Friday, August 14, 2020

Fun with Secondary Characters

My guest blogger this week is award-winning author Leslie Wheeler who writes the Miranda Lewis Living History Mysteries which began with Murder at Plimoth Plantation, recently re-released for the first time as a trade paperback, and the Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries, which began with Rattlesnake Hill and continues with Shuntoll Road. Like me, Leslie is currently published for mystery fiction by Encircle. 
Secondary characters can be fun to write and fun to read about, because they don’t bear the burdens of the main characters who not only have to solve crimes, but are often struggling with personal issues. Two secondary characters that I enjoyed creating and that early readers of my new mystery, Shuntoll Road, appear to have enjoyed also are Maxine Kepler and Grandma Waite, aka “Crazy Scarlett.”

Maxine Kepler is loud in voice and dress. She’s described as rarely speaking below a shout and favoring bright colored clothing—attributes that, as a short person among taller people, she uses to call attention to herself. Also, as a single woman in her forties, she is engaged in a perpetual search for “Mr. Right,” whether he happens to be a someone else’s boyfriend or not. And she never misses an opportunity to flirt with a man she considers attractive, even in the midst of an emergency phone call.
Grandma Waite, aka “Crazy Scarlett,” is far from being your typical warm, fuzzy granny, as her nickname suggests, though she is fiercely protective of her great-granddaughter and namesake, Scarlett. A beauty in her youth, she dresses all in black and her Shirley-Temple-style curls are dyed jet black. Regarded as a witch by many in town, she spies on her grandson and his family who live across the street, interrogates their visitors, and makes frequent, ominous pronouncements about trouble to come. She is definitely not a person you want to mess with, as another character discovers when she descends on him “like an angry crow,” shrieking at him to leave immediately. When he refuses, she pounds on the cab of his truck with her umbrella until he finally does and ends up driving smack into a huge pothole.
Both Grandma Waite and Maxine Kepler provide some of the more amusing moments in the book. Still, as characters in a mystery novel, where everything needs to advance the story, each also serves a serious purpose.
Maxine is a long-time friend of Gwen Waite, who next to Kathryn is the most important character in the novel. A fellow New Yorker, Maxine is a link between Gwen and her past life, a past that included another friend, Niall Corrigan, who, as a successful real estate developer, has come to the Berkshires ostensibly to build an upscale development but with a hidden agenda. Both Maxine and Niall are privy to the secret event that caused Gwen to leave the city. And when drama queen Maxine persists in putting air quotes around Gwen’s “accident” that left her in a coma years ago, Kathryn begins to suspect it wasn’t a bad car accident, as Gwen claims.
Maxine also serves as an intermediary between Niall and Gwen in his efforts to have a romantic relationship with Gwen, who isn’t as happily married as she’d like people to believe. Determined to find a partner for herself, Maxine has set her cap for Earl Barker, Kathryn’s boyfriend, and pressures Kathryn, who has returned to the Berkshires with the goal of seeing if she and Earl can rebuild their all-but-shattered relationship, to make up her mind, “because if you don’t grab him, someone else (Maxine herself) will.”
As for Grandma Waite, she gave me the opportunity to weave in a colorful bit of my fictional town New Nottingham’s history (stolen from the history of the real-life Berkshire town where I have a house) in that she’s rumored to be a descendant of a notorious madam who ran a brothel in the tiny hamlet of Gomorrah that was once part of New Nottingham. More importantly, Grandma Waite’s uncanny ability to recognize evil in other people is crucial to the climax. But to say more would be to risk giving away the ending.
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Readers: Do you use secondary characters to provide humor even if they serve a serious purpose? If so, please share.


  1. I love well-developed secondary characters, some of which end up with their own stories. Yours sound fascinating. You've got a great cover too!
    Good luck and God's blessings

  2. Thanks for your comment, Pamela. I'm delighted to hear that you like well-developed secondary characters, and yes, they can end up with their own stories. In Shuntoll Road, I have another secondary character, Charlotte Hinckley, who joins my main character in her fight against a New York developer and became so important that when she told me she should play a pivotal role in the next book, I agreed. Thanks also for your kind words about the cover. The scene of the pond at dusk is from a photo I took of the pond on my property, though the figure is photo shopped.

  3. I enjoyed reading about your secondary characters. Sounds like spin-offs could be in the offing for Maxine and Grandma Waite. Sometimes the secondary characters become so popular that they overshadow the main characters. J.R. Ewing and the Dowager Crawley are two examples. I'm glad Jacqueline featured you, so I can get to know you and your work.

  4. Your series sounds like an entertaining read. I'm going to check it out ASAP. As for my own humorous mystery series, I added a grandmother character in book 4 and she basically took over the series. Whenever I need comic relief, in walks Gran!

  5. I added a secondary character to the end of one of my fantasy books, and now the hog has moved over to his own point of view character (sharing half and half with the hero) in the next book. What a pushy dude!

  6. I think I've met both Maxine and Granny (with different names) in the past few years. In my second novel in a 4-book series, I brought in a secondary character, a Swiss scientist who's developing a 4D printer (no, not 3D), which added a whole new subplot. But the BEST secondary character I've ever discovered is Tomlinson, in Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford series; he's a beer-drinking, pot-smoking, womanizing Internet zen guru and is a brilliant foil to the strictured Doc Ford, an ex-NSA operative, now a marine biologist on Sanibel Island, Florida.

  7. Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog, Jacquie. And good luck with your new release!


  8. It's a pleasure to have you, Leslie. One of my favorite comic characters is Grandma Mazur in the Stephanie Plum series from Evanovich.

  9. Thanks for your comment, Jacquie. Haven't read Janet Evanovich in a while, so I don't recall Grandma Mazur, but will look her up. If she's anything like Grandma Waite in Shuntoll, I know I'll enjoy her.

  10. Thanks for the insights! I find that well-crafted secondary characters are like the bubbles in Champagne: they lift everything up with their own energy. It's counter-intuitive, but I find that's often the place pour on the quirks and creativity.

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