Just What Are Meghan Bode’s Stories?

As I was mulling over Meghan’s third mystery recently, a question arose in my mind.

Am I writing mysteries?

I never intended to. My now-shelved first novel wasn’t a mystery. It was … well … heck if I know what genre it was meant to be. One reason I moved ahead with Novel No. 2 was that it was a more straightforward—and therefore more easily pitched—time-travel mystery/adventure. In my mind, future books would have built off those two. Two books, two series. Very straightforward, right?

Except I was blindsided by one Meghan Bode. Oh, she sneaked in innocently enough. “Meghan” became the name of my “poetic archaeologist” in a series of posts about a hypothetical archaeological project. Then I started what was to be a new series of posts based around the discovery of a bone. That’s when she took over. She had Scrivener generate her surname for me—Bode. Then she ended the first post with dialogue. A story was born.

A story nothing like my two novels. Meghan chose present tense and a short format. Her “brush with forensic archaeology” was about 7,500 words. Her style also differs from the two novels—almost minimal. Well, not Hemingway minimal, but it feels spartan to me. Granted, her second story, Buried Deeds, ran longer—more than 18,000 words. Still, that’s novella territory, not a full-fledged novel.

At this point, I don’t know if the third story will be novella or novel length. We’ll see how it develops. But as I sketch out the story line, I wonder if her stories, no matter the length, are “real” mysteries.

After all, the deceased in her stories is always past the “body” stage. A “body” implies flesh on the bones. Meghan’s not a forensic archaeologist and doesn’t deal with those. Her skeletons might be from the 1700s or the 1950s, maybe even as “young” as the  early 2000s. But the murders would be cold cases, maybe even frozen. She wouldn’t be in any real danger.

I call her stories mysteries in the sense that there’s a puzzle to be solved. So far, even in Story No. 3, there’s always a skeleton. But what if she gives me an idea for a puzzle that doesn’t include one? Would that be a mystery? Are any of her stories “real” mysteries in the modern market?

If they are, then another question arises.

What kind of mystery am I writing?

A cursory search on “mystery” reveals so many types—murder, suspense, thriller. Thrillers can be of the legal, psychological, medical, spy, and techno varieties. Amazon lumps suspense under thrillers and gives police procedurals their own category. It also breaks down mystery into detectives/sleuths (including cats!?), hardboiled, and historical. Surprisingly, Amazon doesn’t give “cozy” its own category. You get results if you search for “cozy mysteries,” though. Maybe that’s why so many of the titles that appear for such a search include “cozy mystery” in parentheses.

Do Meghan’s stories fit any of these subgenres? I’m not sure. I’d call her stories “archaeological mysteries.” My Amazon search showed stories that might be analogous to Meghan’s. And they’re often categorized as  simply “mystery.” Hmm. Is it that difficult to classify them?

A part of me still hopes to publish some day. And so I worry that I’m again writing something that will fail to draw in readers or will confuse them. Or that Meghan is nothing more than a grownup version of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. As her latest story takes shape, I hope the answers become clearer.

Emmie Mears and a Self-Hosting Glitch

If you follow Emmie’s blog and haven’t seen posts from her in a while, she is NOT taking a summer break! She recently switched to self-hosting her website and blog, and those of us who follow her by email were accidentally left behind. For the interim, you can visit her blog and fill out a “follow form” to again receive email notices of new posts. A quick link to a guest post by Kourtney Heintz is here. If only technology would work the way it’s supposed to, right?

If you’ve read either of my Meghan Bode stories, how would you categorize them? Do you think she has the makings of a good main character to anchor a series?

47 thoughts on “Just What Are Meghan Bode’s Stories?

  1. I think that Meghan is an interesting character and many people would enjoy reading about her. I don’t think you should worry too much about which pigeonhole the story will fit in on Amazon at the moment. It may become clear when you finish the story, or Amazon may come up with a new way of doing their categories, something that is friendlier for searching.

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    • Hmm, a big company doing something that’s friendlier…. 😉 We can hope!

      One reason I’m concerned about what to call Meghan’s stories is that first novel I drafted. It was so complex an idea and so hard to describe that test readers didn’t quite know what to make of it. And that means agents would have a hard time pitching it. So I’d like Meghan’s works to be more straightforward. You’re right, though, that I shouldn’t worry about this so much at this early point in the game.

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  2. I agree with Clowie’s comment………..Meghan has the good “bones” you need to build a story series around and better to stick with following her lead :-).

