Saturday, December 19, 2020

What We're Writng Week: Julia's Head is Too Crowded

Better Late Than Never Department: The winner of one of Priscilla Paton's Twin Cities Mysteries is Kathy C23, and the winner of one of Susan McCormick's Fog Ladies Mysteries is Lysa MacKeen! Kathy and Lysa, please email me at juliaspencerfleming at Google's email service, and I'll connect you with your authors!

 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: First off, there's not going to be an excerpt today. Why? Because I've reached the stage where I hate everything about the work in progress - the cliched writing, the turgid story lines, the mystery that makes no sense and most of all the swarm of characters cluttering up the page!

Yesterday, Debs wrote about the pleasures of having a deep bench of secondary characters to explore and develop. And it's true, for both the author and the reader, having a large cast can be a joy, as someone who's in the background in one book can step out to be a major player in the next. (For the modern master of this, see Louise Penny.)

But - and here's the place I find myself - the author can spin up SO many secondary and tertiary story lines for these characters that drafting the novel starts to feel like rewriting WAR AND PEACE. (Okay, I confess, I've never actually read WAR AND PEACE. But it does seem as if it must have a LOT of characters running around. The Napoleonic wars didn't happen by themselves, you know.)


In my case, I have my primary sleuths, Russ and Clare, both of whom brought at least one personal issue with them from the 9th book, HID FROM OUR EYES. Then there are my secondary detectives, Hadley and Kevin, who have some major issues to thrash out. I have some cops from Russ's department who have stories that were pretty much MIA in Book 9, not to mention what's going on with the department itself. 

If that wasn't enough, I introduced an old friend for Margy Van Alstyne, Russ's activist mom, and though I really have no need of the pair in the book I'm working on, I like them so much they keep popping up, stopping the action with their cuteness.


There's a reappearance from a couple Clare married in a previous book, and we can't forget the baby and Oscar the dog - if they don't have screen time, it looks suspiciously like neglect - and, of course, there are all-new characters showing up for the first time: bad guys and  abused wives and New York State Forest ranger of Mohawk descent and an ambitious state attorney.

Are you keeping track of all this? Because if you are, you're doing a better job than I am. 

Back when I was struggling to get to the end of ONE WAS A SOLDIER, my dear, ever-helpful Ross had a suggestion: "Why not have a meteor crash on Millers Kill and wipe everyone out?" While it's not the best way to keep a series going, I have to admit it's sounding more tempting every day.


Can there be too many characters and subplots, dear readers? Where's the sweet spot? Should I drop a space rock on upstate New York and start all over again by taking a long research trip to Key West? (It was 9F last night and we have a foot of snow on the ground.) And does "Julia's Head is Too Crowded" sound like creative genius, or mental illness?

99 comments:

  1. Well, I’m definitely voting “NO” on dropping the space rock on upstate New York [although the long research trip to Key West has possibilities and definitely sounds lovelier than nine degrees and a foot of snow] . . . .

    I suppose it’s possible that there could be such a thing as too many characters, but I’m sure they’ll manage to sort themselves out and decide to behave so that the story works for you [I keep reading comments from writers on this blog that characters tend to do that, so I’m confident that it will happen for this story, too] . . . .

    As for the creative genius or mental illness, I guess you know I’m standing firmly on the side of creative genius and looking forward to reading the next book . . . .

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  2. Ummm, a definite NO for a meteor to obliterate everything in Millers Kill!

    JULIA: It is fun that you are asking what is the optimal number of secondary characters after Debs plot from yesterday. It really depends on the story/plot/timelines in each book.

    I definitely enjoy reading a series to revisit the same cast of primary and secondary characters, and usually a familiar setting. I think the secondary characters should help to enrich the story and perhaps play a part in moving the plot forward or revealing a clue from their POV.

    And as for the "creative genius" vs "mental illness" tag, I find it interesting to see how many authors go through this self-doubt stage as they write each new book. Does not matter if you are a newbie or well-established, award-winning author.

