Shannon and Jess Talk Character Arcs
Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker had books releasing on September 6, Jess’s thriller with Midnight Ink, Salem’s Cipher, and my debut in a new series, Stripped Bare.
Today it’s my turn to pick the topic, and I want to chat about character arcs. Specifically, I want to talk about how, over the course of your writing life, your protagonists and antagonists have changed? That’s probably confusing, so I’ll go first.
While I never set out to write autobiographical characters, bits of my attitude or the tone of my life seems to soak into my books. I can almost chart my personal life from my main characters. Annie was the protagonist in my first published book. When I wrote that, I was trying to keep a million balls in the air with kids and jobs and dealing with a cheating husband in a town of 300 people. I got more than a few comments on how cold and bristly Annie was. I thought she was stoic and strong.
Jess: You’re really onto something here, Shannon. When I wrote May Day, the first in my Murder-by-Month mysteries, I was reeling from the unexpected death of my husband. It’s an uneven book, and my protagonist is all about trying to solve the unexpected death of her lover. There’s humor in it, but so much darkness in Mira, the main character, so much holding people at arm’s length for fear of getting hurt. That question, “how much of your main character is you?” is so complex, isn’t it? Shannon, did you find that true in your Nora Abbott books that you published with Midnight Ink?
Shannon: When I started the Nora Abbott books, I’d left my Sandhills home and struck out on my own. I was in a new and wonderful relationship, but was unemployed, in a new town, and full of angst. While, again, I thought Nora was capable and smart, I wanted to show that inside, she maybe wasn’t as put-together as everyone thought. At least one reviewer thought she was whiney. Whiney? Really?
But over the course of that series, as Nora came into her own, she gathered confidence and fortitude, becoming more of the woman on the inside that she projected on the outside. Coincidentally, my life finally started to settle down and though I’m still a mess of insecurities on the inside (I’m a writer, after all) I wasn’t nearly as rattled about life when I wrote the last in the series, Tattered Legacy, as I was when I wrote the first, Tainted Mountain.
Another thread running through my characters is mother issues and cheating husbands. I can see myself working these things out in my books.
Jess: That is one of the many reasons we get along so well, Shannon. Both of us (through our characters) work out cheating issues, though my characters land firmly in the camp of father rather than mother issues. It’s interesting because I just finished my first nonfiction book, tentatively titled Better than Gin: Rewrite Your Life, and it’s about exactly this process of writers working issues through their characters, and how the process is not only healing but creates great fiction. I also sometimes wonder if we make friends when we write. Specifically, that we create characters that we’re either like to be or to be with. Do you find that?
Shannon: Kate Fox, the star of Stripped Bare, is someone I’d really like to hang out with. While she’s got some problems to deal with, a cheating husband for one (I don’t know where I get my ideas) she’s got a healthy sense of herself. She’s confident, even though she’s not sure about her future, and she’s not afraid to take action. She’s a combination of a team player—she’s in the middle of eight brothers and sisters—but craves her independence. And she’s got a sense of humor, which saves her.
It took me nearly a decade since I left the Nebraska Sandhills to be able to laugh about it all. If I’d written Kate any earlier, she’d be laced with bitterness. I’m not a big country music fan, but I always think about the Rascal Flatts song Bless the Broken Road. I thought it was a love song but now I think it’s a faith song. Anyway, I like the chorus and the idea that our experiences, good and bad, bring us to the people we are now. And when the time is ripe, bring us the characters that tell us their stories.
Jess: Beautifully said, Shannon Baker.
Giveaway: Jess and I are each giving away copies of our new books Salem’s Cipher and Stripped Bare. For a chance to win, leave a comment.
But wait, that's not all!
If you order Salem's Cipher before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a short story and to be automatically entered in a drawing to win a 50-book gift basket mailed to the winner's home!
If you order Stripped Bare before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to email@example.com to receive a Kate Fox short story and be entered for a book gift basket mailed to your home.
We’re picking up our bags and traveling on so please join us as the Lourey/Baker Double Booked Tour heads to Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Livingroom on Wednesday.
writing workshops all over the world. Salem's Cipher, the first in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hits stores September 2016. You can find out more at www.jessicalourey.com, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.
Stripped Bare, the first in the series, features a sheriff in rural Nebraska and has been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. Baker also writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Baker was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2104 Writer of the Year. She writes from the Colorado Rockies to the Nebraska Sandhills, the peaks of Flagstaff and the deserts of Tucson. www.shannon-baker.com