Friday, February 26, 2010
Guest Blogger - Sheila Connelly
Many thanks to Pamela and Terri for inviting me to appear here and to talk about these people I seem to have made up (does that make them imaginary friends?).
People often ask writers if we base our protagonists on ourselves. The answer is "yes"–and "no". This gets particularly complicated if you write more than one series, because you don't want to keep repeating the same cookie-cutter heroine, no matter how much you love her.
In my first series, the Glassblowing Mysteries, Em Dowell is a forty-something Tucson transplant from the East Coast, who gave up a lucrative job she hated in order to follow her passion, which was glassblowing. I haven't been forty-something lately, and when I started writing, I had never seen Tucson (which Berkley Prime Crime suggested, and which I promptly visited). Em has two dogs; I have cats. I have lived in the East Coast most of my life, and in California for a decade, but I'd never seen the Southwest, much less a desert. I have tried glassblowing only once, although I've visited a lot of glassblowing studios. FYI, paperweights are easy to make because they're basically round blobs, but my bowl looks like a mutant amoeba, and my drinking glass self-destructed.
But I loved creating Em. She's fiercely independent, but also very loyal to the people she cares about–her brother Cameron, her long-term employee Nessa, and then Alison McBride, who wanders into her studio one night with some rather nasty thugs on her trail. As I like to say, Em has a soft heart and a sharp tongue. She gets some really zingy lines off (you know, the ones you come up with the day after you've had that argument that left you sputtering). She's sort of in a romantic relationship but she's wary.
Meg from the Orchard Mysteries is very different. She is modeled on a former employer and now friend who I admire greatly, who has gone through some difficult times and come out smiling, with her sly sense of humor intact. Poor Meg–In One Bad Apple I took away her job, her home, and her boyfriend and dumped her into a drafty old house in western Massachusetts in the middle of winter. And if that wasn't hard enough, her plumbing fails because somebody stuffed the body of her ex in her septic tank. She's not having a good year, is she?
I put poor Meg through the wringer to see how she would handle everything–and she does just fine. She solves the murder, of course, but she's still working on how she fits into her new community. She starts out as an outsider who knows no one in town, and her first public appearance was as a murder suspect, so it's tough for her–but she's making friends, and maybe she's even found a new romantic interest. And she's learning to manage an apple orchard–not easy for a former banker. If only she'd stop tripping over those bodies...
In the fall I'll be introducing a new series, the Museum Mysteries, set in Philadelphia. Nell Pratt is a fundraiser at a historic library/museum (which looks a whole lot like one where I used to work), and, yes, she finds a body in the library stacks. The challenge in writing Nell is to make her distinct from both of my previous heroines, but still keep her "real." So she's got a dash of Em's sarcasm, as well as her soft heart, and she shares Meg's quiet determination. Nell really cares about the place where she works, and the people she works with. She too is loyal, and honest, and has something of a sense of humor. And people like her and trust her. Maybe Nell is the person I'd like to be.
Creating characters is fun. You get to wreak vengeance on people who have done you wrong (that feels really good!), and you can to pay tribute to cherished friends and family members. The real challenge is to make your characters believable, so that people will come to care about them, to identify with them or to see them as friends–and to want to get to know them better!
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