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    • Thanks, WB. 🙂 Now to see if I can “do good” by her and her stories. And I’d like to think there’s still an audience that enjoys puzzles and mysteries without a large body count. 🙂

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  3. I think Meghan has the makings for a strong character, especially if you continue in the vein of a forensic type mystery. Those remain popular among readers. And the archaeology background makes it that much more intriguing.

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    • I just hope there are readers who really would enjoy a “forensic” or “mystery-like” story without the usual body counts and often-violent events. As Sheila notes below, some agents are now looking for “genre blenders.” But I suspect the blending has to work in an appealing way for the audience. And I wonder if I can succeed with these stories. Based on the reception they got on the blog, I really shouldn’t worry so much. But that’s my nature I’m afraid. 😉

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  4. Maybe you’re inventing a whole new genre! That can be a good thing. From things I’ve read and agents I’ve researched so far, a lot of them are now saying they’re looking for “genre blending” novels. It’s enough to make a person crazy. I would call Meghan’s stories archaeological mysteries too. That gives anyone a clear idea of what it’s about and the archaeology part makes it especially interesting while setting it apart from typical mysteries. I’m looking forward to hearing more from Meghan!

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    • I’m happy to create a new genre if people would enjoy it. 😉 My fear, of course, is that they wouldn’t. And I also don’t want people to look at Meghan as a “knockoff” of an established character like Ruth Galloway. So I wonder if I can give her stories broad appeal to readers who are used to more traditional mysteries (of whatever flavor we call them). We’ll have to see. As long as I don’t leave people scratching their heads and wondering what they’re reading, I’ll be okay I think.

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      • That’s a great idea – lots of people love mysteries and all the mysteries that can be found in archaeology would give the whole thing a new twist (much better than cat mysteries)!

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  5. “Archeological mysteries” has my vote. Honestly, I think they’re interesting. If you can manage to get noticed by readers, the “genre” issue probably doesn’t matter.

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    • Getting noticed is a major factor, isn’t it? Someone who breaks all the rules can be a game changer as long as the audience enjoys what it’s reading. Thank you for helping me sort through this quandary!

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  6. I agree with all the above. The genre thing is alway morphing- the whole “conspiracy” genre didn’t exist until fairly recently for example. Meghan is entertaining – fun – and there’s real life interesting stuff in it (like Dan Brown’s books create interest in museums, art works, and historical locations)
    Meghan is Meghan. just write. She’s got stories and can hold people’s interest…and leave them wanting more
    We love to peek into Meghan’s world – and it’s a mystery? – that’s just the icing.
    Nothing else like it – that’s very very good.

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    • Even after writing two stories, I’m still surprised by Meghan. But I really like her as a character, and I want to do a good job of telling her stories. I don’t want to make her a pale imitation of any other archaeologist main character (such as Ruth Galloway), but I also don’t want to confuse people as to what kind of story they’re reading. I see a full-length novel potential for this third story, and I don’t want to mess it up. But part of me also wonders if a collection of shorter stories might work better. This is one reason why I’m not jumping into the writing with this one. I need to plan it out more than I’ve ever done before. Can I be good at something different?

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      • You may have to go with the format that shows up – hard to stretch a full grown horse – and why bother if it rides well?.
        maybe all the short stories are building up to a novel eventually…meanwhile you’re getting readership addicted with the convenient length stories?
        You are different – and good at being that – so don’t get worried over unique ventures.
        Go oddsters!

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  7. There are so many ‘classifications’ in novels that I get confused when I put a new novel on Amazon. I think Meghan’s stories are ‘mysteries’ and the sub genre would be ‘archaeology’. Also, the back cover blurb gives the reader an idea what kind of story it is (and I find the back cover blurb the hardest thing to write!) 😀

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    • I had a heck of a time writing a synopsis for the first story. I couldn’t imagine trying to cut it down to the back cover blurb! If I do go the indie route some day, I may need to hire someone for that task. 🙂

      The variety of classifications is overwhelming, and I doubt everyone uses them consistently. And given the popularity of “cozies,” I was surprised that Amazon doesn’t have that as a category.

      I’m sure I’ve got the cart miles in front of the horse, but I really don’t want readers to be confused by the genre. I’ll have to make sure the back cover really gives a feel for the book!

