a basketball to her midsection.
     “You’re not going to take the DeLaura family name?” Angie asked. She sounded shocked. Mel was marrying Angie’s older brother Joe DeLaura, who was smack in the middle of her seven older brothers.
     “I haven’t decided,” Mel said. “We’re a few weeks out yet, so I have time.”
     “Not if the brothers find out,” Angie said. “You know they’ll have something to say about it. What about Joe, what does he think?”
     “He said I can do whatever I want,” Mel said.
     “Good,” Angie said.
     “What made you decide to take Tate’s name?” Mel asked. She was genuinely curious as to why her normally independent minded friend had gone traditional on the name thing.
     Angie hugged her belly. “I surprised myself with that one, too, but I wanted to become part of something new. Also, Tate offered to become a DeLaura so I felt like if it wasn’t a big deal for him, it didn’t need to be one for me. Also, there are enough DeLauras already, besides, we’ve agreed that all of our kids will have DeLaura as a middle name, so that was enough for me.”    
     “I imagine Joe and I will come up with something similar,” Mel said. She opened the passenger side door so Angie could slide into the front seat. “Maybe we—”
     “Haven’t you had that baby yet, Harper?”
     Uh oh. Mel glanced up and saw Olivia Puckett bearing down on them with her usual no nonsense stride. A rival bakery owner, Olivia, always wore a blue chef’s coat and contained her curly gray hair in an unruly topknot. She was not known for her tact or her diplomacy and when she and Angie bumped into each other it was usually with the force of two similarly charged magnets. They repelled each other.
     “Not yet,” Angie replied. She smiled at Olivia. “And how are you today?”
     Olivia stumbled. She blinked. She frowned. “You look like you’re having twins.”
     Mel hissed a breath. Didn’t Olivia know not to comment on a pregnant woman’s belly? This was going to get ugly. She glanced around the street, looking for help. There was no one. It was still early in the day for any tourists to be roaming Old Town Scottsdale. She reached for the phone in her purse. Marty Zelaznik, their main employee, was actually dating Olivia and Mel figured it was his responsibility to rein her in. Not that Mel was afraid of Olivia. She glanced at the other woman’s muscled forearms. Okay, she was a little afraid.
     “Not twins,” Angie said. She continued smiling and shrugged. “Just a big, bouncing healthy baby.”
     Mel gave her side eye. Was Angie okay? Had she spiked a fever? Usually, about now, the insults would be volleying back and forth between these women like a badminton birdie. Mel glanced at her friend’s eyes. Were her pupils dilated?
     Olivia’s mouth twisted up as tight as her topknot. “Well, you should be grateful. Elephants gestate for twenty-three months.”
     “Twenty-two months, actually,” Angie said. Then she leaned in and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “You wouldn’t believe the number of people who have shared that factoid with me.”
    “Yeah, well…” Olivia looked flummoxed. “It’s almost two years.”
    “Crazy, right?” Angie shook her head in wonder.
     Olivia turned to Mel. “What’s wrong with her?”
     Mel shrugged. “Search me.”
     Angie reached over and patted Olivia’s arm. “Have I ever told you how flattering that shade of blue is on you? You’re really very pretty, you know.”
     Olivia started to back away. She glanced at Mel with wide eyes. “You should take her to the emergency room.”
     Then she hurried down the sidewalk as if she was afraid that Angie’s sudden bout of niceness might be contagious. As soon as she was out of earshot, Mel burst out laughing. She turned to Angie and asked, “Is that your new way to drive her bananas?”
     Angie looked puzzled. “I have no idea what you mean. I adore Olivia.”
     With that, she slid into the passenger seat, moving her legs so that Mel could shut the door after her. They were on their way to visit their former employee and friend Oscar Ruiz, known to all as Oz, at the Sun Dial Resort where he was the master pastry chef. Mel and Joe were having their small wedding reception there, and Oz was baking the cupcakes, naturally, but now she wondered if perhaps Olivia wasn’t right. Maybe she should take Angie to see her obstetrician on the way. Of all the symptoms she’d read about pregnancy, a personality transplant wasn’t one of them.  
     Mel circled the car and got into the driver’s seat. She glanced at Angie and said, “Feeling dehydrated at all?”
     “No, I had a huge glass of water before we left the bakery.”
     “And you’ve been taking your vitamins.”
     “Faithfully.”
     “Huh.”
     Angie glanced at her as Mel started the car and left her parking spot to merge onto the street.
     “What?” Angie asked.
     “Nothing.”
     “Nope, I know you like I know my own eyebrows,” Angie said. “That “huh” wasn’t nothing.”
     “I’m just surprised, that’s all,” Mel said.
     “Surprised by what?”
     “Your reaction to Olivia,” Mel said. “You know she was trying to insult you.”
     Angie shrugged. She hugged her belly and said, “Whatever. I don’t have time for that. Besides, I don’t want to injure the baby’s psyche by thinking bad thoughts.”
     “Is that possible?” Mel asked. This was a level of motherhood she wasn’t sure she could handle.
     “I don’t want to take any chances,” Angie said. “You know, some people say I have a temper.”
     “Really?” Mel asked. She wondered if she managed to feign surprise successfully. “You don’t say.”
     “I know, shocked me, too,” Angie said. “But I’ve read every pregnancy book out there and I just don’t want to goof this up, so I’ve been doing a lot of meditation over the passed few weeks and really trying to find my mama Zen.”
     Mel paused at a red light and turned to look at her friend. Angie had her long dark curls held in a band at the nape of her neck. Her maternity dress was a loosely fitting swing dress in a pretty shade of pink. She looked about as angelic as Mel had ever seen her. She reached across the console and squeezed Angie’s hand.
     “That is one lucky baby to have you for a mom,” she said.
     In an instant Angie’s eyes filled with tears and she gulped. “You think so? I just want to be the best mom ever.”
     “You’ve got this,” Mel said. “No doubt.”
     She handed Angie a tissue from the pack in the glove box and Angie blew her nose. It sounded like someone stepped on a goose. Mel turned her head to hide her smile. At least, that hadn’t changed.
     “All right, enough sentiment,” Angie said. She waved her tissue at the window. “Aren’t there cupcakes waiting for us? Onward!”
     Relieved Mel put the Mini Cooper in gear and headed for the resort.