    I remember Louise Penny questioning her sanity and whether she is writing drivel as she works on the first draft of each new Gamache book. And so far, each book has turned out to be different (not formulaic) and well worth reading. All The Devils Are Here is brilliant. I might be a bit biased since it also is set in Paris and only concludes with a scene at Three Pines but still...that's my 2 cents worth.

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    1. JULIA: Reading my earlier post, I realize I did not really answer your question!

      I get it...most writers have doubts about their WIP. I mentioned in an previous post that I wrote 10-12 drafts before sending my scientific manuscript to the publisher/journal knowing that the peer reviewers would come back with plenty of suggested changes.

      You can do this, Julia, as you have always done before!

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    2. Grace, the weird thing is: I know I can. Intellectually. I've written enough books to KNOW this happens every time and it won't last. But I guess it's like depression, in that you can't reason your way out of it. (Unlike depression, you can WORK your way out of it, though!)

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  3. Definitely creative genius!

    I'm kind of at the same point in my WIP and I keep wondering if a man with a gun should walk in and spice things up. Or if she should stumble across another body, this time behind the pickle barrel (no, did that in book two...). I admit I've never thought about a meteor.

    I like the sound of the forest ranger and the DA, and like Joan, I'm confident you and the characters will sort it all out. (Fingers crossed mine will, too.)

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    1. Edith, I'm always in favor of "the man with the gun." I was about a fourth of the way in with OUT OF THE DEEP I CRY and it felt kind of boring. So I broke Russ's leg. I figured I could always go back and make it not happen. But as it was, it really kicked everything up a notch.

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    2. This insight is FASCINATING to me, Julia. I so enjoying knowing a bit of the writer's process for creating the story that unfolds for me on the page...

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    3. I was first introduced to the concept by Lawrence Block, in his wonderful book TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT. He says when your plot seems to be drifting along, send in "a man with a gun" - a totally unexpected event to kick the the plot into high gear and send it to a more interesting place.

      It's a useful technique!

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    4. It's a great technique. Unfortunately, in a mystery, it often means someone else has to die!

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    5. I think Block's book on writing is one of the best out there - I keep a copy near my desk - but I think he was quoting Chandler on the the man with the gun. I actually just did that in the WIP - an unexpected death - and honestly? Now I don't know what comes next!

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  4. You can do this, Julia! You've done it before. And maybe thought about that meteor before too. But it will sort itself out in the next draft, and make sense after all.Of course it will. As for that line between mental illness and creative genius...I don't remember where I saw this, but it's something like, "Many people who talk to imaginary friends end up in mental hospitals. The rest become writers." :-)

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    1. Triss, before I became a writer I honestly did occasionally wonder if there was something, shall we say, neuroatypical about me. Turns out there is, but I can monetize it. :-)

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  5. Definitely genius. I adore your characters. Nix the meteor, your sy fy influence is showing. In spite of this dilemma, your fans believe that you will sort this out and the result will be brilliant. We have faith in you, Julia.

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  6. This sounds like a bad case of "Ugly Quilt Syndrome" to me. I make beautiful, carefully-crafted, hand-quilted quilts. And at some boring mid-point in the construction of each and every one of them I have thought, "This is the ugliest quilt ever created in the whole history of quilting."

    I'm wrong about that, of course, but I have come to recognize it as a part of the creative process. If the old folks keep popping up, maybe it's because you want something fun and loving and hopeful in the midst of the Nazis in the book and the covid crisis outside your door. Maybe your readers would like that, too. If you think you "should" drag some old subplot out of the closet because you haven't visited those folks for a while, but you just can't make yourself do it, let them sleep. It's okay. They'll wait. Just keep putting words on the screen. One at a time, if that's all you can manage. It will all sort itself out eventually. And, I promise you, it won't be the worst book or the ugliest quilt ever in the whole history of humankind. I mean it. And bless your heart.

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    1. Gigi, I love your analogy, because I often compare writing a mystery to different types of needlework. And yes, I recognize I ALWAYS go through this phase, just as I will then go through a phase as I'm finishing the book where I'm convinced I'm the greatest writer since Edgar Allen Poe.

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    2. I have same issue, Gigi, only mine is my crocheted blankets, any size, I get to a point where I just want to drop that hook and pull on the yarn, I don't but there are times.