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  8. I would classify them as mystery too. I love how Meghan came into your life and threw up new ideas and roads for you to explore. She’s been a fun character for all of us to get to know through your short posts.

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    • Sneaky as she was, I’ve really gotten attached to her. I’m not sure I can pull off the idea I have for the third story, which is another reason I’m trying to plan it out first. I’d rather find out now rather than halfway into writing it that it just wouldn’t work. Sorting it all out now will hopefully help me frame it in a way that I can handle. Maybe the writing is becoming as much a mystery as the story itself!

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      • That sounds smart. I should do it too, but outlining is not my favorite thing to do and I lose interest in it too much and like playing around with scenes in my head more.

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  9. Have you read Kathy Reighs?(sp?) She is an anthropologist and writes mysteries. I would put yours in the same category. Have you given thought to polishing the Meghan stories and putting them together into a book? Just a thought. You might need to add one more, but I am sure Meghan is up to it.
    Scott

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    • From what I’ve read of her cover blurbs, the books are too dark for me. Her character is a true forensic anthropologist dealing with modern cases, which is more in keeping with today’s market. I’m more comfortable writing with a lighter tone and less recent focus.

      Bundling three shorter stories was my first idea for these Meghan stories, and that’s still on the table. My final decision probably hinges on this third story and what it turns out to be—novella or novel. If it’s a novel, maybe I also expand Buried Deeds to that length. If that happens, I could expand the first story a bit and use it as an introductory novella to the full novels.

      We’ll see what happens as Story 3 takes shape….

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  10. JM, I empathize with your genre plight! Personally, I think Meghan is already an anchoring character, whether she falls neatly into a pigeonholed type or no. In fact, I rather enjoy that she’s like a grown-up Nancy Drew (classic Nancy, that is, not the new-fangled one investigating vampires and whatnot). But, she’s also her own entity, separate from her job. She’s real. I can’t say whether real is salable in this market, and I do understand the concern of being able to find new readers straight from the shelves. But, I like her that way, and I think many of your readers do, as well.

    Her adventures are certainly mysteries. The research that’s so integral to the stories would lead me to consider her something of a forensic mystery-solver. “Buried Deeds” had a lot to do with the legality and civil nature of the mystery, after all.

    As for the novel idea: I say, just follow your writing plan. If it ends up being “too” concise, that’s not a bad thing for a mystery. Meghan may end up being better suited to more episodic fiction. And, hey! Maybe some Hollywood type will want to pick her up for a TV series! 😀

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    • Ah, Mayumi, I always look forward to your great insights on my dilemmas! I really like Meghan, and I want to do a good job of telling her stories. And even though I’m trying to remember that the most important audience is me, I still want others to enjoy what I write, too. I can see Meghan maturing as a character, and I want my writing to match that.

      Mulling over her story before launching into the writing is probably a good thing. Last night I worried that I couldn’t handle the story I was seeing. But then Meghan suggested turning things around. And during this morning’s workout, I saw how I could do that, and how it would help the story’s structure. I also saw some subtle nuances that would give more insight into what Meghan thinks about the world. I felt optimistic about writing for the first time in several months.

      Of course, it coincides with the day job requiring more hours from me—nearly full time. And I haven’t done that in years, so it’s a real adjustment. But I hope I’ll have the energy in the evenings and on weekends to keep outlining and plotting. And if the occasional scene comes to me, and I jot it down, that’s good, too. 😉

      I wouldn’t say no to a TV series, but I’d really hope they wouldn’t cast some blonde bombshell for her role! As you say, she’s a real person. And I’m not sure that flies on modern TV! 😀

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      • Yay! So happy you got that lightning bolt! It’s a great feeling. 😀

        I look forward to reading Meghan’s new adventure, whenever that may be. 🙂

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  11. JM, you’ve gotten some great advice, feedback and encouragement in the comments. I agree with all of them and I hope that’s plenty of proof that Meghan definitely has an audience. She is a great character, easy to like and relate to, smart and as someone said, real! You’ve done great by her and I have no doubt you will do so again in the 3rd story.

    I totally relate to seeing a great story unfold and feeling like you might not be able to write it as great as it should be. But your two previous Meghan stories have shown you can!

    I’m so excited for you that Meghan is sharing her story with you and even helping you to solve some of the bumps. It sounds like your doing more plotting/planning/outlining on this one. I can’t wait to hear more about your progress and to read this 3rd story.

    And on a side note, if you need a beta reader for it, I’m more than happy to volunteer! 🙂

    Happy Writing!!!

