Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Medieval Sidekick

Guest blog by Jeri Westerson
Sidekicks can serve an important role for a sleuth. Though Sam Spade started off with partner Miles Archer, it was clear his sidekick was really Effie Perine, his faithful and not faint-of-heart secretary. A sidekick does the legwork (and what legs!) and in some instances, can also be the source of the sleuth’s finding an important clue (it’s the sleuth that has to really solve the case, however, otherwise there’s no reason to spend three hundred pages with him!)

A sidekick can also be the source of some much-needed comic relief when the action gets dark and heavy. He’s a sounding board for the detective to bounce ideas off of. He—or she—can be in jeopardy, the damsel in distress, for the heroic detective to save.

Whatever the purpose the sidekick serves, he had better be more than a cardboard cut-out or there can be no empathy for his thankless and often tireless work.

A sidekick can be as cunning as Bunter for Lord Peter Wimsey, or the conscience of the piece as Sancho Panza is to Don Quixote. Without Dr. Watson to write it all down, we’d never know about all of Sherlock Holmes’ adventures. And Robin Hood would have no one to mourn him without Little John.  

A knight’s sidekick could very well be his squire, but since my hero Crispin Guest is no longer the knight he was, there can be no squire as such. Only an orphaned street urchin would be fitting for a man who now had to eke out a life on the mean streets of fourteenth century London. And so Jack Tucker, orphan, cutpurse, thief and street urchin comes into Crispin’s life. More comfortable on the streets and with the low-lifes he and Crispin encounter, Jack is often a go-between. He may be young—eleven when we first meet him in the debut of the series, VEIL OF LIES, and is now fifteen in the latest Crispin Guest mystery SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST—but he’s whip-smart, and even gave up the “habit” of cutting purses, the medieval equivalent of picking pockets (no pockets yet).

Jack is growing up and coming into his own. He’s becoming invaluable to Crispin and their relationship matures as they grow closer to one another. In fact, Jack Tucker was never meant to be in the books more than once, but my agent and editor liked him so much, he was made into more than a walk-on. Which turned out to be serendipity. Jack is a reflection of what Crispin was, innocent, sometimes na├»ve, adventurous, before life’s realities crowded in around him. And I think that Crispin would also have been mired in his own private hell if Jack hadn’t come along as a distraction. Now, Crispin does, on occasion, wallow a bit in his own miseries, but he also knows he has a responsibility as the only mentor and role model for his new charge. Knowing now that he will never have an heir (and an heir to what?) he cultivates Jack as he was raised, not only teaching him how to read and write, but languages and the art of battle.

Jack often humanizes the plight of the poor and uneducated to Crispin who has come from wealthy and intellectual origins, who had no inkling of the lives of his servants on his erstwhile estates anymore than he had a clue about the lives of the people he passed on the streets of London.

He also serves as the reader’s chorus, asking the questions we might ask the sleuth ourselves; standing in for us when we haven’t got a clue. He’s the one to whom the sleuth explains his failings, his thinking process, the one to whom he says “Aha!” but doesn’t yet elucidate, leaving the sidekick to race after him with, “Wait! What did you discover?”

And after six books in the series, Jack is certainly coming into his own. We’ve seen him grow up, even mellowing his mentor and master, Crispin Guest. But as Jack grows and his backstory comes to the fore, he’s becoming less of a sidekick and more of a full-fledged partner. He does his own sleuthing. After all, he knows those dark streets of London better than his master. And soon, he will get his own young adult series of books, though they will stray from mystery and delve into the depths of fantasy and paranormal in the Jack Tucker Tales. He’ll test his mettle in ways he’s never faced before. It will serve as a fine compliment to the Crispin series as I delve more into the character and adventures of a young man, trying to find his way and his place in a world that seldom has room for his like.        