As you can see, there's more than just a wedding happening here. A baby is soon to appear as well. So, Reds and Readers, how do you feel when a long running series has protagonists getting married, having kids, doing all that life stuff? Are you invested and care or would you rather they just bring on the murder mystery already? 




80 comments:

  1. Aaaww, Jenn, that’s so sweet! I love when a series book’s characters do all those real-life things [and, yes, I tend to feel a bit invested in the whole thing]. But I’m definitely looking for the mystery as well . . . .

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    1. I get very invested, too. In fact, in a series I'm reading the author just killed off a main character and I was overwrought. I am hoping the author has something planned that makes me forgive her.

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    2. Just like Julia said yesterday about Kevin. Makes you wonder whose idea it was to kill off someone readers like.

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  2. I was really into the story with that excerpt, Jenn. A baby and a wedding are wonderful, and I enjoy the regular lives of protagonists as well as their parts on a murder mystery. Getting attached to characters means they feel real, and so you just naturally want to see a complete picture of them.

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    1. After 13 books, you'd think these main characters could get it together and get married but as I'm still writing it -- maybe not? No idea yet.

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  3. Absolutely, there should be the life stuff. Life events and a little bit of romance makes the mystery!

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    1. Agreed. It makes the characters much more well rounded, I think.

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  4. Love the life stuff - if I'm invested in a character, then they become friends. Okay, we don't text or anything, but the connection is there.

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    1. You never know, Kait. Maybe that's my next marketing tool. Having my characters text readers...hmmm...oh dear, look what you've started! LOL!

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  5. Bring on the lift stuff!

    Oddly, I seem to be marrying off all three of my protagonists. I did not plan it that way, and at least the release dates are all separated by at least a year. Go figure!

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  6. A series tends to lose me when the characters DON'T evolve or have lives outside the murder-solving part. Deb's books are a perfect example.

