Secondary Characters by Dawn Eastman
I love secondary characters. As a writer, I can use them to add some humor, or wackiness, or excess of emotion. They can offer advice, or act as a sounding board. The best secondary characters have full lives of their own, and step into the action during a break in their own story. Some of my favorite secondary characters include the Weasley family in the Harry Potter books. Mrs. Weasley acted as a surrogate mother to Harry and provided a solid, nurturing safety net for all three main characters. Ruth from Louise Penny’s Gamache novels provides comic relief. Ruth’s duck, Rosa, helps to show a softer side to the cranky poet. Grandma Mazur and Lula from Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels are often the main attraction as they get Stephanie embroiled in trouble and she finds herself trying to control their antics.
Often in letters from readers it is the secondary characters that get a mention. I think it’s assumed that the main characters are liked, but readers identify with certain secondary characters and begin to root for them to have a greater role, to solve their problems, or just to continue to be funny. Aside from the dogs, the three I hear about the most are Aunt Vi, Seth, and Frank (Dad). Each one of them shows us a different side of the protagonist, Clyde.
Aunt Vi definitely livens things up. If I feel like a scene is dragging, or it needs more action, I’ll add Vi and see what happens. She usually comes through for me with a crazy idea, an inappropriate comment, or a skewed worldview. Her matter-of-fact approach to many of the situations in the books coupled with her absolute faith in all things psychic provide such a fun viewpoint that I never tire of watching her wreak havoc.
Seth is a great sidekick for Clyde. He is wise beyond his years, but still young enough to be naïve about the harsher realities. As he is her nephew, she feels a responsibility toward him that is almost maternal while at the same time they are close enough in age that sometimes he is the reasonable one. He also injects a different viewpoint that is often at odds with Aunt Vi. His tolerance and acceptance of people acts as a great counter to Vi’s free-wheeling biases.
Finally, there is Frank. A retired dentist and the only one in the family with no psychic ability, he fills his time tinkering around the house and listening to his police scanner. He is Clyde’s rock. Even though she might not trust him with her next home improvement project, she trusts that he always has her best interests at heart. Something she doesn’t always feel about her mother or aunt.
As the writer, I have to negotiate with these characters to be sure none of them take over, or get lost. Some characters try to monopolize every scene they are in (Vi), and others fade into the background and have to be coached forward (Frank). But each one has his or her storyline and character arc. Sometimes that role is to help, sometimes to hinder, the forward motion of the plot. I’ve gotten attached to them and root for them as much as I root for Clyde.
Who are some of your favorite secondary characters? What kind of a secondary character are you in the lives of your friends or relatives?
A Fright to the Death by Dawn Eastman
The Third Family Fortune Mystery
Rule # 1, Don’t tempt the fates.
Clyde and Mac are together at last and driving to Chicago for a flight to Mexico to escape their well meaning, but always there families, as well as Michigan's winter weather, for some alone time. Fate has other plans, however, as an incoming storm has closed the airport. Fortunately, Mac knows of a romantic castle nearby. It's no warm getaway, but it's still a getaway. Until they discover the castle, which is supposedly haunted, is booked solid for members of a knitting retreat-and that both of their mothers, along with Aunt Vi, are in attendance! With no extra rooms it's decided they'll share-Mac with his mother and Clyde with hers. So much for that romantic getaway. They meet the other guests, including Clarissa, one of the not so liked owners. As the blizzard hits, the power goes out, and Clarissa is found dead. With the phone lines also dead, Mac and Clyde take charge of the investigation as they believe her death was no accident!
A Fright to the Death is a slight departure from the previous books in the Family Fortune Mystery series. Gone is the psychic town of Crystal Haven, replaced with a reputably haunted mansion. Although present, I didn’t feel as much of the paranormal in this entry to the series.
We welcome new characters here, the owners and employees of Carlisle Castle as well as the knitters staying there for a conference, and learn the joy of yarn bombing. Unfortunately for Clyde and Mac we also get their families. Their appearance turns out to be fortuitous as well as fun for us readers. Dawn Eastman shows us the importance of families, however aggravating they might be. Aunt Vi’s meddling may just have shown Clyde her purpose in life and given her a reason to remain in Crystal Haven. Their partnership in the events at the castle coupled with an increased understanding of each other cement Clyde and Mac’s relationship even further.
With a healthy dose of humor and an intriguing puzzle A Fright to the Death is a great read.