Last night, with a sigh of both satisfaction and regret, I finished the latest Deborah Crombie mystery, Garden of Lamentations. It was, like all her books, well crafted, complex, and intriguing with two distinct plots going at once. The ending was satisfactory, which to me is the best that we can ask of mysteries, but I wanted it to go on. I wanted to stay in the lives of Duncan and Gemma and their children, and the lives of Doug and Melody. What happened to them tomorrow? The day after? Like all good writers, Crombie did not tie it all up in a neat package wrapped with a pretty bow. As Texas novelist Elmer Kelton once said to me, “Life doesn’t happen that way.”
When I open a new novel, I am well aware that I am stepping into a new and different world. With books like Crombie’s, it’s not an unfamiliar world. I know the major characters, and through her, I’m beginning to know London. That familiarity welcomes me into what I know will be a satisfying experience.
On the other hand, I’ve just begun a novel set on Nantucket, No Rest for the Wicked by Martha Reed. I’ve never read Reed’s work before though I understand this is not the first in this series. Neither do I know much about Nantucket, except bits and pieces. So I stepped into this world with a great sense of anticipation. So far, I have not been disappointed.
What I hope to create in my novels is a consistent world with likeable characters that welcome readers back. It was high praise when a reader wrote, “These are people you’d meet in the grocery store.” But the highest praise came from a fan who had told me she was missing some friends she hadn’t seen in a while—Kelly and Keisha from the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries. Later, in her own blog, this reader wrote, “I think I saw Kelly and Keisha today. They were going into the Neighborhood Grill”—that’s a café frequently mentioned in the books. That those people were that real to her thrilled me.
I’m at work now on a novella featuring—you guessed it! Kelly and Keisha. Keisha narrates this one, which is a huge challenge. She is young, flamboyant, outspoken, and black, and while her speech is not what unfortunately passes for black dialect in this country, it is an entirely different pattern than Kelly’s. Kelly, a late-thirties realtor with two children, has narrated all six novels, so changing to Keisha’s voice is hard for me. Sometimes I feel I’m getting it, but in other passages I know I’ll have to go back and do some major rewriting.
Sometimes, at night I lie in bed and imagine myself in the world of Kelly and Keisha. And I wonder how we get kids to understand the magic of the world of books—some of my grandkids get it but others don’t.
Welcome to my fictional worlds.