Friday, September 19, 2014

Meet My Character Blog Tour - Maxine Leverman

I was lucky enough to be asked by Charles Dougherty (@clrdougherty) to introduce the main character from my current novel. Charles is probably best known for the Bluewater Thriller series, but my favorite book of his is a mystery called DECEPTION IN SAVANNAH. It has a great cast of characters and is loaded with a twisty plot that will have you laughing and dying to know who done it.

Be sure to meet the main characters from the Bluewater Thriller series on Charles' blog (click here), and at the end of this post, I'll introduce you to two new authors, so keep reading!

One of the things I love about writing a series is that I never know where the characters will take me. People often assume that my characters are an amalgamation of people I've known with a smidge of my personality thrown in, but this is rarely true. So far, my characters have arisen from the imaginary world I've created, Forney County, to fill a necessary role in the story. We need an insecure sheriff, and hey presto, Bill Hoffner is born and matures through the books. Characters rarely arrive fully loaded with an intact history; instead, I have the pleasure of learning about them as the stories, and then the series, unfolds.

Today I'm introducing a character who made herself known in the second Cass Elliot crime novel, AVENGERS OF BLOOD. Maxine Leverman appeared about halfway through the book, and once I finished writing, she wouldn't leave my head. So I decided to try and write her out of it. Will it work? She's turning out to be a persistent gal and I suspect she'll end up having a series of her own, but only time will tell.

Who is Maxine Leverman?

Maxine was born in 1985, the same year as Cass, which makes them both 26 in 2011, the year the first two Cass Elliot novels and Maxine's first book begin. She and Cass have known each other since childhood and in Maxine's words:

Cass Elliot is my best friend. Has been since, well, maybe not since before dirt, but certainly since we were eating dirt. Usually at her house. Mud pies tasted better there, probably thanks to something toxic in the soil.

Maxine married young and divorced her hedge fund managing husband after realizing he was a cross-dresser. She's making him pay for his love of lingerie, literally, and has no need of a job. On a weekend out partying after her divorce, she was drugged, raped, and marked with a scar that runs from her collar bone to beneath her breast. She and Cass lost touch during "the hedge fund years", but Maxine finally came to Cass in AVENGERS OF BLOOD, seeking help in finding the man who attacked her. She discovered that Cass has a similar scar on her chest; it seems they've been raped by the same man, although years apart.

After Cass is shot in AVENGERS OF BLOOD, Maxine decides to become a private investigator to work with Cass in finding and stopping their rapist.

When and where is the story set?

Maxine's first novel moves between the very fictional Arcadia located in Forney County in East Texas, and the very real Dallas, Texas. Maxine was born and raised in Arcadia but finds that even though she needs to come home to be closer to Cass, she can't leave her big city life behind. Thankfully, she has enough dirt on the cross-dressing ex-husband to fund comfortable homes in both locations.

The book is set in 2011, the year of Texas' worst drought in nearly a century. If you've read the Cass Elliot crime novels, you'll recognize many of the characters who turn up in Maxine's story. In a place as small as Arcadia, we're bound to bump into the same people now and again. But you'll also meet a host of new characters relevant to Maxine's life and this mystery.

What defines Maxine?

Maxine is ferociously headstrong and independent. Her father adored her but valued her older brother because he was the male child and therefore the heir to their family's oilfield business. She found herself competing for their father's recognition until his death when she was twelve. During their childhood and into their adult lives, their mother was absorbed in competing with her husband by building a successful custom furniture business.

This lack of attention and love drove Maxine into the bosom of the dysfunctional Elliot family. She spent much of her childhood in Cass's home, simply accepted as another of the many children racing through the house.

Maxine is defined by her gender, or more specifically by her father's belief that while girls are special, boys are worthy. Marriage to the hedge fund manager introduced her to power and money on a massive scale, and while she's more than financially secure thanks to his love of silk panties and the trust fund her father left her, she needs to build her own life, to find a path that allows her to be taken seriously. She's decided that the road to credibility lies in becoming a private investigator and working at the Lost and Found Detective Agency with her aunts, Kay and Babby, and her cousin Cindy.

What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?

Maxine is mouthy, impetuous, and overtly sexy. She's fully capable of messing up her own life, although circumstances outside her control have contrived to kick her occasionally. She surreptitiously takes a case on her first day at Lost and Found and decides to work it herself, assuming that finding a missing husband is a no-brainer. After all, she's had a husband, hasn't she? How hard can it be to find one that's gone astray?

From that decision, things go from bad to worse. When the aunts find out, Kay makes up her mind to fire Maxine for working without a PI license, and Babby only manages to save her by promising that Maxine will work under her supervision. Chastised, Maxine accepts the help of her aunts and cousin and finds the husband, but also discovers that his life is a tangled web of lies. The deeper she digs, the more secrets she discovers and the harder it is for Maxine to let go of a case she's already solved. When people start dying, she doesn't believe the police have arrested the right murderer and pushes her aunts, her cousin, and Cass to help her find the truth.

