Monday, August 6, 2012

Hickory, Dickory, Doc

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My guest this week is Mary Welk, author of novels, novellas, and short stories, including "Hickory, Dickory, Doc."
When interviewed by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love for’s “Five for Five Writers Extravaganza”, author Jane Porter had this to say about the craft of writing: “Great fiction requires great characters. Avoid stereotypes!”
Realism was one characteristic I hoped to infuse in Dr. Ben Benjamin when I created him for the short story “Hickory, Dickory, Doc”.  Given the plot and setting, I needed my veterinarian to be both an ‘insider’ and an ‘outsider’—someone who was part of the Maryland horse country crowd, but didn’t wholly belong to it—in order to be viewed by readers as a realistic protagonist for this particular story. I also needed his status to be obvious from the start.
To accomplish this, I began my tale by introducing Ben in the company of Lawrence Wainsworth III. The very name ‘Lawrence Wainsworth III’ conjures up images of landed gentry and old money. Toss in the fact that he owns a blue ribbon horse named King Tut and the stable Tut lives in and you can pretty much figure good old Lawrence isn’t worried about where his next meal is coming from.
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Ben is the complete opposite of Wainsworth when it comes to money and social status. Rather than describe this difference through a lot of background narrative, I let Ben explain his position in the community in two brief but telling sentences. His comments are in response to Wainsworth’s description of an argument that occurred during a chic party at the local country club.
Who was I to doubt Larry's story? He'd been a ringside witness to the main event, while I, Dr. Ben Benjamin, youthful veterinarian to some of the most pampered horses in the state of Maryland, hadn't even been invited to the Hunt Club Ball.
Ben’s social standing is now clearly delineated for the reader; he may walk and talk with the rich, but the young vet is still considered a servant, albeit a highly educated one. Ben’s financial condition is likewise revealed when Wainsworth asks a favor of him. Ben responds thus:
I hesitated only a second. Lawrence Wainsworth III was a good guy. He was also a very wealthy man. Visions of unpaid student loans danced in my head as I screwed on a smile and replied, “Sure, Larry.”
The dissimilarities between the two characters are further explored when Wainsworth says,
“Jack Fielding and I went to school together at Mansfield Prep. I can guarantee you no graduate of that institution would ever stoop to something as plebeian as stabbing a man with a steak knife."
And Ben’s thoughts on this are: Larry uttered that truism with sublime self-assurance, then dismissed me with a soldier-like two-finger salute. I felt a bit like Alice wandering through Wonderland as I threw my medical bag in the back of my pickup, climbed into the cab, and switched on the ignition. I did a good job of keeping a straight face until I passed between the big stone pillars that guarded the entrance to the Wainsworth property. Then I let out a hoot that could have been heard clear back to town.  My best client had just waved the old school tie in my face, and while I had no doubt of his sincerity, Larry's defense of his former classmate tickled my funny bone. Apparently graduates of Mansfield Prep were not above killing off their enemies as long as it was done in a dignified manner.
At Amazon
Creating credible characters is always a challenge. Often, the best way to answer that challenge is to let the characters speak for themselves.

Chicago native Mary Welk has drawn on her experience in the medical field to successfully knock off sixteen characters in her four-book Readers Choice Award winning "Rhodes to Murder" mystery series featuring ER nurse Caroline Rhodes and history professor Carl Atwater. Caroline Rhodes also appears in the novella FRAMED in HEARTS AND DAGGERS, a romantic suspense three-novella book written in cooperation with two other authors. Mary's short stories appear in HOT CRIMES, COOL CHICKS; DARK THINGS II: CAT CRIMES; and CHICAGO BLUES. Several of her stories are available as Kindle Shorts. A former columnist and feature writer for Mystery Scene and Futures magazines, Mary is currently working on a Halloween novella and the fifth full length "Rhodes to Murder" mystery. Her books can be found at and at B&N. Find more about Mary at


Darla said...

Thanks so much for sharing this insight--and examples--on how to provide personal backstory without an information dump.

I don't read short stories, but am intrigued by your Rhodes to Murder series--I'll have to check 'em out!

Mary Welk said...

Thanks for dropping by, Darla, and thanks for checking out my series. I recently got the rights back to the fourth Caroline Rhodes mystery, THE SCARECROW MURDERS, and I hope to have it available on Amazon and B&N in time for Halloween.

Short stories are way harder for me to write than novels because of the limited word count. I love the challenge of writing them, though. They also provide me with a chance to work with new protagonists. Dr. Ben Benjamin is one of my favorite characters. He just might end up in a longer work one of these days. :)

Jerrie Alexander said...

Great post, Mary. And good example on how to work in backstory.

I just complete a short story and found it much harder to write. It was a great exercize for my brain.

Much luck and many sales with the new book!I've added it to my to be read list!

Fiona said...

Thanks Ellis and Mary, you raised nice points about character development. I love the sentence about plebian and manner of murder.
I'm in Chicago too.
Una Tiers

Mary Welk said...

Thanks for commenting, Jerrie, and thanks for adding my books to your TBR list. I appreciate it. I agree with what you said about short story writing being a great exercise for the brain. You really have to be tough on yourself and rein in any tendency to wordiness.

Mary Welk said...

Thanks for stopping by, Fiona. Glad you enjoyed the post and especially the sentence you quoted. I had so much fun writing this story. As a child, I always wanted to be a vet. Never able to fulfill my dream, but at least I can now write about a vet, and I guess that counts for something.:)BTW, Fiona, if you enjoy mysteries and live in Chicago, you might enjoy the Love Is Murder mystery con held each February in Chicago. Just Google Love Is Murder for info. Maybe we'll see each other there this coming February.

Ellis Vidler said...

Mary, nice post. I need to remember the points you made about adding realism. Sometimes it's easy to go off on a tangent and forget what you're supposed to be doing. I like the examples too.

Thanks for coming today.

Mary Welk said...

Thanks for having me, Ellis. I appreciate the opportunity to talk with your blog followers. Always nice to meet new people and exchange ideas.

Polly said...

I loved your examples, Mary. Filtering in the character's backstory is always difficult, and you did it so well I hardly realized it. Kudos. As far as short stories, I admire anyone who can write them. A short story to me is 80,000 words.