    Last summer I binge-read nearly all 50 of the J. D. Robb "In Death" books and, as formulaic as they are, I was pleased to see that Eve and Roarke grew as the books progressed, working out the kinks in their partnership and their personal psyches as they dealt with new challenges. I think it's the key to survival if you want a series to last.

    And I really love the cupcake books. I think the large, loud, loving DeLaura family is part of what makes it work for me. There's enough variety there to create chaos when you need it, and an effective fighting force when that is called for. A wedding? And a baby? In a Jenn McKinlay book? How can comic chaos not ensue? I can't wait.

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    1. (Um, assume you mean Deb's books a perfect example of characters who DO evolve and have lives outside murders...)

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    2. I agree, Gigi. I am very invested in Deb's characters' family life. The kids are growing so much (sob).

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    3. Right you are, Edith! Deb's books are perfect examples of how to mix the general stuff of life into your detective series and keep everything fresh and engaging.

      In my defense, it was 5:30 am when I wrote that, a storm was moving in (so I had anxious dogs underfoot) and I was operating on about four hours of sleep. I generally try to do better.

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    4. Thank you all! And Jenn, I'm trying to slow the kids down by squeezing the book timelines closer together. I don't want them to grow up so fast!!!

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  7. Jenn, I love the excerpt. For me, the development of the characters and the relationships with all of the life changes happening is what makes the stories work. I've said this before, your books and those of the JRW bloggers and friends have lifted me up during the pandemic. So let your characters fall in love, marry them to their soul mates and bring in some babies. Your readers are loving it!

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    1. Thank you, Judy. Writing the stories has helped me escape some of the pain of this year, so it's healthy on both sides of it, I suppose.

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  8. You have a way with your protagonists that brings them to life and that keep me returning for the next book. I feel for them and want the best for them.
    Even if it is well written and have a good plot, I can't finish a book in which I can't be invested for at least one character.

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    1. Being invested in the characters -- that's a good way of putting it, Danielle. You're right. Even a well written book, if it's full of questionable characters doing horrid things -- I won't give it my time to read it. I have to want to spend time with at least some of the characters in the story.

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    2. Like you, I have to like the characters or relate to them on some level otherwise why do I care? Unless, of course, it's a thriller and I"m just in for the ride.

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    3. Even with a thriller, I want to be invested in at least one character.

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  9. You nailed maternity! Clothes, bump size and shape, Mama Zen, baby name, taking husband's name. I expect characters to fall in love or have a fling, get married, and have babies.

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    1. It does give an author a break from writing about the murder, too. Which for me, helps with the pacing and such.

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  10. Angie has her Zen work cut out for her these days! We all need to take her example right now.

    Personally, I enjoy seeing characters change, grow, marry, have kids, divorce, get widowed, and so on. It's one of the most compelling reasons to keep reading a series, to see what's next for the characters.

    Dorothy Sayers let Lord Peter marry Harriet Vane. The Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus love story is one for the ages. Gemma and Duncan have carried on with full and interesting lives. And of course Clare and Russ have had their fair share of life's ups, downs, and sideways.

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    1. I think that's what I love about mysteries. The end isn't putting a ring on it. It's the life stuff that happens after you say "I do."

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  11. That's what I love about reading a series: we get to see the characters grow and deal with life in ways that make them jump off the page as book characters and become friends we want to spend more time with. Debs and Julia does this perfectly with their series. Lucy, too, now that I think about it some more. I care about those characters and the people around them.

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    1. Yes. Although, the downside is when a series ends. I've had some that left me quite bereft.

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    2. Yes, besides mourning her loss, I felt bereft when I learned Sheila Connelly had passed away. Her series set in Ireland was getting into full swing with the characters, I thought. I miss having that to look forward to--the next chapter in their lives.

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    3. I've only read the first book, and I loved getting to know the place and the characters. So sad about Sheila...

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  12. I loved the excerpt!