We need our literary sidekicks. And it’s even more wonderful when we want to know more about them. What motivates them to play second fiddle to the hero? What sort of rewards can they expect?
Crispin writes his own blog (yeah, everyone’s got a blog these days) and he sometimes writes about Jack Tucker. Read it at www.jeriwesterson.com/crispins-blog. For more on Jeri’s newest release, SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST, including a series book trailer and book discussion guides, go to www.JeriWesterson.com. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Jill Hughey on Historical Support

Like most of the authors who have posted about supporting characters here, I have more than one I love, so I’ll jump right in. I write historical romance, and my favorite supporting character is from my least successful book, Sass Meets Class. He appears in Arizona Territory where my heroine’s family is starting a general store.

An unfamiliar man clumped across the creekbed carrying what may have once been a chair. He stopped at the porch, the toes of his dirty work boots almost touching the bottom step. His disfigurements set Susan back on her heels. He possessed only one eye, the empty right socket sealed shut by scar tissue trailing down his cheek and jaw much like wisteria flowers over a porch rail. He'd swathed the stump where his right hand should have been in the sleeve of his blue and cream striped cotton shirt. His legs appeared to be intact, sheathed in worn but clean denim. "Morning, ma'am," he said cordially. The lips puckered around a mouth missing so many teeth it made his speech slur. "My name's Clive."
"I'm Susan."
"Dynamite," he said. "Everyone wonders, so I'll tell you straight out. Mining accident."
"O-okay," she said cautiously.
"I hear you're starting a store here."
"That's right."
"An excellent notion. You'll do well." He mounted the stairs carrying the rocker he might have been sitting on when the dynamite blew. He brought the creaking pile of sticks onto her sparkling porch then roosted like he owned the place. "Every town needs a store, and every store needs an old coot on the porch." He didn't even look at her as he said it, just peered around with his one eye surveying the little town of Gateway as if it were his kingdom.
Susan blinked at him. She'd given the store a good deal of thought on the long days of travel. A coot never entered the picture, especially one who would just as likely scare the customers away. Still, he filled the left side of an otherwise empty space with a comfortable, small town feeling.
"Any chance you'll get a new chair?" she asked resignedly.
"None whatsoever," Clive replied without even looking at her.

Clive begins as a stereotypical small-town geezer, but little hints of his difficult past crop up throughout the book. He becomes Susan’s watchdog, surrogate parent, and champion, while continuing to provide occasional comic relief.

Some of my other supporting characters have interested me enough to warrant their own books. I am augmenting the three novels in my Evolution Series of historical romances set in Charlemagne’s Empire with two shorter stories, both featuring servants from the larger works. My next release, coming out in a few weeks, will be a novella I’d originally visualized as a short story. Little Witch grew into 49,000 words featuring a character who originated as the Lord of Ribeauville’s stableboy, Nox, now all grown up and adeptly avoiding as many emotional bonds as possible. In the first excerpt, we see him as a teenager in Vain, and in the next, as an adult.


