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.
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?
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.