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    • I’ll probably do some posts about the process of writing this third story for the very reason that I am approaching it so differently from everything I’ve written before. I’m not abandoning my pantsing entirely, but I think having the main story laid out and some of the subplots sketched out will help.

      I’m fairly certain this one could easily reach 30,000 words, which is about twice the length of Buried Deeds. And it might reach novel length before all is said and done. Either way, I want to get all three stories in real shape.

      But it’s so much slower doing it this way—especially when I’m spending more time at work and feeling more tired in the evenings. Still, if it means fewer rewrites and revisions, it might be quicker in the long run.

      I really appreciate the votes of confidence you and other readers are sending my way. You’re helping me over this wall I’ve been facing the last few months, and it feels good to feel positive again. And I’ll let you know when this story is ready for some betas. 🙂

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  12. My fiction reading consists mostly of mysteries and/or historic fiction. Yours would fit perfectly with the stuff I read now. I think there is absolutely a place for Meghan Bode, not all mysteries are hard-boiled detective novels. I personally would buy your books in a heartbeat!

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    • Granted, I haven’t read every mystery out there—not even all of them that feature an archaeologist—but I haven’t run across any characters that I find similar to Meghan. That’s good because I don’t want people saying, “Oh, she’s just a so-and-so clone.” But it’s tough because I worry an audience won’t take to her. Of course, based on the reception she’s had from you and other readers, I shouldn’t think that way!

      I think we’ve got a good “Part One” for this one. Something’s found and it looks like a straightforward (although headache-filled) project for her. And then, it’s not. Now to sketch out Parts Two, Three, and Four to get us to “whodunnit.” 🙂

      (And we’ll see more of Evelyn and Douglas as Meghan continues to work at Wyndham Thicket.)

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  13. I think each genre has something to teach us about what grips readers. Every book has suspense (in the sense that we care about the characters motivations and how they’re going to handle a situation (it’s not necessary that a situation be life or death). Every book gives us a little thrill of excitement or horror, or the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes (from the realistic to the fantastic), and every book has a puzzle or mystery to solve that keeps the reader turning the pages to find more clues and figure out how it’s going to play out.

    Okay, maybe not EVERY book (but quite a lot do, if you think about), and even still, sometimes certain parts are more subtle in some genres than others, but a genre is only important once you market your book to an agent, reader, or publisher, or go looking for beta readers. Until then, I think it’s fair to say that Meghan has a following, and that there’s proof that people like reading about her (I do!). I also think Madame Weebles is probably right about the genre, and I don’t think it would be unprecedented to have a book of say, three novelettes, or short stories, or wrong to query or self-publish with the described genre of archeological (historical) mysteries. There are a lot of people who find archeology fascinating, and even more people who like a good story no matter what the genre.

    You’re going to be fine (really)! It’ll come to you; our brains are actually excellent at supplying answers when we really need them (even if it’s not always on the schedule we want).

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    • Thanks so much for the words of encouragement! Writing has been a real struggle since this winter, and I’ve been afraid the well had run dry. I think that’s part of why I’m approaching this story more slowly and not diving into the writing. I don’t want to be writing away and then find I’ve painted myself into a corner. Writing a shorter story on the fly is one thing. But if this will be a longer mystery novella or novel, I’d better do a good job of laying out clues, red herrings, and the path to the solution!

      You are so right about that scheduling bit. 🙂 I had much more time this winter and spring available for writing, but I was stuck. Now, I’m putting in many more hours on the day job, and now is when the ideas for the story are taking shape. Maybe that’s not a coincidence. Maybe by thinking less about writing I’ve taken some of the pressure off, and my creative brain has had a chance to rest and is bouncing back.

      So I will try to stop worrying about genre and instead focus on just telling the story the way that feels right. 🙂

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  14. JM—at this point, don’t even worry about genre. The best advice I could offer is treat this story as the story of your heart. When we give our characters freedom—they often surprise us and I’ve found my deepest writing happens that way. Hope that helps!