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    3. I keep myself going by reminding myself that the dogs have no taste, and therefore will probably, reluctantly, sleep on the ugliest quilt ever, but only if I finish it. But Julia is right. Once it's done it's the Best Ever!

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    4. Gigi and I have had MANY discussions about the Ugly Quilt Syndrome vs. the Book in Progress. My moan usually goes along the lines of "Why did I ever think this was a good idea for a book???" Funnily enough, I have liked all my books once they were finished.

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  7. As I read the news this morning, I'm wondering if you could redirect that meteor a bit south? You know where I mean.

    Too many characters? Sometimes. For years now Kindle has had an x-ray feature that I find invaluable when I suddenly have no idea who a character might be. I touch the name and up comes every mention of that person in the whole book. By the way, I'm not blaming the author. It's all about my brain turning to Swiss cheese.

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    1. Ooh, I'm going to look for that feature, Ann!

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    2. Yes, so am I. I had no idea... though I frequently use the built-in dictionary; so useful.

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    3. Ann, yes, thanks for that Kindle tip. I am hoping this x-ray feature works on both a Kindle app as vs actual Kindle device.

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    4. Ann, I'm getting the same way, sometimes about my own characters! I find myself stopping and saying, "What was her name again?" I've trained myself to add new names to my authority book so I can find them without having to go through the manuscript.

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    5. That's a great Kindle tip, Ann. I'm also intrigued by your tiny, tactical meteors. Like Ko-Ko, in The Mikado, I have a little list.

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    6. I'm having a terrible time remembering all the characters in previous books, as in "Haven't I had a --- in another book? Which flaming book was it???"

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  8. The problem with meteors is too much collateral damage. They are not the most concise of all weapons. Just saying.

    Julia, it's good to see that you have not yet lost your sense of humor. I laughed out loud at
    "I confess, I've never actually read WAR AND PEACE."

    You'll work it out, I have every confidence. You definitely fall on the genius side in your writing life.

    Ann, thanks for the Kindle tip! If I read ebooks, they are usually Nook versions, but I'm reading a Kindle book right now, Judy Penz Sheluk's first.

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    1. Karen, I did, however, start reading CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, I got about fifteen pages in, and as I recall, 50% of those pages were Russian names.

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    2. Ha! So true. I read it, but probably 40 years ago.

      Which makes me remember Mitchener, whose multiple characters all have versions of the SAME NAMES. At least your characters each have unique identifiers.

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    3. We are trying to make our way through season two of Trapped, the crime series set in Iceland. The names are all so unusual to our ears (and eyes via the subtitles) that it's hard to connect with them and keep them straight. I speak not one word of Icelandic... though Manitoba, where I live, has the largest Icelandic community outside of Iceland. Fortunately, they all speak English.

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    4. Amanda, two of my nephews are one quarter Icelandic! They also don't speak a word of the language.

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    5. I confess, I've also had problems reading Icelandic crime fiction. I just can't seem to train my brain to blur over the names; it keeps insisting on sounding them out every time I see one.

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    6. Odd, I find it easy to follow Icelandic names, esp. the surnames and how the male and female names change with each generation. But when I visited Iceland in 2015 and 2017, I had a real HARD time with the multisyllable street names.

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    7. Grace, it can't be worse than Wales!

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  9. Julia, I sympathize with you, but I bet the rest of us would love every bit of what you're writing! Don't give up xox

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    1. I won't, Lucy. I just like to complain. :-)

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  10. Shalom Reds and Fans.

    I am terrible at remembering who is who in a novel or television series. I usually confuse two characters and it takes a while before I can remember who is who and what their name is. That is why I often re-watch a TV program just to keep straight what character is linked to the story in what way.

    The positive side of the story is that I no longer chastise myself for re=reading whole sections of my current read in order to fix the characters in my mind. With books, I simply go back and read again those sections which are becoming murky for me. And with television series, if I like them, I will just replay them until all the characters and their roles in the story are clear to me.

    This happens to me in real life also. And, now, that we are wearing masks all the time in public. I will often be speaking to someone who I clearly should know without any idea of who it is. Part of it is age. I am just getting mentally slower as I get older.

