How One Author’s Quirks Show Up in her Characters

Kaitlyn Dunnett here, sharing a little of how I go about developing at least one of my characters. A Fatal Fiction, the third entry in my “Deadly Edits” series (in stores June 30, 2020), opens with a scene at a gas station where my amateur sleuth, Mikki Lincoln, is tackling the challenge of pumping her own gas, something she’s managed to avoid since moving back to New York State. This might seem unlikely to some people, but trust me, this is one of my biggest problems when I have to drive to an event in another state. Here in Maine, we still have “full service” gas stations where an attendant not only pumps your gas for you, but also cleans your windshield. I’m incredibly clumsy when it comes to handling the hose, and I’m not that good at inserting a credit card at the pumps, either. 99% of the time, I pay for things with cash. I use credit cards to order online or I hand my card to a sales person or hotel clerk. Faced with a card reader, I invariably insert it the wrong way first. So, yes, to me, Mikki’s dilemma in Chapter One is completely believable, not so much because she’s a dithery old lady, but because, like me, she’s old enough to be set in her ways.

An aside: Being perceived as a dithery old lady can, at times, be quite useful. I’ve played that card when driving in New Hampshire to persuade a handsome young gas station attendant to come out to fill the tank for me. He even handled inserting my credit card and convincing the card reader to give me a receipt.

In the course of four books (the fourth has just been turned in to my editor), I’ve given Mikki quite a few of my personal opinions and habits. She doesn’t see the point in a dishwasher or a clothes dryer and neither do I. She has a landline, even though she has cell phone service at her house in Lenape Hollow. The landline was a necessity in her old home in rural Maine, which is, of course, based on where I really live. It’s in a valley—a “dead zone” for cell phones. Like me, Mikki doesn’t know how to text and doesn’t particularly want to learn. Unlike me, she occasionally uses her cell phone to make calls. Mine sits in the bottom of my shoulder bag to be used in an emergency but otherwise ignored.

Mikki has never watched Dirty Dancing all the way through because she, and I, can’t relate to the characters—she was a townie, never a guest or an employee at any of the big resort hotels in the Catskills. Like me, her summer job in high school was as a long-distance telephone operator, for one year on old-fashioned cord boards (“Number please”) in her home town and the second commuting to the county seat after Ma Bell converted to an early computerized phone station called a TSP. Neither of us had any idea what those initials stood for until I Googled it for this blog—it’s “traffic service positon”—but that was state-of-the-art for 1965.

In high school, both Mikki and I once explosively lost our tempers when someone taunted us during a rehearsal. For me it was dance team for our school-wide production of The Music Man. I was choreographer and dance captain, a lot of responsibility for a seventeen-year-old. In Mikki’s fictional world, she and her best pal and sleuthing partner, Darlene, were part of a newly formed Color Guard for the school band.

Mikki talks to her cat. So do I.

She’s childless by choice, as I am.

With all those similarities, you might think Mikki is a lot like me. You’d be wrong. She’s braver, smarter, and made different career choices. She retired after decades of teaching at the junior high level. I burned out after one year trying to cope with seventh and eighth graders. We did both marry our college sweethearts, but while she’s a recent widow, I still have my husband of fifty-plus years.

As for Mikki’s second career as the Write Right Wright? I’d be terrible at it. I think I’m pretty good at catching my own errors, but when I read, it’s for enjoyment. I’m happy to leave the editing to others.

With the June 30, 2020 publication of A Fatal Fiction, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett will have had sixty-two books traditionally published. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes, but there is a new, standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things, in the pipeline for October. She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, contains over 2000 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.

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6 Responses to How One Author’s Quirks Show Up in her Characters

  1. Mary Whiffen says:

    Can’t wait for the book. Fun to follow this as one of the bit part players in that Music Man production. What fun it all was! Thanks to Gary E! We loved having such a young and talented leader. He was right to pick you, Kathy. But what a frustrating job to have to train so many with no dance background in such a dancey show! I still remember the shipoopie number!

    Like

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      As you should, Mary . . . or should I say Ethel Toffelmeyer. May have spelled that wrong, but you know who I mean. You and Charlie were great to work with.

      Like

  2. Carol Alden says:

    Half way into A Fatal Fiction and I love it! You are very talented. Can’t put it down. Thank you for such an enjoyable read!

    Like

  3. Anonymous says:

    What fun. I know that I give some of my “prejudices” to my characters. Even though my Mass. plate labels me “from away,” I retain despite my years as a seasonal Mainer all my dislike of tourists who act or drive like jerks, and enjoy giving that dislike to my characters. Thea, of course, is just settling in to Maine but Burgess is born and bred and has some strong opinions about tourist season. She sounds like a fun character, Kathy.

    Kate

    Like

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