Kate Flora: I began writing seriously when my second son was born. That was when I quit my job to stay home with the boys and immediately panicked. I’d always worked. Now what was I going to do? I thought, optimistically, that this would be the perfect time to dive into my life-long dream of writing.
In anticipation of my new venture, I had bought a computer and typed “Chapter One,” thinking I would work while the boys slept. Naps, though, were unpredictable. The older one never slept. The younger one became an escape artist as soon as he could walk. I ended up following my mother’s example–getting up early to write while the rest of the family slumbered. Then I found a wonderful daycare situation. The baby turned one. At the end of that first year, I typed “The End” on my first attempt at a mystery, A Matter of the Will, a story that channeled some of my law school classes and adventures. I put it in a drawer.
I ended up spending ten years in the unpublished writers corner, with five books in the drawer, before getting an agent and finding a publisher who said “Yes” to my Thea Kozak series.
Many writers of series mysteries experience the same thing. Our books go on for decades while we age appropriately and our characters barely age at all. Along the way, the culture changes. Methods of communication change. Popular music changes. The challenges of private school education and the population schools deal with change. I began to rely on my nieces and daughters-in-law for insights into what Thea’s life would be. Sending out emails asking what music my characters would listen to. It was no longer close to the life I was living when Thea was “born.”
Coming into book ten in the series, Death Comes Knocking, I faced dealing with a situation I had created, and one which I’ve always advised writers contemplating a series to avoid: Thea and Andre are expecting a baby. Coming from a job in human services where I dealt with parental neglect, I used to joke that despite his brilliance, writer James Lee Burke would have had Robicheaux’s fictional child taken into state custody because of his child care practices.
In the new book, I deal with how Thea handles the challenges of a demanding job and a protective husband while she’s pregnant. She also has to learn to deal with the conflict between a self that has always been the protector of the weak and a self made newly cautious because of her need to protect her unborn baby. Thea is a woman used to tangling with bad guys, who describes herself as “Thea the Human Tow Truck,” someone who finds people broken down on the highway of life and has to stop and rescue them. Now that need to be a rescuer must be tempered by caution, by regular reminders to herself that she isn’t on her own anymore.
Along the way, I had to learn how expectant mothers dress these days. Definitely not in the smocks and tent dresses and ugly elastic waist pants I used to wear. I laughed aloud when I had to send a very pregnant Thea into an airplane rest room. I was reminded how odd it was to be unable to see my feet.
I am sure that over the years, I’ve many times told writers contemplating a series to avoid entangling their characters in marriage and children. They complicate the plot too much and hamper the character’s ability to respond to events and investigate no matter the day or the hour or how dangerous things seem.
Now, in the next book, Thea (and I) will face our own childcare challenges. Her life will be irrevocably changed and yet helping the vulnerable is who she is. Thea and I set out on her journey more than a quarter of a century ago. Now, we will embark on a new journey, she little aged and I, for better or worse, that much older. Now, as her creator, I will have to dive into baby gear and child rearing practices and determine what the balance between work and family will be.
Ever since Andre and Thea contemplated having children, they’ve had the baby’s names selected: Mason, Oliver or Claudine. Those names got abbreviated to MOC, or, as people hear it, Mock. In the next book, the baby will finally be born and my characters and I will learn whether is is a boy or a girl and what its name will be. But I expect, since they’ve called it MOC for so long, the baby, whatever its sex, will be Mock.
You’ve done a great job with the growth of Thea. That was a funny scene in the airplane bathroom. Looking forward to the next book and learning the baby’s name and how she handles that and everything else.
You’re channeling Mom. Remember how she got talked into her first mystery, ranting about main characters who never worked, peed in the woods or had bad hair days?
Really great points that are true for all writers who feature younger characters. I try to avoid too much slang, which doesn’t age well in books. (Think about how “Zounds!” now comes across.) But it’s great that you have younger folks to help you with what it’s like to be a younger to middle-age person in current times.