The hardest part of writing crime fiction has turned out to be something I didn’t expect, and something I’ve only now, after nine novels, started to think about. Working out some of the clues in the third Anita Ray novel, For the Love of Parvati, taught me some important lessons about keeping up with my characters.
In graduate school I read through all of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novels without ever being troubled by the woman’s age, or her failure to age along with the world around her. The elderly woman of the 1930s accepting invitations to weekend parties in the country was the elderly woman of the 1950s exploring the new housing developments on the edge of the village. In contrast I also read Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford series, and enjoyed the subplot of the inspector’s personal life, including the challenges of dealing with his growing children.
When I started writing the Mellingham series with Chief of Police Joe Silva, I hadn’t considered how his life would change. He was a man in his fifties when he walked onto the page, and I thought I would find enough murderous business while he was in that decade to not worry about anything else. I was wrong. He fell in love at the end of the third book in the series, Family Album, and his beloved came with a ready-made family.
Things have evolved differently for Anita Ray. I hadn’t given much thought to her getting married and starting a family, but I assumed that would happen, and was waiting for the right setting to develop. But again, I was wrong. Instead of the traditional passage, Anita becomes more deeply involved in photography. She appeared as a photographer in the first line of the first story, and in every adventure she’s using her camera to solve crimes.
Anita uses a Pentax because I use one. I have my eye on another camera but that will have to wait. Meanwhile I find myself trying to keep up with Anita. She’s curious, so she has opened her camera to see if there’s anything wrong inside. Professional guidebooks always warn against this, but Anita doesn’t take advice. And apart from the advice for beginners, professional photographers like to know their equipment intimately. This was a challenge for me, but I rose to it and opened my camera and took a look inside.
Anita looks at everyone and everything as though she were looking through a lens. This gives her distance and a sense of the narrative of what she’s looking at. To her everything is an image, and everyone is telling a story.
For a while Anita has had a gentleman friend, someone her aunt doesn’t approve of. This has provided me with numerous opportunities to play with Auntie Meena’s prejudices and frustrated dreams as a mother and marriage broker. But the man in question is leaving Anita in Book 4, and will not return as her beloved.
Anita runs a photography gallery, which brings her a modest income and gets her out of her aunt’s Hotel Delite, with its attendant duties and mini crises. I have mounted two photography exhibits for a local library gallery, so I know how much work it takes. I’ve also submitted to juried shows (and been accepted for a few).
I’m keeping up with Anita, but just barely. For each story I have to learn about and do more with my camera. Usually when writers talk about characters getting away from them, they mean the characters say unexpected things. With Anita, she veers off in directions as a photographer that make me scramble to keep up. She forces me to learn, and perhaps in the end I’ll be as good a photographer as I think she is.
For more about Susan and the Anita Ray series, including links to her books, go to http://www.susanoleksiw.com