Friendship

image courtesy of trevoykellyphotography via pixabay.com

Friendship

One of my favorite parts of a cozy (or, in this case, not-quite-cozy) series is the friendships built along the way, and how they grow and change. The protagonist builds her tribe along the course of the series.  In the best of them, they grow and change.

Many series start with the protagonist relocating to make a fresh start. Unfortunately, it often means ignoring the friendships left behind. As someone who is good at maintaining connections through years and across miles, that didn’t feel realistic to me.

I’m willing to suspend my disbelief when I read (and hope the same happens in my writing) at quick connections in some cases, which then have room to grow (and, hopefully, don’t stagnate). Genuine friendship needs time and shared experience in order to thrive.

As transient as theatre is, moving from show-to-show, the friendships tend to sustain beyond closing dates. Many romantic relationships don’t, but friendships do. I found it much easier to make friends in theatre than outside of it. Where I live now, people go to work and go home; they don’t put much effort into friendship, unless it’s they knew since they were toddlers.

Sophie has her tribe in New York – her housemates are also her closest friends. While they will not be central to many of the books (although I plan to bring one or more of them onboard during the series), they will remain connected.

Her two closest friends on the ship are Roz (a dancer) and Harmonia (the tarot reader). These two friendships will go through a lot of tests and changes. But the time they spend together, the connections they form through being together in a small space, sharing time and experience together, will be a throughline. Sophie will make other friends on the ship, too. She’s a kind person and people are drawn to that kindness. I hesitate to say “positive energy” because it makes her sound flaky, but that’s what she has. Even during tough times, she tries to find the best in a situation, and the best in the people she meets. She is an optimist, even when hit with pessimistic issues.

Things won’t always run smoothly with Roz and Harmonia. All three of them are too dynamic to fall into the tropes of The Pretty One, The Funny One, The Sexy One and stay here. Things will shift. There will be challenges. There will be arguments.

What I don’t want is one of those fake arguments that supposedly drive the plot, but, in reality, feel false and wrong and cause the reader impatience until the characters make up. I want things to be deeper and not that petty.

Some friends will be short term – cruise ships are notorious for having a turnover in staff and crew. Some will be short term because of a hidden agenda that is revealed during the plot and changes how they relate. Some will be short term because they leave.

She makes friends with men, too. Sophie and Sebastian are friends first, which sets a good foundation as their relationship grows and shifts. Bassio (a ship’s host), Tobias (the ship’s wardrobe supervisor), London (entertainment staff) are all platonic friends. There are other men on the ship with whom Sophie may flirt, but also remain platonic friends. Too often, genuinely platonic male-female friendships (as opposed to failed romances that “settle” for friendship) are ignored in fiction, especially mysteries. It’s something I’d like to read more about. Therefore, it is something I will write more about.

One of the reasons the ship as backdrop intrigues me is the possibilities in the exploration of different layers of friendship.

How do you like to see friendships develop and evolve over the course of a series?

Want to know more about this book? Visit the Nautical Namaste website, learn about Savasana at Sea and buy it.

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

image courtesy of pixabay.com

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.