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."
"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."
"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.
EXCERPT FROM Vain
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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