An Epic Michigan Life: Character Profiles

Grandma pic

I got the call this past Saturday morning that my grandmother had passed away. I was actually in the car, driving from my house on the west side of Michigan to the east side, the “Thumb,” because Grandma was suffering the effects of a stroke and wasn’t likely to last much longer. When the phone rang, I knew it would be my mom, giving me the news we’d been waiting for.

Grandma died at 99. Or maybe, to be more accurate, I should say she *lived* 99 years, because she would be the first to tell you that she had lived a full life.

With family and friends together, we shared a lot of tears and memories. We talked about what we’d miss. We wouldn’t get any more of Grandma’s famous homemade yeast donuts or cinnamon bread. We’d never again be the recipients of her amazing backrubs. We’d have to find other card players to join our games of euchre.

However, what stood out throughout the conversations I had with family and friends this week wasn’t the things that we’d miss about Grandma. Instead, we talked a lot about what she’d seen in her 99 years. Although I can’t even begin to cover all the significant events of the past almost-century, here’s a handful of events (courtesy of The World Atlas, Wikipedia, and MI Legislature) that happened just here in our state of Michigan during the time my grandmother lived:

  • 1928 – Ford Rouge Plant Opened (the largest plant in the world at the time)
  • 1929 – Ambassador Bridge Connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario Opened (largest bridge in the world at the time)
  • 1941-1945 – Detroit Automakers transform into “Arsenal of Democracy”
  • 1950 – Detroit is 4th largest city in US
  • 1957 – Mackinac Bridge Opened
  • 1959 – Motown Records Founded by Barry Gordy
  • 1967 – Race Riots in Detroit Result in 43 Deaths
  • 1975 – Ore Freighter Edmund Fitzgerald Sunk in Lake Superior
  • 2002 – Jennifer Granholm Elected First Female Michigan Governor
  • 2009 – Detroit Automakers in Crisis
  • 2006-2010 – Michigan has highest unemployment rates in country
  • 2012 – General Motors reports record profits
  • 2014 – Detroit is 18th largest city in US
  • 2015 – Tourism brings about $17 billion annually into the state

I’m leaving out so much here, but the point is that a lot happens during a lifetime.

As a writer, I’m constantly trying to balance how much of a character’s history to include in a story or novel. My grandmother had a high school diploma and spent her entire life working on the family farm. She raised a family, she sewed, she baked, she drove tractors, she went to church, she hoed beans, and she milked cows. She never met Barry Gordy or Jennifer Granholm, yet I know these individuals—and so much of the events of the state, nation, and world—influenced who she was. It was all these people, places, events, and experiences that shaped her.

In order for characters to be real—to be authentic—they need to be products of their world. That takes some research and careful consideration. Sure, most of that “backstory” never has to make it into the story itself, but in order to write a believable character, those details matter.

Here are links to my favorite character profile resources. Spending time getting to know your character’s wants, needs, and wounds is always time well spent.

My grandmother lived an epic life. I can only hope that the characters I write live lives half as full.

What resources do you use to develop your character profiles?

Postpartum: How to Go On After Completing a Novel


ClkerFreeVectorImages from

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here—but I’ve got good reason. I’ve been in the trenches finishing the first draft of Novel #2. I’m happy to announce the official birth of a 93,333 word manuscript on May 22. It may be sacrilegious to write this, but writing a novel really is quite a bit like the birth of a child for me (and I can say that since I’ve done both twice now).

Now, before you think I’m crazy, let me share the similarities. This second book has taken me somewhere near the nine-month timeframe to draft. During that time, I’ve faced plenty of discomfort, nervousness, paranoia, and complete lack of control—all words that I would have used to describe both my pregnancies. And just when I started to wrap my brain around this new little being inside of me, it was time for said being to pop into the world.

As excited as I’ve been to finish my second book, I’ve been going through an odd sort of separation anxiety this past week. First, it was my playlist that I had to say goodbye to. I’ve had the same Pandora channel playing while I wrote for nearly the duration of that recent project, but when I turned it on this week, it didn’t feel right anymore. The music seemed jarring, and I found myself distracted by it rather than inspired.

The loss of the music wasn’t as monumental as the loss of my characters. Over this past week, I’ve had to come to the realization that I won’t be spending the same amount of time with them ever again. It’s bizarre to admit it, but those characters are like good friends by now. I’ve spent nine months in their heads (or is it that they’ve spent nine months in mine?), and even though I have a great deal of editing left to go, our relationship is on the downslope. I know fully that soon I’ll be engrossed in a new project—and these characters will go back to just being what they are—figments of my imagination.

We recently celebrated the birthdays of my two kids, complete with cake, balloons, presents, and all the fanfare such events require. Yet, there is a piece of me that mourns another year of childhood behind them.  Just as I have to trust my children to go out into the world—to be who they are—I have faith that this new novel will do the same. Make Mama proud, Baby!

Okay, now tell me, do you experience separation anxiety after you’ve completed a major project? How do you let go?