Friday, October 21, 2016

Characters, Ideas, and Settings

The posts by my colleagues this week has been so thought-provoking, I had a hard time deciding what to blog about today. Characters who take over? Where ideas come from? Setting as character?

I have experienced that phenomenon of a character who refuses to do what he or she was intended to do. In my third Lizzie Stuart book, Old Murders, the character who was to have been the killer refused that assignment and insisted on having a subplot. In the fourth book, You Should Have Died on Monday, Lizzie's mother, Becca, made an appearance that threatened to upstage Lizzie, my first-person protagonist. Becca is still out there and now that I've returned to the series for a new book, I'm sure she will be making another appearance. I hate to have her ruin Lizzie's wedding, but I'm pretty sure she will show up during the honeymoon. And when she reappears, I will be torn. She is the most take-no-prisoners character I have ever created. A femme fatale who disrupts Lizzie's life, but shouldn't overshadow her.

The idea for my historical mystery came to me when I was thinking about 1939 and the events that symbolized the struggle in America between past and present, inequality and justice. In 1939, Marian Anderson performed at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, the New York World's Fair opened that summer, Billie Holiday performed "Strange Fruit," a song about lynching, at Cafe Society in NYC, and that December, Gone with the Wind premiered in Atlanta. This idea -- even more than most of my ideas -- has required a lot of thought to get to workable plot.

On the other hand, the idea for my sixth Lizzie Stuart book, now in progress, came to me as an image of a woman running out of her house toward her car. I wanted to try my hand at a flash story for the New England Crime Bake contest. It wasn't a great story -- I needed more words -- but I did discover where that woman was going. She drives up into the mountains to rescue her child, who is being held hostage by an old enemy. The story was pure noir. In my head it played out like a graphic novel. And my protagonist Lizzie Stuart was nowhere in sight.

But that dark, rainy night wouldn't go away. When I was ready to start my new book, the plot changed and the characters changed. But the book begins with Lizzie, driving home on a rainy night in Gallagher and coming upon a car by the side of the road. A woman is trying to change a tire. . .

The book begins there. But the next day, Lizzie and her fiance, John Quinn, fly off to Santa Fe to spend Thanksgiving with his family.
Lizzie has never met his family and wants to make a good impression. But now she is distracted by what is going on back in Gallagher. A woman is missing. Her car was found by the side of the road. . .

Since the murder mystery is back in Gallagher, I might have done some reading about Santa Fe and watched some YouTube videos. But my Thanksgiving gathering -- when Lizzie meets Quinn's family, all of whom have been mentioned in earlier books -- is important to readers who have been following the series. I'm curious about Quinn's family, too, and I want to do those scenes justice. Lizzie and Quinn will soon be on a plane back to Gallagher, Virginia, but I want the family gathering to ring true. So I'm going to Santa Fe for three days in November to find the neighborhood that Quinn's half-sister lives in and the street where her art gallery is located. I'm going to do the tour of the area that Lizzie will have when she goes there. I want the setting to have as much significance in the story as Gallagher.

I have one other idea that I'm playing with, but need to work out. I need to resolve a series arc from my two Hannah McCabe police procedural novels set in Albany. The two books, The Red Queen Dies and What the Fly Saw, are set in 2019 and 2020, respectively. My Lizzie Stuart series is set in the recent past. The year in the sixth book is 2004. But Lizzie is an alum of the University at Albany, School of Criminal Justice. I've been thinking of a cameo appearance by a professor in Gallagher, Virginia, who Detective McCabe contacts to ask a key question about the threat that she is facing in Albany, NY in 2020. Lizzie would be in her 50s, and I wonder what would be going on in her life and how she would be different in McCabe's alternate universe. Just playing with the idea. . .

1 comment:

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