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Christine DeSmet on Life Lessons from Reading

Christine DeSmet is the author of the Fudge Shop mystery series and the Mischief in Moonstone mystery series. You can find out more about her on her website at, or by clicking on the Blackbirds page here, read her last post here, and buy her books here.

The emotion of “joy” is key to the plot and three-dimensional characterization for the hitman in the new, short suspense novel, THE LEMON MAN by Keith Bruton.

cover art for The Lemon Man

We humans are more prone to experiencing “happy” or “satisfying” moments. “Joy” is much bigger than “happiness,” more mysterious and harder to come by, according to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy, written by the duo with writer Doug Abrams. 

The pillars of joy are 1) an ability to reframe our situation more positively, 2) our ability to experience gratitude, and 3) our choice to be kind and generous.

Our greatest joy, according to the masters, is when we seek to do good for others. That was demonstrated recently by the outpouring for the children’s fund created by the Buffalo Bills football player who was brought back to life. People weren’t just happy; there was gratitude, kindness, and generosity—JOY.

In THE LEMON MAN’s first chapter professional hit man Patrick Callen finds himself saddled with a baby. Callen lives what he thinks is the good life—high pay, expensive condo in Dublin, does what he wants in his spare time, and even likes what he does.

Callen’s life and story involve “darkness” though; he’s all about killing. He has no time for “joy” and doesn’t seek it. (Normal enough for most suspense and thriller protagonists.) Like so many suspense novels or thrillers I’ve read, Bruton could have chosen to focus solely on the dangerous hit job as plot and let his protagonist agonize over that. While the book never mentions the word “joy,” it was clear to me the baby represented the joy missing from this man’s life.

Book Cover. First-Degree Fudge - A Fudge Shop Mystery by Christine DeSmet. Pink fudge in a candy store with a dog sleeping on the floor.

The author doesn’t dispense with things quickly. It’s too easy to love a baby from the start. Instead, problems mount with the baby. Bruton bedevils the A (action) plot with the internal B (baby!) plot. The result of that patience is “voice” and a novel destined to be a movie and to get shared reviews like this one.

The symbol of joy (baby) creates the internal conflicts that CHALLENGE the protagonist, pointing out his FLAWS—getting older, feeling boring doing hits over and over, no steady intimate friend, no push to grow or change. Without the baby, those challenges might have been reduced to the clichéd subplot about the man not being able to keep a relationship going with a woman.

My motto for writing and coaching has always been “Write with joy and finish with finesse.” Author Bruton reminded me to look at my characters and plots in fresh ways, to use more tricks, to mine “joy.” Coincidentally, there’s a baby in my latest and forthcoming novel, HOLLY JOLLY FUDGE FOLLY! 

What have you been reading lately?

What was the takeaway or learning nugget for writing or life from a recent nonfiction or fiction book you read?

Christine DeSmet

Christine DeSmet is the author of the Fudge Shop Mystery Series set in Door County, and the Mischief in Moonstone Series set in northwest Wisconsin. You can find out more about her on her website,, or follow her on Facebook.

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Interesting message to learn from a hitman! The plot (and the cover) have great appeal. In another coincidence, my WIP features a baby. Maybe 2023 is going to be the year of the baby in literature!

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      What a coincidence, Saralyn. Good luck with your next book!

  2. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Christine — I echo Saralyn’s comment, “Interesting message to learn from a hitman!” And a great message it is. I just added “The Lemon Man” to my reading list. I’ve never gone wrong with one of your book recommendations. And yep, there’s a baby on the way in the Sean McPherson crime thriller series, too!

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      Can’t wait to find out about the baby in your suspense/thriller series! A baby sure does force a cop, detective, hitman, etc. into a different mindset that an author can’t ignore. Good luck with your book with the baby!

  3. Margaret Mizushima
    Margaret Mizushima

    Love this post! I’m revisiting a book I read decades ago: SIMPLE ABUNDANCE by Sarah Ban Breathnach. I mention it in the post I’ve written for our blog two weeks from now. No babies discussed in it, but it does follow along the same “Joy” lines. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this, Christine!

  4. Avatar
    Julie Holmes, author

    I’ve got another book on my list now, too! The notion of JOY reminds me of the Writers’ Institute keynote speech from Ann Voss Peterson about finding the joy in writing. It’s still something I try to remember. And adding a baby to any character’s world will change that world, and the character, in ways the charater doesn’t expect. Just like in real life 🙂

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      Thanks, Julie. Yeah, a lot of good memories about joy from Ann. She’s a joyful person who has been writing many, many suspense books over the years.

  5. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    No baby in my WIP, but I’ve included an animal, in this case, wildlife that occasionally comes into the house with the owner’s permission. One of my purposes for this bit of nature will be soften the somewhat rough edges of the man, allowing readers to discover that he is a well-rounded character. Second, the animal will add to the plot (or what’s the point of including it?). Thanks for sharing the pillars of JOY!

  6. Avatar
    John Hoda


  7. gpgottlieb

    What a great review – I wouldn’t normally be interested in the inner thoughts of a hitman, but if he can feel joy in caring for a baby, there must be some bit of humanity still bouncing around inside of him.

  8. Avatar
    Donna Rewolinski

    Love the post. It reminds us to write with joy even when we struggle for words because our readers want to enjoy what we do. I’ve never thought to add a baby to any of my plots. This post has me thinking about it.

  9. Tracey S. Phillips
    Tracey S. Phillips

    No babies in my upcoming books either, but plenty of other conflict. I agree with you, Christine. Adding a baby would certainly add conflict to any character’s arc. seeking joy seems to be the message of the year. Hope we all find a little of that!

  10. joyribar

    Thank you for sharing this thoughtful post and again, challenging the way I consider plotting! When I visited an Air B’n’B in Colorado, the Dalai Lama/Desmond Tutu book was on the table, so I treated myself to a couple of chapters of insightful and soul-healing instructions. I recently read Fuzz, by Mary Roach, and the clever humorous writing style inspired me to work on improving my writing.

  11. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    Your books always sparkle with joy – I think the chocolate must have something to do with that! What a fun post, Christine!
    The last book I read was from the Whipped and Sipped series by GP Gotlieb (great read). The thing I took away from that novel was that community is important, so share food with your neighbors. I baked apple-butter muffins for mine this morning.

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