Lily forced herself out of the chair. With the lord gone, she could safely fetch some water at the well near the rear wall of the house. With the only two chipped cups to be found she approached the wood lined well. She cranked the windlass to lower the leather bucket down to the water, then rewound the rope on the shaft. She dipped a cup of the liquid and brought it to her dry lips, drinking thirstily. The water was refreshingly cool, and she drank another full cup.
“Hey ho. I got a wood bucket in the stable if you want to keep one,” a boy said from behind her. Lily turned to see a lanky frame dressed in a tidy homespun tunic, all topped with a riot of curling brown hair. Ribeauville was a small enough town that Lily recognized him, though she did not know his name. “Gusta said you would be livin’ in the shed.” His voice cracked unexpectedly, heralding his approaching adulthood.
“I am Lily,” she offered. “I would very much like to borrow a bucket, since I only have these two cups.”
“No way to wash in those,” he observed cheerfully. “My name is Nox because I was born at night. Could have been worse. My little brother’s name is Diem. Guess why.”
Lily smiled, instantly liking the forthrightness of the boy. “My mother named me Lily because I was born in the spring when the snowflake lilies were blooming. My father brought me some every year on my birthday….” Lily stopped. He hadn’t brought any this year. He hadn’t even been here. How could his love for her disappear in the span of a year?
If Nox noticed her sudden silence he covered it well. “Lily is a good name. For a girl.”
 Here, in Little Witch, Nox meets Salena, a friend from the childhood home where he lived before his family died and the Lord of Ribeauville took him in. He has come to investigate a disagreement over land boundaries.
 EXCERPT FROM Little Witch
 “What work do you do for him, other than checking on arguments about land?” Salena asked.
“He calls me his ‘reconnoiter.’ I do not think that is even a real word, at least not as a title for someone. He finds it amusing, and Lady Lily shakes her head at me every time he does it.” Nox smiled, obviously comfortable as he talked about the lord and lady who had jurisdiction over a large region around their town. “Theophilus must be away from home so much of the year — far away, on official business — that someone else must do this sort of investigation. He dislikes leaving, even for a day, to look into smaller issues like this. Not that he does not think them important,” he hastened to add. “I gather information. His clerk and I do our best to sort through things before setting the problems before him.”
Salena thought the work sounded fascinating. “That must be wonderful, to be able to travel all over the countryside meeting new people every day.”
He shrugged, a little embarrassed by her enthusiasm. “It sounds very lofty. I still help around his house, too, with things like firewood and the garden and exercising his horse. I wanted to come to the army with him in the summers, but he needs me here. He feels more comfortable with a man nearby in case Lady Lily and the children need help.”
“He must trust you above anyone,” she said, impressed and a little jealous. No one outside her own blood would ever ask her to watch over their family.
“I have never given him reason not to,” he replied, unaware of the pinprick he gave her feelings. “He has been good to me. I have often wondered why, out of all the orphans he has encountered in his life, he picked me to muck out his stables. He claims that another nobleman had stolen his former stableboy away the week before. That seems like an incredible bit of luck to me,” he said earnestly.
Salena smiled at him and gestured to their right, pointing out a path that would lead downhill toward the river. They would not go all the way to the water, just to a fertile square of flatland. “Lucky for certain, but probably not an easy change for you.”
“In its way, it was best.” He glanced over at her, as if weighing whether to say more. “Being removed from here allowed me to hold onto a childish notion for a time.” He paused again. “I used to imagine my family still lived here, that I had gone away and they continued on. That was a great comfort to me in the early years, pretending they were here, though I suppose I would be a very odd man if I’d never outgrown the fantasy.”
“What did you do, the first time your work brought you back here?”
The rawness flashed at her again. “I saw the new owner — Burke I think is his name — out front with a child. I walked right past, down the road, weeping like a baby,” he admitted.
Salena did not know what to say. She had cried through more than a few steps of her own walks and hated the idea of her old friend, now a fine young man, taking the same lonely journey.
In the first excerpt, Nox talks about Diem as if he were still alive, but in this one he admits that he used this pretense to cope with being in a strange place, alone and grieving. This tidbit is partially revealed in Vain, and I think is the kind of backstory that makes supporting characters interesting enough that readers want to see more, even if only in a short story. It also gives the opportunity to show your fans what is going on with your major characters.
As I mentioned above, my next release will be the last piece of my Evolution Series, Nox’s story told in Little Witch: Historical Romance Novella. It has been a pleasure visiting here today!
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You can also stalk her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jillhugheyromanceand be enlightened by her tweets @jillhughey.
Jill Hughey’s most interesting characteristic is that she can sing really, really high. Her books are available at most vendors and are easily found from the links at

Thursday, August 15, 2013

St Roch, patron saint of dogs

August 16 is the day dedicated to St. Roch, patron saint of dogs. Celebrate dogs who help others by buying one our books, and we'll donate what we earn from August 16-18 to ECAD.

Notice the loaf of bread in the dog's mouth!
In his honor, Sharon Sakson and I are donating 100% of our royalties from August 16-18 for three dog-related books to Educating Canines Assisting with Disabilities, ECAD. We both love dogs, and know how meaningful a dog can be to one’s life, and we’re happy to support a group that puts service dogs together with those who need them.

