Thicker Than Water

A writer friend used to say, “No one completely escapes their family.” When she was coming up with a character for a story, she always took into account how the character’s family affected his life–if the person had a happy childhood, a miserable one, if he was close to his parents and siblings or tried to escape them.

In my Karnie Cleaver series, Karnie works in her family’s butcher shop. Her mother’s sister and her two kids work part-time there, too. They all get along. Her brother, Chuck, spends most of his time in the back room, cutting the meat.

Their older brother, Porter, moved to Florida to open his own seafood store. He wasn’t satisfied being part of the family business. He often complained about living in Indiana. He wanted something bigger and more exciting. But when he runs into problems, he decides to move back home. When their dad tells Karnie and Chuck that Porter’s returning and wants to work with them, it opens old wounds.

To their parents, Porter was always the golden boy who could do no wrong. The favorite. And their dad still thinks of him that way. Porter wants to convert one section of their shop into a seafood counter for him to run, and their dad loves the idea. Anything to make Porter happy. And just like the story The Prodigal Son, it rubs Karnie and Chuck the wrong way.

It’s going to be interesting to me to write about Karnie’s family in inner turmoil. They all enjoyed each other and got along so well, they were easy to write. Their scenes will be trickier now. But that’s how families are. A lot of dynamics go into close relationships. Blood is thicker than water, though. Usually. And they love each other enough to find solutions, but some of them might be bumpy ones.


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In my mystery A Cut Above, Karnie worked in her family’s butcher shop. They were all close. But by the end of the book, her family’s expanded. She moved in with Matt, a single dad with a three-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy. It might not have happened, except Chelsea took one look at Karnie, held up her arms, and begged for Karnie to hold her. Why? No one knew for sure. Maybe she wanted a woman in her life. Matt’s ex-wife, Renee, left when Chelsea was just six months old. Chelsea didn’t remember her, and when they finally DID meet, didn’t like her. The person she did like was Karnie.

In a lot of movies and stories, stepmothers are evil. Look at Cinderella and Snow White. In A Cut Above, Karnie falls in love with Matt’s kids, and they fall in love her. Even Matt’s Border Collie, Jolly, wants to keep her. But Matt and Karnie had known each other growing up. Matt thought of her as his best friend’s prickly, younger sister. Karnie saw Matt as a good-looking, football hero–someone girls threw themselves at–the guy who married the most popular cheerleader. But Matt’s kids made each of them think again. And this time, they liked what they saw.

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In the Karnie mystery I’m working on now, Matt and Karnie are married, and Karnie’s adjusting to being a mom. She’s nuts about Jackson and Chelsea, and she’s selling her beloved bungalow and moving into Matt’s big farmhouse. The four of them still go to her mom and dad’s house every Sunday for supper, and her brother and his family are always there, too. For Karnie, becoming a stepmother is one of the best things that ever happened to her. She’s embracing it.


Our family is small.  HH’s parents are gone.  So are mine.  I have two sisters…sorry, one now…I’m not used to saying that.  My younger sister died a little over a week ago.  Neither of them married.  HH has one brother.  He married, but he and Stephen had no children before they separated.  We have two daughters, but my younger and her husband decided against children, too.  My older has two boys, grown now, and one of them recently married.  But that’s it.  If we have a “big” family get-together, there are only eight people.

My aunts and uncles are all gone.  So are HH’s.  We have cousins scattered somewhere but haven’t kept in touch.  At my grandson’s wedding, the “groom’s” side of the room was filled with lots of family friends, but hardly any family.  We shake our heads once in a while at our puny size, but we make up for it in how much we care about each other.

When HH and I first got married, it was easy to fill our house with over twenty people with our parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Not any more.  But in the books I write, families are important cores of the stories, even if in Muddy River, “families” are supernaturals who came together to escape being hunted and bonded to protect themselves.