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    1. David, I was outside a medical building yesterday (masked, of course). A man in a mask and a hat peered at me and said something. I looked back. Then he used my name. It was Chuck, a dear friend I've known for thirty years! Crazy. We had the nicest short visit walking upstairs to PT together...

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    2. David, it's not necessarily age. I heard a story on NPR (where I get most of my scientific information) and it said some people just aren't good with remembering names, because personal names are the most abstract type of memory-unit, divorced from category and unique to only one individual. Which is why you can look at a dog and if you've learned the breed, you can say, "That's a collie," but despite having met the dog's owner, you struggle to come up with "Timmy."

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  11. Maybe sometimes a secondary character pops in to relieve the tension, action--give the reader a breather before the plunge into weightier matters. I say, go Margie! :-)

    And boy am I intrigued by that New York State forest ranger! A man in a uniform!! Down, fangirl! See, Julia, you've already got us wanting to know more and you've barely revealed anything about the WIP. Now, that's what I call creative genius!

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    1. He's kind of dishy, I have to admit. I have a little crush on him.

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    2. Oooh, we love your crushes, Julia! Can we get a glimpse of him in the next WWW?

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    3. That's an excellent idea, Debs!

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    4. I wondered when you would bring in a character like the fi”or rests ranger, given previous comments and books you have recommended. Can Russ get a consulting job as an investigator for the state’s attorney? I can see a lot of potential subplots in that situation.

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    5. Susan, I'm really liking his character, too. I keep trying to think of ways to get him to join the regular cast, as it were.

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  12. LOL - Julia, you are definitely a creative genius. As for dropping the rock - don't you dare. I've read all of the Clare and Russ books from the git go and last year read the entire series in a binge. Each and every one of your characters is finely drawn and distinct. While I agree, that can be a writer's nightmare - it's a reader's delight. They'll sort themselves out. No worries.

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  13. Margie needs some spice in her life. I like keeping up with Hadley but the rest of the crew can take a step back. Chill, pick out the perfect Christmas gift for each main character (or, like the Wizard of Oz, give them each a wished-for attribute), and send the whole pack to the diner. You've got this.

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    1. Oh, gosh, Margaret, that would make an awesome short story...

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    2. Circle back to Rossetti. The third verse is "What can I give him/poor as I am?"

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  14. No, no, no. No to the meteor and, please, NO, to cuteness for the senior citizen possible-couple. Margie is a wonderful character and I'd love for her to have a real relationship -- warts 'n all. Please, no cute romance just 'coz she's a senior.

    As for the War and Peace cast, hmmmm. So exhausting as a reader to keep them all straight. I'll gladly take Clare, Russ, the baby and the dog, plus Hadley and Kevin, and a few regulars hanging on. Together, surely, they can fight the white supremacists, no?

    All kidding aside, I'm ready to pre-order this book, regardless. Keep writing, Julia!

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    1. So counting what you listed above, you're ok with 6 characters + a few others. Just trying to see if giving Julia an actual number of optimal characters will help.

      I liked Margy and it made sensed to have her in the different timeframes in HID FROM YOUR EYES. I agree with Margaret that Margy needs some fun in her life but don't make it a major part. Margy has a grandson now so that should have some prominence, no?

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    2. Grace: Interesting to count the characters I listed. Truth is, I'm really invested in Clare and Russ (they are both, individually, so interesting and, together, make for a fascinating couple to follow. Ditto for Hadley and Kevin -- I admire Hadley's grit, and I love Kevin for his youth and smarts, and I sooooo want a happy ending for them! As for Margy, I just love her politics and I want a partner for her, if she's to have one, who is her equal.

      Not a tall order for a writer of Julia's quality, eh?!

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    3. Amanda: I am also totally invested in Clare and Russ' stories first. I am just trying to be an agent provocateur or devil's advocate since most commenters are just saying "Go for It" or "We Believe in You, Julia" without trying to answer her question.

      That being said, of course, I think Julia is totally capable of handling 6 = characters but to me it depends on the story being told.

