Breathing Life into Your Characters… Even the Dead Ones

Jennifer AlLee believes the most important thing a woman can
do is discover her identity in God – a theme that carries throughout her
stories. She has written skits, activity pages, and over one hundred
contributions to Concordia Publishing House’s My Devotions series. Her novels
include The Love of His Brother, The Pastor’s Wife, The Mother Road, and A Wild
Goose Chase Christmas
, book two in the Quilts of Love series. She’s an
active member of American Christian Fiction Writers and loves connecting with
readers on Facebook and Twitter. Jennifer resides in the grace-filled city of
Las Vegas with her husband and teenage son. Visit her website at

NR: Leave a comment or question for Jennifer and be entered in a drawing for A Wild Goose Chase Christmas. Continental U.S. residents only, please.
Breathing Life into Your Characters… Even the Dead Ones
Sometimes, characters fight you. They resist every attempt
at making them fit into the mold you’ve created for them, insisting on breaking
out. But every now and then, a character presents herself to you like a
fully-formed, three-dimensional gift.
When I began writing my latest novel, A Wild Goose Chase
Christmas, I had my main characters all wrestled into submission. I knew their
names, what they looked like, and something about their personalities. The only
person who was still a mystery to me was Grandma Isabella, but that didn’t seem
like a big problem, since Gran is dead when the story opens. She wouldn’t even
be showing up, except when others talked about her.
I underestimated the woman.
Gran makes her presence felt in the first chapter when Izzy
is trying to decide which photos to include in a photo display for Gran’s
funeral. Here’s an excerpt:
One was a
black and white of a young Isabella in a classic dance pose. She balanced on
one leg, satin-clad toes stretched into perfect pointe, her other knee drawn
up, arms held out in front of her. The rapturous expression on her smooth,
unblemished face and the extension of her fingertips gave the impression she
was reaching for her one true love.
The other
picture was much different. It was a headshot, probably taken the last time her
church updated the picture directory. She wore a burgundy sweater with a silk
flower pinned to it, her silver hair pulled back into a tidy bun. This was an
Isabella mellowed by time, her skin etched with lines, her smile content.
pictures representing two very different sides of the same woman. Izzy looked
from one to the other and shook her head. “I’m just not sure how she’d rather
be remembered.”
When Izzy picked up the first photo, there was Gran in all
her glory. I knew exactly who she was. In fact, she could have been my own
grandmother… because that’s who I modeled Gran after. I didn’t plan it that
way. My original inspiration for Gran was Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy).
Apparently, my own dearly departed grandmother had other ideas. I can imagine
her in heaven, tugging on the sleeve of God’s robe, grinning up at him and
bouncing on the balls of her feet. “Father, I would love to show up in one of
my granddaughter’s books. What would you say about giving her a nudge?”
Naturally, there are differences. For example, my grandma
had a fondness for wigs, not buns. Before she died, there was a cat living in
her home, not a dog. But years earlier, when she did have a dog, it was a black
poodle named Bird (a long story). When you use a real, flesh and blood person
as the pattern for a character, you never want to clone them. You want to get
their essence.
Grandma Isabella captures the essence of my grandma, Marie
Staats. She was a former dancer. She had a mischievous side and a slightly
off-center sense of humor. Grandma Marie so would do what Grandma Isabella
does. Match-making from beyond the grave? Heck yeah!
This woman, who I expected to simply pass through the book,
ended up becoming a pivotal character. If you take her out of the story, it
would all fall apart. Which is why I dedicated the book to my grandmother. A
lifetime of memories came together in the right place at the right time and
bonded to form the most awesome fictional grandmother. Job well done, Grandma.
Now you can dance off across the clouds to see what new, lovely commotion you
can cause.
The other grandkids had better watch out.
A Wild Goose Chase Christmas
Upon her grandmother’s death, Izzy Fontaine finds herself in
possession of a Wild Goose Chase quilt that supposedly leads to a great
treasure. Of course, once the rest of the family finds out about it, they’re
determined to have a go at the treasure themselves.
If that’s not enough, local museum curator Max Logan claims
that Grandma Isabella promised the quilt to him. What is it about this quilt
that makes everyone want it? Is Izzy on a wild goose chase of her own, or a
journey that will lead her to the treasure Gran intended?