The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Sunday, August 31, 2014


            Elaine was editing my newest work in progress when she suddenly asked, “Why did you have to name Roger and Suzanne’s son Robert?  Now we have to struggle with remembering a murder victim named Roberta Roberts and a boy named Robert Bowman in the same novel.  It’s confusing!”
           She was right, of course.  But Robert hadn’t even been born yet, much less named, when Roberta Roberts became a minor character in “The Surreal Killer”.  And Roberta Roberts became a dim memory before Robert was introduced in “The Matador Murders” and the short story, “Someone Did It to the Butler”.  Is it my fault as an author that the stars converged four novels later and I needed a murder victim from Chile with a certain background and friends?  And thus Roberta Roberts and her husband Francis were briefly resurrected for a curtain call in the prologue of the new novel in progress.

            For the series author like me, the problem isn’t only that you have to keep track of all your characters between all of the books in the series, a total of 9 full-length books and 14 total stories thus far.  Add to the task of tracking all those characters that you have to give every one of them a unique and unusual name so they don’t repeat themselves.  That’s impossible!

            There are other problems.  Do we want to let our characters age?  Or, like many of the most popular detectives in series mystery fiction novels, should we keep them frozen in time even if your series has several dozen books in it?  There are pros and cons to letting them age---after all your faithful readers will also be aging along with them.  We want them to be able to identify with the characters.  On the other hand, will Roger and Suzanne at age 60 still be karate aces?  Possible, but unlikely!

Elaine has suggested we might move to a more popular niche to sell more books.  For example, she suggests, “How about Suzanne having a dream that Roger is a vampire as the basis for a plot in this series?  Wouldn’t that get the series a huge crossover audience that likes paranormal mysteries featuring immortal vampires?  What do you think of an Argentine vampire trying to seduce Suzanne by tempting her with the Tango?

“But first,” Elaine continues, “please go ahead and write the sequel to ‘The Deadly Dog Show’ where Romeo is trained to compete in hunt tests.  Oh, and I’d also like to see Suzanne as a featured character in one of these novels.  Could Roger get shot or something so he can be off-screen while Suzanne solves a case of her own.”

There are also lobbying efforts for new locales, especially settings not in South America.  My son Michael wants to see a Suzanne do a short stay at NIH in Bethesda, MD in a book set in the area where he presently lives.  His arguments are sound---I lived for three years in the Bethesda area while doing post-doctoral research at The National Institutes of Health, so know it well.  Visits to Michael allow me to update my memories of days past.

The Sacramento River Delta is close to where we live, and is where our dogs hunt and compete in hunt tests.  It’s a fascinating, little known unless you live near it, and richly historical region of California.  There are several major (and smaller) wineries making very good wines in this region.  It would be a great book setting (one of Marcia Mueller’s older Sharon McCone novels is set on an island in the Delta) and perhaps will be the backdrop for the plot in my planned new mystery novel featuring Romeo competing in hunt tests.  Among other interesting historical tidbits are the important Chinese communities from the 19th Century in Locke, Isleton, and a few of the other largely deserted ghost towns that line the river shore and the thriving rum running industry there during prohibition.  Doesn’t that sound like an ideal backdrop for a contemporary novel?  We’ll see!

On the other hand, I started off calling this a “South American mystery series”.  Does that mean Roger and Suzanne have to continue accumulating all of those Frequent Flier miles and severe jet lag?  Again, we’ll see!

To return to where this post began, some of the disadvantages of writing a mystery series may actually be part of the fun of creating an entire universe of fictional characters to populate real places my readers can travel to in their imaginations.  My part of the contract is to write about what I know and where I’ve been, or to do the research carefully enough that the locations are portrayed accurately, so the settings for these books are as authentic as I can make them.

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