Worrying About Characters

Your characters become very real. You live with them daily for months, even years. It can be hard to leave them. You wonder how their lives are going, especially if you've journeyed with them through multiple books. Although it may sound strange, worrying about your characters isn't a wasted emotion. If you don't care about your characters, how can you expect your readers to care.
So it was in the summer of 2020 with COVID raging and streets filled with protestors demonstrating for Black Lives Matter and conflict over Confederate monuments that I began to worry about my interracial detective team, Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robertson. Asheville, NC, wasn't immune to the events of the day. I knew something was happening that would involve them.
By chance I came across a story about declassified FBI files detailing threats against Martin Luther King, Jr. during two trips to the Asheville area. Although the threats were credible, no one was ever identified. Who they were remains a mystery, a mystery that in the fictional world could be solved by Sam and Nakayla. That was the story seed.
The seed sprouts when during a protest march, an elderly man is knocked to the pavement by a Confederate sympathizer. Sam and Nakayla rush to his aide. The assailant runs away and the fatally injured man struggles to say, "I'm so sorry, Nakayla. Can you ever forgive me?"
Nakayla has never seen him before. Why does he want her forgiveness?
She learns the man, Henry Nelson, was a retired homicide detective who had investigated her father's death fifteen years earlier. He'd closed the case as a suicide. But when Nelson's widow brings Nakayla the case files her husband stole from police records, she and Sam realize the old man had been reviewing the investigation, evidently questioning his earlier conclusions.
But then the detective's widow is murdered and Sam and Nakayla find themselves confronting a killer who will stop at nothing to keep a crime from the past buried in the past. Their only clue, a declassified FBI file that J. Edgar Hoover kept on Martin Luther King, Jr. A file that detailed threats against the civil rights leader during his trips to Asheville. A file found on the desk of Nakayla's father the night he died. A file that holds the key to the secret that destroyed a family.
I hope readers will join me in worrying about Nakayla, Sam, and The Secret of FBI File 100-3-116.

A Character Is Born

In December of 2019 before Covid turned the world upside down, I was flying back to the East Coast from Phoenix. I started talking to the young woman beside me and asked where she was going.
"To Washington to visit my great aunt. She's eighty-five and lives in the house she was born in."
"No other family with her?" I asked.
"No. But we don't worry about her. She rents rooms to Secret Service and FBI agents. There's always someone in the house with a gun."
Although she didn't realize it, my fellow passenger had just given me the seed for a new character. And added dimensions presented themselves. A friend of my parents told me that back in the early 1940s she worked after school in the FBI's fingerprint department, classifying and categorizing prints with a magniying glass. My character could also have worked for the Bureau, eventually becoming an agent. Now, although she's retired, she still keeps her hand in the game and she's fiercely protective of her roomers past and present.
So, I wrote a mystery novel creating a character who is smart, feisty, loyal, and determined. I thought what if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been an FBI agent? The answer – seventy-five-year-old Ethel Fiona Crestwater. A force to be reckoned with. She'll be making her debut in the not-too-distant future.

2021 – New Story or Dangerous Sequel

We begin the New Year with a sense of relief. Pundits and commentators repeat the mantra, "2020 is in the rearview mirror" as if rolling a digit from zero to one means the worst is behind us.
I'm reminded of that great shot in Jurassic Park of the T-Rex chasing the vehicle. The mirror bears the phase "Objects Are Closer Than They Appear." As we put distance between us and 2020, we would do well to remember that phrase. We are not outrunning the problems that led to our past year of infamy: a year that saw racial reckoning and protests; a year that saw a large number of our fellow citizens willing to infect others with a fatal virus because they didn't want to be inconvenienced or told to wear a mask; a year of political turbulence where leaders seek power by pitting us against one another.

2020 might be in the rearview mirror, but its underlying root causes are very much with us and ahead of us.
The story of 2021 will be told in how we confront the issues that did not magically disappear when the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2021. It will be told through civility, compassion, empathy, hard work, and a realization that seeking the common good is the goal of a democracy. If we, the characters in the story of 2021, make these our themes and motivations, then 2020 can truly be relegated to the rearview mirror and together we can focus on the promising way ahead.

Charles Dickens in the Age of Covid-19

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epic of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…*" it is the time of Covid-19, it is the test of our age, and it is the calling for hope, for a shared hope that the best virtues of humanity will prevail – love, compassion, kindness, consideration – that we may look back and say what we witnessed and what we did were far, far better things because they were done in service to one another.
Stay home – Stay safe

A Tale of Two Cities

The Day Babe Ruth Died in Asheville

One thing I enjoy about writing fiction is not just making things up but rather discovering historical facts that can fuel a fictional story.

The Sam Blackman series revolves around the Past creating murderous consequences in the Present. The events don't have to be major, but they do have to be interesting. Such is the case of the story of how Babe Ruth died in Asheville, North Carolina.

In the spring of 1925, the Bambino and his Yankee teammates were traveling by rail from training in Florida back to New York. Along the way, exhibition games were scheduled to build excitement and generate revenue in the days leading up to the season opener.

After stopping in Knoxville, Tennessee, the team continued by train to Asheville. Evidently, Babe Ruth consumed so many hotdogs and drank so much beer en route that he collapsed in the Asheville depot. He was carried to the Battery Park Hotel and word rippled through the reporters that Ruth had died. The news spread like wildfire around the globe. For twenty-four hours, Babe Ruth was dead in Asheville.

Then the facts caught up with the fiction. The Babe had an intestinal abscess severely exacerbated by his horrendous diet. He would not return to the team until June. One reporter dubbed it, "The bellyache heard round the world." I ask you, how many towns are famous for who didn't die in them?

But that trip to Asheville wasn't his last. In 1931, the Babe and teammate Lou Gehrig played exhibition games, each hitting homeruns in historic McCormick Field. And that leads to the "what if?" question – who got those homerun baseballs? If autographed by those giants of the sport, what would they be worth today? And though Babe Ruth escaped death in Asheville, would someone else tied to the game not be so lucky?

It's a mystery to me and one worth exploring. Stay tuned….