A Conversation with Diane and Emilie

Diane Chamberlain, one of my best friends as well as one of my favorite authors, is joining me for a chat on our blogs. To celebrate my new book, 
One Mountain Away, we decided to have a conversation about characters—specifically characters who might not be all that sympathetic, at least not at first blush. We started our chat  on Diane’s blog and today we’ve moved it to mine.  Look for more at Diane’s on Monday.  I hope you’ll enjoy our give and take. If you have questions on the subject that you’d like us to address, ask away. We’ll be giving away copies of Sunset Bridge (mine) and Summer’s Child (Diane’s) to randomly selected commenters on each of our blogs. Good luck!

Diane: Have you ever created a character who was simply irredeemable, from start to finish?

: Absolutely. Several come to mind, sociopaths, all of them, which are nearly, by definition, irredeemable, at least as we understand the
pathology. But sociopaths aren’t much fun–even though they predominate in the thriller genre–because many people think they’re born not made, and what “makes” a character act badly also makes him/her sympathetic.

In One Mountain Away we see a pivotal moment in Charlotte’s childhood played out in a flashback very early in the story–by the way I sat in “that” church a long time ago and watched “that” preacher swat flies and wasps with his Bible. Anyway. . . background does make a difference. But I also think in the examples of Annie (Keeper of the Light) and Noelle (The Midwife’s Confession), you found another interesting way to deal with unsympathetic characters. First, neither WAS unsympathetic until more of their story was revealed, and by then we cared about who they were and were willing to forgive them almost anything.  In addition the books were filled with more sympathetic people who had been affected by them. Those are great examples of yet another way to bring the reader along with us as we explore flawed characters.

Now, in your own experience as a social worker, did you ever work with anybody who you knew would never change, no matter how much therapy he/she received? And does whatever you concluded show up in your novels? Did it affect your basic belief about good and evil, because your characters are always multi-dimensional, never completely good or bad, and I wonder if that’s a writer thing or a Diane thing?

Diane: What an interesting question, Emilie. Back when I was a therapist, we were trained to always be on the lookout for “personality disorders”, those afflictions that were so ingrained in a person they would be impossible to change. As a young therapist, I fought the limitations of that diagnosis. As a more seasoned therapist, I came to accept them. Some people cannot change who they innately are, but they can develop ways of coping with the personality traits that make it hard for them to get by in the world. So while I believe there are some personality traits that can’t be changed, I believe they can be creatively dealt with in the hands of a good therapist.

As for good and evil, you’re right. I think most people are a mix. That said, I have thrown a couple of sociopaths into my books: Ray in The Good Father and the scheming psychiatrist in Breaking the Silence. They serve a purpose, but I don’t think they’re nearly as interesting to read about as someone who grapples with the good and bad inside himself. That’s what makes Charlotte such a rich character. Examples from my own books are Tim in The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes and Savannah in The Good Father.

On another note, you have a character, Harmony Stoddard, in One Mountain Away who elicits instant sympathy. Do you have any tricks of the trade to share for making the reader care so quickly for someone?

Emilie: First, I think the author has to “believe” a character is sympathetic to make one read that way. And what’s sympathetic for me might not be for someone else. But if we don’t find a struggle important and understandable, the reader definitely won’t, either. Harmony is homeless and pregnant, homeless through a situation she couldn’t control and pregnant, despite her best intentions not to be. I think almost any woman can place herself in Harmony’s life and know what that must feel like. And maybe that’s the key? That all of us, author and readers, must be able to put ourselves in a character’s shoes to feel compassion. If the character’s battles are too distant from our own realities, they’re harder to understand and care about. The novelist must be able to illustrate the ways our own struggles are like that character’s, even if in other ways the character is very different from us.


Thanks for reading. . . Diane and I will be continuing our conversation on her blog on Monday. Be sure to watch for it there, and please leave a comment or ask a question for a chance to win our books.



