Guest Chick: Liz Milliron

The Chicks are delighted to welcome back author Liz Milliron! HEAVEN HAS NO RAGE, the next book in her Laurel Highlands Mysteries, will be out in August.

Construction Ahead

Thanks so much to Cynthia and the rest of the Chicks for hosting me!

One of the things that most surprised me last year when Root of All Evil came out was how quickly readers bonded to Jim Duncan and Sally Castle. I mean, on one level, this was exactly what I hoped for. Isn’t this what a lot of us read for? To follow characters? So to have created characters people cared about so much was a huge win.

On the other, it was a little terrifying. In the course of writing, I mentioned how I was making life difficult for Jim and Sally. Not five minutes later I received a FaceBook message from a reader. “You’d better not be messing with my couple.”


Writer and friend Annette Dashofy puts it this way: “I’ve found that what happens between page 1 and page 300 isn’t that important as long as Pete and Zoe are okay at the end.”

I’m finding the same with Jim and Sally. Not that the plot and whodunnit isn’t important. Of course it is. We read mysteries to solve the puzzle and see justice served, right? But woe to the writer who leaves a beloved couple in turmoil. I’m beginning to thing it’s almost as bad as killing a pet.

But since tension is the root of storytelling, the couple’s journey is not always smooth. It can’t be, right? Growth through trouble, that’s what I think. I comforted my agitated reader. “It’ll all turn out okay. I think.”

I’m not sure the “I think” helped.

This concern about characters begs the question: what is going to happen? Well, I’m not sure. Root of All Evil didn’t exactly bring Jim and Sally together (that happened in the series of short stories to be found in Murder Most Scenic). But it definitely brought them closer. Sally made some decisions. Jim made some decisions. And at the end of the book…well, I can’t say too much because, spoilers. Let’s just say “the friend zone” has become a tad more complicated for them.

Heaven Has No Rage takes that relationship another step. Once again, both characters make decisions, some good, some…not so good. And at the end of the book, well, again. Can’t say too much. But I think I’ve brought them another step forward. We’ll see if readers agree.

And next year, well, let’s just say things are gonna get a lot more serious.

You might be thinking, “Come on, Liz. Geez, move it along why don’t you?” But think about real-life relationships. The good ones don’t move at the speed of light. My contract specifies yearly releases, but in book time it’s only seven months between the events of Root of All Evil and next year’s Broken Trust. That’s not a long time for a relationship – at least one outside Hollywood. But I know what’s ahead and, well, let’s just say it’s interesting, at least I hope it is.

I’ve also had readers ask, “Would Sally ever go into private practice?” Hmm, good question. “Is Jim going to be a patrol officer forever?” Also a good question. It’s another area of growth, another place to take the characters. And all I can say is if career planning for myself was tricky, it’s nothing on career planning for my characters.

As I work on promotion and anticipation for the release of Heaven Has No Rage, I’m drafting the fourth, as-yet-uncontracted, book in the series. I know where Jim and Sally are supposed to end up relationship-wise. They’re happy with how things are going. But the careers? I’m not sure yet. I guess I’ll have to get back to writing to find out.

Readers, do you like to see changes in your characters and their lives? Any pet peeves when it comes to a long-running series and its characters?

Liz Milliron is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries series about a Pennsylvania State Trooper and a Fayette County assistant public defender in the scenic Laurel Highlands.

The first in the series, Root of All Evil, was released in August, 2018. Liz’s short fiction has appeared in multiple anthologies, including Murder Most Historical and the Anthony-award-winning Blood on the Bayou. She is a past president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime, as well as a member of Pennwriters and International Thriller Writers.

She lives outside Pittsburgh with her husband, two teens, and a retired-racer greyhound.

33 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Liz Milliron

  1. I like to see the characters grow, and I don’t mind some changes if it makes sense to the story. I stopped reading a series because the author killed off one of the main characters. The couple had been through a lot in the course of the series and then, all of a sudden when they seem to be in a great place in their relationship, the main male character is gone.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Welcome, Liz! Any other day I would probably say I don’t have any pet peeves when it comes to series and characters, but Cynthia is on another blog this morning talking about love triangles. Maybe because it’s fresh in my mind, I’ll say I’m not a fan of love triangles that drag on over the course of a series. One book is fine. I probably won’t even mind too much if it goes on for two books. But love triangles that never seem to end? As far as I’m concerned, it’s okay to kill off one of the main players in that scenario!

