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.
Barnes and Noble
Barnes & Noble
Readers: Do you use secondary characters to provide humor even if they serve a serious purpose? If so, please share.