What drives Maxine?

When she started working at Lost and Found, Maxine's sole goal was to use their resources to find her rapist. But as she's worked the case of the missing husband, she's found that she enjoys investigations and that her passion for seeing things to completion (or her hardheadedness, depending who you ask) is a benefit that can drive her to succeed. More importantly, she's discovered that the truth, and finding it, matters greatly to her.

Is there a working title for this novel?

Nope, no title yet.

When can we expect the book to be published?

Follow me on Twitter (@gaelynnwoods) or Facebook ( for news about this release and upcoming Cass Elliot novels.


And now I'd like to introduce you to two fabulous authors that I've read and enjoyed, Dana Griffin and Sinclair Macleod. Check their blogs in the next week or so for introductions to one of their characters.

Dana Griffin ( writes high intensity airline thrillers. Yes, thrillers about airplanes. His first two books are THE COVER-UP and COERCED, and Dana knows what he's talking about. He's been a pilot for 25 years, the last 15 of those with major airlines. All this experience gives his books a reality that makes for a wild, conspiracy-filled ride. You can find him on Twitter at @DanaGriffin97.

Sinclair Macleod ( lives in Glasgow and writes THE RELUCTANT DETECTIVE mystery series starring Craig Campbell, a Glaswegian insurance investigator pressed into finding out who murdered a young boy. Sinclair has a way with characters, giving you a sense that these are real people who live and breathe. He draws you into the seedy underside of life, but manages to leave you with a bit of hope for humanity no matter how depraved we may seem. You can find him on Twitter at @sinclairmacleod.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Meet the Herd: Mr. Donkey #farming #animals

I'm starting this series thanks to a kick in the pants from my wonderful friend Jackie in England, who asked for photos of the creatures inhabiting our farm. Rather than just post photos, I thought I'd share a little about their history and personalities, so we'll start with Mr. Donkey, who is truly one of a kind.

He's a lovely brown, with a darker mane and tail, and a splash of white at his bottom. He also wears white cotton socks on all four legs and has a few white splotches on his neck. As he's aged, Mr. Donkey's muzzle is fading to gray, giving him a grizzled look.

Why do we call him Mr. Donkey? His personality demands a certain respect. He's our only donkey, but he is a key member of the herd. You see, Mr. Donkey's main job is protection. He's the muscle, which might seem odd given that he's about 1/10th the weight of a cow. But when a calf is born, Mr. Donkey assumes baby-sitter role and minds the newborn while the momma (or mommas, depending on how fast the calves are coming) grazes. He's a brave fellow despite his diminished size and has put himself between a coyote and the herd, and a pack of dogs and the herd. Neither challenged him.

He's also a bit of a punching bag. As the calves grow, he's the nearest creature to their size, so when they get tired of head butting each other, they try to butt Mr. Donkey. He tolerates it pretty well, but when the calves see his tail flick, they learn to back off or get a tap from his hoof.

While we think he rivals Methuselah in age, we're not really sure how old he is. His early years are a bit murky, but we know he did a stint as a rodeo donkey and was rescued by the Heard family (fitting, eh?), who live near my grandparent's old place. While at the Heard estate, a mule took a chunk out of his neck. We have no idea how his spinal cord managed to avoid being severed, but it did. Mr. Heard smeared a healing ointment in Mr. Donkey's wound and barring a strange dip mid-neck, he's fully recovered.

He came to live with my parents about fifteen years ago when they expanded their cattle herd, and he moved to our ranch in 2007. He's an eating machine, stopping only to roll around on the ground for a nice dust bath. Given that we've had such a lovely spring and summer, he looks a little like a barrel on legs but he'll trim down to his normal svelte size in the winter.

He's notoriously camera shy (I was lucky he tolerated my taking these photos) and even a bit moody when it comes to being petted, although if you catch him just right he loves having his ears tickled. When he makes his mind up to be immovable, he's immovable. We've tried moving him from one pasture to another by tugging on his halter (when he wears one), but have found that shaking a bucket of feed works better.

He's very patient with creatures that are smaller than he is, like kids. Mr. Donkey has not been ridden since he's lived with us, and when people ask if he's rideable, we answer that if you can catch him, you're welcome to try.

Some fast facts about Mr. Donkey:

Favorite book: The Geronimo Breach by Russell Blake (A burro plays a key role in saving the hero. I think there's a bit of donkey-envy going on.)

