Monday, 25 January 2016

Letting a lesser character take over

Everyone who has read or written – or both – a long series knows that alongside the main characters there are lesser characters that appear every now and then, but who don’t really push the story forward. They are necessary, but they don’t require or merit much attention. They appear often enough to have names and descriptions, but they get less page time than the trusted best friends who help the main characters achieve their goals.

But occasionally these lesser characters grow larger than their original role. Maybe something interesting happens to them in the side-lines, or they show up so often that they become proper side characters. And sometimes, they grow into main characters.

That happened with a character in my Two-Natured London series. DS Adrian Moore appeared in the second book, Warrior’s Heart, and has shown up in pretty much every book since. I intended him to remain in the background. He is human in the world of vampires and wolf-shifters and his role was to reflect the differences between the one- and two-natured. He wasn’t supposed to be anything more.

But I grew to like him. He was perfect romantic hero material, handsome, strong and protective. Was I about to let that go to waste simply because he’s human and so wasn’t a proper paranormal hero? Still, I hesitated. How to write his story without turning him into a vampire or a shifter? I had used that storyline twice already in the course of the series and I wanted another approach. He needed to remain human.

As a human, he needed a human love interest too. The two-natured are near eternal in my two-natured world, and the idea of him falling in love with a woman who would greatly outlive him didn’t sit well with me. But how to write the love story of two humans so that the story would fit the spirit of a paranormal romance series?

My solution was to make her a witch. White witches haven’t appeared in the series yet, but black witches play a vital role in Warrior’s Heart and the existence of white witches is hinted at. Raven Fontaine is a special kind of witch too: she can turn into a cat, which makes her fit in the world of shape shifters. And she is completely human, and so only has the lifespan of one.

The end result is a beautiful little romance. Magic under the Witching Moon is a little shorter than other Two-Natured London books, but no less intense for it. It’s exactly the perfect size for a lesser character taking over and becoming the hero. Here’s a little sample of the book. I hope you enjoy it. The book will come out in January 28th and you can pre-order it here.

Susanna Shore: Magic under the Witching Moon

Adrian Moore stared at the two large bags that contained most of what he owned. Who knew his life would fit in such a small space? On one hand, it made things easier when he broke up with his girlfriend of four years. On the other hand, he probably should have more to show for those four years than this.

Then again, he had brought only some photos and clothes with him when he followed Nora to England, and he hadn’t really settled into their life in London during the past seven months. The apartmentor flat as they called it here — was owned by Nora’s employer, and it had come fully furnished. He hadn’t needed to buy anything.

He was a cop. What did he understand of furniture and d├ęcor anyway?

Nora had always found his lack of sophistication a bit of an embarrassment, especially when they were with their
hercultured friends. But nobody really learned to talk about Shakespeare or whatever growing up in the rougher end of Queens. Or how to dress up properly. The one brown suit he wore to work was at least five years old but he liked it. The suit that Nora had made him buy — so that he would look more the thing among the bankers and lawyers of her firm — was fine and fit him well, but he couldn’t wear it to work; he would’ve got the living crap beaten out of him for showing off. So he never did.

Nora took that as a deliberate insult. It probably was — what did he know? Yet he hadn’t taken the suit with him when he left.

In hindsight, he should have called it quits when Nora told him she was transferred to London, should have stayed in New York. But his partner of two years in the NYPD had died in a drug raid and he had needed a change. Moving to England with her had seemed like an honourable choice. It wasn’t running away, it was relocating and getting to know the British way of policing.

And there was a lot to learn, from the basics up. Firearms were only carried by a special branch here, which had been a bit of a shock to him. But he had adjusted. As he had adjusted to cases that had supernatural elements in them, like domestic disturbances with tiger-shifters, or murders by black magic. Domestic cases weren’t usually handled by Major Investigation Teams
homicide in US parlancebut his partner was special, so they got their share of those too.

His decision to join the Metropolitan Police Service was, ironically, the main reason for their breakup. Nora was ashamed of having a DS as a partner when all her colleagues dated lawyers and bankers. She had hoped he would seek more respected employment when in England. “Couldn’t they at least have made you a DI? You were a lieutenant there,” was one of her favourite gripes.

Couldn’t they at least have given you a human partner? was another.

The past few months he had spent longer hours at the station than necessary, ‘polishing up his paperwork’, and ‘familiarising himself with British law and policing customs’. More often than not, Nora hadn’t been home when he finally came there, having gone out with her more ‘posh’ friends.

The breakup had been a long time coming. They had been drifting apart even before they moved to London. These last seven months had simply been the inevitable swansong. Though it still surprised him how little it troubled him. He felt light-hearted even. Content.

Hefting the not-so-heavy bags on his shoulder, he wondered where he should head next. Despite all the signs, the final decision to move out had been a spontaneous act after a stupid, pointless fight, and he didn’t have a place to stay. With no better plan, he headed to the closest subway
tubestation. He would go to work. There was an extra bed in the back room at the station. He could stay there for a couple of nights while he figured out what to do next.

“You’re looking rumpled.”

DI Philippa Audley was studying him with a critical eye. She was a tiny, attractive woman with blond pixie-cut hair and a no-nonsense attitude. Her tailor-made suit was always perfectly pressed, and her shirt clean.

When he was first assigned to work with her, he had been sure that a woman that young and small couldn’t possibly survive long in the Serious Crime Command. He had wanted to ask for another partner; he had lost the previous one to bullets and wasn’t looking forward to losing another.

He was glad he hadn’t spoken up. Turned out she was almost a two-hundred-year-old vampire and had survived as a cop for almost a century of that, and all that without firearms. She didn’t need any. She had magic. Literally.

