Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On perfect people

The Perfect Coed got a strong review the other day on Lelia Taylor's Creatures 'n Crooks. The reviewer had good things to say about plentiful suspects, twists, turns, and red herrings, threats and tension-filled scenes, and a satisfying ending with just the right amount of explanation. Such comments always thrill an author's heart.
But one thing puzzled this reviewer: "why Susan is so prickly...especially with her loved ones and her supporters." She wrote, "I found her reluctance to accept help or even to discuss measures to preserve her own life distracting at times."
It's not a new criticism for Susan. The reader/friend/teacher who has read almost everything I've written for nearly forty years didn't "warm to Susan," which led another early reader to say, "Of course he didn't. He's a guy!"
I had carefully constructed a blurb that warned readers of Susan's prickliness:
"Susan Hogan is smart, pretty—and prickly. There is no other word for it. She is prickly with Jake Phillips and her Aunt Jenny, the two people who love her most in the world. And she is prickly and impatient with some of her academic colleagues and the petty jealousies in the English department at Oak Grove University. When a coed’s body is found in her car and she is suspected of murder, Susan gets even more defensive.
"But when someone begins to stalk and threaten her—trying to run her down, killing the plants on her deck, causing a moped wreck that breaks her ankle—prickly mixes with fear. Susan decides she has to find the killer to save her reputation—and her life. What she suspects she’s found on a quiet campus in Texas is so bizarre Jake doesn’t believe her. Until she’s almost killed.
"The death of one coed unravels a tale of greed, lust, and obsession."
Apparently that didn't satisfy all question. I have tried to explain that characters mostly spring into our minds full blown--they are who they are, without much direction from an author. If I had any control over Susan, though, I would have left her prickly, mostly because it fits the story. And another friend wrote to say, "Nobody's perfect. We all like characters with flaws." Isn't that the theory behind Shakespearean tragedy? Not that I would ever dare reach for that comparison. As the author of cozies, I think sometimes our cozy heroines are too good, too naïve, too forgiving. Susan stands out. That and those "tension-filled" scenes are the reason I call this a traditional mystery instead of a cozy. But even in cozies, most readers like strong female characters who will take matters into their own hands--not women who are ordered around by the men in their lives.
But what about you? Do you like prickly or strong heroines? How about love-struck ones? I'd really like to hear some opinions.


LD Masterson said...

Knowing the main character is prickly going into the story isn't the same as liking them when you read it. I guess people who don't enjoy prickly characters aren't going to enjoy this story. I, on the other hand, enjoy prickly, snarky, etc. so I'll probably like it.

Judy Alter said...

Thanks. I think all of us are prickly somewhere along the line. Susan makes it a lifestyle, thought, which to my mind sets her apart.