My Go-To Authors

Recently I was asked to share about my favorite authors. Since I read romance, mystery, and women’s fiction, I had a hard time limiting the number. Here in alphabetical order (hey, I’m a librarian!) are nine of my current, go-to writers.

Maeve Binchy is the queen. I never tire of the confluence of characters, beliefs, demons, and struggles in her books. When we learned that A Week in Winter was finished just before her death, my cousin remarked, “What a wonderful goodbye she’s given us.”

Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mysteries and Her Royal Spyness mysteries take me to other places and other times.  Each murder mystery is fully developed in a unique setting with its own set of characters, along with the usual hero, heroine, and supporting cast. Together they’ve shown me around New York, Newport, Nice, Dublin and Transylvania.

Alan Bradley’s historical “Flavia DeLuce” mysteries are funny, poignant, and charmingly original. Bradley engages the reader in such a variety of ways—through historical knowledge, through outrageous family dynamics, through larger-than-life victims, and on and on. A master storyteller! I love it that he was 70 before he turned to writing popular novels.

Sally Goldenbaum’s mysteries always stay at the top of the TBR stack, especially the Sea Harbor knitting series. Each book in the series transports me to my beloved Cape Ann and introduces me to new characters while catching me up on old favorites and engaging me in a fascinating mystery.

Debbie Macomber’s books are filled with human caring. I love her ever-changing cast of characters and those settings that pull at my heart—small town, neighborhood, island harbor, all so beautiful. She brings alive the need for love, the struggle to love, the comfort of love, the joy of love, and the courage to move beyond heart-breaking loss into a second chance at love.

Louise Penny is another extraordinary writer. Her Inspector Gamache mysteries feature a community of richly drawn characters, plus detectives with their own personal dramas who must work with the locals to solve the crime.

Mariah Stewart’s Chesapeake Diaries are the quintessential small-community romance series for me. She draws me in with a strong sense of place. Each heroine is flawed and likable, strong but open to change. The romantic heroes are distinctive, none of them exactly my type but always intriguing.

Nancy Thayer’s beach reads pull together several very different women and pair them with men who touch their hearts, in settings that open their minds to new possibilities. I just finished Island Girls (Ah, Nantucket!), and I look forward to next year’s refreshing, satisfying novel.

I find Jennifer Weiner’s books to be engaging and thought-provoking. I admire the way she uses multiple characters to explore multiple sides of controversial current issues, such as surrogate pregnancy. No matter the issue, her stories are both personal and satisfying.

Organizing Book Three of my series

Writing Book Two of the Lakeside Porches romances dropped me into the dilemmas all series writers face: how to recover from a “bad” character portrayal in a previous book, how to keep details straight (what color were his eyes? how old was she when?), and how to leave the door open for a change of heart? I didn’t have access then to the wonderful post today from writing duo C.D. Hersch (see Five Important Things You Should Know About Writing a Series) and other advice like it.

I was fortunate that Book One (Stepping Up To Love) was still in the editing process; I could, for example, still revise the brief appearance of Joel’s uncle Justin at the beginning and end of Book One. Thank heaven! I made Justin less nasty, more insightful, and a lot richer. That smoothed the way for a still-deeply-troubled Justin to be a redeemable, desirable, even likable hero in Book Two. It also insured that the Book One hero and heroine– Joel and Manda– had firmly established, meaningful relationships with Justin at the start of Book Two.

Even better, I learned from the mistake. I developed a scene-by-scene matrix for the second book, using advice from Bob Mayer and Jen Talty. I also kept notes about each character, including some backstory.

To keep my sanity and to insure a coherent, credible series, I’ve drafted three documents to help me with Book Three. The new book (working title “Gwen Gets a Clue”) has a main love story (psychologist Gwen Forrester from Books One and Two and a new character Peter Shaughnessy) and a significant subplot (Gwen’s pregnant niece Meg and her brainy college boyfriend Rick). Because Meg’s pregnancy coincides with Gianessa’s from Book Two (find out if the twins will really be named Jack and Jill) we’ll have return appearances from Dr. Bowes (see, I had to search for her name!), Justin, Sydney Shorey and her husband Danny Brennan (had to search for his name too, but I remembered he’s a Notre Dame grad), Sara and the Thrift Shop Adventure chicks, Tony (whose younger brother Sam is Peter’s partner) and of course Joel and Manda.

The three documents together make sense of all the characters and story elements:

– A Goals-Motivation-Conflict chart for Gwen, Peter, Meg, and Rick (thanks forever to Debra Dixon).
– A chronology of events that weaves together all four main characters (Gwen, Peter, Meg, and Rick) and that shows each one’s growth (character arc) and the arc of Gwen and Peter’s love story.
– Notes about the contribution of the Meg-Rick subplot showing how their needs, decisions, dilemmas, etc. are instrumental to the character growth of Gwen and Peter and showing the contrast between their young love relationship and the main love story between Gwen and Peter. I added explanations for the contribution and importance of Sam and Tony, Sydney and Danny, and Gianessa and Justin.

I did not number these documents 1-2-3 because their development was iterative. A change to one had ripple effects on the other two. It was only when I declared “Yes!” for the GMC chart that I felt confident I could “finalize” the other two. I now have the blueprints I need to proceed with the writing at an absolutely insane period with both my day jobs. I feel relaxed knowing that every stolen half hour of writing time will be time well spent. I can start a scene from any point on the chronology, with confidence. Or continue the scene. Or revise it. I know the scene’s significance and I know which details already exist and which can be created or embellished.

Will the new blueprints work? I think so. Will I backtrack into another scene-by-scene matrix, perhaps more complex than before? If I need to.

Please share your techniques, favorite links, resources, and examples for writing a coherent, credible series!