The Birth of a Character

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 eight novels, including four in the Sticks Hetrick series. A ninth is due for release this month in the new Western line of Oak Tree Press. His articles and short stories have appeared in a variety of magazines, both print and on line.

Readers are often curious about the origin of a mystery series character.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have a very clear memory of how Daniel “Sticks” Hetrick was born. Driving to work early one morning, I spied a man walking along the road. Something about him stuck in my mind and gradually Sticks evolved from that impression into 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 like 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.

Police Chief Aaron Brubaker is 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. But even in the latest novel in the series 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.

Of course she wasn’t a police officer then and only filled a minority 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 had expressed interest in a police career in the first novel, fit the requirements for both needs. 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 from the start, is now nervously on the brink of a new romance and also contemplating a new job offer, which offers opportunity for further evolution of the series.

In Being Someone Else, fourth in the series, an out-of-state reporter is found murdered at a disreputable bar and the investigative trail keeps bringing Hetrick and his team back to the family of a wealthy doctor who has retired in his hometown.

Being Someone Else (July 2010), Whiskey Creek Press

Watch The Hour (April 2009), Whiskey Creek Press