      Debs had maybe 15 or 17 supporting characters in A Bitter Feast and it made sense to have them. Again, I marvel at how she continues to juggle all those characters besides Duncan/Gemma. But that's shows how a writer grows in his/her craft, right?

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    4. I think the real answer to "how many characters" is, "as many as it takes." Not very useful! Ross used to ask me, "How long is the book going to be?" and I would say, "As long as it has to be!"

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    5. Yes, Julia, I was trying to provoke some more useful input than "as many as it takes" or "whatever the story needs". Good moral support but not very helpful when you are stuck!

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    6. I know, and I appreciate it! It is good to know that I can throw the question into my editors lap when he reads the first draft. He gets paid to make the hard calls. ;-)

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  15. In all honesty, Julia, my first thought upon reading this delightful post was, "Poor Julia! This has to be the downside of participating in a blog like this -- owing a post when you are in your own personal Slough of Despond." Like everyone who has posted before me, I have great faith in you. You will get them all sorted and soon you'll be hurtling headlong toward the conclusion.

    As to the too many characters question, I think it just matters whether they naturally show up in the story. They don't need to appear just to show they still exist, but if, as with Margy and her friend, they keep popping up organically, then they must belong there.

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    1. Susan, that's a good point about popping up organically. I do trust my instincts... just not when I'm in the Slough of Despond!

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  16. I can’t remember what writer actually said this, but romance writers often talk about “whose story is this? “ So if you have your two main characters Clare and Russ, and essentially Clare has a story and Russ has a story, the one that is the focus of this book, and then their stories come together and resolve somehow. Then… Who do you need for each of those?
    It’s interesting, when you think of a novel like a play or a movie,, and imagine it coming to life on stage or screen, you can realize how seldom there are many main characters in the room at the same time.
    In my new book I carried this situation around with me for days and days and days… I kept thinking : I am coming up to the big finish, and there are just too many people! There are too many people who have to be there at the same time! .
    I was really worried about it. Because I couldn’t figure out how to shepherd all those people – – and out – – and make it work. And then… Suddenly… I figured it out.
    All that is to say: your brain is working on it. Let it go.

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    1. Julia, good advice from Hank and I would add that your subconscious knows better than you do. Put it away. Do mundane tasks and in the middle of laundry or baking things suddenly become clear.
      Debs always has several stories going at once and I’m never confused. So as long as the characters are real and fleshed out and there for a reason I don’t think the number matters ( I wrote In Farleigh Field with 5 points of view and storylines and it seemed to work)

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    2. You're both very wise. I think it hasn't helped that it's been the end of the semester at the community college where I teach. I'm spending a LOT of time reading student's work, responding to their emails, figuring out the online grading system, etc. I feel like I haven't had a lot of "mundane task" time.

      Maybe things will start to come together when I'm wrapping Christmas presents!

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  17. Plus you can always have people leave town, and appear in the story only as “I wish they were here”kind of mentions.
    Or have have a character be away on vacation, and their absence becomes the story..

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    1. Nice idea. I can actually think of a few people that could apply to.

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  18. Meteor, eh? Maybe not.

    I remember a thousand years ago watching some TV sci-fi movie where the good guys were all miniaturized and trying to cope with the Big People. When speculating with my friend about how it would end, her father said, "They all get stepped on." (It became a Thing with us for years...)

    Just a suggestion....

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    1. Susan, there's a great scene in John Scalzi's OLD MAN'S WAR where the brigade of space marines (or maybe we should call them 'Guardians'?) drops onto a warlike planet armed to the teeth - to discover the natives are all about two inches tall. They do, in fact, win by stomping on them.

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  19. Julia, you can do it! We all know you can and it will be absolutely wonderful! I think Hank had a couple of good ideas up there. Maybe just mentioning a character is sufficient.Not everyone needs a big starring role.

    Now I want to know more about the dog. I've tried and tried and cannot remember where or how he first came into "our" lives. I know he was pretty much a hero in a recent book but I just don't remember his back story.

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    1. Oscar belonged to a couple who died at the start of THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS, Judi. Clare took him home because the shelter wasn't open in the wee hours... and then the dog never left. (this may bear a resemblance to some of my family's own experiences with pets...)