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    • You’re right, of course. 🙂 There’s just the part of me that’s afraid I’ll write something that’s “neither fish nor fowl” and people won’t know what to make of it. But Meghan’s had a good reception here on the blog, and if I write the final versions well, that should carry to a broader audience. After events of this past week, I think my next post will sound more optimistic. 😉

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  15. Thanks for the shout out on my guest post JM! Genre is such a pain in the behind. Six Train was tough to categorize. I joined Mystery Writers of America a while ago because my first manuscript was a YA time travel murder mystery. But I’ve noticed there is a mystery in all my books. But there is also a fantasy element. I love to cross genres. The best thing to do is learn about them all as your writing. By the time you finish, you might know what you’ve written. 🙂

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    • Genre is such a slippery concept, and we hear conflicting advice about what agents and presses “want.” Some say genre-blending is in. But look at the replies so many agents gave you—”I don’t know how to sell it.” Maybe blending is more acceptable for established authors, just as they can get away with things that newcomers are penalized for. Totally. Not. Fair. 😛

      I’d hate to think how many readers missed your guest post and all of Emmie’s since she switched to the self-hosted website/blog. I know other bloggers have had similar problems, and it leaves me thinking I’ll stick with WordPress.com as long as I can!

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      • I think you have to write the story that’s inside you. Then you figure out how to market it. But that’s just how I work. Other people have a genre or even an imprint in mind and write specifically for that category. I guess it depends on what works for you and what your end goal is. 🙂

        That’s true about Six Train, but Reckonings was a blend of fantasy, mystery, & historical, and it sold to Harlequin. I think there is a place for most books, it just takes a lot of time to find it.

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  16. I would definitely categorise Meghan’s stories as mysteries – I don’t think it matters that they’re not contemporary murders or that they’re not gory – they’re suspenseful and you read them wondering what will come next, so there’s still that sense of tension and ‘whodunnit’. ‘Archaeological’ mysteries also adds something else intriguing, as I think many people are intrigued by archaeology.

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    • I do hope the archaeology bent would attract readers. Especially in a story like Buried Deeds where the real mystery is in the past, but we’re “investigating” it from the present. That’s one reason I don’t think of these as “historical” mysteries, where someone in the past is on the case. For now, I really should focus on getting the story in order and written.

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  17. It seems like it would be really beneficial to you that your type of mystery hasn’t been pigeonholed yet; this makes it a little more fresh and easier to sell! I agree with Andrea above who mentioned that the stories don’t need to be gory in order to get an audience. Meghan Bode will find her place. 🙂

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    • Thanks for the encouragement, Christi! Different can be good, and I should focus on that (and not different can be hard to sell). I’m glad to know there are some other readers who don’t need gore and twisted, psychotic characters in their books. Even a small audience would have me on top of the world. 🙂

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  18. Another week where I nearly missed your post! I think it’s me though, not a technical problem of any kind. I think Meghan is absolutely a strong and interesting enough character to carry a whole book. I definitely think it works as a kind of history mystery (!), but in terms of what publishers might be looking for (and I’m not suggesting that I’m any kind of expert!), is to maybe bring a bit more threat and tension into the present, like the consequences of her finding out what happened in the past could cause greater threats now, I know you have done some of that, but maybe more! You might not want to do that, but I’m just thinking that might make it sit more comfortably within the mystery genre.

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    • Ah, you’ve hit on one of my doubts about these stories. How do I bring enough tension to the modern day with a historic puzzle, especially those that are a few hundred years old? There would be only so many ways that I could make it seem realistic and not far-fetched. It would be so much simpler if the characters and stories in my head were more in line with the modern world’s readers.

      But before anything, I need to find my way back to having fun while I’m writing and with what I’m writing. Yes I want to improve and would like an audience that enjoys the stories. But having fun was what I enjoyed most when I started. It wasn’t about getting published or making a living as a novelist. So for now, I’ll keep with the baby steps of planning the next story and see what develops….

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  19. I thought your Meghan Bode stories shared all of the characteristics i LOVE about Alex Kava’s Maggie O’Dell series. Like Meghan, Maggie is a good person with a good heart; an intelligent lead character making sense of confusing situations by using her education. Both are in fields that were previously male dominated, but neither feels a need to slight her womanhood in order to compete.
    anyway, that’s my take on your Meghan stories and I think there’s a ton of readers who’d appreciate a new entry into the “modern day heroine with traditional values” genre!

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    • I am hoping readers would like her—I know I do. Of course, my saying that might be as “unbiased” as a parent’s view of a child’s talents. 😉 I’m still working on those flaws for her, though. Writing those into the story may be the most difficult part for me. Along with putting in enough tension and conflict for readers but not so much that I find unbelievable. This may be another reason the planning for this story will be a good idea!

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