Book Beat Babes

Book Beat Babes

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Joanna Campbell Slan Presents a Winning Recipe for Writing a Series

It's with great pleasure that I present Bestselling mystery author, Joanna Campbell Slan, who offers a winning recipe for a series. Morgan Mandel

Joanna Campbell Slan
Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of twenty-three books, both fiction and non-fiction. She is the 2013 winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence for her historical romantic suspense series. Paper, Scissors, Death, her first novel, was a finalist for the Agatha. For her work on the first FarmAid, she was awarded a Silver Anvil by the Public Relations Society of America. She has taught writing online and as an adjunct professor at Illinois State University. Her college textbook on public speaking has been endorsed by Toastmasters, International. 

A Winning Recipe for Your Series
By Joanna Campbell Slan

I grew up in the Golden Age of television sitcoms. We watched Gilligan’s Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and of course, I Love Lucy.
            Sitcoms entertained us, week after week, because the mix of personalities in the characters generated tension. As an author, I rely on that same recipe—a mix of personalities—to keep my mystery series interesting.
            In I Love Lucy, we have Lucy and Ricky, who lead with their emotions, and Ethel and Fred, who think things through. Lucy goes charging into the unknown, while Ethel begs for caution. Ricky gets angry, and Fred pleads for peaceful resolution. By juxtaposing these different impulses, the writers of the series managed to milk plot points for all they were worth. Each character “pushes the buttons” of others, so that their foibles stand out in stark relief. Ricky wouldn’t get so angry if Lucy was more cautious. Ethel wouldn’t get so frantic, if Lucy didn’t go barreling into troublesome situations with such regularity.
       Here’s how this recipe works in Tear Down and Die, the first book in my new series featuring Cara Mia Delgatto. Cara is impulsive, hot-headed, a control freak, and somewhat insecure. She hires MJ Austin to help her at The Treasure Chest, a home d├ęcor store Cara buys on a whim. (Cara thinks the store is vacant, but it turns out to be occupied by a fresh corpse.) In many ways, MJ is the ideal employee. She is methodical, secure, and unemotional—but she also likes to be in control.
            There will be times when their control issues will cause problems, as each woman tries to run the show. Cara will find herself confused by MJ’s lack of emotion. On the other hand, MJ will have little patience for Cara’s insecurity.
When I’m writing a scene, I mentally picture these two women, their unique reactions, and the havoc that ensues because they are so different. If I “make” them both feel a lack of control, they’ll go ballistic. If I confront them with an emotional situation, Cara Mia will have a hard time understanding MJ’s cool response. There will be times when MJ will find Cara Mia’s insecurities puzzling, to say the least.
            Predictably, their actions and body language will mirror their personalities. While Cara is stomping around and fuming, MJ will cross her arms over her chest and stare off into space.
            At some point in the series, they will blow up at each other, because their vastly different approaches to life will cause problems.
            But that’s a story for another book.

About the Book—
Tear Down and Die (#1 Kindle Bestseller) is the first book in a new series that’s a spin off from the Kiki Lowenstein Mysteries. After her parents die within six months of each other and her son goes off to college, savvy entrepreneur Cara Mia Delgatto decides to construct a new life for herself. A road trip leads to her grandfather's home on the picturesque Treasure Coast of Florida, where she impulsively snaps up a "tear down," a building scheduled for the wrecking ball--only to discover it's already occupied by a fresh corpse. While Detective Lou Murray tries to nail the killer to the wall, Cara Mia enlists the help of two new friends to open a store specializing in one-of-a-kind, recycled, and repurposed items. But before she can get down to brass tacks, Cara Mia decides to help Lou figure out "whodunit," because she's been painted into the picture as one of the prime suspects. To make matters more complicated, tensions are building with Cooper Rivers, an old boyfriend. Cara Mia wonders whether her second chance at love will pan out--or if her carefully constructed fantasies will lead her to a new life behind bars. 
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  1. Welcome to Book Beat Babes, Joanna. I'm about 1/3 through reading Tear Down and Die, and it sure seems you own the winning recipe for a great series!

    Morgan Mandel

  2. Interesting. I also rely on secondary characters to annoy, argue or support the hero or heroine. They also put fun in the story.

  3. Hi Joanna, I love a good mystery series, so I'm definitely going to check yours out. Thanks for sharing part of your process here with us at Book Beat Babes!

  4. Opposites attract, and I think you're right--the differences shine a light on who these characters really are. Interesting approach, which has the stamp of the ages, as you suggest.

  5. Mona, yes, you are right. The secondary characters add a lot to the story. They are like spices in soup, right?

  6. Debra, I hope you will check out TEAR DOWN and DIE, and thanks for having me at Book Beat Babes.

  7. Hey, Jenny, how are you? Yes, they attract and REPEL, which is why they can be so useful to us as authors. Otherwise you have a lot of lifeless scenes with your hero/heroine moving forward and no obstacles.

  8. Welcome to BBB, Joanna ~
    I too write romance series and I love my family of characters. I think of them as a family, having issues with each other just as in real families. It makes an intriguing tangle to sort out, for one character's decision affects the lives of the other characters. Thanks for joining us!

  9. Deb, you are right. When I move forward in my series, I start by creating a chart. On it, I put where everyone is in her/his life, and the challenges facing him/her. This helps me come up with subplots. I never run out of ideas!

  10. Thanks for the great tips. A good cast of characters can make or break a story.

  11. I like your idea of taking a secondary character in a successful series and giving that individual her own series.

  12. Earl, you are welcome. I enjoy sharing because it forces me to think through what I'm doing. You are right about the cast making or breaking a story. Think about Edith Bunker in "All in the Family." She made the show because of her reactions to Archie.

  13. Jacqueline, it worked for "Rhoda" from the "Mary Tyler Moore" show, didn't it? Cara didn't start out as a secondary character, but once I had the idea for her, I worked her into the upcoming Kiki books so I could give her a foothold. Converting a reader from one series to another can be tricky, but romance writers do it all the time.