AUTHOR CHARACTER RELATIONSHIPS, or How did these people become part of my life??
Readers of the first book in my Mary Magruder Katz mystery series, Fatal February, ask me two questions about Mary. Is Mary actually you? and, How did you develop this character?
Mary Magruder Katz, the protagonist, is a Miami criminal defense attorney. The plot follows her exploits defending her clients in dicey situations, and her romance with Carlos Martin, a Latino hotty.
Mary is definitely not me. Mary can’t commit to a lifetime relationship. We learn that Carlos is her third fiancé. On the other hand, I married my college sweetheart a long time ago and we are still holding hands. Mary is truly an amalgam of young women lawyers that I have met and mentored during the time that I have served as a judge in Miami, Florida. Mary is also a product of Miami’s melting-pot. Her mother is a southern Baptist and her father is Jewish, hence her Magruder-Katz surname.
Since I know well the Marys who reside in Miami and the types of cases Mary handles in her law practice, I think you can say that Mary and I are good friends.
Carlos Martin is also a typical Miami guy. He is half Cuban and half Argentine. He is a developer, rushing to buy up speculative land deals and conniving to build the next glamorous condo complex. The most frequent comment I get from reader e-mails is “I’m in love with Carlos. Is there a real model that he is based on?” The answer to that is, of course he’s not real. If he were, we’d all be fighting over him. He is my creation: macho when he needs to be, tender as a lover and boyfriend, and a bit of a bad boy. Isn’t that what all of us girls are looking for? So naturally, I am in love with Carlos too.
The pervading character in my books is not a person. It is a place, Miami, my home for the last thirty-five years. I set out to show readers the real Miami, not the South Beach touristy club scene. Miami’s citizens do not hang out at all night dance clubs. They go to work and school like people in the Midwest or New England. They just do it in better weather. The look and feel of the sun, the flowers, the winds off the ocean provide the background for these books. The second book in my series, Justice In June, describes Miami’s rainy season. I promise, readers will feel water-logged when they finish the book. Miami also shows its problem-side; the traffic, the crowding of immigrant populations on already overtaxed services. If I succeed in showing readers the real Miami, they should be able to visit the city and feel that they can find their way around familiar streets and suburbs.
The other character that will populate the whole series is a based on someone real. Sam, the German Shepherd dog that Mary values as much as she does her boyfriend, is based on one of my own shepherds, Ned. My husband and I bred and showed German Shepherds for twenty years as a hobby. We finished eleven champions in the show ring from our breedings. Sam’s exploits are based on things our own dogs have done. The love that Mary shows for Sam is my own feeling for the dogs in our kennel.
Once I have created the main characters that populate my books, they take on a life of their own. They don’t always do what I want them to. They have a way of telling me that they would never say or do something I have just written. Then I hit the delete button on my computer and I let them have their say. But since they are my friends, I forgive them for not following my advice knowing that sooner or later, they’ll step back into the plot and the story will be all the richer for their adding to it.
There are villains that authors create. Maddie Rodriguez is the mistress of the murder victim in Fatal February. She is the quintessential home-wrecker, having wrecked several in her checkered past. There are numerous opportunities to view this type of woman in a big city like Miami. What kind of author/character relationship can exist with Maddie? She is the person we’d all like to throw things at, but she might evoke a bit of sympathy when we see the hardships she has suffered.
Although Maddie is not based on any one real person, her personality was portrayed during many cases that appeared in my courtroom, usually in murder and attempted murder, or aggravated battery cases. One such case sticks in my mind. A young mistress of an older professional man threatened to go back to his wife and children. The mistress solved her problem by shooting him in the penis. No one ever knew whether she had a poor aim or was actually a sharpshooter. Real characters are stranger than fiction.
I believe that most authors will agree that the characters we create become as real to us as our relatives and friends. They invade our senses and stay with us long after readers may forget them.
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