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Stephany Tullis

Small town charm, larger than life characters


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July 18, 2019

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How and Why Do Writers Develop Characters Who Demonstrate Kindness? Part 4

May 7, 2019

I'm excited to continue my discussion with my favorite authors on the 'kindness traits' of their characters. Specifically, I want to know why, how and if the 'kindness factor' comes into play as they write their books and develop a character.


This week, guest author and friend Anna Celeste Burke introduces us to Bernadette, the kindest character she's ever created. Bernadette is featured in the Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery series, just one of several award winning series written by Ms. Burke. Ms. Burke has written five books in the Jessica Huntington Series plus a prequel—Love a Foot Above the Ground—Bernadette & Jessica Huntington’s backstory.






"Life is an extravaganza! figuring out how to hang tough and make the most of the wild ride is the challenge. 

On her way to Oahu to join the rock musician and high school drop-out I had met in San Diego and married in Tijuana, I was nabbed by the police as a runaway. When the police let me go and the rock band broke up, my husband and I had to find another way to survive. Our next stop: Disney World where we trained to be chefs, courtesy of the Walt Disney World University. A GED for my husband and many more years of education landed us in academia at The Ohio State University. Retired now from my role as a professor in social work and behavioral science, I have picked up a long-time interest in writing fiction. I'm still married to the same sweet guy and live with him in the Palm Springs area. In addition to reading and writing fiction, I enjoy painting, hiking, hanging out with my handsome husband and tending to my Siamese kitties. 

I enjoy snooping into life's mysteries with fun, fiction, & food--California style! I write books in five series: The Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery series set in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, the Corsario Cove Cozy Mystery series set on California's Central Coast, The Georgie Shaw Cozy Mystery series set in Orange County, California, The Seaview Cottages Cozy Mystery Series set on the American Riviera, just north of Santa Barbara, and The Calla Lily Mystery series set in Northern California's wine country."



 1. What personality traits does Bernadette possess that make her meet the definition of 'kindness'?


Bernadette, in the Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery series, is the manager of the estate where Jessica grew up. After a horrible break up, Jessica returns—to the loving arms of her surrogate mother Bernadette. Bernadette is a nonjudgmental, deeply caring, open-hearted person, but she’s also firm and pulls no punches when it comes to asking Jessica to deal with the circumstances in her life. I think these traits are the essence of true kindness in our closest relationships.


2. Did you purposely set out to create a 'kind' character or did Bernadette's 'kindness' personality traits evolve along with your story?


Not exactly, although I wanted a safe place for my protagonist—Jessica Huntington—to land after the disasters in her personal and professional life unfolded. A caring, confidant who has “survived” devastating setbacks in her own life was an important character to help Jessica find her way out of the pity party she was wallowing in. Bernadette provides a strong force that draws others in Jessica’s life into the mix—sort of the “glue” that holds Jessica’s “Cat Pack” of quirky characters together as they deal with the murder and mayhem that unfolds in the mysteries they solve.


3. Please introduce Bernadette and share why you selected her as the kindest of all your characters?


Bernadette is a 60-something [no one’s exactly sure of her age] petite, feisty woman. As she says, “I old, but I’m bold!” She was first hired as the housekeeper when Jessica was a child but soon became so much more—surrogate mother, confidant, and an important influence on Jessica’s character. Born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth, Jessica developed the capacity to become a more well-rounded person thanks to Bernadette [and her father’s] guidance. When we first meet Jessica, she’s wallowing in self-pity, addicted to shopping, and determined to buy her way out of her misery. Bernadette appeals to Jessica’s “better angels” rather than allowing her to dissolve into shallowness.


At less than five feet tall, the diminutive Bernadette is a bundle of energy, cooks like a dream [there’s a reason for that as we learn in the prequal to the series when Bernadette’s tragic but ultimately uplifting past is revealed.] “St. Bernadette” as Jessica and her friends sometimes call her, is a devout woman for whom love is the fundamental tenet of her faith. She has a wonderful sense of humor and lives life to the fullest.


4. How does Bernadette's kindness influence your story?


Jessica wouldn’t become the character she does as the series moves forward if it weren’t for Bernadette’s kindness and her insistence that Jessica move on with her life. With Bernadette’s support, Jessica puts concern for others above her self-interest, renews her career as a lawyer, and regains her desire to find justice for the people in her life who have been wronged. In book 1, A Dead Husband, that involves finding out who killed her best friend’s husband once Laura has become the prime suspect in Roger’s death.

 Please enjoy this short Excerpt From Book 1

A Dead Husband Jessica struggles with her urge to buy things—a shopping addiction that sometimes plays out as “a fairy godmother complex” when she spends her money on others.



"At one point, Bernadette, in true saintly fashion, had taken her aside: “Niña, thank you so much for this trip and the gifts. You know I love presents. This is such a beautiful place, so I’m glad to be here to share it with you.” She reached out and cupped Jessica’s chin in her hand, looking her in the eye. “You don’t have to buy me things. I’m sorry this is such a hard time for you, thanks to that stupid man you married, but the best gift for me is having you around for a while.”


From book 2,

A Dead Sister

...they’re working a cold case. The search for Kelly Fontana’s killer has taken them to the casino in Palm Springs where Kelly worked and died in a hit-and-run. According to a down and out meth addict who comes forward a decade after the incident “I weren’t no accident.” I think this illustrates Bernadette’s fun, loving way in which she tugs at Jessica to be a better person and gets her—quite literally—to take a good look at herself.


“We’ll have to leave the gambling to you, St. Bernadette.” Jessica fixed her gaze on Bernadette as she spoke.


“Don’t give me your nasty nun look. I’ve played bingo since I was younger than you, Niña, and I haven’t missed a casino night at St. Theresa’s in twenty years. It’s not a sin if you’re not losing your grocery money or something like that, and if it’s for a good cause.” She seemed determined, so Jessica let it go, wondering how much there was about this precious creature she didn’t know.


As Bernadette dashed off toward the restrooms, Jessica and Laura resumed their promenade around the casino floor. “Do I really have a ‘nasty nun’ look?”

“I wouldn’t have put it quite that way. Stern, maybe, haughty and disapproving, more like a Mother Superior, I’d say.”


Jessica frowned, as she took in their surroundings. Was Laura serious or was she putting her on? Laura leaned in and spoke.


“See, you’re doing it again. You don’t like what you see around you and it shows! You’ve got that ‘gonna whack somebody on the knuckles with a ruler’ expression on your face.”

Jessica peered at herself in a nearby mirror. She did look serious, but haughty and disapproving? Well, okay, disapproving, maybe. “Go ahead, call me Mother Jessica. At this point, I’m a practicing celibate so maybe I am channeling my inner prioress. Heck with the ruler, though. In this place, I’m going to need a yardstick. I just don’t get the gambling thing.”



KINDNESS HINT: Per Celeste, Bernadette is a nonjudgmental, deeply caring, open-hearted person, but she's also firm and pulls no punches when it comes to asking Jessica to deal with the circumstances in her life. I think these traits are the essence of true kindness in our closest relationships. We should all have a Bernadette in our lives." 


Do you agree? Have you had to be firm and direct in a close relationship...even when it meant saying something that you knew might not be well received?  I'd love for you to share your experience. See you next week!



Try it! Take your thoughts off self...



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