Digging into a Character by Paty Jager

View from my ride-along

I’m currently working on a the first book of a new mystery series. This new series is making me grow as a writer which is what I hope each book does, but this series and character in particular is really making me stretch my brain which isn’t getting any younger.

I picked not only a male protagonist but I made him Native American ( one of my signatures of what I write) and I put him in a profession I know nothing about. Whew! Talk about working in a totally new environment!

Through the years writing romance before I got the nerve to try my hand at mystery, I wrote from both the male an female points of view and in my Shandra Higheagle series I write from a male point of view with Detective Ryan Greer. But this book is told completely from the male point of view- from Fish and Wildlife State Trooper Gabriel Hawke’s point of view.

Not only do I have to think like a male, I have to think a bit Native American and as a lawman would. Having been around my son-in-law who is a detective with the State Police, I’ve learned that even when they appear to be off duty and hanging around, they are still seeing things and picking up on things that the rest of us shrug off.

Trying to keep my character “on the alert” yet laid back and letting things happen as they should has been a tricky balance. Using his upbringing and his drive as counterpoints has also been tricky.  He has worked hard to get out of the reservation and to have the job he does-protecting his ancestors land. But at the same time because he is protecting his ancestors land he has a deep connection to his Native American roots. While he is full blood Native American he still feels as if his feet are in two worlds. He is upholding the Whiteman’s law as a lawman, but at the same time keeping vigilance over his Native roots.

This first book is taking me longer to write than I thought it would but I had to put it on hold while I did a ride-along with a Fish and Wildlife State Trooper in the Eagle Cap Wilderness where my character works.  The day I spent with the game warden was eye opening in the scope of duties they must preform. Because it is a large remote area, not only do they have to do their game duties but they also serve as a state trooper and while they are on the trail of a poacher or trespasser and there is a call that comes in about a shooting or domestic dispute they have to respond even if it is across the county from where they are at the moment.

Elk refuge where we were looking for trespassers

The best part about the ride-along was getting the troopers perspective on his job and learning some of the little nuances that I can add to books to give the character the flavor of a real life person.

When the first Gabriel Hawke book is ready to go to my critique partners and beta readers it will be interesting to see if I managed to get the male character correct.

The first thing that pulls me into a book is the characters. What about you?

SH Mug Art

Small Change, Big Change

When I started improvising my current work in progress, I had a seed for a plot in mind, but it changed directions because of one small thing. My first-round chapter-by-chapter critique partner told me that the name I was using for a character’s business, Minerva Press, is a real publishing house. No big deal, I thought. It would be simple to change it. She would name her small press after a lesser-known goddess. Having already established that this character was part Finnish, I picked Loviatar, a Finnish goddess, from the pantheon of my search results, though I had no idea why anyone would name a business after her. She’s a dark goddess, the blind daughter of death, the bringer of scourges into the world.

Rather than reject this goddess, I kept reading about her. Something told me to stick with her.

One article mentioned that that Loviatar is popular with black metal musicians. What, I wondered, is black metal? At the time, I didn’t know the difference between black metal, heavy metal, death metal, thrash metal, melodic death metal and Viking metal, or that most of these genres even existed. The next thing I knew, I was watching such bands on YouTube and digging into Nordic black metal and the world view of that culture, finding some unexpected connections with (not kidding) the Romantic Movement and Shelley’s views on Satan as the hero of Paradise Lost. My character is a poet, and faculty advisor to a poetry club. With the name of her small press, her backstory changed. Her situation of danger changed. The motives of her enemies changed. The only thing that didn’t change is my taste in music; I didn’t become a fan of black metal when she did.

I may have a title for the story that’s evolving: Dark Goddess.

Strangely, many of the plot elements fit better into the new version of the story than the old one. Clues that I’d planted, puzzling myself, fell into place. If I’d finished the first draft before sharing chapters, it would be a different story. Maybe I still would have liked it, but it would have been lighter, less complicated, and more predictable. And I don’t ever want to be predictable. Even to myself!


Books, Book Clubs, and Surprises

by Janis Patterson

We all know that a writer’s work is far from glamorous. We work weird hours, usually in pajamas or sweats or grotty jeans. Deadlines make us crazy, ill-behaving characters even crazier. Sometimes people just don’t understand that the people in our heads can be more real than those live people beside us. However, sometimes something lovely and sparkly and so incredibly ego-boosting happens and we feel as pampered and admired as movie stars.

Earlier this week a friend welcomed me to speak at her book club about my Egyptian murder mystery A KILLING AT EL KAB. We had arranged the date several weeks before, and each member bought the book to read by the meeting time. The ladies bought snacks based on some of the meals described in the book. I figured since they were so invested in the story, I’d go above and beyond and bring in a little theatre. (Yes, I’m a long-time and admitted ham…)

I wore the beautiful silvery-blue galabeyah I had tailored in Egypt and several pieces of Egyptian jewelry, including my incredibly ornate Berber silver necklace. I took two other titles (THE EGYPTIAN FILE and THE JERUSALEM CONNECTION) to give away as door prizes. I took my big 17” laptop (the same one I hauled all over Egypt last year) to show a small collection of 50 or so pictures out of the 2,500 or so.

It was a most pleasurable evening! The ladies wanted to know about how the book came to be, and were suitably impressed that The Husband and I had been invited to stay at a dig house – which NEVER happens to civilians. They were overawed that our host, the Director of the Belgian Archaeological Mission to El Kab worked his way through three dense layers of Egyptian bureaucracy to get us official permission to come. Remember, the Egyptians invented bureaucracy – that’s why they had all those statues of scribes!

Several of the ladies were interested in the process of writing a book, as if there were any kind of single answer to that! I told them how I wrote – which in the best of times is a skimble-skamble kind of affair – all the while telling them every writer had their own way. I wish I were more organized; I wish I were more disciplined; however – if I haven’t become either by this time it’s probably not going to happen, so I just go on the best way I can. Then one of the ladies asked how I created my characters; specifically, why had I chosen to make Sandra, the protagonist, a fake psychic.

Okay, there comes a time when everyone must reveal their dirty little secrets. I told the ladies about several ways writers created characters – interviews, lists, etc. – and then confessed mine. As expected, they were startled as I told them I didn’t create characters. Oh, I had tried – I had made lists, decided what my characters’ grandmother’s maiden name was, what flavor of jell-o they liked, etc, until I had a nice long description of what the character was. A description that was never used, because the character became a dead thing, a creation without life that simply lay there flaccidly on the page.

What I do, I said, is nothing. My characters simply march in, demand to be written about, and let me get to know them as we go along. Once I had two characters – a major one and a minor one – who fought viciously through the whole book. In the last third, the major character was talking to another major character, and just happened to drop the little bit of news that he and the minor character were divorced.

Well, that startled me, right along with the entire rest of the book’s cast. And the ladies. Some of them – mostly the ones who were ex-schoolteachers – were appalled. I shrugged, said that was the way I was built, and that if the writer wasn’t surprised, the readers wouldn’t be surprised.

The ladies were certainly surprised, but I guess they’ll get over it. Maybe they already have – they’ve asked me to come back next year!