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    2. Thanks for that, Julia. I thought maybe I was remembering something similar. I always love a dog or two in the books I read.

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  20. Julia, I love that you never read War and Peace because I did and let me tell you that not only is it filled with too many characters but that they multiply! They multiply because Tolstoy used nicknames too. There may be an Alexandra in one chapter and in another there is Sasha but you don't realize until later that they are the same person. Very unfair!
    I love all of your secondary characters and am eager to hear how all of them are doing, but it's your story and your plot line. If Anne Vining-Ellis or Paul Foubert don't appear then they don't need to do so. The baby and the dog probably have to be in it but not as a major story perhaps.
    We will eagerly await as always what you will decide to give us.

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    1. It wasn't just the nicknames that did me in, Atlanta, it was those damn patronymics. "Hello, Natalya Ilyinichna." "Hello, Andrei Nikolayevich." "Have you met Yelena Vasilyevna?"

      As a system, I find traditional Russian naming practices fascinating. Trying to wade through them to get to the plot... not so much.

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  21. LOL - Julia, you crack me up. I can hear your voice in my head reading this whole thing in that charming and hilarious way you have. Yes, the bane of series writing is maintaining the secondary and tertiary characters. No small feat while writing a mystery but you will find the balance and if not, we’ll, that’s what editors are for!

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  22. Hey! What happened to one of my new favorite secondaries? The state trooper that Russ used to detest until they had to work together to survive? Yeah, him! Throw him in the current story!

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    1. Oh, no! You're right! We haven't seen Lt. Bob Mongue for a while (and yes, I did have to look up his name.) He's a great character. I love him and Russ together.

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  23. And since you mentioned it, Julia, can we just talk about guardians? This is absolutely absurd. I mean – – laughable. Pitiful. Just saying.

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    1. Trying to imagine calling an eighteen year old computer guy, "Guardian Second Class Jones."

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  24. Julia, I am amazed that you can create that many characters! A friend who majored in Film and wrote scripts once told me that it is hard to create many characters when I asked her about the characters.

    All of your characters sound wonderful!

    Diana

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  25. Let me start by saying Timmy is somewhere in Sonoma county, or he was last time I heard anything about him.

    Does one know when one has too much holiday decorations out? Or is less - more? As I look at my boxes of decorations that I haven't opened in three years, I have to wonder, where did I put all this stuff before. Then I remember, I had different furniture, a different home. And you are worried about too many characters in your WIP, Julia. :-)

    I love that Russ arrested his own mother (he did that, didn't he?) and that his old boss is now having, trying to have a relationship with her. Of course, we now know there has always been an attraction but now.... just how uncomfortable is Russ going to get with Mom have a "boyfriend" and all the shenanigans that goes with a new/old/newly reaffirmed relationship?

    Please no crashing objects from space, there will be just too much paperwork work to fill out and that will bring all sorts of new subplots and subchara... - wait, wasn't that the question...acters...? Aw, heck, what do I know, it took me a week to decide where to put the Nativity scene this year.

    Signed, Anxiously Awaiting For The Next Book.

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    1. Deana, it usually looks, in the immortal words of the Maine Millennial, like "Christmas threw up all over the house" here. This year? So far I have a few candles and some poinsettias out. I've got to go into the attic and bring stuff down, but I'm definitely feeling like a "less-is-more" holiday.

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    2. Julia, I said that two weeks ago, and then ended up dragging nearly everything out. With help from grumpy husband having to lug boxes up and down from the attic... But I do feel better for it. Go ahead and let Christmas throw up!

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  26. Julia, I have complete and utter faith in you. Throw everything in the book, as many characters and subplots as you want. You can always weed them out later, but you never know how things may fit until you write them. As for meteors, maybe there could be one just outside of town, and Russ could investigate and find a body? Just sayin'...

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    1. One of these days, I'll have to tell you all about the time Ross read a PW article on the popularity of vampire romances and suggested Russ become one of the undead. :-D

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  27. It sounds to me, Julia, like you are in the place right before it all falls into place. It's like so many projects, from writing to remodeling. You have to make a mess to get to the new, improved product. I have every confidence that you will whittle away at this story and make it the very best it can be, which is always spectacular.

