Getting to Know You

One of the highest compliments a writer can receive is that his/her characters “lived” in the reader’s mind. That means all the work and imagination the author put into these two-dimensional pages made them pop out and draw the reader into their fictitious world.

It can be daunting, though, to take on this task. When one picks up a book, he/she doesn’t know any of the characters or what point of life they’re in. Yet, the hope of a writer is for the reader to feel like good friends of them within a few chapters, so they want to see what happens next and share in their struggles and victories. That’s why I found it important in Husband in Hiding to give glimpses into the character’s personalities very quickly, instead of overly focusing on physical traits.

In the first chapter, I wanted to show the friendships between Wes and Minka, the Channings, and Cael. Meanwhile, I tried to give readers an idea of where they were in life to help them understand what they’d do subsequently. Having been married for four years, Wes was ready for him and Minka to take a new adventure, while her past experiences made her content with their life the way it was. Their individual views propelled them later on to make decisions that impacted their future, such as Wes’s restlessness making him meddle in Minka’s case. On the other hand, Minka comes to rethink her attitude towards accepting change when facing her life without him.

My favorite technique, though, to make characters seem real is dialogue. After all, that’s how we get to know each other in the real world. I base many of my character’s conversations on ones I’ve had—or would like to have!—with people in my life. That, in my opinion, makes them more realistic. Exchanges can be used for showing the dynamic between characters, as well as revealing developments in the story that may otherwise seem dry.
By staying true to one’s writing style and developing characters you yourself would like to get to know, your readers will likely fall for them and adopt them as their own. Authors are their characters’ first and foremost advocate, so the better their connection is with them, the better it will be with the audience. With just the right qualities and quirks, you can create personalities readers will think about even after closing the book.

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The Menacing Blank Page

A friend recently asked me how one starts writing a book.  I gave the obvious reply, “With a blank page!”  It wasn’t the anticipated—or probably desired—answer, but it sufficed for the moment.

That made me start thinking, though, about all the prep work that goes into a story’s first page.  Besides having an idea of the basic framework and the aspects above of names and settings, there are a lot of split decisions a writer makes.  For starters, one decides on the era it takes place in and who’s point of view to use.  In the first two novels I penned, I employed a first-person perspective but found myself unsatisfied with the results.  It can be constricting and actually isn’t favored by some publishers, but it can be right for certain genres.

Being that it was my first mystery, I had many uncertainties when starting Husband in Hiding.  I didn’t know if I should give readers a sneak peek into the antagonists’ plot, as some do, or if I should rely solely on the detectives’ standpoint.  Ultimately, I backtracked to before the criminals’ exploits begin to give readers a feel of where Minka and Wes are currently in their life.

Before that even, I used a prologue to shed light on the couple’s unique history, which was one of my favorite parts to compose.  I’ve done similarly in the sequels that follow, detailing an important moment in Minka’s life that relates to the rest of the narrative.

However an author goes into “Page One”, it should reveal his/her writing style and, most importantly, hook readers into wanting to know more about the characters.  Most times, the biggest obstacle is tackling that blank page.  If that’s true in your case, remember this: It’s never blank for long!

What’s in a Name?

Since Husband in Hiding was first released, several readers have asked how I came up with the fairly unusual names featured in the story.  In a nutshell, my mom has always been attracted to unique names, so I suppose I inherited those tastes, as well.  Thus, deciding on one that suits me can sometimes stump me more than most other aspects of my writing.

The majority of my characters are named on the fly, and I make good use of baby name websites, needless to say!  Occasionally, I give a shout-out to a friend, but I try not to get too carried away with that.  Once in a while, I’m even inspired by street addresses, such as in the case of the Desoto brothers and Neil Elmway, with one friend of mine living on Desoto Lane and another on Elm Street at the time I was working on the book.  There are a few, however, that have a bit more of a story behind them.

Cael was actually the first name that occurred to me of all of them.  I hadn’t even begun writing the first draft when I was falling asleep to the eleven o’clock news and heard about a little boy who was missing, named Cael.  Despite the framework of the story hardly aligning yet, I was immediately struck with the kind of character he would be.  Thankfully, the child was found in real life, and unbeknownst to anyone else, I found the beginning strand of my story-line.

Minka followed months later, as the plot was taking shape in my mind.  From my childhood on, my mom affectionately called me “Minks”—short for mischievous—, and given that I was going to base her personality somewhat on mine, it seemed rather appropriate that we share the nickname.  Plus, actress Minka Kelley’s career was also on the rise, so it came together pretty naturally.

By far, I put the most thought into the name of Minka and Wes’s neighbor, Camille Paleta.  To capture the essence of her nosiness, I wanted to dig a little deeper when it came to her surname.  Wes privately calls her ‘”Scoop” because of her love of gossip, so on that line of reasoning, I looked up the word in different languages, which led me to the Romanian term “Paleta”.  I debated including the factoid in the story, but ultimately chose to keep it my secret.  Now, though, the scoop’s out!

Setting the Scene

Every story has a setting, whether it be an exotic locale in Europe or simply the protagonist’s living room.  Early in my writing journey, I experimented with creating my own fictitious towns, as many authors masterfully craft, but I couldn’t “feel” the story when I did so.  Thus, I began setting my characters in places I’ve personally visited.

 ​In some cases, an ordinary vacation inspires me to base a story there, such as what happened after a 2011 trip to Orlando, Florida.  Though I hadn’t begun writing the series, I knew it would be the perfect home for Minka and Wes.  Other times, my research leads me to the right venue, and to ensure accuracy—and have a good reason to travel!—, I endeavor to go there.  For instance, my studies into witness protection for Husband in Hiding ​revealed Arizona to be among the places WITSEC takes those whom are in their care.  A trip there to celebrate my parents’ anniversary coincided well with my writing and allowed me to investigate Glendale, where Wes is taken for refuge.