Let’s Talk with Terry Odell

Character Interview: Frankie Castor and Molly

By Terry Odell

The most important facet of any book for me, whether I’m reading or writing, is characterization. Without characters the reader loves, everything else is secondary. So, how do I find the characters for my books? I advertise, of course! Here’s how I found Frankie, the heroine of When Danger Calls.

Meet Frankie Castor … and Molly.

“Yes?” I say when my secretary calls. I have a break between appointments, and I’m trying to refine some of my yet-to-be-discovered heroine’s goals, motivations and conflicts.

“We might have a problem with the next applicant,” she says.

I consult my list. Frances Marie Castor. Four o’clock. So far, all I’ve seen are women who look like they’re applying for a job at a strip club, not an action-adventure romance heroine. True, there are a few scenes where the heroine will have to play a cocktail waitress, but that’s not what I’m looking for. “What kind of problem?”

“Her sitter can’t make it, and she can’t find anyone to take care of her daughter.”

“How old is the daughter?” I ask.

After a moment, my secretary returns to the line. “She’s almost five.”

I wonder. Would it asking too much that I might be able to cast both roles at once? “Tell her to bring her daughter along.”

Promptly at four, my secretary informs me Ms. Castor and her daughter have arrived. “Show them in,” I say. Giving a silent prayer that this will be my final interview, I flip to a clean sheet of my notepad and turn my attention to the door.

When it opens, my secretary leads the candidate in. She gives me a look that says, “Am I supposed to entertain the kid?”

I give her a quick head shake. “Please come in, Ms. Castor.” Outwardly, she’s got promise. Honey-blonde, with clear, blue eyes. Minimal makeup, and a few strands of hair escaped from her ponytail. She’s wearing khakis and a beige-and blue striped polo. Definitely not the stripper type. Girl next door all the way. My hopes lift a little higher. My gaze lowers to the child who’s hanging back, clutching a backpack to her chest like a shield. Strawberry blonde, slight. Not exactly the image I had. For tension and conflict, I was looking for someone who resembled the Hispanic youngster Ryan Harper had failed to rescue before the book started.

Frances hesitates. “I’m sorry for the … inconvenience, and I really appreciate you seeing me today. This is Molly.” I detect a quick nudge to the child, who lifts her head and gives me a polite smile, still keeping her eyes downcast. “Hello.”

“Molly knows this is grownup time. She’ll sit and read, or color. And will be very quiet.” Another nudge.

I get up, circle my desk, and crouch to Molly’s level. “Hi, Molly. Do you like to read?”

She nods.

“Well, I love to read, and I love to write stories, too. What’s your favorite book?”

She meets my gaze with a smile, and her cobalt-blue eyes are irresistible. I’m already revising Molly’s character description from a brown-eyed, dark-haired child to a blue-eyed strawberry blonde. Writing is all about the rewrites, after all.

“Green Eggs and Ham,” she says. “I have it in my pack. I can read it to Mr. Snuggles all by myself.”

“Very good,” I say. I settle her on the love seat against the wall. “You can read here while I talk to your mommy.”

Molly unzips her pack and takes out a well-worn copy of the Seuss classic. Next comes a well-worn, once-white stuffed dog, which she places on her lap. Mr. Snuggles, I presume. I make another mental note. As soon as she opens the book, she’s reciting the familiar rhymes in soft tones.

I haven’t mentioned the role of a child, and I don’t say anything yet. Casting children is a headache. I prefer to see them in their natural state, not performing, but it’s almost impossible. Today is a rare exception.

“Please sit down, Ms. Castor.” I direct her to one of my client chairs. “Or should I call you Frances.”

“Call me Frankie,” she says. “Only my mom calls me Frances, and then it’s usually Frances Marie Castor, which means I’m in trouble.” She sits. “Excuse my appearance. I had to come straight from work—I teach elementary school art—and I didn’t have time to change. We’ve been working on collages.”

As she sits, I get a brief whiff of Elmer’s glue. Much nicer than the cloying scents I’ve been exposed to all day. “Tell me why you applied for this job.”

She takes a breath. “Bottom line? The money.”

Honest, straightforward. I jot a note. “You mentioned you have a job. Teaching.”

“I’m only a sub while the regular teacher’s on maternity leave. I had to move from Boston because my mother fell and broke her wrist, and my sister’s husband got a great job, but it was in London, and they moved, and there was nobody to stay with Mom, so Molly and I moved out here and things are tight.” She glanced at Molly, then gave me a quick grin. “Sorry. I … um … tend to babble when I’m nervous.”

“There’s no need to be nervous. Tell me about yourself. Your backstory, as we say in the business.”

She jumps right in. “I was born in Broken Bow, Montana. I wanted to experience the city life, couldn’t wait to get out. I wanted to be a photojournalist. Went to school in New York. Things got … complicated.” She looks at Molly again, her gaze lingering this time. She turns back to me. “I ended up working for an interior design firm in Boston, until I got the call about Mom. And I’m worried about her. She forgets things, and the budget—well, it’s in trouble, and the furnace needs to be fixed—replaced would be better—and there’s Bob, her new boyfriend, and—” She gives me another wide grin. “I’m babbling again, aren’t I?”