Not that she needed to resort to that all that often either. She might be small, but she had more than her share of gravitas. People responded to her with respect.

Coming from the States, he’d had no experience with vampires
or shifters for that matter. Of the three two-natured species, they only had sentients over there, and they were almost ordinary humans. He’d had no idea what to expect, but the learning curve had been steep and fast. Their first night together had included enraged shifters, overbearing vampires, and a murder through black magic.

By the end of their first month together, she had survived the death of her previous partner and being used as a sacrifice in a black magic ritual. He couldn’t have done that. In short order he had learned to respect her, and he was happy to work with her.

Pippa was another issue that had come between him and Nora. Nora hated her and what she represented. “Vampires … they should all be killed,” had been her most PC-rated opinion. He had his own past as a bigot and a bully, but he had grown up and over such behaviour. He had little sympathy for her opinions.

Standing before his boss now, Adrian checked his clothes. The brown suit was clean enough, but perhaps he could have changed his shirt. He brushed his chin in a self-conscious gesture and felt the stubble there. Perhaps he should have shaved better too.

“Yeah, well…”

“What’s going on? You’re usually neat like a pin, the Navy shining off you.”

“Marines, actually. And nothing important.” But Pippa gave him her well-honed death-glare he was unable to withstand. He sighed. “Nora and I broke up. I don’t have a place to stay so I’ve been crashing in the backroom for a couple of … eight … days now.” Had it really been so long already? No wonder he looked rumpled.

Pippa’s glare softened to almost sympathetic. She wasn’t one for expressing finer emotions. “I’m sorry to hear that. Are you holding up?”

“Yeah. I’m not heartbroken or any such shit. I’m more inconvenienced. The apartment belongs to her employer, so naturally I was the one who moved out. But I’ve been too busy to look for a new place.” One that he could afford. He couldn’t exactly live in Chelsea anymore on a cop’s salary, but the rest of London wasn’t cheap either.

“I have a place you can stay.”

He felt uneasy. “I don’t want any charity.”

Mary Moore’s son stood on his own two feet. Or tried to anyway, but Pippa’s death-glare returned, nearly making him quake in his pants — trousers. You got funny looks from people if you called them pants here.

He had survived the Marines and a stint in Iraq with some really nasty commanding officers, but none of them had managed to draw quite the same reaction from him as Pippa when she glared.

“It’s not charity. It’s a practical solution for a genuine problem. You need a place and I have one.”

“As long as you let me pay the rent.”

She sneered. “Of course you’ll pay. Vampires haven’t become insanely wealthy by letting their chums live at their expense.”

He wasn’t entirely convinced she meant it, but that evening he followed her to the apartment she owned. “Bring your bags,” she ordered him when they were leaving. “One way or another, you won’t be sleeping here anymore.”

He grumbled but obeyed. It was difficult not to obey her, and she didn’t even need to use vampire charm that made humans do whatever vampires demanded of them. She had assured him she never would use it on him and he believed her.

Estelle Road was two miles to north from the Kentish Town police station where they worked, and not far from Hampstead Heath, a huge green area right at the edge of the city. It was an affluent-looking neighbourhood with three-storey brown-brick row-houses – terraces as they were called here – with bay windows and white trimmings, tiny front yards, and slightly larger backyards. He wasn’t familiar with the age-layers of London, but what he had learned was that most houses were old.

“Isn’t this a bit expensive for me?” he asked when Pippa led him into a foyer with just enough room for narrow stairs leading up. She opened the door to the ground floor apartment – flat. He should really adopt the lingo if he was going to stay.

He startled, a funny feeling in his stomach. He hadn’t realised he was thinking of staying in London. Of course he wouldn’t stay, now that he didn’t have Nora keeping him here. New York was home. His family was there, as were those friends who wouldn’t have forgotten him by the time his year-long contract here ended.

But until then he needed a place to live, and this was as good as any. It wasn’t a large flat, a front room towards the street and a kitchen and a bedroom at the back, with a narrow corridor connecting them, along which there was a bathroom and some closets. But everything was clean and looked fairly new – including the furniture. He wouldn’t have to get that.

“I got this place for myself back when I believed Mother would let me move on my own. I’ve occasionally come here just to get some peace and quiet.”

He winced in sympathy. Two hundred years was no picnic when one had to live with one’s mother. He loved his dearly, but if he hadn’t left to the Marines at the first chance he got, he would have lost his mind.

“Don’t you want it for you and Jas?”

She snorted, amused. “He wouldn’t fit in here.”

He acknowledged this with an understanding nod. Her spouse-to-be
mate, as she called him vampire-style — was a huge scary-looking SOB vampire warrior. He needed much more space.

But Adrian was finding the place just to his liking, if a bit too British
— and feminine — with flower-patterned upholstery, throw pillows, and rose-coloured wallpaper. Who knew his boss had that streak in her. He made a couple of token protests, but in the end he carried his bags in and settled down. Just like Pippa had said he would. She managed not to look smug about it — almost.

He didn’t waste time unpacking, and felt instantly more comfortable with his few possessions around. He had a TV, and a brief trip to the nearest grocery store on the street corner filled his fridge. Even the rain that had started while he was in the store didn’t mar his mood. He had a roof over his head where he could stay the rest of his time in London, and no one to nag about his selection of food.

His shopping unpacked, he was about to move to the living room to spend the evening in front of TV when he heard a noise from the backyard. He flipped on the lights, but the yard was empty. He made to leave, but a small sound of distress made him glance down. There, on the back steps, sat a cat, drenched and miserable, demanding to be let in. 

If you liked the first chapter, you can read the second chapter here. And you can pre-order the book here.

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