Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Burning Desire

The past is always with us.
The past comes back to haunt former police chief Daniel ‘Sticks’ Hetrick and his protégé, Officer Flora Vastine as an outbreak of arson shakes residents of rural Swatara Creek, Pennsylvania.
At first, the minor nature of the fires inclines authorities to see them as pranks, possibly the work of juveniles. Then, tension increases in the wake of a murder at the site of one fire and an increase in the value of targets.
Hetrick and Flora must confront troubling, dangerous people from the past, and errors in judgment add to their jeopardy.

A Burning Desire is the sixth in the Sticks Hetrick series. Sticks originated as a character in a short story—a story which, by the way, never found a home.

When I began work on Something In Common, first in the series, Sticks seemed right as a protagonist. Retired police chief of a small rural community but with a broader investigative background, he became unofficial consultant to his less experienced successor. As sometimes happens with such characters, he grew in my imagination and demanded a role in more books.

Like nature, readers abhor a vacuum. Change is essential, else a series will stagnate. Characters are the essence of a series and they must evolve. If they don’t, readers will soon become bored and look elsewhere for entertainment.

The Hetrick series has developed an ensemble cast and some readers have told me they view them as old friends and look forward to catching up on what’s new in their lives. I’ve expanded the original base to include some non-police characters who make regular appearances. The regulars include:

Police Chief Aaron Brubaker, a good, honest man; a family man, and a good cop. He has grown in the subsequent novels, gaining self-assurance and trying to be less reliant on Sticks. Occasionally he’s a bit jealous and harbors a suspicion Hetrick wants his old job back.

Rookie Officer Flora Vastine warranted no more than a few paragraphs in the first book.
She wasn’t a police officer then and only had a minor role in that novel. In fact, I didn’t even see her as a recurring character at the time. In Cruel Cuts I had need of both another protégé for Hetrick and a love interest for Corporal Harry Minnich. Flora, who expressed interest in a police career in the first novel, fit the requirements. She’s young and energetic. She has enthusiasm and genuinely cares about other people. Occasionally she makes mistakes and gets in trouble. All of which make her very human.

And Sticks, a widower in the beginning, is now involved in a new romance and has accepted a new job as county detective, which offers opportunity for further evolution of the series.

J. R. Lindermuth began his writing career as a journalist in the U.S. Army. Later he was a copy editor for North Asia Press in Seoul, Korea. Returning to the states, he worked on a weekly and several daily newspapers on nearly every beat and various editorial desks until retiring in 2000. Since then he has been librarian for his county historical society, assisting patrons with genealogy and research. He has published 13 novels, including six in the Sticks Hetrick series, and a non-fiction history book. His articles and short stories have appeared in numerous magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers, EPIC and the Short Mystery Society.

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  1. I enjoyed your comment about your protagonist starting his life in s short story, John! I found that happened with me too. I also found myself nodding when you talked about your ensemble cast growing and feeling like old friends to your readers. Good post.

  2. Thanks, Melodie. I believe it's a common experience to have our characters take on a 'life' of their own and start telling us what to do.

  3. Hi, John,

    Congrats on the new novel! You should definitely try sending out the short story again to publications or even offer it as a free read to encourage readers to buy your series novels.

  4. It may be time to try that. Thanks, Jacqueline.

  5. Excellent post, John. I'm so far behind with my reading, but I definitely want to read this series. Thank you for sharing a little about your characters and how the series came about.
    Marja McGraw

  6. Thanks for the support, Marja. You know exactly what you mean--so many books, so little time.

  7. John, when you said, "...grew in my imagination and demanded a role in more books." I knew exactly what you meant. When a character becomes that real, it means you did something right. I hope you and Sticks have a long and successful shelf life ahead of you. Best wishes, my friend.

  8. Characters can get pushy. Thanks for the support, Earl.

  9. I enjoyed learning about your series beginning as a short story, John. I also agree characters take on a life of their own, even branching out to other series such as NCIS and NCIS Los Angels did. Best of luck in the future.

  10. Thanks, Roxie. Flora has me working on a story in which she has the top billing. Not sure how Sticks will react to that, but he's kind of a cool guy when it comes to his proteges.

  11. I am always intrigued to hear writers speak of their process, or where a character or story springs from. It's a cosmic sort of mystery, really.

  12. Sometimes we don't even know, Brenda. Thanks for commenting.

  13. Thanks for giving me this opportunity to spout off, Patricia. Much appreciated.

    1. Totally my pleasure, John! I'm looking so forward to reading "A Burning Desire." Thanks for being my guest.