I’m delighted to be welcoming Chad Sanborn onto Linda’s Book Bag today to explain how he has created his character Billy Keene from All Debts, Public and Private. All Debts, Public and Private is available in e-book from Amazon UK and Amazon US.
All Debts, Public and Private
Billy Keene, a one-time high school sports hero, is now playing sheriff thanks to the small town power brokers who leveraged his local celebrity to set him up with the badge.
Billy knows he’s just a placeholder in the job. So does everyone else, including his undisciplined deputies.
When a young woman goes missing, everyone in town is telling their green sheriff how to do his job…or not telling him anything at all.
One person not saying much—the missing young woman’s newly-rich grandmother, Arlita Hardy. She has the means to resolve the situation outside the law.
Then there’s Horace Self, one of those town power brokers. As usual, he’s talking way too much. But he might not be as distraught – or innocent – as he puts on.
Time’s running out, Billy’s scrambling to find the missing young woman and her kidnappers are getting more brutal with each passing day. As Billy digs for the truth, he’ll come to question both his place in the town where he grew up and the people he thought he knew.
No Experience Required
A Guest Post by Chad Sanborn
How much does experience count for?
Not a lot, it turns out. At least, that’s what I decided when creating my main character in the Billy Keene Stories.
When you set out to create a series, the first challenge smacks you right in the face: You better conjure a main character with staying power.
Read enough series fiction of any genre and, generally speaking, you’ll come to recognize these Big Three requirements for the main character of a successful series:
– Your main character better be someone that readers want to spend time with. Readers don’t necessarily have to like the character – though it helps – but they do have to be engaged to the point that they want to hang around to see what happens next.
– Your character better be interesting enough that readers will want to come back again and again. In real life we call those kinds of people friends, and they’re rare and precious. So imagine how daunting it can be (if you let it) to make up one?
– Your character better be someone you really friggin’ like too. The two of you are going to be spending a lot of time together in your head. There’s enough boring people in the real world; no author needs them ratting around in his or her brain too.
A Nifty Trick
Up to the point of creating the Billy Keene Stories, I’d only written standalone crime novels and stories. Most all were written from the criminal’s point of view. The characters were likable to some degree, certainly engaging and interesting enough to drive a story.
Still, in those stories I knew my protagonist could turn unlikable without fear of ruining a long-term relationship between the character and the reader. Once the story ended, the character went away and there was no need for them to ever bother readers again. A literary one-night stand, if you will.
But protagonists in crime/detective series usually are some variation of the Master Detective or Mast Criminal. They’re unchanging for the most part and therein lies their appeal. They’re familiar, so readers know what to expect. The character never lets the readers down because if they do, readers simply don’t pick up the next book in the series.
Billy Keene would be coming back again and again, but I knew I wanted something more than a static character. Otherwise I’d get sick of him even before readers did.
The most interesting people change, and I wanted to create a character who could grow too. (Cue high-pitched Pinocchio voice: “I’m a real boy!”)
That’s the nifty trick I was looking to pull off: Creating a repeatable character — with rock-solid traits, beliefs and quirks that become as familiar to readers as an old friend’s habits — yet give my character enough room to evolve over the course of the series.
It’s Not Easy Being Green
I started by making Billy Keene green at his job and in life. Billy’s inexperience on the job – mixed with naiveté about the people he’s known all his life and they way they treat him now that he’s The Law – gives him a vulnerability readers can recognize, even empathize with.
But not too vulnerable. Nobody likes a wuss. People expect strength in their main characters, even if it takes time for that strength to show itself.
Then I decided to have all that vulnerability play out against Billy’s personal strength, his humor, his cool, calm manner in the face of small-town chaos, his commitment to action once he figures out what he should do—even if he’s at first unsure what to do (yet another note of vulnerability for readers to identify with).
The Fault In Our Scars
I believe all of this together makes Billy Keene engaging and familiar character from book to book, yet one who over the course of the series comes to understand the role that the people need him, as their sheriff, to play in their community
My hope is that readers want to see what happens next, both in the individual stories and to Billy as he matures from book to book.
Because Billy’s not a grizzled veteran who’s seen it all, done it all and bearing the scars to prove it, the reader gets to go through the experiences too, earning those scars along with Billy.
Ideally, when the reader picks up the next book in the series, they’re greeted by the familiar Billy they know and (hopefully) love, but also recognize that he’s lost some innocence—because they were there when the innocence was slowly, painfully stripped away from him in the previous books.
Who knows, Billy may end up a grizzled old veteran. We’ll see what happened when we get there. The only promise I can make right now—I plan to put that poor bastard through some twisted situations.
And anybody who comes along for ride will be right there with Billy.
About Chad Sandborn
Sum total of Chad: Married, father of two and a dutiful son to his mother. Everything else is window dressing.