31 July 2013

Vacationing with old friends

by Robert Lopresti

My wife and I vacation in Port Townsend, Washington most years, as I have written before (and before).  She spends most of the week taking music lessons and I spend mine communing with the muse, or trying to.

But sometimes the best part of a week off is spending time with old friends.  That is certainly true of this trip. Not only did I see various music buddies, but I also ran into two writing friends: Elizabeth Ann Scarborough and Clyde Curley.

However, those aren't the friends I want to write about today.

I first met Leopold Longshanks almost thirty years ago in a coffeeshop in Montclair, New Jersey.  I didn't really meet him there; I just got an inkling that he existed.  It took many years for him to solidify into enough of a character to write a story about.

I spent two days on vacation writing a story about Shanks and his wife and had a great time visiting with them.  After a dozen tales, they are like old pals and it is great to catch up with them, see what trouble they are getting into.

Then there are Thomas Gray and Delgardo.  They have only appeared in one novella and it is by no means certain that I can turn them into series characters, but I got 2000 words into a new piece, and had a lot of fun with them.  Since they have had only one outing I am still trying to figure out what is essential to their stories and what is, so to speak, accidental.

These are pleasures you only get by writing about a character more than once.  I was thinking about this recently as I read Janice Law's third story about Madame Selina in AHMM.  As I recall Janice said she had never talked about reusing a character until I suggested this dishonest but oh so clever spiritualist needed a return voyage.

So, hwo do you guys feel about revisiting your old friends/enemies?


  1. Mr. Lopresti: I most certainly would like to tune in on Thomas Gray and Delgardo again. Their exploits don't always have to be novella length, do they? Bring us more of the beat generation. Late 50s to early 60s, there were many up-and-coming stylists who earned their props in Greenwhich Village. Bob Dylan for one. These guys don't have to occupy uptown N.Y. but they can sure as heck serve those in need locally. Life to these people is essential,but what happens to them is random. Or accidental, as you put it. I really want to see these guys and the entire cast of characters again. I swear, this is Damon Runyon stuff. Yours truly, Toe.

  2. Toe, thanks so much. I have a chunk of a Delgardo story written. No idea how long it will be yet, or if it willever be published. If you like the folk music era in Greenwich Village, hou might want to read my novel Such A Killing Crime. And thanks for the kind words bout my new story in AHMM, by the way.

  3. I should've known. Got the book! Thanks. Toe.

  4. Rob, I agree--series characters can be great fun to write and to revisit. Most of my stories are standalones and probably always will be, but I've written two different series so far and I'm thinking about doing another. At latest tally I've done 61 series stories, and those have been published 109 times in different magazines and anthologies--recurring characters have been good to me.

    As I've said before, I think series characters are great for the reader AND the writer, because the reader already "knows" the people and the writer doesn't have to put in as much backstory each time.

    I've always liked Shanks, by the way. You picked a winner, there.

  5. And many thanks again for the advice as Madame S. shows no signs of going away!

  6. Series characters are great - most of my favorite mysteries involve series characters. And there are some others I only wish WERE part of a series (Liza Cody, please write a sequel to "Rift"!) Keep working with Shanks, et al!

  7. After 8 Across appeared in AHMM, readers asked for more Sheriff José and Deputy Miller, but thus far I haven't come up with a brilliant sequel. I have been working on a series, though. I usually like series by other authors, including yours, Janice's, RT's, Fran's, Jan's, and John Floyd's. Now who did I leave out?

  8. I enjoy writing about a character more than once. You can immediately find your voice and not worry about establishing the character. The downside of this is simply that you will be reaching first time readers and have to do some measure of re-introduction.

    I have written about my series character, Nathaniel P. Osgood III many times, and still put a line or two at the beginning to identify him to new readers. (Sometimes I think that the only readers I have are new ones.)

    And I join with John and Eve about Shanks. Keep 'em coming.

  9. To paraphrase John, the (prior) reader can immediately fall in step with the characters of a series for their next adventure, which is good.
    And, to paraphrase Herschel, the series author will always be reaching new readers and therefore needs to do a re-introduction of the character(s).
    For myself, I run into two problems with my series: carrying the baggage forward from past stories and continuity. I have to keep finding new ways of passing along the same info on characters, plus keep a log of what has happened in the past to each character and who has which traits or character imperfections.
    No matter, my series characters keep talking to me at different times, so they will probably be around for a while. It helps me to have several series to jump around in.
    Nice blog, Rob.


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