Creating a mystery series character

Please welcome Sally Carpenter to the blog today. She’s talking about creating a character for a mystery series.


Here’s Sally!


            When creating a series character for a mystery, one needs a protagonist who’s worthy of the honor—someone is not only likeable and can stay interesting for several books but who can also believable solve a crime. So for my humorous caper books, why on earth did I pick a former 70s teen idol as an amateur sleuth?

            As I built my character, I discovered that teen idols have a number of qualities that would serve them well as a detective.

            Time is on their side. A “retired” teen idol isn’t locked into a nine-to-five job. A teen idol who handled his income well doesn’t have to work every day. He’s free to look for clues and interview suspects.

            Money—that’s what I want. Teen idols have enough money that they can travel about, go to nice restaurants, and do what it takes to find the killer.

            Intelligence. Most people perceive teen idols as vapid, cute guys with big smiles who sing fluffy love songs—but these guys are no dummies. A guy needs his wits about him to cope with the demands and the insane schedule of a teen idol which consisted of working on a TV show, records, guest appearances and concerts.

            Charm. Teen idols know how to deal with the public and talk to people. They’ve worked with a variety of people in the studio and on stage. They’re extroverts and make friends quickly. They can easily glean information out of a person of interest.

            Celebrity status. Teen idols are known the world over. If they need a seat on an overbooked plane or a table at a crowded restaurant, that’s no problem. People will readily open doors and talk to a sleuthing teen idol.

            The downside is a teen idol is easily recognizable and can’t go undercover without a good disguise. And sometimes the idol is distracted by his fans who want autographs at the most awkward moments—like when the police are interrogating him.

            Eye for detail. Teen idols are meticulous about their craft. Most of them wrote or produce their music. Their stage shows were carefully choreographed and well rehearsed. Some teen idols moved into directing, producing and writing videos and TV shows. They paid attention to their public image.

            So they see clues that others miss. They pay attention and see the big picture.

            A teen idol is also aware of his surroundings. He’s had to dodge hyper fans and persistent reporters. He can spot someone tailing them. He’s usually extra-careful when out in public.

            Moral center. Teen idols are good guys and have a strong sense of right and wrong. They’re generous with their time and money, quietly giving to charitable causes. They want to see justice served and a disordered universe restored.

            Sense of humor. These guys are funny! They know how to work the crowd and get the audience jazzed up. They have a good sense of their own worth and can laugh at themselves. They’ve managed to overcome career slumps, divorces, and public criticism and still remain optimist. They’re good storytellers when relating their sleuthing exploits.

            Persistence. Teen idols have to work hard to overcome their “bubblegum” image and move into a post-idol career. They keep plugging away on film or music projects until the finish. They will continue dogging on a case, despite the obstacles, until it’s solved.

            My amateur sleuth is 38-year-old blonde haired, blue eyed Sandy Fairfax who recorded 10 gold records in the 1970s and starred in the hit TV show, “Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth.” After being out of the public eye for far too long, he quit drinking and is making a serious attempt at a comeback.

           In his first case, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper” (Eureka! Award/Left Coast Crime finalist for best first mystery novel), from Oak Tree Press, a guest appearance at a Beatles fan convention turns deadly when a member of the tribute band is shot and the police finger Sandy as the prime suspect. Sandy’s looking for the killer while dealing with fans and filling in for the dead musician for a concert.

           His second case, due out in late 2013, is “The Sinister Sitcom Caper.” Sandy’s a guest star on “Off Kelter,” the lowest-ranked TV show of the season. When an actor drops dead at his feet, he suspects foul play. A dwarf and an animal actor aid Sandy as he uncovers some Hollywood secrets.

What are the qualities that you look for in a literary sleuth/detective? Share a comment to be entered into a draw to win a signed copy of my book! Open to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

Sally Carpenter is the  a native Hoosier now living in Moorpark, Calif.

She has a master’s degree in theater from Indiana State University. While in school two of her plays, “Star Collector” and “Common Ground,” were finalists in the American College Theater Festival One-Act Playwrighting Competition. “Common Ground” also earned a college creative writing award. “Star Collector” was produced in New York City and also the inspiration for her book.

Carpenter also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do.

She’s worked a variety of jobs including actress, freelance writer, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain, and tour guide/page for a major movie studio. She’s now employed at a community newspaper.

She’s a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles chapter. Her short story, “Dark Nights at the Deluxe Drive-in,” will appear in the 2013 SinC/LA anthology, “LAst Exit to Murder.” Contact her at Facebook or

Cindy here again! That’s some great information about series characters, Sally! Thanks for being here. Everyone, don’t forget to leave a comment by Monday for a chance to win a copy of Sally’s book.


Until next time…




9 thoughts on “Creating a mystery series character

  1. Cheryl

    I like my literary characters to be smart and have a sense of humor and a great imagination. Thanks for having this contest.

  2. Sally Carpenter

    Thanks for hosting me, Cindy. I also want to add one more trait of a good sleuth: Fearlessness. Teen idols and sleuths are courageous and jump right in to get things done. They are eager to learn new skills that will help in their careers and sleuthing. But sometimes this fearlessness borders on recklessness!

  3. Craig Faustus Buck

    Good thoughts for a protagonist, Sally, though I’m not sure intelligence and morality would be widely accepted as common teen idol traits, though they certainly pertain to some, such as yours. 🙂

    1. Sally Carpenter

      As a whole, most teen idols were not as “rowdy” as rock/punk stars. And if the idol got into mischief, his manager covered it up from the press.

  4. Sandra de Helen

    Hi Cindy and Sally! Good interview. I have to admit I never would have thought of these traits in a teen idol, but they made sense, some especially. I look forward to reading your book, Sally!

  5. J. R. Lindermuth

    A good summary of the necessary qualities for your character, Sally. And a good many of those characteristics are to be found in the series sleuths we’ve come to know and love. Intelligence, persistence, curiosity and a sense of humor. Can’t go wrong with those qualities.

  6. Sandy Cody

    I agree with the traits you mentioned as being necessary to a good sleuth. Not all teen idols possess all the traits, but then not all teen idols are sleuth material. Another quality teen idols possess that helps in sleuthing is knowing how to use the fact that people tend to underestimate you. Nice post. Your sleuth and your book sound interesting.

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