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Why Sarah Armstrong Hates Me

Okay, writing fiction isn’t a popularity contest. That’s true. So this shouldn’t matter, right? Especially since, it’s not really possible for a character in a novel to hate anyone, including the author, right? Still, I’m beginning to wonder.

You see, Sarah’s my heroine. I’ve written three books featuring this Texas Ranger/profiler, a woman I invented sitting at my computer one afternoon after deciding against a host of other protagonists, including a crocheting grandmother and a junior league hostess. I’d been thinking about Sarah for a long time, whittling away at the block of marble trying to uncover the statue inside. Maybe, since my books are set in Texas, instead of a Michelangelo analogy, I should have said, taking a chain saw to the trunk of a fallen live oak to reveal the roughly hewn armadillo? No, that’s all just bad. Let’s just move on.

Anyway, to her delight or dismay, Lieutenant Sarah Armstrong has become my heroine, the center of my fictional world, and since 2007, I’ve literally tormented this poor woman’s life. But then she’s not alive. I know that. But to write about her, she has to be real to me and, to some extent (I’m sincerely not delusional), she is. The result is that I drive through Tomball, Texas, where I’ve planted the Rocking Horse, the ranch Sarah lives on with her mother and daughter, and I sometimes surprise myself by looking for the place. Of course, I’d shock myself even more if I found it.

The problem is that as the master of Sarah’s fate, I haven’t made her life particularly tranquil. I started out giving her a hefty load of baggage: widowed with a small daughter, a demanding job that includes hunting killers. This is not the stuff of meditating and finding ones center. As the pages develop and the chapters build in each of the books, I have to admit that I see it as my task to torment Lieutenant Sarah Armstrong. So far, I believe I’ve done it remarkably well.

In book one, Singularity, I had Sarah come to blows with pretty much everyone around her. Certain she’s chasing a serial killer, she butts heads with the powers-that-be who want to pin the murder of a prominent businessman on his beautiful young widow. And then, when the killer sets his sights on Sarah, well, it only gets worse.

In book two, Blood Lines, Sarah had to put up with the most irritating pop star, a spoiled rotten teenager used to having her own way. That the girl needed Sarah’s help to keep a killer at bay didn’t appear to matter. Oh Sarah’s blood pressure was rising, and rising, and the stalker kept getting closer and closer, and…. I’d better not go there. Think hospitalization and you’ll be close to the way this book ended.

So, don’t you think I should have given the woman a break in book three? Isn’t that the human thing to do? I could have sent Sarah to a spa in the Texas Hill Country. A massage, a little TLC, repair for the body and the soul? Well, maybe I should have, but that’s not what I did.

Book three, The Killing Storm, gives Sarah no R&R, no chance to catch up on her reading or writing in her journal. (Actually, she doesn’t keep a journal. I think I kind of do that for her.) Instead of kicking back, Sarah is thrown into a whirlwind investigation into the kidnapping of a four-year-old boy out of a Houston park, but there is – get ready – a hurricane bearing down on the city. Talk about complications. Add to that the heartbreak of her floundering relationship with the FBI agent she’s been cozying up to since book one and a slew of slaughtered longhorns with ancient symbols scrawled on their hides, and I have to admit that I have once again made Sarah’s day, but not in a good way.

Thinking about all of this, it’s a relief that Sarah is fictional. Otherwise, if she were ever to knock on my door, I’m doubtful that she’d be there to say thank you. And that woman knows how to handle a gun. It wouldn’t be pretty.

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