Characters Creep In

on June 7, 2007

KILLING FEAR is done and my editor is reading it. Yeah! (Whew)

I write stand-alone, connected books. You might say that’s an oxymoron, but it’s the way I picture my stories. Each one is a complete story with a separate hero, heroine and villain. But at the same time, I’ve created my own world. I can use characters over and over again, particularly secondary characters.

I never planned on writing connected books. I wrote THE PREY as a stand alone. But when Ballantine wanted to published a connected, back-to-back trilogy, I tweaked my heroine’s backstory (gave her two Quantico roommates) and pulled a character from THE PREY and made him the hero of THE HUNT. Suddenly, I had a connected world where whenever I needed someone, I already had a fully-developed person. In THE KILL, I brought Quinn and Miranda back because I needed first Quinn’s character (as an FBI agent in the Seattle field office) and then Miranda’s search and rescue skills.

(Aside: this was totally unplanned. In THE HUNT I had just arbitrarily put Quinn in the Seattle field office. I set THE KILL in Seattle for a completely different reason–Zack Travis, my hero, is based on the first hero I ever wrote, Mark Travis, in my unpublished manuscript HOT LATTE. It just happened to work out.)

Then, in FEAR NO EVIL, I used Quinn Peterson again because I needed a trusted FBI contact. Who better than a man who has already proved himself as a hero and loyal?

My NO EVIL trilogy is more tightly connected than my “predator” trilogy. It follows a family, so the characters more naturally recur in the different books.

My greatest fear is that people won’t pick up my books because they don’t want to begin in the middle, and they don’t have the “time” to start another series and read my books from the beginning. I am painstakingly trying to keep my stories individually complete so that no one feels they missed something, so if they start in the middle, like the book, they don’t mind reading them “out of order.”

I started my “prison break” trilogy with a uniting theme instead of characters. An earthquake under San Quentin precipitates the escape of several death row inmates. Each book is about one of the escapees. The first book is KILLING FEAR, which also takes place in San Diego and while the Kincaid family of the NO EVIL series play supporting roles, they aren’t the leading characters. That ties the book into the second trilogy, while also pulling away from the Kincaid’s for the time being. Books two and three are completely separate–the main characters are not in my previous books. Except for the uniting theme/premise, they stand alone.

I really hope I can pull it off.

The thing is, characters are beginning to creep in. I had no idea Will Hooper had a brother, but his distant relationship with his younger brother Dean Hooper plays a part in Will’s character growth. Surprise is on me: Dean is an FBI agent. Expect him to show up in my FBI series starting in 2009.

Then I brought in a character, Agent Hans Vigo, who was an off-page character in my first series and had a small role in FEAR NO EVIL. But I needed a profiler/agent to be a liaison with the police department and state police coordinating the hunt for these escaped killers. He ended up with a much bigger role than I planned, sort of a mentor to Will.

THEN, I learn about Mitch Bianchi. He’s a fed who, off page, is helping the San Francisco PD hunt down three of the escapees who are terrorizing the city. And guess what? He let a fourth convict walk after taking down the three “bad guys.” What’s with that? I can’t wait to find out what happened during that stand-off, and more about Mitch, because in one short conversation, he has instantly become a compelling character to me.

I realized at that point he’s the hero of book three, DYING BREATH.

Characters creep in, even when I’m not planning it.

I created a page of my books and recurring characters because that’s the number one question I get from readers. Here it is.

What do you think? Will you hop into the middle of a connected series of books (as opposed to a “series” like Stephanie Plum or the JD Robb books), or are connected books no different?

(Apologies for my tardiness! The kids got out of school yesterday. Needless to say, I have been interrupted two dozen times since I started writing this post.)