Those Chinese characters in the picture next to this post are two-dimensional. My mystery novel characters, on the other hand, must be totally fleshed out and vibrantly alive. Because they’re not just characters, they’re my new best friends.

They say to write what you know, and I will admit that many of my characters have their looks or personalities loosely based on people I’ve run into over the past five decades. None of them are the real deal, of course, I just borrow interesting looks, or jobs, or cars, or maybe even speech patterns, and toss them all together in a fun new way.

I was half way through writing the first draft of book one in this series when I suddenly realized the sheriff had a wife with Alzheimer’s who was living in a nursing home, that Walter had gotten retired and divorced in the same year, and that Jimmy was gay and had a penchant for science fiction.

Part of the magic comes from these kinds of revelations. And by listening to my inner voice, and giving free rein to my characters, they do most of the work themselves. My job is to make sure they stay true to who they are, not only throughout one book, but from book to book throughout the series.

And naturally, I have my favorites, but I try not to be blatantly partial to them. I try to make sure the good lines are evenly distributed, and that one character doesn’t totally outshine all the others. Even if she does happen to be smarter, wittier, more intuitive, and downright cute.