Friday, March 09, 2018

Recurring Themes

Barbara's post on Wednesday about the recurring themes in her body of work reminded me of my own endeavor. Over the past several months, I've been re-reading my books. As I've mentioned, my Lizzie Stuart books are being reissued by a publisher. We needed to withdraw the first book after it had been released as an e-book to fix some technical problems. We ended up going back to the manuscript of the book for a better copy. I read the manuscript with printed book in hand.  I've also been re-reading the two Hannah McCabe near-future police procedurals. The plot for the third book have been rattling around in my head. I picked up my pace because the Albany Public Library Foundation informed me that I was a nominee for this year's Albany Literary Legends award. Then I learned I was one of the two recipients.  Since I'm receiving the honor in part because of my two novels set in Albany, I am digging into the books to remind myself of what I wrote.

Here's what I've learned from my immersion in my books and short stories:
 1.  I agree wholeheartedly with William Faulkner's oft-quoted observation ("The past is never dead. It's not even past."). Whether I'm writing the Lizzie Stuart books/short stories set in the recent past or the Hannah Stuart books set in the near future, the plots draw on the histories of places and characters.
2.  The family relationships of my characters are complex. There are absences, losses, and traumas. The dead are still present in the lives of the living. Relatives, living, dead, present, absent, and unknown have shaped the personalities of my protagonists.
3.  My protagonists have strong moral cores. They engage in internal debates and debates with others about questions of right and wrong. They have ethical lines that they will not cross. But they are not always sure that justice will be served by the punishment of someone who is technically guilty.
4. My characters debate social issues. I spent a lot of my time encouraging my students to debate those issues, so it makes sense that would carry over to my writing. 
5. That is also why literature and popular culture runs like a thread through all of my books and short stories -- from titles inspired by children's books to plots inspired by Shakespeare. I teach crime and mass media/popular. I was a double major in Psychology and English. I wouldn't know how to write fiction without a nod at a book or writer or a favorite movie (Hitchcock turns up frequently).
6. Animals. I started college as a Biology major, intending to be a vet. George, the dog in my Lizzie Stuart series, is still a young adult. Hannah McCabe adopted a Great Dane/Dalmatian/mutt in the second book. My third protagonist, Jo Radcliffe, who made her debut in "The Singapore Sling Affair" (EQMM, Nov/Dec 2017) inherited her great-aunt's Maine Coon.
Animals in my books provide companionship, act as sounding boards, and help the humans to connect with each other.
7. My books have romance. I loved romantic suspense when I was a teenager. I think there is a place in crime fiction for relationships. After four books, Lizzie Stuart and John Quinn got engaged. In the sixth book, she will meet his family. In the seventh book, they will wed. If Hannah McCabe is around as long as Lizzie, she may eventually found a mate as well. I like the possibilities for self-discovery inherent in romantic relationships. I also like couples that have little in common, but recognize in each other something that they can admire or a shared value.
8. I don't write cozies. My books have a dark edge that I hadn't really thought about until I started to re-read. Although most of the violence happens off-stage, some of it doesn't. And even the off-stage violence is discussed and the impact is shown. My protagonists and the other characters are traumatized by violence. But my dark edge is relieved by my protagonists' faith in justice (or at least the necessity to seek, if not achieve).

I've discovered that I really do write the stories that I'd like to read. That gives me more confidence about who I am as a writer and what I want to achieve.


Barbara Fradkin said...

Very interesting, Frankie! You and I have a lot in common. Not the least a love of an animal's place in our world.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I suspect we do. I enjoyed your post.

Re animals, it is amazing how the presence of an animal in the room -- or even the mention of one -- can make people start to smile and suddenly find they have common ground. I always mention my cat when I need to break the ice with someone.

Rick Blechta said...

Interesting post, Frankie. I hadn't heard that Faulkner quote and it certainly rings true for me and what I write.

Also, congratulations! We'll have to start referring to you as "The Legendary Frankie Bailey".

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Thanks, Rick! Now, I have to figure out how to carry off being "a legend". Not in my play book.