January 12, 2013

Crossing Over

Connecting books have always been popular.  My first two books featured heroines who were friends in a fictitious town in coastal Florida.  I then switched over to a new group of friends and lovers in New York City, which carried me through several books.  This connection factor made it only natural for the characters to appear in other books, because hey, they didn't stop being friends just because the spotlight had turned elsewhere.

At some point I went from simply writing connecting books in which previously established characters made cameos to actually crossing over.  My earliest of occurrence of this happened with my book The Heat of Heat (2010).  I wanted to do a follow-up on the younger sisters of my character Cornelia "Hatch" Hatchet from From This Day Forward (2002), who were no longer 16 and 17, but 25 and 26.  I decided there needed to be a third character, so I brought in Yolanda Jones, the teenage daughter of Ray Jones, hero of Closer Than Close (2003), who would be about the same age as the other two girls nearly a decade later.  This crossover brought in other characters from those books as well...Harriet Jackson, affectionately known as "Miss Hattie"...Hatch and her husband, Skye Audsley...Ivy Smith and her husband, Ray Jones...Ray's younger daughter, Maya.  Readers who'd read the earlier books told me how much they enjoyed seeing these characters years later.

I now find myself having characters cross over from book to book in my works in progress and in stories still on the drawing board.  In 2006, I submitted a proposal for a book about lifelong friends facing their 50th birthdays, planning on setting it in New York.  When I relocated to the Chicagoland area that year, I switched the setting to Chicago. (That book was published in 2008 under the title Once Upon A Project.)  "Chicagoland" encompasses an area stretching from Gary, Indiana to as far north as Kenosha, Wisconsin.  In the seven years I've lived here, first in Illinois and now in Wisconsin, I've had the opportunity to learn about the rich history in the area, how blacks came up from Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas to work in the steel mills of Northwest Indiana or the auto plants of Kenosha or the beer factories of Milwaukee (the last city is not part of Chicagoland, but it isn't that far away).  The story possibilities are endless.  I've set numerous stories here, in varying cities that aren't household names...places like Gurnee, Illinois...Waukegan, Illinois...Kenosha, Wisconsin...Hammond, Indiana.  If I need a minor but pivotal character, I don't create a new one, I simply take one from a story that's either already been published or is laid out and waiting to be written. 

An example of this:  I've got one character in a mainstream novel who admits to having had a post-divorce affair with the much-younger writer son of her parents' friend.  I've got the pediatrician hero of my WIP who notes that whenever he's not seeing anyone, the pretty general surgeon he'd like to get next to is, and vice versa. That writer and that surgeon, introduced or even simply mentioned in separate books, will be the hero and heroine of an upcoming romance.  The character of Elyse Hughes from Once Upon A Project will be in that book, as well, as a helpful neighbor.  The lakefront condo development where all these characters live will be the setting for yet another romance, which will allow for more character crossover.   

How do you feel about character crossover?  Is it something you enjoy?  Have you even noticed it?