    I agree with all above: there is more risk in allowing a character to become stagnant than in developing a realistic, ongoing personal life. A few examples where I think marriage and/or children have really improved already good series are Deb's, Julia's, and Margaret Maron's. I would go so far as to say I can think of a few authors --at least one a major best-seller -- who have turned me off over time because they seem to use the main characters' relationships to draw me in but then perpetually sabotage them so that they never actually get to have any moments of happiness.

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    1. Yup. I've had to quit on a few series because it became "rinse and repeat" on the personal plot line with no growth. Always a disappointment.

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  13. Your dialogue is so lively, Jenn; it's one of the things I like best about your writing.

    As for real-life event: yes, definitely want that in a series where I like the characters and keep coming to it for the characters. Truthfully, the mystery/murder component becomes incidental to my enjoyment, even while I recognize it as being central to the story.

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    1. Thank you. The balance between mystery and personal lives gets tricky.

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  14. I can think of successful series in which the protagonist never changes or ages (PG Wodehouse's books about Wooster and Jeeves), and others in which life events change the protagonist over several books. Either can work, but I think so far here, the vote is for the characters to move along through life, negotiating the challenges that come with maturing. It gives more opportunity for psychological insight, don't you think?

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    1. Yes. Because life isn't just one plot line and the people in your life give it multiple story lines. At least, mine do, but then again, I live in a frat house.

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    2. I think the fact that Bertie never changes is the comic backbone of the Wodehouse books. But you can still only ride that horse so long. And if all writers did that? Horrors!

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  15. I can think of successful series in which the protagonist never changes or ages (PG Wodehouse's books about Wooster and Jeeves), and others in which life events change the protagonist over several books. Either can work, but I think so far here, the vote is for the characters to move along through life, negotiating the challenges that come with maturing. It gives more opportunity for psychological insight, don't you think?

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  16. Jenn, I love the dialogue. The humor comes through your writing. How Angie surprised everyone by being nice to sour Olivia. "You look so pretty". It was too funny how Olivia reacted to Angie's kindness. Now I want to read the book. So looking forward to the book on September 1 and this book. How exciting!

    Regarding marriage and kids in long running series, I often like that, especially if the characters are likable.

    However there is a BIG TURN OFF in a long running series. I am Not a big fan of CLIFFHANGERS. There was a romance novel by a new to me author that was an advanced copy. There were too many loose ends. Yes, it was part of a series.

    Diana

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    1. Thank you, Diana. I am a masochist and LOVE a cliffhanger ending.

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    2. LOL. It depends on the cliffhanger.

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  17. Thanks for the excerpt, Jenn! I like series where the characters change and develop. People don't live in a bubble but if the characters do, it is a huge turn off. Tossing in real life events and problems adds conflict to the mystery plot. I love to see how the characters handle it!

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    1. Exactly. You get to see how they navigate their life. So important!

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  18. Jenn,

    With a long running series, readers are invested not just the mystery but the characters as they've evolved. So the married life wouldn't be such a bad thing for the characters (unless they lose the spark that made you hope they got together in the first place).

    I would think that a baby for the main character might dull their sense of the adventurous mystery solver since they would likely now put not just themselves in danger but their new baby as well. But no one says you can't space the marriage and potential next generation apart by a few books.

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    1. We're on the same page there, Jay. I can't get behind an amateur sleuth as a mom. Mostly, because you're just too busy but also, you would never put yourself in danger. Lives are depending upon you!

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  19. After a while, it gets awkward when the relationship doesn't evolve. There's lots of time and events before they have to deal with an actual baby on the scene of an investigation. Getting used to married life, getting more used to married life, baby planning, showers..Their baby might even point out the solutions to the mysteries.

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  20. LOL - I hadn't though of the baby as an amateur sleuth. Plot twist!

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  21. I love this series, and have read it from the very beginning. I love the progression that Mel and Angie have taken. If characters didn't grow and change, the series would get very stale, very quickly. I feel like I know these people in real life, and I am so glad that this series is still going strong! Thank you for sharing the snippet. I can't wait to read this book!

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  22. Love that the characters evolves and grow. Life changes as we grow older. I can imagine what could happen when there is baby on the way and a wedding. Now bbn I have to wait to next year to find out what happens.

