Friday, June 24, 2011

Character Friday: Elizabeth Spann Craig

Today's guest is Elizabeth Craig, writer of several cozy mysteries series put out by Penguin and Midnight Ink. She writes one of my favorite mystery blogs, Mystery Writing is Murder, and is definitely my favorite person on Twitter -- where she tweets lots of links to great posts and articles about writing and mystery she finds on the web.

Elizabeth will tell us about a secondary character in her Memphis Barbeque series: Cherry, a docent at Graceland who is fond of wearing a motorcycle helmet, even when she's not on a bike.

Camille: First, what made you create Cherry?

Elizabeth: I needed someone outrageous, someone that my protagonist could play straight-man to. I lived in Alabama for years and we'd get the most horrible storms there--destructive tornadoes that would frequently strike in the middle of the night. I had neighbors who made me smile with their tornado plan--they'd sit in their basement with their bike helmets on their heads. Somehow, this little strand from my past ended up working its way into my secondary character.

Camille: Sounds like Cherry is partly there to bring out your main character. How does she reflect or contrast with Lulu?

Elizabeth: Cherry is a little flashy, a little outrageous. She says things that Lulu might only think. She offers a completely different perspective on the suspects and the mystery that are useful to Lulu as she tries to solve the case.

Cherry also shares a similar or complementary sense of humor with my protagonist, which leads to fun dialogue exchanges between the two. I think she makes my protagonist funnier than she might ordinarily be. But Cherry is also outrageous and doesn't have much of a filter when she talks--she embarrasses Lulu sometimes and sets up minor conflict.

Camille: What makes her special to you?

Elizabeth: She's eccentric. I think most writers are eccentric, too, and that trait is just really approachable and endearing to me. This is also a character who can help drive the plot, screw up, save the day....she's multi-purpose.

Camille: Do you have more planned for Cherry?

Elizabeth: Cherry was introduced in Delicious and Suspicious, the first book in the Memphis Barbeque series. But she strong-armed me into more of a sidekick role for the Delicious sequel, Finger Lickin’ Dead. Originally, I hadn't planned on including her as much because she's one of those characters that could become a scene-stealing, stage-hog. Keeping that in mind, I was careful to work on the dynamics between Cherry and my protagonist, Lulu, so that Lulu didn't fade away during her stage time with Cherry. Since she behaved herself well in the second book, Cherry also figures fairly prominently in Hickory Smoked Homicide, my upcoming November release.

Elizabeth’s latest book, Finger Lickin’ Dead, released June 7th. Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010 and 2011.

She also keeps the Writer's Knowledge Base--the Search Engine for Writers, and you can find her on Twitter: @elizabethscraig

(For those interested in reading more of these secondary character interviews, I used to do them on Wednesdays and didn't always call them "Character Friday" -- so the best way to find them all is to click on the "interview" label in the footer of this post.)


Enid Wilson said...

You gave them good names, Elizabeth. Cherry and Lulu sound very nice. And the tornado plan is strange, to someone from Sydney. But good to know about it.

Chemical Fusion

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Enid--The tornado plan *was* a little strange! You're lucky not to have to worry with it in Sydney. :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Thanks so much for hosting me today, Camille!

Jan Morrison said...

Thanks Camille for having the ever interesting Elizabeth! I like this post - secondary characters have a lot more room to be outrageous in. They don't need to keep to the plan as much as the protag does. I like this example. Thanks my deario!

Anonymous said...

Camille - Thanks for hosting Elizabeth.

Elizabeth - I have to say, I just love Cherry! She is wonderful! Not only do I love her helmet, but I love the way she goes through life with so much energy and zest. She's terrific! She's zany but she has depths, too.

Luanna Stewart said...

Secondary characters are so freeing! I have lots of fun with mine, but like you, have to keep them leashed. Thanks for the great post!

Laura S. said...

Love the name Cherry! I remember the character from the first Memphis BBQ book and it's the perfect name for her.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Jan--I think the secondaries give the author a little room for some fun. Sometimes we have too *much* fun and have to put the character on more of a leash (I'm guilty of that!)

Margot--Thanks so much for saying so! I try to balance the quirks with a little depth (usually in the form of character shortcomings). :)

Lu/Grace--Exactly. Because sometimes they think that the book is all about *them*!

Laura--Thanks! It was one of those names that just belonged to the character. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Secondary characters are fun!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Alex--They are...and can make good foils for the protagonist!

Heather said...

What an excellent interview! I'm jotting down these questions to ask myself about my own characters.

The Daring Novelist said...

Thank YOU Elizabeth for visiting. Wherever you go, conversation follows.

And thanks to all for joining in.

Yes, secondary characters are a lot of fun... but IMHO, what they really add is richness. They can add whatever tone you need to balance or fill the story. They can add pathos as well as humor. They can reflect another point of view of the same theme, or simply magnify some flaw in a main character, which helps the other finally see what he or she is doing.

Thanks again to all for visiting.

mollie bryan said...

I really, really, need to get these books. ;-) Love this interview.

Carol Kilgore said...

What a great character! In my WIP, one of my secondary characters has purple hair. I think she and Cherry might be cousins.

Anonymous said...

Cherry is a terrific not-so-secondary character. I remember her (and her helmet) vividly from the first story, and I´m looking forward to meeting her again.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Heather--Thanks for visiting! :) I love Camille's idea of focusing on the supporting characters and finding out exactly what they're up to...

The Daring Novelist--That's a good way of putting it...they do add that element of richness to a story. Because the protagonist just can't do it all themselves.

Mollie--Thanks for coming by!

Carol--I think they might be!

Dorte--Ha! You're right--Cherry is *not* so secondary sometimes (I think she believes it's her series.) Fortunately, I was able to keep her in check for book 2 and 3 (most of the time...)