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Friday, May 5, 2017


Judith Mehl writes upbeat traditional mysteries with cozy twists and suspenseful turns. After a journalism career, she parlayed her writing experience and handwriting analysis expertise into the Kat Everitt handwriting analysis series. Her new herbal sleuth series beginning with Fountain of Death, features the  protagonist Lizzie Ort. Learn more about Judy and her books at her website. 

Scene Stealers
Have you discovered characters that leap off the pages of books and grab their own fans? It happened to me, and it wasn’t my protagonist. Lizzie and her sister Delia were supporting characters in the third book of my handwriting analysis mystery, Murder Most Floral. Fans fell in love with the elderly duo and they caught my attention, too. Lizzie became the protagonist in my latest book, Fountain of Death, a new mystery series. Her sidekick—sister Delia.

They exemplify scene stealers that morph into other roles. But corralling a whole new series and making it their own? Where did that come from? I discovered they fit into the world of literary spin-offs, where favorite characters were often resurrected from the tombs of stories gone dead.

Supporting characters that take on a life of their own because readers found them so intriguing, abound in literature, movies, and TV. Thus, we have reimagined classics—books that were so loved that they were retold in many ways, were also called retellings, continuation literature, and modern day twists.

Reimagined classics thrive in movies with one of the earliest appearing in 1941. Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, from the comedy show Fiber McGee and Molly, moved into his own program, The Great Throckmorton.

In books, there is the Gothic retelling of Jane Eyre, the original by English writer Charlotte Brontë in 1847. The retelling was Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye in 2016. And don’t forget dozens of rewrites of famous novels like Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. Plus, there was the continuation literature with Old Friends and New Fancies in 1913 by Sybil G. Brinton, the first sequel to Jane Austen's novels, one of many offshoots.

Where does my dear character, Lizzie Ort fit? She is an 82-year-odd enigma, an octogenarian whose concealed expertise leaks out as she attempts to solve her friend’s problems.

Her herbal sleuth mysteries are certainly not a continuation or a retelling of my first series, the handwriting mystery series starring Kat Everitt. She’s her own woman, with her own supporting character, sister Delia, and definitely, her own problems.

Was Lizzie’s book, Fountain of Death, continuation literature? Well, she does carry the love of herbs and their medicinal uses into the new series, becoming somewhat of an herbal sleuth with a bang. But her world was rich with new characters, settings and motives. So not a continuation. She happily settled for the term spin-off and moved on.

Examples of modern day outgrowths include TV programs like All in the Family, rated one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, followed by Archie Bunker’s Place a continuation of the original show after it ended. Sally Struthers returned as Archie's daughter, Gloria, in a spin-off of a show in her name.

Eventual spinoffs from Archie’s world included The Ropers, with Three’s Company, another American sitcom, and Three’s a Crowd, considered a spin-off and a continuation.

The science fiction genre was a natural for offspring books with its extensive world building. Orson Scott Card’s short story, Enders Game, became a full novel of the same name, followed by numerous sequels. Card transplants characters from one novel to another, as in Speaker for the Dead with the Hive Queen, from the earlier book, Ender’s Game.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., not satisfied with the original version of Timequake, re-conceived it by combing it with personal thoughts, and produced the so-called Timequake Two, most often referred to as only Timequake.

This all leads us to believe that authors should work to craft good characters. If as writers we spend time and energy on characters, readers will tune in and become inspired by these characters so much so that they develop a fan base of their own. Those characters may lead to a whole new story line.

What do our readers think? Who are your favorite scene stealers in contemporary literature?

Fountain of Death
A fountain of youth discovery leads to murder at a Florida herbal conference. There’s no shortage of suspects, including Lizzie Ort, who springs into action to protect friends, and find justice for the victim. At the same time, she seeks redemption from the questionable activity of her past life. With wit, and mumblings to God and herself, Lizzie pursues leads, follows her instincts, and hunts the murderer.

Did the killer steal the victim’s controversial formula for a telomere lengthener—that elusive herbal solution to old age? Was it one of the hundreds of conference exhibitors, or attendees . . . or someone else?

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Ellen Byron said...

Great topic! I created a best friend as an ear for my protagonist Maggie Crozat in my Cajun Country Mystery series, but her grand-mere became such a fun character to write that she supplanted the others. And I even recently imagined a spin-off series where Gran's the protagonist.

My day job is writing for television, and this happens all the time. We call them "breakout" characters. Currently case in point - Sheldon on THE BIG BANG THEORY. His character totally broke out, and there's a spinoff for next season called YOUNG SHELDON, which focuses on his childhood in Texas. Another example is the character of Mimi from THE DREW CAREY SHOW. She was only supposed to be in the pilot, but she was such a great foil for Carey that she ended up being on the show for its entire nine seasons!

Ellen Byron said...

And that should have been "current case in point." Typo.

Anonymous said...

Lizzie and Delia really did have a sparkling dynamic. I very much enjoy when multiple ages can be captured realistically. They make us reflect on our mentors an mentees.

I have read the series by Judith Mehl and she has way of making me want to know more about her characters. I also very much appreciate the realistic science but that is for another blog.

Anonymous said...

This author keeps me guessing on who the villain is until the end of the book. She effectively incorporates actual facts from her passionate hobbies of hand writing and herbs. I continually look for books that provide an adventure that entices me to want to read the next word This author effectively does this for me I am always waiting to see the next thrilling adventure and mystery.

Judith Mehl said...

Thanks for your comments. The examples you provided are right to the point. TV does seem to be the best provider of breakout characters. It is more difficult to find books that do. Good luck with your gram spin-off.

J Mehl said...

I'd like to thank anonymous for the kind comments. The phrase "sparkling dynamic" is a good one for Lizzie and Delia. It is always good to hear from fans.

Kate Smith said...

Fountain of Death is fantastic! I loved that I got to know Lizzie and Delia better in this new series. They are quite the pair! I will always connect strongly with Kat Everitt, but these two crack me up!

J Mehl said...

That you feel so strongly about my characters makes me feel I succeeded as an author. Thank you so much.

Angela Adams said...

Cool book title!

J Mehl said...

Thank you. I really worked on that title. It not only had to fit the book, which I think it does admirably, but it needed to blend with future books in the series. I also wanted to stay away from the word, "Murder" which is consistent in my other series, the Kat Everitt handwriting series.

Anonymous said...

I like the concept of characters from one story finding their own story line in subsequent novels. I think expanding characters' stories in other novels allows more readers to jump into novels at different points and have different experiences.

J Mehl said...

I love your comment. And I hadn't thought of how it would generate more readers by allowing them to jump into novels and different points. Thanks for the concept.

Mary said...

Loved this book. Cannot wait to see what the sisters will be up to next.

J Mehl said...

Thank you for having me as a guest on your fantastic and active blog. Much thanks, also, to those who participated.


You're very welcome!

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed all your books. Can't wait for the next one. Can you write faster? Kathy