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    1. Thank you! I love that the characters have changed so much. Makes it more of journey.

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  23. Jenn, I've finally got caught up on your library series--now waiting for the latest!! And the cupcake ones, I'll savor them all eventually. In a series, it's important for me too to like some of the characters and to look forward to visiting them again. Much like you would with a friend you don't see too often--you spend time catching up on their lives. So the mystery is important, but so are the characters' lives.

    I will say that when I read the first Louise Penny mystery, I wasn't sure what I thought about it. But the character of Armand Gamache interested me--and so I gave the next one a try. And I'm so glad I did--the characters weren't just 'a spouse', 'a sidekick', 'a kooky neighbor', they have evolved through the series. That's the biggest draw in a series for me--I like exotic locations, but if the characters don't hold my interest, then I'll ditch that series. Too many other books to read!

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    1. Thank you, Flora Locations are a big draw for me, too. I love feeling like I am elsewhere - especially this year!

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  24. I loved the excerpt and can’t wait to read the book (I know it will be a while). I also like to see characters grow and evolve, especially over a long-running series. I also like to see characters date, marry, and have a “real” life.

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    1. Me, too. Although sometimes I take the breakups rather hard. LOL.

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  25. Jenn, you put a big smile on my face first thing this morning, and what could be better than that? I love characters having normal lives and progressing through them. I think evolving relationships are so much more interesting than constant cliffhangers (not that I'm averse to the occasional cliffhanger...) And I love the Cupcake books, the bakery, the DeLauras, Old Town Scottsdale. But in the meantime I'll be very happy to dive into ONE FOR THE BOOKS on Tuesday!

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    1. Thank you, Debs. Your series has become a guide for me in how it's done. I love the way the family is so important your series - I ma very invested in Gemma and Duncan.

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  26. If I'm invested in the characters and their relationships, I do want to read about the wedding and babies. But it definitely does need to be balanced with the mystery. After all, I do read these books for the mystery.

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    1. Exactly. I admit sometimes the personal takes over and you have to pinch it back. Lol.

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  27. Thanks for the excerpt. And I also like seeing personal lives take second stage in books. I want to see the romance, the wedding, the baby, just life going on outside of murder.

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  28. I love it! With husbands and children, this can add soooo much more to plot lines - I can see the series taking on a whole new direction.

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    1. It does bust open the possibilities. The Hub has been lobbying for years for Marty and Oz to have a spin-off of their own. LOL.

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    2. Marty and Oz spin-off? Yes, please!

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  29. Great peek into the newest cupcake. Will the wedding and labor happen at the same time? I can just hear Angie saying "Go ahead,the pains aren't that close together" 😄. Enjoy all your books and looking forward to the new ones! Thanks for sharing your talent with us.❤

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  30. One of the reasons I prefer series is because of the chance to explore all the characters more and have them change over the series. I do demand that there is a mystery and that they solve it by the end of the book. Secondary mystery stories can carry over to other books. Much as I like reading about friends in the books, I can find plenty of mystery series that do mystery plot and character development well. Love all of your series. Stay safe and well.

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  31. Ah Jenn! The characters in your books become the best friends we wish we had! The development of the characters keeps us coming back. The mystery just adds to the fun. There is no one quite like you when it comes to comedic writing, you make reading a great pleasure!

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    1. Sully's Girl - how much do I love this??? LOL! Thank you for the kind words. Much appreciated.

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  32. Seeing characters doing real life growth makes them more 'real'. Your books make the people just as alive as the next door neighbors. We get invested in their lives. We laugh, cry and occasionally yell at them. That's why I love your writing. When your transported into the book it's magical. Thank you for continuing to transport me❤

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    1. You're very welcome! Thanks for coming along on the ride! :)

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  33. Jenn Thank you for being an amazing story teller my family knows they are in trouble when I come home with a book because I loose myself in it especially during these crazy times Please keep writing ( and faster :) )

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  34. I like when the characters evolve in life like we all do. The characters can add more to their lives but still keep the murder mysteries going. I feel like I'm invested in the characters and rooting for them to move forward in life like getting married and having a family.

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