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  3. I think one of the joys of reading a series is coming back to those characters we know and (hopefully) love—but I also like conflict and I (personally) admire more a series where changes can occur, maybe *do* occur, rather than one where things are too stable. I think Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott series does a nice job of this, following Deborah’s love life, changes in her family, extended family, and then too larger changes in the community itself. And hey, back to you: Sounds like you’re doing things right!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thanks, Art! Yeah, staying in stasis isn’t that great. Who wants to read about that? For that matter, whose life is actually like that? But it’s a real gift to be able to do it well – thanks for the compliment.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. And series has to have a character arc, and as you say, Liz, tension is the root of all storytelling. So I’d be surprised if Jim and Sally didn’t go through some rocky times.

    Congrats on the upcoming release and thanks so much for visiting the Chicks!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I love to see changes in the relationships of main characters. And growth in the characters themselves. However, I don’t think every book needs to have a strong sub-plot where the characters are fighting or disagreeing about something. It can be more subtle. After all, not all couples have conflict in their relationship constantly.

    I do get frustrated by readers who forget about book time vs. real time. Yes, it’s taken us three years to get to book three, but it’s six months for them. Give them time. It’s okay they aren’t married yet.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thanks, Mark. Yeah, constant bickering makes me wonder why the couple is together at all. And absolutely on the “book time” thing. I find myself thinking I need to speed things up then I remember, “It hasn’t been as long for them as for me.”

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Enjoyed reading your piece and commenters’ thoughts. Deborah Crombie puts her protag couple through hell and she published 17 books in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series so seems to me she’s doing something right. As for thrice-divorced me, nothing is forever and if I see a lot of turmoil in a relationship, there is a quick and easy fix. As for writer me, I left out one leg of the love triangle in book two, sent him out of town, and one reviewer wanted to know where he went.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I feel as if ANY hard and fast rules for characters in a series can be a mistake. Otherwise, all of our books would be exactly the same. The basic structure of most cozies is already fairly set. Without the “extras” in our characters’ lives, our books would run like that “Pleasantville” movie, where lives were lived out in shades of black, white, and gray.

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  8. Great post, Liz — and I’m excited for the new book! Thanks for hanging out with us today!
    I think the protagonist in a series needs obstacles and is likely to face some changes in circumstances as the series progresses. But, I have stopped reading some series when I felt the author “jumped the shark” and changed the MC in ways that didn’t seem true to that character’s nature, didn’t feel like the same character I first fell in love with when I got hooked on the series, if that makes sense.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Vickie, that completely makes sense. For example, Jim Duncan isn’t going to all of a sudden go rogue-cop. It’s not who he is. It’s so tricky to make changes that are going to keep things interesting, without betraying the character your reader initially fell in love with.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This is an interesting discussion, Liz! As a writer, I, too, get frustrated with readers who forget “real time vs book time,” but also when they don’t allow for any character growth. I guess it’s because they love the characters so much, but it kinda ties your hands as a writer. Now, as a reader, I always trust the writer. I know there’s a reason the characters are sniping with one another, or one of them gets sent out of town, or has a fling. And when someone is swimming particularly dangerous waters, I take deep breaths and say, “The author wouldn’t kill them … the author wouldn’t kill them … the author wouldn’t kill them …” and then hope I’m right!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yep. It is so easy to get “stuck” on a character and hate any changes, but that’s not very realistic and so difficult to do as a writer (I mean, Agatha Christie did it with Poirot, but…different time). And I think the same when I’m reading – glad I’m not alone!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks so much for being here, Liz, and congrats on the upcoming release. This is such a great book!!

    I love to see characters grow, but as you said, it can be a tough needle to thread. As a reader (and writer), I want hardships that beget growth without changing the character so much that I fall out of love with who she or he was at the beginning of a series. It can be tricky! You’ve done a great job with Jim and Sally.

    As for peeves for long-running series, I don’t really have any. If it’s a series I love, I’m up for wherever the author wants to take me. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Welcome back, Liz! It’s so funny you wrote about this because when I got to the gym today, a woman who reads my books told me she can’t wait for the next one because she wants to make sure Maggie and Bo, my couple, are okay. I work hard to give them real-life probems they have to work through, and some people really get invested. To which I say, YAHOO!

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Great post, and I especially love the last line about getting back to writing to find out. Sometimes I feel a bit embarrassed when someone asks what will happen with x, y, or z, and I say I’m not sure yet and they give me a look, like wait, aren’t you the one writing it? 🙂

    Congratulations on your new book! Can’t wait to read it.

    Liked by 2 people

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