Here are the three books:

Paws and Reflect, a book of essays Sharon and I edited together, about the relationships between gay men and their dogs

Paws and Effect: The Healing Power of Dogs, which Sharon wrote about the many ways in which dogs help their human companions with health issues

In Dog We Trust, the first of my golden retriever mysteries.

Here’s what Sharon and I wrote about St. Roch in Paws and Reflect:

In churches and cathedrals of southern France, there is often a statue of a saint who holds a staff in one hand while a friendly dog leans against his side. This is St. Roch, patron saint of dog trainers.

His story is an interesting one. In 1350, he was the son of the wealthy mayor of Montpellier and lived in aristocratic comfort until one summer when Pope Urban V visited from Rome. Roch was transfixed by the pope’s devotion to his faith and decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome. 

God showed his approval by giving him the gift of healing.
On his return journey, Roch entered village after village where the plague was decimating people. At each village, he tended to the sick, often curing them. 

But in the village of Piacerna, Roch himself fell sick.

He didn’t want the villagers to see his suffering, as he knew they would tend to him and thus reinfect themselves. So he disappeared into a quiet spot in the woods to live out his days. 

But a dog followed him to his hiding place, and each day the dog appeared carrying a loaf of bread. Roch ate the bread, which gave him sustenance to recover. When he was strong enough, the dog led him back to the home of his master, where Roch found friendship and the means to start over in his life as a healer.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

CoverBoys and Curses

Guest Blog by Lala Corriere

Secondary characters are what water is to flour. Seriously. Remember Paddington the Bear? One day he is making pancakes and he adds too much water. He has to add more flour. Adds too much flour. Has to add more water. Pretty soon he has himself a helluva lot of batter. He finally finds that balance between two equally important ingredients.

That normally may be my take on primary and secondary characters, but today I have no balance. I thought I was here to introduce you to one of my most memorable secondary characters, Geoff Hayes, from my title CoverBoys & Curses

In his inimitable style, and flair for commanding center stage, Geoff is screaming in to my ear. Or head. Or something like that. I’m used to him. He won’t give up. It’s time I turn this entire post over to him.

Finally! My name is Geoff. Kindly remember it is two syllables. Gee-off. My close friends often give me a title I adore. Queen Geoff. Maybe at the end of this condensed snapshot memoir, you’ll be my close friend. Hell. Just call me Queen Geoff, if you like.
Lauren Visconti gave me my dream job as IT Director for her travel magazine. Imagine my surprise when she told me she had sold it, and wanted me to move to L.A. with her to launch her new rag, CoverBoy. Imagine my bigger surprise when she told me I would continue on as her IT guy, and also model for the cover of her premiere issue.
This is something I could not refuse.
Her formula is an instant success. Something unheard of in magazines these days. Lauren ran photos of almost naked men juxtaposed to in-your-face investigative reporting articles. Toledo’s exploding sex-slave industry. The practice of re-virgination. And of course, the almighty. Evidence of continuing child sexual abuse within the Catholic church. Lauren names names.
I work hard and I party hard. I’m handsome and athletic, smart and well-off financially, and I’m a tad flamboyant-flame and true to my game. Oh, and I’m not modest. WYSIWYG.


 I’m the one that has to break the bad news to Lauren. I take her out to the Santa Monica Pier, and the famed carousel. I sit her down on the chariot bench next to me, and we talk as the horses fly through the air in tandem with the tin-sounding music.
An Afghanistan woman, a rebel doctor we published a personality-profile on, had been murdered in our city of angels. The murder is what they call overkill. It means it’s personal.
It’s only the beginning.
While some may not take my persona, inside and out, seriously, I will fight, defend, and protect my loved ones like any other Superwoman.

CoverBoys & Curses is available as an eBook and will be in trade paperback August 16, 2013.

Look for Evil Cries this summer, and Kiss and Kill this fall.

And yes, Geoff, I will bring you back in a future title!

Thank you, Neil, for hearing us both out!