Character Sketch: Rev. I. Merrill Bishop

This month we are  taking a closer look at the Reverend Doctor I. Merrill Bishop, introduced in A Body in the Belfry.Merrill small

Character Name & brief background: Merrill, born Indigo Merrillanne Rose to hippy parents, has two brothers; older brother Wolf and younger brother, Sage.  After spending their preschool years living in a tepee, a caravan and a couple of communes, the Rose children and their now middle-class parents moved to the Southern California suburbs.

Called Indigo as a child, Merrill decided the moniker “Indigo Rose” sounded more like an exotic dancer than a serious student and began using her abbreviated middle name in college, where she met and married William Bishop who was attending a nearby seminary.

Role in Story: Protagonist in the second book in the First Ladies Club series.

Occupation: After enjoying many years as the wife of a pastor, Merrill felt the call to ministry and went to seminary, obtaining her Master’s Degree in Theology. She assisted her pastor-husband until his death from cancer. As a widow, she joined the staff of a large Bay Area inner-city church. When we meet Merrill she has just been called to her first senior pastorate, the struggling First Baptist Church of Bannoch, Oregon.

Physical Description: Merrill has shoulder length blond hair, sprinkled with gray, blue eyes and a trim middle-aged figure. She is petite,  but stronger than she looks.

Personality: Fun-loving and mischievous by nature, Merrill feels a responsibility to maintain a more serious demeanor befitting her role in the church and community.

Habits/Mannerisms: Merrill is determined to maintain her physical health with regular exercise, including long daily walks on the beach. She plans her wardrobe so as not to appear frivolous, but to seem approachable. Aware of the prejudices some hold against women pastors, she walks a tightrope trying to avoid offending anyone.

Internal Conflicts: Loneliness may be Merrill’s greatest conflict. As a still-vibrant woman, she longs for companionship and intimacy, but fears that becoming involved in close relationships would distract her from her ministry or even undermine her position in her church.

External Conflicts: Someone is killing people in her new hometown and may be targeting her church, the congregation, or Merrill, next.

If you read A Body in the Belfry and wonder what happens next for Merrill,  you will be able to catch up with her and her friends in the First Ladies Club in the next book in the series, A Corpse in the Chapel, scheduled for publication this summer. 

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The Character Sketch

When I begin a new work, or whenever a new character pops up in the narrative, I like to complete a brief synopsis of the character’s background and personality.  This adds depth to the people populating my books, as well as providing me with a place to go to compare what I plan for a character to do or say, so it doesn’t appear “out of character” in the finished work.  The writing software I use, Scrivener, has helpful templates providing prompts about the character being created.

Even though only brief glimpses of a complete character may appear in the story, these sketches provide continuity and a firm foundation for the person’s motivations and actions.

I thought it would be fun to share a bit more of the background of some of the people you meet in my stories, so from time to time, beginning with this post, I will be revealing information from the background sketches of my favorite characters.

Do you want to learn more about one of my characters? Leave a comment and I will be happy to schedule that person for my next Character Sketch post.

It seems appropriate to begin with the character who ties all my work together, the indomitable, Bunny Davis Elder Banks:

Character Name:  Born Leveline Davis – preferred nickname “Bunny”

Role in Story: Protagonist in the Bunny Elder Adventures series, she also pops ups for cameo appearances in the First Ladies Club books.

Occupation: Former pastor’s wife and secretary/reporter on a small town newspaper (Hollow), turned free-lance writer (Seadrift), and  currently an aspiring novelist (First Ladies Club)

Physical Description: Bunny is a petite woman in her mid-fifties with a sweet smile, mischievous blue eyes, and soft honey-blond hair sprinkled with silver and gray. She struggles to combat a tendency to chubbiness by eating less than she’d like, doing yoga and taking long walks.

Personality: Bunny is a devout Christian, constantly humbled by her own disobedience and failings. Nevertheless, she is determinedly optimistic, with a penchant for plain speaking.

Habits/Mannerisms: Constantly looking for the best in people and circumstances often gets Bunny into trouble. Without looking for it, she stumbles into some pretty scary situations involving a varied collection of bad guys who want to do her harm.

Background: Bunny is the youngest of three sisters raised in a small mountain town in Northern California. She married her high school sweetheart, Max. Although this early marriage was short-lived, Bunny and Max were never completely out of each other’s heart.  On the rebound, she married Rev. Eustace Elder. The marriage, though lacking joy, lasted until his untimely death (Hollow), when Bunny had to start over as a middle-aged widow. For a short while she lived in southern Idaho with her sister, Linda (Vain Pursuits) before relocating to the Oregon Coast (Seadrift).

Internal Conflicts: Bunny has all the same needs and desires as any woman. Most of her internal conflicts involve reconciling these temptations with her determination to be faithful to God. Her on-again-off-again relationship with Max is just one her issues.

External Conflicts: Bunny must deal with a deranged serial killer (Hollow), smugglers and the Italian mob (Vain Pursuits), human traffickers and a new love interest (Seadrift), Somali pirates (…and Something Blue), and a kidnapped friend (The First Ladies Club). You might say she has an overabundance of external conflicts.

Notes: Bunny steps out of the books and drops in to host my blog from time to time, as well.

[These Character Sketch categories are taken from the Scrivener software Character Sketch template.]

Progress Report on “A Body in the Belfry”

Just a short post, since we are all still tired from this week’s Back-to-School Book & Blog Block Party and the big Facebook Mystery Writers Revealed event last weekend.  I had a blast at both celebrations and hope you did, too.

In spite of all the partying, lately, I’ve managed to finish the “Body” manuscript and get it into the hands of my proof-readers/editors. Did you hear my huge sigh of relief?

When the manuscript comes back, I’ll get busy with the revisions, but we are on track for December publication, so I am now able to shift gears and begin to outline the next First Ladies Club installment.

Now, my question to you, dear reader, is: Which of the First Ladies would you like to be the star of this one?  Judy Falls has been after me to write about her and her precocious twin daughters, but before I let her wear me down, I want to hear from you.

Should the next book center on Judy, Elizabeth, Eskaletha, Olivette, Gwennie or Peggy? Or maybe a newcomer to Bannoch?  Here’s your chance to tell me what you think.  Just enter a comment below to become a contributor to my future book.

Thank you!

Drowning in the Flood of Freebies?

When I first entered the world of the independent author in 2011, I read every bit of wisdom I could find about each step of the process, from the first germ of an idea, though outline and character development all the way to marketing techniques.

One bit of advice which appeared frequently was to provide free books to increase your visibility and develop a readership base.

I have followed this advice, holding periodic promotions of free or deeply discounted Kindle versions of my books. In the early years these give-aways usually resulted in an uptick in either sales or reviews of my work.

Independent publishing has become easier every year and websites dedicated to free and discounted digital books have blossomed. With this surge, we may be seeing a saturation effect.

Some readers rarely spend any money on their digital reading and I’ve noticed readers who get books for free can be more critical in their reviews than those who have an investment in enjoying a purchase.

I think we may be entering a time when the book give away has less impact on future sales and it will become necessary to find new, creative ways to get our books noticed by our target audience.

I believe the flood of e-books may begin to ebb as some authors become discouraged and readers become more discerning and once again shop for books based upon quality rather than price-point alone.

In the meantime, it is up to us to come up with those original and creative promotional ideas.

As authors, we create whole worlds inhabited by personalities of our own design, creative promotion can’t be beyond us, can it?