Jazzi, in her series, invites her family and a few chosen friends to her house every Sunday for a family meal.  Each week, they get together to stay in touch and catch up on each others’ lives.  When HH and I first got married, my dad insisted that we take turns cooking suppers with them every Thursday night.  Mom cooked one week.  I cooked the next.  He told us that if we didn’t, it got easier and easier to drift apart.  We were happy to see Mom and Dad and my two sisters every Thursday.  The only problem?  I’d never learned to cook.  I had to plan ahead when it was my turn so that they’d have something edible.

Both sides of my family had reunions once a year.  So did one side of HH’s family.  We met uncles and aunts we only slightly knew and cousins we only talked to occasionally.  There are no more reunions for either of us.  Not any of my friends attend any either.  Maybe reunions got too hard to do when families moved farther and farther apart.

In my Lux series, Lux was an only child, and she lost both of her parents soon after she graduated from college.  But the Johnson family “adopted” her, and she grew so close to them that she moved to Summit City when the four oldest Johnson siblings moved there.  They’re the family she never had.  In the second Lux book that I’m working on now, even her beloved Cook moves to be close to her.

Family isn’t always the people who share your bloodline.  Sometimes, when you move to a new city, they’re the people who share your heart.  In all three of my new series, family plays a big part in the storylines.  Probably because it’s so important to me.  What about you?  Are you close to your families?  Do you still have reunions?

Whatever you’re working on, happy writing!

For Love of Family

It’s my birthday this weekend.  I’ve been in the hospital twice in the last few years–once when I fell off my rocking chair and broke my leg.  (Never use a rocking chair as a stepladder).  And once, in early April, to have my gall bladder out.  My two daughters and two grandsons have suddently decided I’m mortal, even though my younger grandson–when I was on pain meds right after I broke my leg–came in the emergency room, shaking his finger at me and told me that I’m not allowed to die.  I’m pretty sure I can’t make a promise like that, but I’d like to put it off for quite a while yet.  But just in case, everyone decided this was the year that we should celebrate my birthday properly.

My older daughter and grandson live in Indianapolis, and they’re driving up to stay with us for the weekend.  Tyler’s bringing his serious girlfriend.  She’s a sweetie–a real keeper.  My younger daughter is flying up from Florida.  Her husband can’t make it–he’s buried at work.  And my younger grandson wanted to come, but he’s a marine and couldn’t get leave time.  My HH’s (handsome hubby) brother came from Oakland last week for his high school reunion and is staying to celebrate with us this weekend, too.  We’re going to have a house full.  Air mattresses are coming out.  But we’re all looking forward to it.

My daughters and I always said if we got together, we wanted to spend the day in the kitchen and  make bouillabaisse, so this is the year we’re going to do it.  On Sunday, we’re going the manly meat route, and we’re filling the smoker with a brisket, two whole chickens, and three slabs of ribs.  Then we’re inviting my sisters and cousin over, so we’ll add in all the sides–potatoes au gratin, succotash, apple crisp or slab apple pie (haven’t decided yet), and salads.  Then on Monday, everyone has to fly home.  But it will be one heck of a birthday!

In my new mystery series, I wanted Jazzi to have a family like mine.  We might squabble here and there, but we all like each other.  So, I have her hosting her family every week for their Sunday meal.  She cooks lots of food, and they sit around her table and catch up with each other and gab about whatever’s happening in their lives.  Of course, since it’s a mystery, they often talk about clues and suspects.

I know plenty of people who aren’t as lucky as I am, who don’t get along with their family and try to stay away from them.  I wanted to show that with Jazzi’s romantic interest, Ansel.  His family owns a dairy farm in Wisconsin, and they kicked him out the day after he graduated from high school so that the two older sons would make enough money to stay home and help milk the cows.  Ansel has no use for his family and would be happy to put them behind him.  But you know how family is.  Blood is thicker than water, whether you claim your kin or not.

Anyway, I won’t be getting any writing done for a few days–starting when I finish this post.  I’m writing it today and scheduling it for Saturday, so that I’m not even tempted to lose myself in front of my computer for an hour or two.  Hope whatever you’re working on is percolating away, and happy writing!