I try to roll with the feedback if a reviewer doesn’t like some aspect of a book I’ve written—or even doesn’t like any aspects of any book I’ve written. To each his own, right? One reader’s can’t-put-down book can be another’s can’t-get-into-it.
However, I can feel quite protective when someone criticizes not the book as a whole, but a character in particular. That is especially true when the character under fire is my lead, Leah Nash. I will be the first to admit that Leah is not always even-tempered, or wise, or mature, or forgiving. She is prone to acting impulsively. She has a quick tongue and doesn’t always filter what she says. And she’s pretty bossy and hates to be wrong. Hmm, as I write this I can see where the critics are coming from. And yet … She is generous of heart, loyal to a fault, quick-thinking, self-aware, fearless and funny. I enjoy writing her because she is a sometimes contradictory combination of light and dark.
But I’ve had to accept that some people don’t see her the way I do. A parallel for me in real life is when a friend informs me that she can’t stand a person we both know, but I find that person delightful. Some readers respond to Leah as I do, and some don’t.
Because the series is set, for the most part, in the small town of Himmel, Wisconsin, a recurring cast of characters pops in and out of the stories as foils and friends of Leah. Sometimes readers take a shine to a minor character and want to see more of her or him. The request I get most often is for “more Miguel, please.” Miguel Santos is a young reporter at the Himmel Times Weekly. He’s extroverted, optimistic, tolerant, good-looking and gay (in both the old-school and the modern sense of the word). No one has a bad time when Miguel is around. He’s a perfect counter-point to Leah’s more cynical outlook on life. And I’m happy to spend more time with him, myself.
On the other hand, Courtnee Fensterman, the receptionist at the Himmel Times is a polarizing figure among my readers. She’s a pretty, vapid, self-centered receptionist in her early 20s, who is described this way:
Self-confident without any basis, incompetent without any awareness, unencumbered by any sense of responsibility, she is perpetually aggrieved and slightly perplexed by job duties that pull her away from Tweeting, Tindering, and [Snap Chatting].
Readers either love her for her blissful state of self-absorption or hate her for it. I understand why some people urge me to kill her off. But despite her ditzy, self-involved ways, I do have a soft spot for her as one of my offspring. And she’s useful at times in furthering the plot.
One of the nice things about a series is that you can allow your characters to grow and change and that can be reflected, in part, by the way they interact with other characters. For example, Charlie Ross, a detective with the sheriff’s department, started out in a small role as an adversary of Leah’s. Eventually, he became a friend. I leave it to readers to decide whether Charlie changed, or Leah did, or if they both grew a little in understanding.
To say that Leah has trust issues is putting it mildly, and given her life experiences, it’s not surprising. However, she has no reservations about trusting her best friend, a man she’s known since they were both 12 years old, growing up in Himmel. David Cooper, known to Leah and almost everyone else as Coop, is a lieutenant in the Himmel Police Department. They both enjoy the easy comfort and tolerance that long-term friendship can bring. I get frequent calls for their friendship to morph into romance, though to date both have chosen other romantic interests. And to be honest, I’m not sure if they will ever be more than very good friends. Then again, I’m not sure that they won’t be.
I think that the characters a writer creates—even the not very nice ones—have a claim on the author’s affections. But, as is the case with parents, writers must send their characters out into the world to face whatever fate awaits them. Some readers will love them, some will hate them. But the worst response to a character isn’t hate, it’s indifference. Because attention, good or bad, is what all characters—and maybe all writers—crave.
Note: This first appeared as a guest post on The Book Diva Reads blog.