Sept. 6, 2019: Building The Ensemble Part 1 — Friends From Home

image courtesy of

Building the ensemble around Sophie for the Nautical Namaste Mysteries was an interesting challenge.

There were three sets of ensemble characters I needed to create.

The first consists of her friends on land, the friends that stick by her no matter what happens. Because we all need that support system, and that’s one reason why we read this type of book — because the friends support each other.

The second set consists of her colleagues on the ship, the fellow cruise ship employees. Some will become friends. Some will become lovers. Some will become antagonists. Some will shift alliances. Cruise ship staffs are an incredibly international bunch, and I will talk about that in depth next week.

The third set consists of the passengers. Each book in the series covers a different cruise. I change both the cruise route AND the passengers.

On the Nautical Namaste Website, I have pages to introduce the crew and the passengers with little bios. The bios also list which book each character appears in, but I try not to give out spoilers.

Yes, there are a lot of characters. That was intentional. I get annoyed when a book is set someplace that’s supposed to be busy and there are only five or six characters. If it’s a busy setting, I need the sense of motion, teeming life, people.

But today’s post focuses on Sophie’s family and friends on land. The support system she has as she makes the transition into cruise ship life.

She lives in a Brooklyn brownstone with two roommates. The brownstone is based on the one a Broadway pal of mine used to own, in the Fort Greene section. It’s been featured in plenty of film and television shows. When I moved from NY to the Cape, I used to stay there when I visited New York. The photo at the top is NOT my friend’s brownstone — his is much larger, a sandy color, with a high flight of steps leading to the front door. The photo here is a stock photo.

Sophie doesn’t own the brownstone. Her friend Fawn Lassiter, owns it. She’s the Communications Director for a philanthropic foundation in Manhattan. Bianca Suede is their third roommate, a performance artist, tarot reader, and herbalist. Their friend Freddie Diaz might as well be a roommate, for all the time he spends there. He’s a nomadic artist, moving from art colony to residency to crashing on friends’ couches.

These three are the people Sophie depends on most. They tell her the truth, whether she wants to hear it or not. When her fiancé dumps her, partially because she’s involved in too many progressive causes which are at odds with his high-paid corporate job, they support her while still being honest with her.  When she’s fired at the yoga studio where she works because she’s not enough of a “brand” — and then finds out that her nemesis at the studio is behind more than just her firing — Fawn, Bianca, and Freddie are there.

Fawn, Bianca, and Freddie will continue to be a presence in the books, and I hope to bring them on board the Charisma in a future book. I think it would be interesting to see how they interact on the ship, which is now Sophie’s territory. The dynamics of the relationships are bound to change, and that exploration interests me.

Sophie’s family is mentioned, but in SAVASANA AT SEA, most of them are not directly involved with the plot. The exception is Gamma Batchelder, Sophie’s paternal grandmother, who lives in Florida. Sophie is closer to her grandmother than anyone else in her family, and she can hear her grandmother’s sayings as she navigates her life.

 Her mother is barely mentioned, and lives out of state. Her sister Victoria lives in London. Her sister Edwina is more of a presence in the book, due to their difficult relationship. Her brother Rick works in the intelligence community in Washington, DC. Fawn has a crush on him.

But she’s closer to her friends than her family. That’s not unusual for single people in New York City. They’re caught up in their city lives. Their families live far away. Their friends become their family.

Sophie is kind. She cares about people, and makes friends. Establishing a solid base of friendships on land sets the foundation for her ability to make friends on the cruise ship, beyond the old “you’re thrown together and have no choice.”

One of Sophie’s strengths is her capacity for friendship.

Her family is peripheral to this book, but they have an impact on future books. In fact, Edwina will be an important character a few books down the line when she attends a shipboard conference on the Charisma, where Sophie works.

Other peripheral characters include colleagues at the yoga studio, and her students. There’s also a homeless woman, Carmen, for whom Sophie buys a meal and encourages to go to a shelter. Sophie cares. She is involved with the people around her. It’s a shame that one of her greatest strength is something her fiancé sees as a weakness.

Rowena is a character with a foot in both worlds. Rowena is one of Sophie’s yoga students, and supports her when she’s fired. She also works for the cruise line

In earlier drafts, establishing Sophie on land and getting her into her new life on the cruise ship took four chapters. Along the way, professionals in the business suggested cutting it all out and starting the book on the ship. I tried this for a draft, and then salting in her previous relationships. But losing the catalyst for her journey hurt the way her character was established.  It made her feel more shallow and less substantial to me.

However, the advice of needing to be on the cruise ship earlier was valuable. I cut A LOT of material from the early chapters. I now have the firing, the breakup, get her on the cruise ship, and the catalyst for her sleuthing on the ship in the first chapter. It keeps the story moving; it gives the reader enough background on Sophie and why she’s worth the time spent on this journey.

It was good advice, even if I didn’t follow it to the letter. I took the heart of the advice and adapted it in a way that supported my story and characters better.

It took eight drafts to get it where I wanted it to be. And every draft was worth the time and energy.

Next week, I’ll talk about building the ensemble of the cruise ship staff.

Visit the Nautical Namaste website. You can read excerpts from SAVASANA AT SEA and find buy links.


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