GUEST POST – Judy Alter on Aging Characters
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About the Book
Alter Ego Press; 1 edition
Paperback: 334 pages
Series: Kelly O’Connell Mysteries
When four young men sign the rental contract on a Fairmount House, realtor Kelly O’Connell has no idea she has just signed a contract for chaos. But the racial tensions sweeping the country erupt in Fort Worth, and her tenants fan the flames. A young black policeman shoots an unarmed white teenage thief who charged him, the chief of police is shot by a sniper, and Kelly’s husband, Mike, is appointed interim chief of police. Life changes dramatically for Kelly and her family. Protests, threats, beatings, and graffiti mark daily life in Kelly’s beloved city. She must protect her infant, reassure her older daughters, and support Mike as he deals with the racism and dissension creeping through the police force and the city. How can she keep her family safe and stop the hate? Will the mayor’s city-wide Celebration of Neighbors calm a city on the edge?
Guest Post from the Author
THE PROBLEM OF AGING CHARACTERS
How old are the characters in your series?
The minute you write the first words of the second book in your mysteries series, you face a dilemma: will the characters age or will they remain frozen in time through perpetuity, or at least the life of the series? There are advantages to either choice.
If they never age, the people of your fictional world remain comfortably where you created them, probably behaving in predictable ways. You become quite accustomed to their way of life, their daily habits. You can rely on them, and so can your readers. They move in a familiar world.
But is a static, unchanging world the best setting for a dynamic mystery, be it of the thriller or cozy variety? Is it possible your readers will get bored with these characters? We’re often told that in each book, a character has to grow a little, mature a little, add to their life experiences. Hard to do if they never age.
On the other hand, deciding how much characters age between books and keeping up with the effects of aging, at any point in life, can get tangled and difficult. What if your characters ages into a wheelchair? Can he or she still solve mysteries? Do you lose the edge to your series?
I faced this dilemma with my Kelly O’Connell Mysteries. In the first book, Skeleton in a Dead Space, Kelly is a single mom to two daughters ages about four and six. The girls were modeled, all those years ago, on my two oldest granddaughters. I chose to have them age naturally, though I never kept rigid track of how much time passed between books. I tried to parallel the lives of the actual girls, but even that was difficult. I was forever figuring, “If Maggie twelve, how old is Em?” “If Maggie is driving, is she old enough to let Em ride in the car?” “When do they start dating?” Somewhere along the line, I got behind—the granddaughters aged faster than my fictional characters. (Isn’t that what we always say about grandchildren: How did they grow up so fast?)
Now, in the eighth book, Maggie is facing the end of her high school career. What do I do with her then? Send her off to college and essentially remove her from the story? I certainly don’t want her to be one of those kids who never leaves the nest. Perhaps part of my problem is the real sisters I used as modes. My oldest granddaughter went off to college a year ago, while Maggie is just going into her senior high school year. Is she slow, or have I held them back? Or should I have written another book in there?
Readers probably don’t grapple with these problems, but they are very real to me. The eighth Kelly O’Connell Mystery, due out September 20, is Contract for Chaos, and the girls are nearly grown, responsible citizens. Yet Em, the younger one, is still excited by some things—a trip to a farm—that Maggie finds herself too sophisticated to enjoy. I hope, through eight books, both girls have grown emotionally and spiritually—as they would in real life and as my granddaughters have.
Meanwhile, Kelly, her husband Mike, and Keisha, her office manager, have aged but much more slowly. They’re still in their thirties, having gone from early in the decade to late in it. Kelly admits somewhere to looking forty in the face. I don’t think aging makes a much difference in behavior or judgement at that point, but maybe I should have hustled them on through the years a bit faster. Mike, of all of them, has advanced in his career, going from neighborhood police officer to district chief and, now, interim chief of police.
The girls are still comfortably in Kelly’s world for this book, but where will I take them in the ninth book? I don’t know, but I’m not rethinking my decision to let them age. I think they are more interesting. Would love reader comments.
About the Author
Judy Alter is the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, two books in the Blue Plate Café Mysteries; and two in the Oak Grove Mysteries. Pigface and the Perfect Dog follows The Perfect Coed in this series of mysteries set on a university campus. Judy is no stranger to college campuses. She attended the University of Chicago, Truman State University in Missouri, and Texas Christian University, where she earned a Ph.D. and taught English. For twenty years, she was director of TCU Press, the book publishing program of the university. The author of many books for both children and adults primarily on women of the American West, she retired in 2010 and turned her attention to writing contemporary cozy mysteries.
She holds awards from the Western Writers of America, the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Texas Institute of Letters. She was inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and recognized as an Outstanding Woman of Fort Worth and a woman who has left her mark on Texas. Western Writers of America gave her the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement and will induct her into its Hall of Fame in June 2015.
The single parent of four and the grandmother of seven, she lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her perfect dog, Sophie.
Follow her at (Amazon) http://www.amazon.com/Judy-Alter/e/B001H6NMU6/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1377217817&sr=1-2-ent;
her blog: http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com;
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