Interviewing characters. Who is Jennie Manning?

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Editor’s Note: This post is part of a 28 day blogging challenge from Imperfectblogging.com. The goal is to develop your blogging voice. To learn more, click here. 

If you’ve been getting the emails about my mystery series, the Jennie Manning Mysteries, you probably know that I’ve had one character stay with me since age 13.

Please, don’t do the math.

This is the year that I’m bringing Jennie and her gang of misfits (okay, there’s only like one misfit and everyone else is a cop or dead) to the world but starting the mystery series. Her first story, Santa’s Last Flight, was the first story and an exclusive to the folks who are on the list.

But as I went to write this blog post for Imperfectingblogging.com (the assignment was to interview someone) I remembered that Jennie and I had our own moment as reporter and source and that her first story was back in 1999.

What? I interviewed a character. Why…yes! It’s one of the techniques I tell my writing students to do when they are developing their characters. I did this with Jennie Manning and the results still drive her origin (re: backstory) to this day.

As I re-read this interview from 2007, I see there are some things that have changed. Others, like Jennie’s sense of remorse and redemption, haven’t. I love reading this because this tells me that after several years, I know this character is solid. I know what she is capable of and who she is and her story is one that still interests me.

So, enjoy reading some early Jennie Manning character development. If you want to follow her adventures, sign up here. Her next mystery, Dancing with Death, is turning into something I’m really loving.

Detective Jennie Manning has these eyes like toasted chestnuts and this hair the color of cinnamon at the bottom of a cereal bowl.

But those features are like the trance of the mongoose before she attacks the cobra. Many a thug had confessed before knowing they had. As she sat on the wooden stool in the middle of her catastrophic office the size of a peanut, she slouched, as if carrying the weight of a thousand burdens on her back. Her face was defined but smileless. Her look was serious but not angry. Her clothes, an interesting combination of comfortable camo with cargo pants and a man’s white sleeveless t-shirt thin enough to see her plain white bra. Manning is not a woman of girly sophistication but of function – no make up, no heels, like jewelry. Just a gold necklace of the Virgin Mary, which rested on her chest.

I ask the first question and her body stiffens.

“I grew up on the East side of Houston when all there were, were cows and trees. When to high school at North Shore High. Didn’t go to football games. No dances. No clubs. Happy when those four years were over.”

She ran her long fingers through her long her and exhaled as if confessing a secret she had wanted to forget. Jennie licked her lips and shifted her weight on the stool, her right fist on her hip, her left elbow leaning on the left extended thigh. Her posture dared me to ask another question. So I asked it.

“One sister. We are kinda close. I did my own thing growing up. She did hers. Dad died when I was a senior in high school. My mother is a lunatic. Was born one. Will die one. I try to call her once a week. Same time every week just so she doesn’t get the idea of flying out to see me.”

She pursed her lips and looked around the integration room. I was intrigued by her behavior.

“How much longer is this going to take?”

Keeping my composure, I continued asking questions.

“I went into law enforcement because all things are not equal. Some times the good guys lose and the bad guys win. I want to make it right, okay? Why so many questions?”

Her position on the stool didn’t change but her shoulder looked more tense. I dove deeper. I wanted to know what brought her to Phoenix, AZ, a long way from Houston.

“I needed out,” She placed both feet on the stools last bar, rolled her hand into fist and placed them on her hip bone. Her back was straight and stiff. “I love H-town but if I had stayed, no way I would have been a cop. I’ve traveled to a different part of the country after high school. Phoenix just stuck. Graduated the academy at the top of my class. Worked for PPD for five years. Detective three. In record time.”

What brought you back to Houston?

She slumped down again and began playing with the necklace around her neck while looking at one of the corners of the room. Her lips pouted. She sat there in silence for awhile before answering.

“I wanted to be a good sister.”

How so?

Her pair of chestnut eyes looked directly into mine as if beaming a laser from them. Jennie stopped playing with the medallion the gold chain in mind motion.

“To catch my sister’s killer.”

Her answer was direct, almost blunt.

What will happen when you catch him?

“I’ll kill him.”

And then?

“The dreams will stop. My guilt will go away.” She dropped the medallion and ran both hands through her hair before resting her forearms over her knees. “I was helping her get her life back together. After dad died, she belonged to the street. She got mixed up with some wrong people. She ended up trickin’, druggin’. She was 23 when she was killed. Slaughtered like an animal and raped in the back seat of the car I helped her buy. She…”

Jennie trailed off. Sherlock, her tall, drink of water partner walked with a short, clear glass of water in one hand. The other was behind his back. Jennie looked up appreciatively, took the glass and dumped the liquid on the floor. She handed it back and Sherlock rolled his eyes. Taking it from her, he revealed the secret he had hidden behind his back – the final glass full of Jim Beam. He poured it, handed the glass back to Jennie and left the room.

I waited until she took the first gulp before continuing. She emptied half the glass.

How often do you drink?

“Not often. Only when it gets bad. Like now. The memories flooded too quick. This calms me down,” she said holding up the glass and taking another sip. Jennie finished it and placed it on the desk next to her.

That drink is a little strong, don’t you think? Why do you feel so guilty?

Jennie stared down to her lap where the thumb of the right hand stroked the inside of the other.

“I wasn’t here. I wasn’t here to defend her, to protect her. I left and the streets got her.”

But that’s not you’re fault.

“I’m the oldest,” she snapped. “Of course its my fault.”

She looked back down and her hair guarded her face. I listened to see if she was sobbing but I heard nothing but her breathing. After a prolonged silence, she lifted her head with eyes transfixed and large, and said painfully. “Are we done?”

There was more I wanted to know but Jennie looked like she was about to become a cage animal so I left her off the hook. There would be more questions later but for right now, she needed a breather and so did I.

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