By Deborah Sharp
You want to know the sweetest words to an author's ear? "Your characters seem so real!''
Okay, maybe the very sweetest words are: ''Your royalty check is in the mail, and boy, is it a big one!''
Still, that first sentence sounds pretty delicious, doesn't it? Since 2008, when my first Mace Bauer Mystery came out, I've been lucky enough to hear from readers who see my characters as real people. They identify with the tomboyish Mace. They'd like to date -- or marry -- her hottie love interest, Carlos. Or, they know someone like the wacky Mama character. Furthermore, that person drives them crazy, just like Mama drives Mace and her two sisters crazy.
This is great because it lets me know my fictional characters have real enough traits that they come alive on the page. The downside? Sometimes the readers know the characters better than I do. That leads to statements like these:
''That was so unlike Mace. Normally she'd never do something like that.'' (Usually the reader is right!)
Or, ''Why is Carlos so jealous in this book? He was never that insecure or jealous before.'' (Right again, and a mistake on my part, looking back.)
The best feeling is when the two different perspectives on the characters line up -- what I've tried to accomplish as an author, and what the reader perceives.
''I like how Mace's bossy older sister seems softer in this book,'' one reader told me.
I beamed, thinking of the effort I put into ''growing'' Maddie's character -- giving the older sister her own developmental arc.
I was thrilled to hear by email the other day from one especially enthusiastic reader. Cathy Katrovitz, of Vero Beach, Fla., has followed the series from the start. She had some fun making up a snippet about running into my characters on a shopping trip. It was my very first experience with ''fan fiction.'' No danger that my series will transform into a fan-fiction-generating machine like Stephenie Meyer's Twilight or J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter. Even so, I was flattered by Cathy's effort. Here's an excerpt:
I was in Bernice's Fashion Apparel for Well-Endowed Ladies the other day. Guess who I saw? Mace and Mama, would you believe? Judging from the conversation I overheard, Mama is entering a Senior Pageant, and she needed some new outfits to wear . . .
Well, Mama had that store turned upside down, what with trying on umpteen outfits, admiring the costume jewelry, and wondering who in the world could wear the shoes that could double as weapons, with their stiletto heels . . .
Mace looked like she'd had enough of shopping and wanted to get back to her animals. I hope she didn't take out her frustration later on that hunky guy of hers. Mama made some reference to him - said he was a "Tony Bandito" look-alike. Mace corrected her with "That's Antonio Banderas, Mama." I just smiled and left the store. I'd forgotten why I went there anyway.
How about you? Do you think of characters in books as real people? Do you wonder how they might behave in a particular situation?