The birth of a new book is always exciting. It never gets old. Officially released September 27th, Reckoning for the Dead (HarperCollins) is book #4 in my Sweet Justice series. My novels have the feel of being ripped from today’s headlines because real crime inspires me. With an international setting, my Sweet Justice thriller series focuses on a covert vigilante organization called The Sentinels that wields their brand of justice on a global scale, without the hindrance of jurisdictions or courts of law.
With a starring role, Jessica Beckett is a former bounty hunter from Chicago with mad skills in outsmarting fugitives on the run. She has a no frills, tenacious pit bull personality, with a Colt Python and a dark past that never stops punishing her. International operative, Alexa Marlowe, is the polar opposite. Living in New York City, she’s sophisticated and into high fashion. She’s well-traveled and loves the good life and pampering, yet she can be fearless when it comes to leading the men in her tactical unit through the fiercest of hostage rescue scenarios on foreign soil. These women give Lady Justice a whole new reason to wear blinders and their brand of justice is anything but sweet.
In Reckoning for the Dead, Jessie and Alexa’s worlds become embroiled in upheavals stirred from their shadowy pasts. For Alexa, her former lover and Sentinel’s chief, Garrett Wheeler, is reported dead, killed in a mysterious covert op that’s “off book.” When a new leader suddenly assumes control of the elite vigilante organization overnight—a man Alexa can’t afford to trust—she isn’t buying anything he tells her. In search of Garrett and the truth, she goes rogue and off the grid, following a deadly trail that leads into Mexico, behind the fortress walls of a murderous drug cartel boss. Alone, Alexa has no one to watch her back, not even her new partner, Jessie.
Ex-bounty hunter, Jessie Beckett, has troubles of her own. When her DNA turns up as evidence in a gruesome murder committed when Jessie was only a child, before her life was shattered by an infamous killer, Jessie’s world is turned upside down. Solving a very cold case may hold the key to who she really is or kill the only memory she has of a woman she believes is her mother.
For Alexa and Jessie, the dead must have a reckoning.
To celebrate book #4 of Sweet justice, I wanted to share my thoughts on creating series characters with enough inspired juice to build or sustain a readership. The next time you read your favorite series book, think about the characters and why they keep you coming back for more. Below are points that helped me craft my Sweet Justice novels:
- Paint a large enough canvass. Create a world that’s big enough to allow a character to grow and surprise a reader with different plots scenarios.
- Give your main character(s) enough emotional baggage & personal conflicts that they can develop and grow from, to keep the series fresh.
- Make the plots in the series challenge your character’s weaknesses or flaws. Conflict is vital for any book.
- Tie each plot to the character’s emotional soft spots and allow the character to learn from what happens to them over the course of the series.
- Add a secondary cast of characters who add value. Make them fun, quirky, and definitely memorable, enough to bring a unique touch to your series. They are especially valuable if they add conflict or reflect on your main character’s strengths or weaknesses. If your secondary characters are effective enough, this can mean spin off potential. (A perfect example of this is Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole, LA PI series with the spin-off of Joe Pike. I can’t get enough of Elvis and Joe.)
- In any book, plant seeds for a spinoff story line whether you use them or not. If the novel takes off, you can capitalize on your germinating ideas.
- Tell the reader enough in each book about the character’s back story to entice them to read your other books, but don’t go overboard with a dump of information that will slow the pace.
- Avoid the formula. If something worked in book #1 in order to successfully launch your series, don’t repeatedly recreate it. Surprise the reader with something new, which will keep your creative juices flowing too. Don’t be so tied into your own success that you’re afraid to surprise your readers.
- On the flip side, don’t “jump the shark” that got you there. Surprising leaps in character motivation—just to add shock value without substance or believable motivation—may stray too far from center to sustain your readership. Recognize your strengths and find new ways to hone them.
- Keep in mind that your character may have to age if the series becomes popular. Have a plan for that. Three books may wind up as twenty+.
- Don’t be afraid to dig deep inside yourself to fuel the motives or experiences of your character(s). Making them real is vital in order for a reader to connect with them, especially over a series.
These are points I found useful in writing my Sweet Justice thriller series for HarperCollins. Now that I’ve stretched into the Young Adult genre with Harlequin Teen, I’m learning more about story and character arc development. For more author craft resources, check out my website, my For Writers page.
HarperCollins launched Jordan Dane’s thriller novels back to back in 2008 after the 3-book series sold in auction. Ripped from the headlines, Jordan’s gritty plots weave a tapestry of vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense thrillers to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag. This national best selling, critically acclaimed author’s debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM was named Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2008. Dane’s first Young Adult book is IN THE ARMS OF STONE ANGELS (Apr 2011, Harlequin Teen) with ON A DARK WING set for January 2012. Formerly an energy sales manager, she now writes full time. Jordan and her husband share their San Antonio residence with two cats of highborn lineage and two very lucky rescue dogs.