Today’s post is brought to you by my new boxing story, “King Crush,” now available for 99¢ exclusively for Kindle. And, as a special inducement, for a limited time the first story, “Iron Hands,” is available FREE.
Today I have a question: What do you like to see in a series character? The same “feel” over and over, or deepening and changing?
There are two schools of thought on this.
Lee Child once remarked that he loves Dom Perignon champagne and wants each bottle to be the same. He’s not looking for a different taste each time out. So it is with his Jack Reacher novels. And millions of fans are tracking right along with him.
There are other enduring series where the character remains roughly static. Phillip Marlowe didn’t change all that much until The Long Goodbye. James Bond? Not a whole lot of change going on inside 007.
At the other end of the spectrum are those characters who undergo significant transformation as the series moves along. The best contemporary example of this is, IMO, the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly. What he’s done with Bosch from book to book is nothing short of astonishing.
Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder was traipsing along as a pretty standard PI until Block made a conscious decision to kick it up a notch. He did that with Eight Million Ways to Die, a book that knocked me out. Here we have Scudder not just on a new case, but also battling his alcoholism and the existential angst of life in New York City in the early 1980s. By going deeper Block created one of the classics of the genre.
In my Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law series (written as K. Bennett) I have a lead character who is a zombie hungering (you’ll pardon the phrase) for change. She doesn’t want to be what she is. The just released Book 2,The Year of Eating Dangerously, begins with Mallory in the hills looking down at a motorcycle gang and thinking, Lunch.And then reflecting on her damaged soul.
Book 3, due out later this year, begins with Mallory at a ZA meeting—Zombies Anonymous. She is trying to stay off human flesh (substituting calves’ brains) but it’s not easy. And I say without hesitation that I was inspired by the above mentioned Eight Million Ways to Die.
So here’s my series about boxer Irish Jimmy Gallagher. These are short stories, and I’m going for “revealing” more of Jimmy in each one. “Iron Hands” was the intro, giving us Jimmy’s world and basic personality. Now comes “King Crush.”
The new story takes place in 1955 and revolves around an old carnival attraction they used to have in America, the carny fighter who would take on locals. If the locals stayed with him long enough, they might earn back their five bucks and some more besides. But these carny pugs knew all the dirty tricks, and it was usually the hayseeds who ended up on the canvas.
Jimmy just wants to have a good time at the carnival with his girl, Ruby, and his bulldog, Steve. He’s not looking for trouble. But sometimes trouble finds Jimmy Gallagher.
I started writing these stories because there’s something in me that wants to know Jimmy Gallagher, what makes him tick. And that’s my preference as a writer and a reader of series. I want to go a little deeper each time.
So who is your favorite series character? Is this character basically the same from book to book? Or is there significant change going on?
If you’re writing a series, do you have a plan for the development of your character over time? Or is it more a book-to-book thing?
Every writer needs a mentor. Or at least someone to offer encouraging words during those dark, dismal days of doubt (like when you use too much alliteration and wonder if you’ll ever get this writing thing right).
Many writers had an English teacher or creative writing instructor in school who gave them encouragement. I had the good fortune of taking creative writing from Mrs. Marjorie Bruce at good old Taft High. She saw something in me when all I saw was a jock who wanted to play college hoops. She really got me going and believing in myself as a writer, and I kept in touch with her for the rest of her life, until she passed into that great classroom in the sky at the age of 90.
I went to college where they undid some of Mrs. Bruce’s good work. There I was told: Writers are born, not made. You can’t really learn this stuff. You either have it or you don’t. And I certainly didn’t have it. I thought writers just sat down and plots and great characters burst out of their fingertips without any effort whatsoever. And I couldn’t do that.
So life went on, I did other things, got married, went to law school. But one day I woke up and realized I still wanted to write, that the desire had never gone away. So I set out to try to learn what they said couldn’t be learned.
And one of the first people I found who helped me along was Lawrence Block. I read his book, Writing the Novel, and knew at last I had found the encouraging mentor I was looking for. I subscribed to Writer’s Digest and read Larry’s fiction column every month. I still have big binders on my shelf full of old copies of the magazine, with his columns copiously underlined.
He seemed so able to communicate what it feels like to be a writer, and how a writer thinks. I never read any column of his where I didn’t nod my head at least a couple of times, thinking here is a guy who really gets it. And he’s generous enough to give it to others.
But it wasn’t just his instruction, it was his fiction. The first novel of his I read was Eight Million Ways to Die. It blew me away. I consider it one of the classics of the crime genre. It motivated me. I wanted to be able to write a book someday that packed that kind of punch.
Years later, when I was offered the fiction column at Writer’s Digest, I felt like some junior prophet who was taking over the sacred page from Moses. It was a privilege, and I tried my best every month to give readers what Larry had given me.
So it was great to catch up with Moses a week ago at the annual Men of Mystery gathering. Authors and fans of mystery and suspense fiction were there to have table talks and lunch, with Larry as the keynote speaker. His riffs on how he writes, how he stumbled into series, how he picked up one series after a quarter-of-a-century gap––these once again took us into the mind of a consummate pro.
Lawrence Block has won all the mystery awards, some several times, and has a publishing record that is among the top in the field. And he still takes time to go out and encourage writers and talk to fans.
So who has been your mentor, or encourager? What did that person give to you that you needed to hear?
I received a Kindle for Father’s Day 2010. I loved it. I still do. It is the junkie’s dream come true, instant gratification in a tool that will fit in Captain Kangaroo‘s pocket. On Father’s Day night, I looked at the stacks (yes, stacks) of books next to my bed that await my terminal illness (I figure I’ll have lots of time to read everything if I’m too ill to do anything else. Well, maybe not lots of time…) and told myself that there was no longer need for me to grab a book off of a store shelf that I didn’t have time to read, just so I’d have it when I wanted to read it. Since I could have a book when I wanted it just by pressing a couple of buttons, I didn’t need to create a backlog. I would load a book, read it, and then buy another. Never again, I told myself, would I need to hoard books. Right.
At last count, one year later, I have thirty or so books that have accumulated on my Kindle. I mean, why would I pass up the complete works of Sax Rohmer for a couple of bucks? Or a new Marcus Wynne novel for ninety-nine cents? I drop ninety-nine cents in change on the floor of my car when I’m exchanging bucks for ambrosia in the Sonic Drive-through. I’m going to resist buying Lawrence Block books, which have been out of print for decades, for less than the cost of a Venti espresso that I will purge within an hour? I’m going to pass that up?
So I ask…how many of you out there have an accumulation of unread books on your Kindle? If you have such an accumulation, how many do you have? And do you have any idea why you are doing it, since, well, it’s not like Amazon is going to run out of a particular title? Is there something really, really wrong with us? Or are we okay and it’s just the guy who collects virtual beer cans who needs an intervention? You tell me.