Since mysteries are best sold as a series I never planned it any other way. Crispin, my ex-knight turned detective, would move through the real historical timeline, and that would take many books to tell all of his tale.
A mystery book discussion group at BookPeople in Austin I belong to recently read the first book in the series (Veil of Lies) and that is what sparked me to initiate this interview. So some of my questions stem from that discussion. For example, how did you decide which characters to carry over into the later books? I'm glad Jack, Crispin's apprentice, was carried over.
Jack was never going to be an integral part of the series, funnily enough. But he was so well liked by my agent and others that I began to think that I could make him work on all sorts of levels. Usually the hardboiled detective is a lone wolf and for the most part, so is Crispin. But it’s always helpful to have someone there to bounce ideas off of, to have to rescue or to rescue you. And because the books follow Crispin’s life and life lessons, we get a chance to watch Jack grow up while at the same time observing how this alters Crispin’s outlook and seasons his maturing story. It turned out to be a godsend.
John of Gaunt was another character who was going to appear in the first book and walk away, but he just kept walking back into the room. Now I find he needs to make an appearance at least once a book, which is getting tough as each book progresses. By the time we get to the fifth book, Blood Lance (to be released in the fall of 2012), Lancaster is out of the country fighting in Spain for the next three years and consequently, the next three books. It’s not practical for him to show up or to write a letter to Crispin, so his usual appearance is understudied by his son, Henry of Bolingbroke. Which makes perfect sense since Henry will become more and more important to the current politics (after all, Henry becomes King Henry IV). Not only does the Muse move the plot but so does history.
As for the other characters, well, it takes a village to flesh out a series. Crispin’s circle of friends (the tavern keepers Gilbert and Eleanor Langton, John Rykener, Abbot Nicholas, Geoffrey Chaucer, Martin Kemp his landlord, etc.) and associates (like Lenny, Alice Kemp, and the parade of sheriffs) round out the cast. Some of these characters will stick around and serve as anchors, while some will disappear (or even die). Some are fictional and some are not. I think it helps to ground the reader in the familiar in book after book; it’s nice to see a familiar face. You never know who will pass through Crispin’s life just as you don’t know about your own life. It keeps it interesting.