I smile and add some notes to my page. “Not a problem.” After making sure Molly is still engrossed in her book, I lean across my desk and lower my voice. “You do know that you’ll have to have a consummated relationship for the job. Will that be a problem?”

She, too, checks on Molly. “Do I have to be … you know … real experienced? Because I’m not looking for a man now. Not unless he’s going to put Molly first, and I’ve pretty much given up on those. I haven’t … you know … done it. Not since—” Another glance at Molly.

“I’ve found that one experienced partner is usually enough,” I say. “But it does happen on the page.”

She blushes a delightful shade of pink. “The guy isn’t going to be a brute or anything, is he? Or too … kinky?”

“No, definitely not a brute. And I don’t write erotica, so there’s a very low kink quotient.”

After a brief moment of lip-chewing thought, she says, “I think I’ll be fine with it. No, I know I’ll be fine with it. There’s always a bright side to anything, and a little romance, even pretend, seems like a definite bright side to me right about now.”

I run through the last few questions quickly, making sure she’s willing to deal with a German Shepherd, and isn’t afraid of horses or heights, before I drop the final question. “How would you feel about Molly being in the book with you?”

Her eyes pop open. “I don’t know. She’s so young. It’s an adult book, after all.”

“If she can differentiate between real and pretend, she can probably handle the job. And I’ll run any of her scenes by you first, for approval.”

“That sounds fair. But those … romance scenes?”

“Trust me, she won’t be on the page during any … romance.” With a smile, I add, “And she’ll get paid for her time. Same rate as you.”

Frankie chews her lip again. She gets up and sits beside Molly. She whispers in her ear. Molly’s eyes widen. She looks at me. “Can Mr. Snuggles be in the story too?”

“Of course,” I say. He’ll be very important.”

Molly grins. She stuffs her book in her pack and dangles Mr. Snuggles in front of her face. “We can be in a storybook. Just like Sam I Am.”

Frankie crosses back to my desk, her hand outstretched. “We’ll do it.”

I shake her hand and escort the pair to the door. “My secretary has the paperwork. We’ll start Monday, if that’s all right.”

“It’ll be fine,” Frankie says. They leave, and I tell my secretary to cancel tomorrow’s appointments and to hold all my calls. I have some writing to do.

~~~~~

Do you ever feel like a character in a book is real? Someone you’d love to meet, or run into in the checkout line at the grocery store. Let us know who in the comments.

When Danger Calls is available for free at these bookstores. Or, you can buy the boxed set of the first three Blackthorne, Inc. novels and get When Danger Calls, Where Danger Hides, and Rooted in Danger all together in one ebook here. And watch for the release of Personal Assignment, Book 9 in the series.

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While you’re here, checkout our Book Giveaway contest that runs from March 1-18. All six of our authors have contributed a prize to the vault, print and digital books, and the winner gets to select the prize of his/her choice! Here’s the LINK.

Comments

  1. A fun interview. 🙂 Definitely your characters must feel like real people to you, the writer. Otherwise, how can they feel like real people to the reader? When readers talk about books they remember fondly, it’s not the plot (usually) that they recall. It’s the folks who populate the books who stick in their psyches.

  2. The interview is a great technique for getting to know your characters. I do it with villains sometimes to get their motives and methods for the crime. As for who I feel is real? I’d like to have my heroine for my hairdresser and friend.

  3. Maggie Toussaint says:

    I love this interview and Frankie and Molly and Mr. Snuggles sound like the perfect characters for a Terry Odell book! I can’t wait to see them in action. My characters become real to me, and after writing seven Baxley Powell books I am having a hard time putting her on the back burner as I explore a new story world. I keep evaluating developments and settings in a “what would Baxley do” mindset! Fortunately, my new protag has plenty of chops so I am also switching hats to a “what would River do” platform.

    • Since most of my books are “connected” rather than series, I have a lot of characters to draw upon. Baxley strikes me as someone with a strong mind of her own.

  4. I generally hear my characters talking to me when I’m out walking. Usually, it’s me eavesdropping. I pick up different personality traits that I see (for my current WIP, her scent is from someone I sat next to on the train). Some characters are very close to the vest and don’t want me to know all their deep dark secrets, and those are the ones I invite on those walks with me. Walking is a wonderful way to have a nice conversation 😉

  5. authorlois says:

    What a unique character interview! Quite enjoyable!

    Many of my characters are based on people I’ve known or combinations of various people. The most notable is Anastasia’s communist mother-in-law from my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series. She’s based on my own, now deceased, communist mother-in-law.

  6. cherylhollon says:

    My characters feel real to me. I sometimes think of them when I’m out and about. Mostly when I see glass art in a museum, or have a great meal in a cafe or see one of the dogs in my books.