How to Develop an Enduring Series Character

 Bethany House, CBA, Kit Shannon, Los Angeles, The Trials of Kit Shannon  Comments Off on How to Develop an Enduring Series Character
Mar 252012

James Scott Bell

Today, through the wonder of digital publishing, Iam announcing the re-birth of my first series character. City of Angels, Book 1 in the Trials of Kit Shannon series, is nowavailable for an introductory price of $2.99 on both Kindle and Nook.

Let me give you the background.

I was writing stand alone legal thrillers for theCBA (Christian Booksellers Association) market, and was trying to think of aseries idea. I noticed (it’s not hard to notice!) that the majority of readersin this market are women (even more than in the ABA market), and that the mostpopular genre of the time was “prairie romance.” This genre was set in the1800s (think Little House on the Prairie).The usual lead character was a young woman of marriageable age, pluckily usingher faith and grit to overcome challenges and find true love.
As I pondered that, it seemed to me that genre couldmove forward, historically speaking. One slice of history that has not beengiven its due is the story of my own home town, Los Angeles. It’s a great, richtapestry, fascinating and colorful. Especially when it comes to courtrooms andthe law.
So I came up with this concept: a young womancomes to turn-of-the-century Los Angeles with a determination to practice law. Itwas a perfect historical moment, rife with conflict, because at that time womenwere barely getting into the legalprofession. There was a lot of male resistance to the idea. And Los Angeles in1903 had all sorts of fascinating cross currents. It was moving from western boomlet toward urbanadolescence. There was high society and low criminality. It was then (and stillis) a city for dreamers and charlatans alike.
My idea, then, was to follow this young woman fromher arrival in L.A. through the growing pains of the city. This would mirrorher own growth and quest to practice law. I would include real, historicalfigures in the plots (e.g., William Randolph Hearst, Earl Rogers, TeddyRoosevelt, Houdini, John Barrymore).

Those are two key components for an enduring series character: setting and vocation. You need to know the nooks and crannies of your setting so it can take on the feeling of being another character in the story. And readers love to see authentic details about a character’s work life.

Research, friends.  
I began to picture this woman in my mind. I wantedher to be of Irish descent, so she had some fire in her. I wanted her to haveauburn hair and green eyes. And I wanted to name her Kit Shannon.
When I could see and hear Kit,that’s when I really started getting juiced about the project. Which is another secret of an enduring series character: you, the author, have to be truly anddeeply excited about her. You ought to be thinking about her even when you’re not writing. She must be someone you  haveto write about. If she’s not, that lack of zest will be evident in yourpages.
So I created a proposal and pitched it to aneditor I knew who worked at the leading publisher of prairie romances, BethanyHouse.
Well, they liked the concept. But they saw achallenge. I was a male author entering a primarily female genre. So they askedme if I would consider co-writing the series with one of their popular femaleauthors. She could, they explained, help me develop a voice for the genre andalso introduce me to a good-sized readership.
I was a bit skeptical, but they offered to fly meand the other author to their home offices for a meet-and-see.
Which is how I met the wonderful, marvelous,humorous, generous Tracie Peterson. We hit it off immediately, and I mean rightfrom the get-go. We signed a three book contract and off we went.
Tracie and I worked exceedingly well together. Webrainstormed plot ideas, then I wrote a “lean” first draft. Tracie added her“layers,” a lot of which were descriptions of the era’s dress and etiquette, and more generally awoman’s point of view and voice. I then did a final going over the manuscript,cleared up any questions, and submitted to our editor. (What was nice was, bythe time the third book came out, I’d gotten the hang of the voice myself. Sowhen it came time to contract for another three books, Tracie handed the seriesover to me to do on my own).
When Bethany House showed me the cover art for City of Angels I was absolutelygobsmacked. Because the model looked exactlythe way I’d pictured her.

And when Cityof Angels came out, it hit the CBA bestseller list. Women readers told methey loved this updating of the prairie romance heroine. Which is another secretof an enduring series character: make them fresh. Give them some nuance ortrait or drive that is original, not just a repeat of what we’ve seen before. 
I did make new readers from City of Angels, including among theyounger set. In fact, Tracie and I got several letters from high school age girls whosaid Kit Shannon was inspiring to them. One wrote that the book helped her “notto be afraid of what others think if I’m sure of my calling.” Another wrotethat Kit inspired her to pursue a dream of going to law school. 
Which is why it is now my pleasure to re-introduce Kit Shannon to a new generation of readers. I hope to have the entire series out by the end of the year:

The courtrooms of 1903 Los Angeles are a man’sworld––until Kit Shannon arrives
With shoulders squared and dreams set high,Kit Shannon arrives in Los Angeles feeling a special calling to the law. Yetunder the care of her socialite aunt, Kit quickly comes to realize that fewunderstand her burning desire to seek justice and practice a profession known onlyto men. When her aunt adamantly refuses to support her unconventional careeraspirations, Kit questions whether she is truly following God’s will. And whenher growing love for a man pledged to another threatens scandal, Kit knows herdays might be numbered in Los Angeles.
A chance meeting with Earl Rogers, thecity’s most prominent criminal lawyer, garners Kit an apprentice position. Andwork on a notorious murder case. Someone has been killing prostitutes in LosAngeles, but Kit is certain it is not Rogers’ client. Determined to find thetruth, Kit runs full on into forces that want to stop her, forces that stretchall the way to the citadels of power in the City of Angels.
“…a great story, historical fiction pluslegal thriller in the style of John Grisham.” –
City ofAngels is a full length (90,000 word) novel at the launch price of $2.99.