Back in grad school when dirt was young and dinosaurs were slowly fading away, one of my friends got into trouble with her family when she started dating a guy named Sa-Li Ma.
Hmm, great name. I filed it away at a time when I never thought I'd write one book, let alone plan out a series. Fast forward to now.
I decide to set a novel in Roanoke, VA. I want a stranger in town, someone who will stand out and not fade easily into the local population. I want him to have a prominent position in law enforcement. And I want him to be called Sa-Li Ma.
I have a name. It's a Chinese name. What does this skeleton of a character look like? Well, he's tall because his ancestors come from an area in China where most were horsemen. Why horsemen? Because "ma" in Chinese is horse. He has black hair and eyes, is muscular in a lean sort of way. His face is a land of planes, not at all round.
Good, this name now has a body and a hint of a profession. Let's make him a DEA agent leading a multi-jurisdictional task force charged with slowing or stopping the opioid epidemic sweeping through many southern states. It's an important job, prominent, dangerous.
His age? Ah, he has to be around forty-five. Not much older. Is he married? Here comes a chance for character development and conflict. His wife is dead when the series opens, an FBI agent killed in the line of duty a month before he shows up in town. Does he have children? One. A daughter aged five.
So, where are we? We have a widower in a dangerous job with a princess for a daughter. What opportunities to humanize the tough guy when he has a tea party for her birthday, plays knight-in-shining-armor, and reads her to sleep at night. He needs someone to take care of the little girl, whom we will call Maggie Rose (named after a fellow writer who lost her battle with cancer a few years back). Enter his sister, who has no name right now. Having a Chinese woman living in his house opens the way for misunderstandings about her role in the family.
With this, we have a protagonist who can carry a single novel or multiple novels. His first challenge will be...
Oooh, that would be telling.
Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max Unintended Consequences and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery. She has a new short story, "Midnight in the Church of the Holy Grape," in 50 Shades of Cabernet. Her works have appeared in several anthologies and on NPR.