Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Supporting Characters and Why We Love Them

I first “met” Sarah Byrne through the e-list for mystery fans, DorothyL. She’s know there as “Sarah from Canberra,” her home city in Australia. We met for the first time in person at a Bouchercon, when I went up to her after a panel and introduced myself. And then, we met again at Bouchercon in Indianapolis, where we hung out in the food court, and she mentioned that she’d love to be a character in one of my books.

Though she’s an attorney in real life, she became a paralegal in my book Mahu Blood. I quizzed her a bit about her life in Australia, and discovered that she was also a jazz singer, and often sang songs by Dave Frishberg. Not only did that detail turn out to be important to her character, she taught me something about Ray Donne, Kimo’s detective partner.

Here’s a quote from that book:

As she typed her name and password into the database, she began to sing a little under her breath. I didn’t recognize the song, but then, most of what I listen to comes with slack key guitar accompaniment. Ray did, though.

“Is that ‘My Attorney Bernie?’ I love that song,” he said.

She blushed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was doing that.”

“No, you have a good voice,” Ray said. “I’m a big Dave Frishberg fan. ‘Bernie is a purist, not your polyester tourist,’ he sang. His voice was surprisingly good.

“I sing with a jazz group,” Sarah said, hitting a couple of keys. “We do a lot of his songs. You should come by some time. You and your wife.”

She was sharp, Sarah. I liked her.

Until I wrote that scene, I didn’t know that Ray could sing!

Here's the real Sarah singing.

Sarah was such a great character that I knew I wanted her to come back at the end of the book. It’s about ohana, after all – the Hawaiian word for family – and she had become part of Kimo’s extended family, at least in my mind. Here’s the very last bit of the book, where Sarah sings again.

The CDs had all ended by then, and no one had gotten up to put new ones on. “I think we need a little live music,” Peggy said. “To cap off a great luau. Sarah, you want to sing something for us?”

“Oh, no, I couldn’t,” Sarah said. “Not without a band behind me.”

“You have a great voice,” Ray said. “You know Frishberg’s song I’m Home? The one Al Jarreau sings? It’s a great song for a housewarming.”

After a little more persuading, Sarah stood up, and we shushed the crowd. When she sang, “I knew that I'd found what's at the end of the rainbow... There's no place on earth I'd rather be than stayin' right here with you," I looked around for Mike.

He was standing at the back door, where two steps led up into the house. He looked so handsome, in his Honolulu Fire Department t-shirt and geometric print board shorts. A smile curled out from beneath his mustache. I had this powerful desire to be with him—the kind of magnetic attraction I’d seen between Haoa and Tatiana, where neither of them looked complete without the other. I’d always envied that about them, and now I knew what it felt like from the inside.

I climbed up there with him, and we listened the music and looked at everyone enjoying themselves, celebrating a union that neither of us had ever dreamed we could enjoy.

Sarah finished the song, and everyone applauded. Then, holding hands, Mike and I stepped down to take our places in our ohana.

Sarah returns in Natural Predators, my 2013 release. So there's still more to tell about her!

1 comment:

Maryann Miller said...

I sure enjoyed meeting Sarah, and had to smile when I read your line that you didn't know Ray could sing until you wrote that scene. I just love it when that happens when writing.