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    1. Kathy, that's a very good thing to remember. My house is in that stage where all is chaos: cleaning, decorating, boxes of ornaments sitting around in my way. And I always remind myself it has to get messy before it gets better.

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  28. I find that sometimes, even when I'm writing a standalone, it feels as if there are too many characters with too many stories and secrets and trajectories... And those moments when it all feels like sh-t are many. Gosh no, don't start over!

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  29. I feel for you and often have characters crowding their way on the page. I generally like books with lots of lively characters, but I don't try to remember everyone. In writing, I think I sometimes come up with another character when I should be doing something clever with the plot.

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    1. LOL! Priscilla, this is all too true for me. Plot is hard, character are easy.

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  30. I have been worrying about Hadley (and, to a lesser degree, Kevin)! Glad you are too!

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  31. I'm excited for the next book(where is Kevin). I can offer no help, but empathy for having difficulties making the pieces fit. Your author friends had some good ideas

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  32. Julia, as an avid reader (listener), I can say that I love the way you bring back characters from previous books. I confess that my memory issue doesn’t allow me to remember all of the newly introduced characters. However, as someone re-listens to your books over and over (love Suzanne Toren), I do piece these threads together, loving every single one! My most vivid interests are as follows (my own priority order): 1) how do the demands on Clare affect her work, relationship with Russ, and her substance abuse problem; 2) what happens with Russ and the MKPD, 3) please let Kevin and Hadley get together, 4) please let the department get past the Hadley porn issue (and can that idiot who puts panties in Hadley’s locker!), 5)I love the Dr Ann character, 6) the relationship between the senior Mrs. Van Alstyne and the former chief is sweet but not of much interest, 7) does Russ finish the cabin? (Personally, I would get rid of it. Horrible memories there), 8) please let the woman who had to go back to her father’s business finday to enter the ministry and do a spell at St. Albans. She was fascinating! and she could replace that crazy Deacon deGroot! and 9) I love Oscar! More Oscar please! Phew! That’s a lot! Oh, I see your problem! You’ve got this, girl! DISCLAIMER: please forgive misspelled or omitted names. I’m a listener so I don’t see the names in print! Merry Christmas!

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  33. I am voting for creative genius :)

    You have always had a fair number of characters and storylines and you pull it off expertly. I admit, I read mostly for Clare and Russ. I will ALWAYS want more focus on them in a book but your secondary characters are engaging and I enjoy what they bring to the story. I have never felt what you had was too much. Things flow together so nicely in your books. Your plotting and the way the storylines work together are masterful.

    Just a related compliment - I only started reading your Russ and Clare series two months ago and I have already finished all nine books. Your writing style is so fluid and I have been hooked since the very first book. The sweet love between Clare and Russ warms my heart and brings me such joy. I'm praying that you are as much of a Clare and Russ 'shipper' as I am and don't ever pull them apart. They have already been through so much to be together (All Mortal Flesh and I Shall Not Want had me absolutely heartbroken and feeling their pain). Of course there will be trials and tribulations(I'm concerned in particular about Clare's issue and pressures and how that will impact their relationship) and things will be hard and there will be anger and fights but I'm not sure I could manage it if they ever stopped "holding on and not letting go" and loving each other so fiercely and unconditionally. That would break my heart (again). I am clinging to the hope that with their shared commitment to marriage as a sacred lifetime vow that will never happen. So few people see marriage like that anymore. It's refreshing even in literary form. They are soulmates and I hope they are together and happy and in love until parted by death (many many years down the road of course :)).

    My extreme emotional attachment and investment in Clare and Russ together is a) "probably" not healthy hahaha and b) is a testament to your skill as a writer. I am so invested in this particular couple being together and in love forever because of the amazing characters you have created and the incredible stories you craft. I never feel this strongly about characters as I do these two.

    The excerpts you have been posting here have me so excited for the next book! I can't wait. Thank you for sharing your gift with the world. Your books have brightened a very dark time for me personally. I will be buying your new book the day it comes out! - Alison

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