I’ll be spilling a few more details about the new book as we get closer to the release date. Today, I’m going to tell you a bit about my heroine, Lexie Lincoln. She’s probably my most autobiographical character so far, and yet that wasn’t really my intention. It was just that I had to make a lot of decisions about what she was like, and for mostly plot purposes I chose a lot of things that happened to be similar to me or were from my life. She’s kind of like if you took a few of my traits and put them together in another person who also has some other traits.
For instance, her profession. Lexie is a reporter. I went to journalism school and have worked in print, radio, and TV news. My degree is actually in broadcast news, but I’ve worked more in print. I worked on the school newspaper in high school, which also meant doing some work with our town’s weekly newspaper. In college, I spent a semester reporting for The Daily Texan, and I spent a summer working for a weekly entertainment newspaper. My first job out of college was as assistant editor, and later editor, of the monthly campus newspaper at an academic medical center. In my initial plan for a mystery series, the newcomer to town who ended up solving mysteries was going to be a doctor, in a “Northern Exposure” kind of situation, in which she got a scholarship to med school in exchange for working a certain number of years in this small town, first as an apprentice to the town doctor and later taking over his practice. Because it’s a small town, the local doctor also serves as a medical examiner.
But as I thought about it, I figured she would be way too limited in what she’d do, since if she ever worked as medical examiner she might have to keep things official. I didn’t want every case to be a murder mystery. Plus, that would have required a lot more research to be at all accurate. I have some medical background from working at a medical center, but I don’t know the nuts and bolts of a small-town medical practice, and from what I’ve seen, a small-town doctor wouldn’t have time to solve mysteries, especially not if she’s also serving as a medical examiner. And I didn’t want to have to get into the gory details of death that would come with being medical examiner. I know about autopsies and have seen one (thanks to working at the medical center), but it’s not something I want to delve into. So, I thought, why not go with something I know a lot more about, someone who would have an excuse to do unofficial investigations, and make her a reporter?
Then I was wrestling with whether to make her a city girl coming to a small town or to have her be originally from a small town and finding herself back in that kind of environment. I could see pluses and minuses to both approaches, but then I thought of something else — why not make her a military brat, someone who doesn’t really have a hometown? Again, that’s something from my own background I was stealing, though my dad was in the army and Lexie’s dad was in the air force. The military life is in a weird twilight zone between small town and big city. There’s a degree of sophistication that comes with it because you move around a lot, experience a lot of different cultures, and deal with a variety of people. You get good at adapting and fitting in, and you’re always meeting new people. A small town can get pretty insular, and people who went to school with the same people from kindergarten through high school are the polar opposite of a military brat. At the same time, a military base can function a lot like a small town. Everyone’s parents work for the same employer, and if a kid gets in trouble, it will get back to the parents. The community is very tight-knit. You form these instant bonds with your neighbors, who become like family — until they move and you start over with the next people. I thought that background would be interesting for my heroine who moves to this town to take over the newspaper. She’s never had a hometown, so this is a novel experience to her, something she longs for but that also makes her a bit itchy. She fits in easily, but also feels like an outsider.
She’s also a tea drinker, like I am. That just sort of appeared as I was writing. There was a scene in the town’s diner, and I needed to give her a bit of business to give her a reason to interact with the waitress and we would get to see her around someone other than the cop. A scene about her trying to get hot tea in a diner in a small Texas town popped into my head (because that can be an epic ordeal), and thus she was a tea drinker. That fit in with her being an air force brat, because air force is more likely to have been stationed in England, and she might have picked up the habit then. I do sometimes carry my own tea bags, as Lexie does, but mine aren’t anything special, and I don’t think I’ve ever actually ordered boiling water in a diner so I could make my own tea (I did once resort to asking for iced tea, no ice, in a mug, and microwave it). I just usually have mine for situations like coffee breaks at conferences. I suppose there’s also some research avoidance involved because I don’t drink coffee and don’t know how to make it or what’s supposed to be good, so it’s a lot harder for me to have a character with a coffee-related quirk. Katie drinks coffee in the Enchanted, Inc. books, but you may notice that I never get into much detail about it or describe her making it.
Really, those are about the only traits I stole from myself. I’m not nearly as brave as she is. I’d probably let the police handle things rather than wanting to do my own investigation of something like a murder case. I wasn’t a very good reporter. I’m a good writer, but I hate making phone calls and asking people personal questions, so I was miserable while I was reporting. It wasn’t so bad in TV when I could just show up at an event with a camera, and people usually wanted to talk, but working on a newspaper requires making a lot of phone calls. I probably should have thought about that when choosing a career path because I’ve always had a phobia about making phone calls.
But there are other things about her that are different from me. One of her other quirks, aside from the tea, is that she’s addicted to Hallmark movies (though in the books I generally just refer to them as “cheesy cable romances,” or something to that effect). That’s her release valve from her high-pressure job. After a day spent covering mostly bad news, she likes to escape to those idyllic small towns and their seasonal festivals. When she finds this town, she feels like she’s stumbled into one of these movies, and she can’t help but see things through that lens. While I like romantic comedies, I’ve generally only watched Hallmark movies ironically so I can snark at them. I find them a bit too bland and trite for my taste. They’re frustrating because they sometimes have great casts, and they have lovely settings, but the scripts are weak, and it wouldn’t take much to fix them up a bit. I’ve read that they actually force them to be that bland. Anyway, that’s one area where I differ from my heroine because she loves these unironically. Maybe if I had her kind of job and hadn’t actually lived in a small town, I might see things the way she does.
So, that’s my heroine, a Hallmark-watching, tea-drinking air force brat who became a reporter. Which is totally different from me, a PBS-watching, tea-drinking army brat who became a reporter before becoming an author.
Next, I’ll tell you a little about the small town Lexie finds herself in.