  1. Marjorie Roberts on August 17, 2012 at 9:13 am

    I have almost finished One Mountain Away. It got too late last night to continue. I am going out of town this weekend, but will have a screened in porch to relax on in Colonial Beach, VA, and I will have Kleenex on hand. I previously read The Good Father while there. Both of these books relate to so much in our every day lives. Have you heard of Guardian Angel Service Dogs? Our band director and his wife’s 9 year old granddaughter will be getting a Diabetic Alert Dog in December. My copy of One Mountain Away will go to them. I plan on reading all of the books by both of you. Next up will be Summer’s Child. Thank you!

    • Emilie Richards on August 17, 2012 at 9:24 am

      I hope you enjoy it, Marjorie. And how great for your band director’s granddaughter to get a service dog. I was surprised while doing my research to find all the varied uses.

  2. Meredith Potter on August 17, 2012 at 11:09 am

    These blog posts are SO fun to read! They’re like a little peek into the thinking and planning behind each character in your book. I’ve begun to see that they’re not just characters that may or may not evolve in the book, but there’s specific reasons why you chose to change or not change that character. I love reading about the thinking behind each and every character! (=

    I was just wondering (and this is a question for both of you) how you choose which characters will change, how you decide the events that lead to that change and also, (this question is really off-topic) how do you get started on a book? What makes you decide “hmm, this sounds like a good idea for a book?”

    Also, to Emilie Richards, I found a few of your books on Amazon, and I’m really looking forward to getting a copy of “Whiskey Island”, and “Wedding Ring”! I also want to read One Mountain Away! (=

    To Diane, I’ve read every book on the shelves at my library written by you, and I’ve started reading each one a second time. My ultimate favorite is still “The Lies We Told” though. (= I would love to read Summer’s Child! (=

    Thank you both for letting us read the discussion between you two wonderful authors! (=

    • Emilie Richards on August 17, 2012 at 1:45 pm

      Hope we can answer some of these. Thanks for thought-provoking questions and nice comments.

  3. mary hay on August 17, 2012 at 11:10 am

    what a good book. can’t wait to read it. thanks for the giveaway.

  4. debbie Haupt on August 17, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Marjorie, what a great cause I’ve just recently heard that service dogs do more than service the seeing impaired but can also sniff out other illnesses too.
    Congratulations to your friend’s Granddaughter.
    I know that you will enjoy Emilie’s novels (I’ve read them all)
    I have only read a couple of Diane’s but they were rich and wonderful too.

    Emilie, it’s been a nice conversation thank you for posting it.
    see you soon

  5. Kim in Bay Village on August 17, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    When I first started reading One Mountain Away, I thought to myself, “Well, I really don’t care too much for Charlotte….” This feeling was unusual, because I always love the characters in Emilie’s books. But as the pages turned, Emilie revealed more detail and I found my opinion changing. You are a wonderful storyteller Emilie!

    • Emilie Richards on August 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm

      Thank you, Kim. It’s always a challenge to keep readers interested long enough for the turnaround to begin. Glad I did with you.

  6. Sheree on August 17, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    I am a self professed book nerd with a 5 book a week habit and I am not looking for a support group:}What I am looking for is new authors(to me) who manage to touch my soul and sow the seeds of uncertainity and moral dilemma into the fabric of my conscious soul. If Diane Chamberlain says you are a great writer, then who am I to disagree:} I am looking forward to reading your books.

  7. Dale Harcombe on August 21, 2012 at 1:56 am

    What a privilege to read this conversation between you two. Thanks

  8. Lisa Helms on August 21, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    I have just finished reading Wedding Ring and have Endless Chain and Lover’s Knot ready to go. I have also read Iron Lace and Rising Tides. Emilie is one of my favorite new discoveries. I am trying to get my hands on everything by her. Great work Emilie!

    • Emilie Richards on August 21, 2012 at 4:29 pm

      Thanks, Lisa. So glad you’re enjoying my novels.

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