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Monday, June 25 2012

I'm currently reading Plum Spooky, a "Between the Numbers" book, by Janet Evanovich. As with the other Stephanie Plum books, the writing is fun and frothy, and Stephanie's already landed herself in a mess. But I noticed an interesting feature as I read through the chapters. Other than the addition of Diesel, there's really no way to tell where this book falls in line in the series. I recently reread Four to Score, and in both books, Stephanie eats dinner at her parents' house (six o'clock sharp!) with her grandmother making wisecracks and her father silently looking at his plate, Lula is still an ex-prostitute with a lot of swagger, and Stephanie is still conflicted on where her relationship with Morelli stands.


All this familiarity made me think about the benefits of keeping the characters essentially stuck in a time warp rather than having them move forward with their lives. As mentioned, Plum Spooky could fall anywhere in the series. There are no identifying marks, other than maybe what car she's driving, to help me determine if this is the second book or the fifteenth book.


And that holds a certain appeal. I hate that feeling of being lost when I read a later book from a series where the character has experienced a life-changing event, like getting married, getting divorced, or suffering the loss of another character. I have to wonder how much I've missed, how many books back I need to go to find out what happened. Of course, then when I go back to the earlier book, there's a lack of suspense because I already know the outcome. I don't get that lost feeling when I read a Stephanie Plum book because the characters are essentially in the same place. It reminds me of Seinfeld, where you could watch any episode and still enjoy it in its entirety because the overall lives of the characters never changed, except for an occasional storyline like when George was engaged to Susan.


This standalone quality gives Evanovich the opportunity to focus specifically on each main plotline of her books, filling the story with madcap fun and hilarious situations. She doesn't need to worry about what a character learned in the previous book and how it has changed their worldview and behavior. It allows for a certain freedom.


On the other hand, that leads to the question of whether or not a character needs to grow in a series. I was recently reading an online thread where an author asked what bugs people about cozy mysteries, and one person commented that they couldn't stand when characters never learned anything or grew as a person. For my own series, I try to have Dana deal with personal issues in each book, from her relationship with her mom to the one with her sister and, in this third book I'm working on, her boyfriend. But I always wonder how much I should have Dana move forward.


I'd love to writes lots of books for the Blossom Valley Mysteries series, but that makes me wonder how fast her relationships, especially the one with her boyfriend, need to move. At some point, would they need to get married? The entire dynamic of the relationship would change with such a move. But how long can I string the characters along? Like Stephanie Plum, Hannah Schwartz from the Joanna Fluke series has managed to date two men on and off without picking one over the other for several books now, but that's a tricky business and one that could potentially alienate readers if they get frustrated.


For now, I think I'll keep inching along with the relationships and see where they go. Maybe Dana and Jason aren't ultimately meant for each other. Maybe they'll break up and Dana will find someone new in a future book. Only time will tell, but Dana's life will continue to progress in each book, even if only by a little.


What do you think? Is it okay to keep characters the same in every book, or do they need to move on with their lives?

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 09:53 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, June 18 2012

Another school year has ended, which means it's time for another family vacation. This year, we drove the kids for hours and hours and hours and hours (no really, it was hours) to Legoland. My oldest loves all things Lego, especially his Star Wars sets, although I don't know if my husband or my son was more enthralled with the Star Wars displays at the park. We got at least two pictures of every character as they stood gaping at every movie scene replica.


Some of the sets even included buttons that would either move people and machinery or create those famous Star Wars sounds. After two full days, we still didn't manage to hit all the rides, but we did squeeze in a trip to the aquarium, which included some great underwater Lego displays.


On the third day, we drove down to the USS Midway for a tour. If a company ever needs to determine how safe a ship is, they should hire a six-year-old and a two-year-old to test it out. These kids must have touched ever knob, crank, and wheel on the aircraft carrier. I just had to remind myself they weren't the first kids to try and open every off-limits door, and they certainly wouldn't be the last. In the end, they managed to earn their flight wings without getting us booted from the place.

Just like last year when we drove to Disneyland, I managed to get almost no work done. I was sure I'd do better this year and not fall into that trap of getting distracted by every cow and sign out the car window. I managed to write my blog for the LadyKillers site before we'd even hit Fresno, but then my progress came to a screeching halt. I played with the GPS device, passed the kids snacks, and fiddled with the radio. I did everything but write.

Once we got to San Diego, I didn't get any better. Between relaxing after all the hustle and bustle of the day and trying to convince my kids it was really, truly time for bed, I barely had enough energy to watch TV, let alone concentrate on writing.

But I've decided that's a good thing. I managed to take a few days off and not think about writing at all. Now that I'm back, I'm feeling recharged and refreshed, ready to write even more. Maybe I should take a vacation every month. That sounds like a plan worth pursuing.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 10:49 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, June 04 2012

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I noticed that our grill was very sick. It still lit up right away and cooked the food evenly, but the bottom of the grill was burning away, turning into a pile of ash and charred metal bits. I didn't even want to know what that was doing to our food. We decided to put the poor thing out of its misery and went to our local hardware store and bought a new one.


The next morning, my husband immediately went out to the garage to assemble the new grill. There was some cussing, some sweating, and even a couple of trips back to the store to see the floor model and talk to the employees. Seven hours later, the grill was finished in all its shining glory, and my husband declared that after all that work, we would never eat inside again, at least not until summer is over.


Since then, we've had salmon, burgers, chicken, shrimp, and steak, but not all at the same time, of course. The thing I like about grilling is that the finished dish is packed with flavor, but I haven't added a lot of extra butter or oil. It's a very easy way to prepare foods in a healthy manner (if you skip the part where we occasionally eat hot dogs).

To make an even healthier meal, I decided to try a salad recipe that I'd seen in Eating Well magazine. The recipe grabbed my attention because all the components of the dish are cooked on the grill. After grumbling that vegetables had no place on a grill and would ruin his manly, meaty barbecue, my husband finally agreed to give the recipe a try.


First up, he charred a head of romaine lettuce that I'd cut into quarters and two bunches of green onions. Next came the chicken breast, tomatoes, and corn on the cob. Once the tomatoes were roasted, I pureed them with some red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and paprika to make the salad dressing. Everything else got cut up and tossed together, then I sprinkled feta cheese and toasted pine nuts on top of the finished salad.


In the end, my husband agreed that the salad was pretty darn tasty. He even agreed to cook more vegetables on the grill sometime in the future. I may just hold him to that.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 10:52 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email