Good day, my bookish peeps. I hope everyone is having a wonderful start to their weekend. I’m delighted to welcome back the award-winning journalist and author, Susan Hunter. Ms. Hunter has taken time out of her busy schedule to discuss with us the importance of characters and criticism from the author’s perspective.
A Matter of Character
I try to roll with the feedback if a reviewer doesn’t like some aspect of a book I’ve written—or even doesn’t like any aspects of any book I’ve written. To each his own, right? One reader’s can’t-put-down book can be another’s can’t-get-into-it.
However, I can feel quite protective when someone criticizes not the book as a whole, but a character in particular. That is especially true when the character under fire is my lead, Leah Nash. I will be the first to admit that Leah is not always even-tempered, or wise, or mature, or forgiving. She is prone to acting impulsively. She has a quick tongue and doesn’t always filter what she says. And she’s pretty bossy and hates to be wrong. Hmm, as I write this I can see where the critics are coming from. And yet… She is generous of heart, loyal to a fault, quick-thinking, self-aware, fearless and funny. I enjoy writing her because she is a sometimes contradictory combination of light and dark.
I love it when a reader connects with her and enjoys the mix of virtues and vices that make up Leah. And I feel bad for her when someone zeroes in on her imperfections and ignores her indomitable spirit. I love her for her flaws. But I’ve had to accept that some people don’t see her the way I do. A parallel for me in real life is when I have two friends who I like very much, who can’t stand each other. Some readers respond to Leah as I do, and some don’t. Just like some of my friends like each other, and some don’t.
Because the series is set, for the most part, in the small town of Himmel, Wisconsin, a recurring cast of characters pops in and out of the stories as foils and friends of Leah. Sometimes readers take a shine to a minor character and want to see more of her or him. The request I get most often is for “more Miguel, please.” Miguel Santos is a young reporter at the Himmel Times Weekly. He’s extroverted, optimistic, tolerant, good-looking and gay (in both the old-school and the modern sense of the word). No one has a bad time when Miguel is around. He’s a perfect counter-point to Leah’s more cynical outlook on life. And I’m happy to spend more time with him, myself.
On the other hand, Courtnee Fensterman, the receptionist at the Himmel Times is a polarizing figure among my readers. She’s a pretty, vapid, self-centered receptionist in her early 20s, who is described this way:
Self-confident without any basis, incompetent without any awareness, unencumbered by any sense of responsibility, she is perpetually aggrieved and slightly perplexed by job duties that pull her away from Tweeting, Tindering, and [Snap Chatting].
Readers either love her for her blissful state of self-absorption or hate her for it. I understand why some people urge me to kill her off. But despite her ditzy, self-involved ways, I do have a soft spot for her as one of my offspring. And she’s useful at times in furthering the plot.
One of the nice things about a series is that you can allow your characters to grow and change and that can be reflected, in part, by the way they interact with other characters. For example, Charlie Ross, a detective with the sheriff’s department, started out in a small role as an adversary of Leah’s. Eventually he became a friend. I leave it to readers to decide whether Charlie changed, or Leah did, or if they both grew a little in understanding.
To say that Leah has trust issues is putting it mildly, and given her life experiences, it’s not surprising. However, she has no reservations about trusting her best friend, a man she’s known since they were both 12 years old, growing up in Himmel. David Cooper, known to Leah and almost everyone else as Coop, is a lieutenant in the Himmel Police Department. They both enjoy the easy comfort and tolerance that long-term friendship can bring. Readers seem to enjoy Coop’s quiet intelligence, his dry sense of humor and his steady presence. In fact, I get frequent calls for their friendship to morph into romance, though to date both have chosen other romantic interests. And to be honest, I’m not sure if they will ever be more than very good friends. Then again, I’m not sure that they won’t be.
I think that the characters a writer creates—even the not very nice ones—have a claim on the author’s affections. But, as is the case with parents, writers must send their characters out into the world to face whatever fate awaits them.
Some readers will love them, some will hate them. But the worst response to a character isn’t hate, it’s indifference. Because attention, good or bad, is what all characters—and maybe all writers—crave.
When teenager Heather Young disappeared from the small town of Himmel, Wisconsin everyone believed her boyfriend had killed her—though her body was never found. Twenty years later, his little sister Sammy returns to town. She begs her old friend, true crime writer Leah Nash, to prove her brother Eric isn’t a murderer.
But Sammy has no new evidence, and her brother doesn’t want Leah’s help. Leah says no—but she can’t help feeling guilty about it. That feeling gets much worse when Sammy is killed in a suspicious car accident. That’s when the independent, irreverent, unstoppable Leah takes up her cause. Her investigation takes her to some dark and dangerous places, and the truth she finds has an unexpected and shattering impact on her own life.
Published by: Himmel River Press
Publication Date: November 2016
Number of Pages: 348
ISBN: 1540356477 (ISBN13: 9781540356475)
Series: Leah Nash Mysteries #3 (Each is a Stand Alone Mystery)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | Goodreads
Susan Hunter is a charter member of Introverts International (which meets the 12th of Never at an undisclosed location). She has worked as a reporter and managing editor, during which time she received a first-place UPI award for investigative reporting and a Michigan Press Association first place award for enterprise/feature reporting.
Susan has also taught composition at the college level, written advertising copy, newsletters, press releases, speeches, web copy, academic papers, and memos. Lots and lots of memos. She lives in rural Michigan with her husband Gary, who is a man of action, not words.
During certain times of the day, she can be found wandering the mean streets of small-town Himmel, Wisconsin, dropping off a story lead at the Himmel Times Weekly, or meeting friends for a drink at McClain’s Bar and Grill.
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