One of the joys of writing, is the connection your readers make with your characters. I like to ask our readers who their favorite characters are. What they tell us can influence the next book.
It seems everybody loves Mama. What’s not to love about a woman who serves up generous portions of pasta and guilt? Some name Uncle Joey, a crooked Chicago cop who drives a red Ferrari. Two reviewers wrote they wished they had a brother like Rocco DeLuca. Well, we wish we had a brother too. Our home with six sisters was a PMS war zone.
In the first draft of Some Like It Hot, we sisters fired Cleo Jones (Cat’s trigger-happy assistant) from the Pants On Fire Detective Agency. But when readers said they loved Cleo, we wrote her back in.
We all want readers to think of our characters as real people. But it’s crazy when they think they know our characters better than we do.
A woman in Chicago refused to believe me when I said two characters were good friends, not lovers. A bookstore owner in Oregon told me I was wrong when I described a character as a womanizer. A member of a book club insisted we were mistaken about who killed Walter.
At every book talk, people ask where we get our quirky characters. I wouldn’t hate the question so much if I knew the answer. The conversation goes like this.
Reader: Where do your characters come from?
Sisters: We don’t really know.
Reader: I’ll bet your mother is like Mama DeLuca.
Sisters: They’re both strong women.
Reader: I knew it.
Sisters: But our mom is a feminist, social activist, and vegetarian. Mama DeLuca only wants her daughter to get married. And she roasts a pig on a spit. So they’re not really alike.
Reader: I think you’re lying. You sisters have nailed the Chicago Italian family. I’m guessing you’re Italian.
Sisters: In our next life.
Reader: Then you must have close friends who are Italian.
Sisters: Uh, no.
Reader: So why create an Italian family?
Sisters: Because Italians are more fun than Norwegians. Don’t get us wrong. We love being Norwegian. We’ve just never seen one get drunk and dance on a table.
Creating characters readers care about can be a crap shoot. But people already care about family. So write about one. It’s almost like cheating.
As much as our families make us crazy, they’re a big part of who we are. At our best and our worst. Perhaps sometimes we take our families too seriously. Stand back. Take a deep breath. And laugh.
If you can’t laugh at your own family, laugh at Cat DeLuca’s. It’s worth an hour of therapy.
K.J. Larsen is the pen name for three sisters. The third Cat DeLuca mystery, Some Like It Hot, will release March 2012.