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  • Sue Hawley

But Who Are They Really? Amy & Sal

writing characters books cozy mystery
Image credit: Nathan Copley

I've had many readers ask me who the characters in my books are based on. To be honest few have consciously been formed based on real people. Rather, they are usually a conglomerate of many folks throughout my life. I've started a Character Series on the blog for those who want to know more about their favorite characters in the Peg Shaw series.


Amy was one of the biggest surprises while writing the Peg Shaw series. She rang Peg’s doorbell and I had no idea who she was or why she had shown up. I actually sat back in my chair while writing and wondered who rang the doorbell! I’ve come to completely love this character. She’s feisty, intelligent and can stand on her own two feet all while maintaining a bit a naïve bewilderment concerning herself.

Amy has been a widow for fifteen years when we meet her. She is short, has wild curly gray hair, and doesn’t appear to be taking care of herself in many ways. A retired schoolteacher pushing 80, she is a firecracker when she needs to be and as Peg’s father reminds her, she needs a purpose to get herself back on track.

It comes as no surprise when Logan pulls her into their tiny circle of township crime fighters he has concocted. Peg has concerns the work will be too much for her aging neighbor but quickly realizes she had underestimated her ally. Amy proves her worth and becomes exactly the type of partner Peg needs.

From self-defense classes to knowledge of science and psychology, Amy plays an important role in the series. While she starts off with more than a bit of hesitation, she quickly becomes an integral piece of the group and maintains an air of authority even with Logan. I could feel life flowing back into her as I wrote her character and rejoiced as she found herself enjoying life again.


Sal Spanelli is another character I’ve come to love. We meet Sal in Midlife Chaos as the father of Anthony, whose daughter has been involved in a hit and run car accident. While the little girl lies comatose in Children’s Hospital we have the opportunity to become acquainted with her grandfather.

Sal’s name has true meaning—savior. His father believed Salvatorio would save the family from the curse of insanity. Sal’s background is complex and I had to create an actual flow chart to keep all the information straight in my mind. A tall man with graying hair, he brings a layer to the series that was unexpected when I began writing about him. His wife, Isabella, is deceased and is quite active on the other side of life on earth.

Peg’s trio- Antonio, Santino, and Bill- work for Sal and guard Peg if the need arises. Santino is Sal’s nephew and has his uncle’s complete trust. The trio act as side characters but play an important part of each story. Sal has chosen wisely regarding these three men.

Sal is a reformed mobster slowly turning his entire empire into a legitimate business enterprise. This was a huge undertaking for him and took many years to accomplish but he believes it was worth the hard work. While Sal himself is not a complicated person his life story is quite the mix of intrigue and slight of hand. One of the pieces of Sal I enjoy writing is his street smarts backed by an intelligent mind. He can easily juggle more than one problem at a time and his problems tend to be a bit on the messy side.

Sal has a great sense of who he is along with a healthy sense of humor. He enjoys life with all the ups and downs and is not easily fooled. There are those in Sal’s life who underestimate him to their own peril. He makes hard decisions and follows through with determination, which plays to his strengths. He has that rare combination of ability and wisdom which is one of the reasons for his success in life.

Both Aimee and Sal were unexpected surprises. I enjoy the spark they bring to the stories and the way they both prove to Peg that life after a certain age doesn't have to be watching endless rounds of The Weather Channel while waiting for the early bird special!

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