Thursday, July 5, 2012

Me and my sidekick

By Gayle Carline

When I started my first mystery novel, I invented Benny Needles, picturing him as an amoral man who collects memorabilia in order to sell it, because he'll do anything to make a buck. Once I began figuring out why a grown man would have an ice cube tray autographed by Dean Martin, and why he'd hire a detective to find it in his own house, it put a different spin on Benny's world. Suddenly I had a sympathetic, if annoying, man who needed a pallie - Dean Martin.

I like to write journals in my characters' voices. It helps me get to know them. However, when I went to write a journal for Benny, I struggled. It finally dawned on me: Benny is not a journal writer. What "Benny" wound up writing was a sixth grade essay, "My Hero." It took me awhile to decipher it, since Benny's handwriting was mostly illegible (at least in my head), and Benny as a twelve-year old is no Hemingway. But here it is.

* * * * *

My Hero by Benny Needles

My hero is Dean Martin. Dean Martin sings and acts and is a big star. He was born in Steubenville, Ohio on June 7, 1917. His real name is Dino Paul Crocetti. Dean Martin has sang lots of songs and made lots of albums. He has starred in many movies. My favorite is Rio Bravo. He plays Dude who starts out drunk and pretty dirty but then takes a bath and helps John Wayne shoot the bad guys.

Dean Martin is my hero because he is the King of Cool and gets to do fun things, like singing and making movies. He is really funny on his TV show that my mom and me watch every Thursday night. Everybody likes him and they call him Dino which is funny because its his real name even tho he changed it to Dean.

My dad has been gone for two years, so sometimes I get sad and miss him. When my mom says I look like Dean Martin it makes me happy. Sometimes I wish Dean Martin was my dad. Then I could see him every Thursday on TV and maybe we would have a secret sign, like he could wink, to say hello to me. When I grow up, I want to be cool, just like Dean Martin.
* * * * *

When I wrote my latest Peri Minneopa Mystery, Hit or Missus, I originally didn't plan to have Benny in the story. He was a client in Freezer Burn, so I thought he wouldn't fit in. I planned to bring him back in the third or fourth book, again as a client. But I had so many readers ask, "You're bringing Benny back, right?" I was surprised. So I found a way for him to return, in a most effective yet annoying role.

I think Benny is now part of the recurring case of my Peri mysteries. This means Dino will be there, too, guiding Benny toward the everlasting light of Cool.

This leads me to a question: What are some of your favorite secondary characters in books you've read?


  1. I liked Benny too. He's quite unusual and I admire your creativity.

    In my series, my favorite secondary character is a reporter named Sophie Speranza. She's tenacious and doesn't let guilt or drama or technicalities get in the way of digging up the truth or making justice happen.

  2. It's rare that I remember a secondary character from a book, so when your readers ask for Benny to come back it says to me you've done great work with him.

    Two of my favorites are Jeannie from Dead Lift (Rachel Brady) and the crazy bartender / musician from Mirror Image (Dennis Palumbo).

  3. My favorite is Mouse from the Easy Rawlins series. I actually cried at the end of Little Yellow Dog.

  4. Gayle, thank you! I loved Mouse!

    I'm like CJ… couldn't remember a secondary character for the life of me.

    But I know the ones I like when I read them!

    And I know the ones I write when they want their own book. They become like three year-olds. Very demanding… and loud.

  5. I loved Benny's character. As for secondary characters, I can't name one that sticks with me, but not because they weren't adorable. I have an appalling memory.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.