A good friend and beta reader didn't like Lauren very well in Books One and Two. She said something to the effect that Lauren was a little too whiny and weak and not someone she would want to read about more. She had a similar reaction to Jim's character as well when he interacted with Lauren in Book Two. I didn't feel this way at the time, but have the wisdom of multiple writing careers behind me, so I knew I needed to listen and to improve the experience of knowing Lauren.
To me, Lauren is that quiet friend we all have that you find out so many amazing things about and wonder why on earth she never said anything to let you know the wonderful things in all the time you've known her. Then you realize that your friend is a private person, doesn't like to share, and you haven't been letting her get a chance to express herself much because she's been dealing with you and your volatile nature. Or at least, that was my explanation for Lauren's evolution in her own story.
Anti-wimpy was easy to fix. I made Lauren a martial artist. End of debate.
Whiny was harder because she had to cure that one for herself. To help her along, I gave her a nasty temper and kept putting her in situations that tested the limits of her losing it. She'd been holding back from just about everyone that knew her, including her mother, her ex, her friends, and Jim. The person who knew the real her was her sensei, and he was insisting she fix herself. When she finally starting letting her real self out--mostly because of her interactions with Jim, it turned into a deluge of revelation for all the characters. Fortunately, Lauren had two great friends in Alexa and Regina who ultimately decided to support her efforts to become herself.
Setup for this sample scene: Alexa and Regina have talked Lauren into dating which she hates doing, but continues to do at this point, even though her patience with it is diminishing. She does not see that it's helping, nor is it making her happy. Alexa and Regina, who are sure they know best, think the tipping point is just right around the corner. And they love her enough to try and make her do what is right for herself.
“All I really want is something simple and easy,” Lauren demanded, tossing her hair as she talked. She was growing it out, a visible rebellion to the perfectly coiffed bob she’d worn for years. The animated motions of her hands sent the glittering bracelets she wore with her silver dress tinkling.
“Now what did I tell you about wishing for something simple?” Alexa asked, the question really a warning.
Lauren looked at the table. “Stop acting like my mother, Alexa. You might be wrong, you know.”
“I might, but I’m not,” Alexa denied archly. “Regina knows sex. I know men. Be careful what you wish for, Lauren. The man you want has been holding back as much and almost as long as you have. If his reasons are half as intense as yours, all hell might break loose when he lets go.”
“Do you two have to be right all the time?” Lauren shook her head and stood, too mad to stay any longer. “Well, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life hoping Jim might eventually have sex with me. That man could write the damn saint’s handbook on how to deny yourself sexual gratification,” she said, rolling back her shoulders. “Since evidently I’m not alluring enough to seduce him into changing his mind, I guess I’ll just go kiss another damn frog.”
Alexa and Regina burst out laughing when Lauren was finally out of sight and earshot.
“Well, she’s awake—and very aware it seems,” Regina said happily. “I hope Jim isn’t suffering too much.”
“Casey said he’s ill from the thought of her dating,” Alexa said, smiling.
“Gee, that’s too bad,” Regina said. “Lauren’s the first woman Jim has let get so close. I’m glad you warned her about Jim. He’s definitely holding back with her. He wants her bad.”
“You can tell how much from the way he looks at her. But what exactly are you most worried about?” Alexa asked, laughing. “Maybe I could cover it in my next lecture.”
“When Jim’s composure crumbles, the sex isn’t going to be pretty, sister,” Regina said, doing a happy chair dance as she finished the excellent pizza.
“Tell me about it,” Alexa said. “I’m actually a little worried about their big moment myself.”
Regina laid a hand on Alexa’s arm. “Lauren’s a big girl, Mom. She’s going to be fine. Trust me, I go through this all the time with clients.”
“Well, she has us at least,” Alexa said, picking up her own pizza and taking a bite.
“Yes,” Regina agreed. “Lauren has us to help her get through this transition. She’ll emerge a beautiful sexual butterfly from her celibate cocoon one day.”
“Butterfly? Yeah, I guess that fits Lauren, but I like the frog analogy better. I really want to hear more about frog sex,” Alexa said around a smile and bite of pizza.
“Do an internet search on it then,” Regina suggested, laughing as Alexa looked at her oddly. “I don’t know anything about frog sex. I just said that stuff to get Lauren riled up.”
What was the inspiration for Jim's character?
See the epic explanation for the storyline in Part 1 of this Q&A, and then imagine writer shock for me when the secret Jim had in Book Two for not pursuing Lauren turned out to be a wife in Book Three. The hardest part for me was deciding how good the hero had to be to deserve the heroine's continual faith in him when he felt so torn about his absent wife. So I gave him and Lauren similar hangups and values about love and sex, and let them struggle for who got over them first so they could be together. I was gratefully relieved when Jim finally decided to tell Casey and Ben the whole truth and let my left brain rule that it happened EARLY in the story. I have to admit the deepening friendship between all three heroes of the first three books became one of my favorite parts of Book Three and allowed me many opportunities for humor. (Excerpt edited for clarity and to remove spoiler info--LOL.)
“I have never shared this with anyone but those who absolutely had to know. I couldn’t risk the press or anyone else distressing her. I felt you needed to join the category of those who need to know, but now I’m going to ask you not to share it. Regina knows. Please don’t tell Alexa until—,” Jim faltered.
“—until you decide if you want to tell Lauren?” Casey finished, suddenly understanding. “Don’t lose a minute’s sleep over it. Regina isn’t the only one with ethics in this group. You can trust us, Jim.”
“No doubt,” Jim replied. Trust is what he’d been learning about Casey for weeks. Kaiser, he already knew had a heart of gold. “If you’ll excuse me for just a bit, I need to deal with some paperwork. Feel free to look around. We can meet here in about twenty minutes and go to lunch.”
Jim walked quickly down the hall and through some glass doors into an office area.
Ben and Casey remained where he’d left them, too stunned to move.
“Holy shit,” Casey said softly, putting a hand over his mouth to keep everything else he was thinking from just pouring out in a further flood of swearing.
“You can say that again,” Ben said. “Damn it, I knew Jim was a good man, but hell—he’s more a saint than even Lauren.”
Casey just shook his head from side to side, unable to fathom how a man could live with such a situation.
“Ben, your wife keeps stuff like this to herself all the time. I can’t even imagine carrying this kind of emotional burden around. I think I’d be the crazy one. No wonder Jim’s struggling over his attraction to Lauren,” Casey said.
“I think Jim would have problems with any woman, but at least Lauren is trustworthy,” Ben commented. “I hope like hell he tells her. Not that it would fix everything, but at least there would be some honest communication between them.”
They stood there in silence for a couple of minutes as they tried to absorb the shock of what they had learned.
Casey finally broke the silence.
“Don’t look now, Benjamin, but Regina is starting to rub off on you,” Casey remarked with a smirk. “You’re sounding like her more and more.”
“Not surprising,” Ben said proudly. “I spend a lot of time rubbing us together. That much friction has to cause some transference.”
A low laugh rumbled in Casey’s chest. “You can never make fun of my military euphemisms again.”What have readers said about this book so far?
“Deal,” Ben said with a wicked grin.
“Deal,” Ben said with a wicked grin.
Several have said it was very different from first two. Two or three mentioned loving the ending. Some readers said it was the most interesting of the first three. I've heard very few complaints about it. The highest praise was probably from those who said something to the effect of each book in the series being a very different story but still connecting the characters well. I got to sigh in relief hearing that feedback.
Personally, I loved the evolution of Jim's character as much I loved the evolution of Lauren's. I would like to write more complicated books, but sssshushhh!!....please don't tell the muses yet. Thanks. :-)