Favorite song: "Donkey" by Jerrod Niemann. Even though he objects to the riding part, Mr. Donkey digs the chorus: "Gonna ride that donkey donkey down to the honky tonky, it's gonna get funky funky, aw aw." The song is either stupid or brilliant, depending on the listener, but Mr. Donkey loves it.

Favorite food: Anything, really, but he'll come trotting for an apple core.

Little known fact: He was the inspiration for the strip club name 'The Ronkey Donkey' in The Devil of Light.

Stay tuned for more posts on other members of the herd, including Elvis, Sid Vicious, 107, and Gimpy.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Right Turn, Clyde - What Happens When Your Character's Character Changes? #amwriting

My husband and I are rabid devotees of the British radio drama The Archers. It's been on the air for over 60 years, but I didn't luck into listening to it until I moved to London in 2001. Every day at 1:00 p.m. (prior day's episode) or 7:00 p.m. (new episode) we'd tune into the Beeb and wait with baited breath for the top of the hour news to finish.

We thought we'd have to give up The Archers when we moved to East Texas in 2007, but we eek out enough internet speed in our slice of Redneck Paradise to stream the 13-minute episodes. Thank goodness. We've done without McVitie's Digestives and Galaxy chocolate since the move, but I'm not sure how we'd cope without The Archers.

The BBC describes The Archers as "Essential drama from the heart of the country." Bah. It's the story of a bunch of people - many of them involved in agriculture - who live in an imaginary place called Ambridge in an imaginary county called Borchester in rural England.

More specifically, it's a delicious mix of gossip and righteousness about how their lives will be tangled up by new roads that could split a family farm, the birth of a child with Down Syndrome, personnel changes at the local pub (The Bull), an outbreak of tuberculosis among the dairy herd, e-coli in the organic ice cream factory, a gay relationship, the loss of organic status on the pig farm, or the breakup of a marriage.

The people who write The Archers' episodes are usually excellent at their jobs, but let's face it: over the course of 17,000+ episodes, the plot lines need a little jiggling now and again. Lately, the writers have taken an annoying approach to liven things up: changing a character's personality, or their character, right out of the blue. It's totally disconcerting.

Some examples:

Tony Archer, an amiable fellow for as long as I've known him, has suddenly developed a case of the whinging nasties and is on the outs with his mom, Peggy, because he thinks she doesn't believe he's capable of running a successful farm.

Tony's son Tom (he of the Tom Archer's Organic Sausage empire) leaves the lovely Kirsty at the alter, abandons his pigs in their fields, and makes off for Canada. Only a couple of months ago his grandmother named him as primary beneficiary in her will, and he was focused on his future with Kirsty, building a house, and expanding his sausage and ready-meal business.

Steadfast Roy Tucker cheats on his sweet wife, Hayley, with his posh boss Elizabeth Pargetter who is still mourning the untimely death of her husband Nigel four years ago (I'm still irked over that) and has shown no interest in a relationship, sexual or otherwise, since.

Granted, these character changes can send the story off in new directions, but the ham-handed way they're delivered makes you wonder if the writers have had a hay bale dropped on their heads.

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of these changes is that once the drama is over, the writers often drop the characters back into their normal lives with nary a ripple of the change remaining. Take the 2011 discovery by Tony and Pat Archer that after their eldest son's death, his girlfriend gave birth to a son. She so despised Tony and Pat that she didn't tell them. Once they learned about him, Pat obsessed for weeks about meeting her grandson but once she did - poof - that storyline disappeared into the ether. We're left wondering why they wasted so much airtime on Pat's anguish if the kid can so easily vanish from the story.

At times it's enough to make me stop listening, but after 13 years of knowing these (admittedly imaginary) people, I'm committed.

Lessons for the author? First, if there's a change coming in a character's personality, give the reader hints that something's going on. In fairness, the writers tried to do this with Tom Archer's hard-hearted dumping of Kirsty by making Tom moody and forgetful before the wedding. We knew something was going on, but thought it had to do with his old flame, Brenda Tucker. Were there signs that the weight of the pig farm was too much for Tom? That his assumption of the 'heir' role rather than the 'spare' role after his brother's death years ago was haunting him? If so, they were so subtle as to not exist.

Second, once a character's character changes, make sure the impact continues to flow through the story so readers believe the change was essential, rather than a cheap way to hold their attention. The writers are trying to do this with the Roy Tucker / Elizabeth Pargetter affair, but Roy's behaving so badly after Elizabeth told him their one night stand was only a one night stand, that we wonder if Roy was ever the steadfast guy we thought he was.

And third, over the course of the story help the reader understand why a character's character changes. There has to be a reason Tony Archer's in such a tizzy and battling with his mother all the time. Doesn't there? do you feel when a character's personality makes an unexpected turn? Does it throw you out of the story?

photo credit: fidothe via photopin cc