When I write — whether for kids or adults — I seem to be drawn to characters who are going about their normal, everyday lives, when BLAMMO, something weird happens and forces them into a different trajectory.
In my kids’ funny adventure series (no, don’t look for them, but I hope to update and publish them someday), they find themselves zapped back in time BLAMMO and have to figure out how to get back. They’re like Peabody and Sherman meet Quantum Leap. I’ve written one where they go back and meet Billy Shakespeare, one where they learn the how and why of the Easter Island statues, one where they meet a female Civil War spy, and one where they meet Mona Lisa.
In a historical mystery I would LOVE to find a home for (because it’s very loosely based on my grandmother’s life), a young girl sets out to find the truth about her mother who has disappeared after a Kansas tornado, but nobody else seems concerned. BLAMMO.
In my Dunne Diehl Mysteries, BANANA BAMBOOZLE and MARSHMALLOW MAYHEM, Cassidy Dunne and Dan Diehl are middle-aged best friends from college. She’s straight, he’s gay. She’s short, he’s tall. She’s a secret eater, he tries to ignore it. She’s rash, he’s pragmatic. She hasn’t been on a date since the Reagan administration, he’s got a new boyfriend. But their lives are thrown into chaos when Cassidy is convinced she sees her teenage niece at a party. Problem is, that niece died in a house fire as an infant. Did she imbibe in too many Banana Bamboozles at the party like Dan thinks? BLAMMO. (Yes, the recipe is in the book!) In Marshmallow Mayhem, they’re on a road trip and the RV campground manager turns up dead and they’re prime suspects. BLAMMO.
In my Mystery Writer’s Mysteries, mystery writer Charlee Russo only wants to write mysteries, she doesn’t want to solve them. Too bad for her that her literary agent gets murdered in FICTION CAN BE MURDER, and her friend’s daughter gets kidnapped in FOUL PLAY ON WORDS, and an author she’s scheduled to do an event with gets on the train but never gets off. BLAMMO times three.
In PUZZLING INK, the first of my new crossword puzzle mysteries, Quinn Carr is back home, nursing her psychic wounds, trying to manage her OCD, and pull herself out of a deep depression. She can barely drag herself out of bed most days, but takes a job at a local diner in an attempt at a normal life. She’s going through the motions of putting her life back together, but is nowhere near done, when her boss at the diner is arrested for murder. BLAMMO. In the upcoming PUNNING WITH SCISSORS, Quinn is minding her own business when she’s asked to care for a suspect’s dog and clean up a crime scene. BLAMMO.
Can you see a theme here? Nobody wants to do any of this, solve any of these mysteries, leave their comfy cocoon. But they’re forced.
When I hear about women throughout history, I’d try to put myself in their place. Could I travel the Oregon Trail? Could I help Jews hide or escape during the Nazi era? Could I be a Civil War spy? Could I be a destitute tenant farm wife in 1930s Kansas? Could I solve a real-life crime?
I think writing these types of stories makes me feel like I could. But, really, could I?? I hope I never have to find out!
Who are your favorite reluctant heroes? Does it bug you when the protagonist is reluctant? Do you think you’d have been able to travel the Oregon Trail and make a new life for yourself? Or would you fall out of the wagon and just sit there bawling like Lucy Ricardo when Ricky wouldn’t let her perform with his band? Could you solve a real-life crime?