Today, Mysteristas is hosting the Seven Sinister Sisters blog tour. We’re seven mystery authors, all members of Sisters in Crime, who have new books out this spring. We’re bopping around cyberspace answering one question whenever we land.
Today’s question … Do you put real people/places in your mysteries? Why or why not?
Cathy Perkins takes umbrage with the premise of the question. “You mean characters aren’t real?”
Of course they are, Cathy.
“Whew. Because I know many talented, hard-working women Holly’s age and a few with her off-beat sense of humor, but she’s a character who evolved as the story came together. I knew she’d be curious and tenacious, as well as want to do the right thing for her murdered friend. JC is a mashup of guys I’ve met over the years. While he’s good at his job (and the sexual chemistry between Holly and JC was so fun to write), I wanted him to be very human, with his own baggage to carry. Clearly, Holly and JC still have obstacles to overcome, which show up in IN IT FOR THE MONEY. The minor characters are often drawn from real life. Dickerman, aka The Shrimp, is based on a patrol officer I had to deal with in a volunteer position – and his name is from a person who annoyed me for years. Word of warning – authors do stuff like that.”
“Authors also donate naming rights to charity auctions and create a fictional character with the name of a living person, like I do,” says Edith Maxwell. “In my contemporary mysteries, I don’t include real people. I need my characters to serve and guide the story, and if I had a real person in there, they might not be willing to do what the character needs to do. But in my Quaker Midwife Mysteries, set in 1888, I include John Greenleaf Whittier as a character. He lived down the street from my midwife and helped design the Friends Meetinghouse where she worships (and where I do on Sunday mornings). Because the series is set in the past, I feel safe including him.”
Shawn McGuire agrees. “I think whether we realize it or not, real people influence our characters, but I don’t put actual people on my pages. I think doing so can be a very touchy thing and potentially open an author up to trouble. Picking and choosing quirky characteristics makes for great characters, though. Regarding places, I borrow things from places I’ve been for my settings. For example, Mackinaw Island, Michigan is responsible for the fact that cars are not allowed in Whispering Pines, the village in my current series. I’m having great fun creating a place where I’d love to live.
“I like the quirky characteristics, too,” Patricia Hale says. “I don’t put real people in, although I do draw on the characteristics of people I know when creating a character. For example, Britt Callahan, the female half of my PI team, smokes Honey Berry cigars. A friend of mine mentioned that her husband hates this vice of hers and she has to hide in the garage. I thought it was an interesting quirk. I do put real places in my books because I enjoy reading a story set in a town/state I’m familiar with. I can visualize exactly where a scene is taking place. I like that. I hope my readers do too.”
Becky Clark begins with a real person’s photo. “I may start with a character who looks like a celebrity or someone I know, but by the time they go through my grinder, they’re completely different. Settings are trickier. I want authenticity, but I don’t want anybody mad at me for killing a character in their establishment. In FICTION CAN BE MURDER I use names of streets and landmarks in the Denver area, which you might recognize if you’ve been here, and that’s always fun. But specific locations I fictionalize so I can have the doors in the right place or so the victim can get murdered. I don’t want people fact-checking or being pulled out of the story over stuff that doesn’t matter.”
“As soon as I started fleshing out the first of my Sally Solari mysteries, I knew the town of Santa Cruz would play a starring role,” says Leslie Karst. “Its old-time Italian fishermen and restaurant owners, now having to come to terms with the newly-arrived techies and hipsters and their passion for the modern food movement, make for a colorful cast of characters. And with the stunning beauty of the town’s coastline, redwood forests, and famous roller coaster as a backdrop, it was a no-brainer that I had to use the real Santa Cruz in my books.”
Sue Star’s Nell Letterly mysteries take place in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. “It’s a real place, and the joke in Colorado is that it’s the “Republic of Boulder,” referring to its … er, shall we say its special uniqueness? I can’t resist poking gentle fun at Boulder and its plans to save the world. But at the same time, I don’t want to offend anyone. That’s why I make up specific sites within the larger confines of a real place. In MURDER BY MOOSE, the Colorado mountains are very real, but the dude ranch setting is entirely fictional.
Would you be interested in having a character in a book named after you? Would you want to be the killer, the victim, or the sleuth? Do you like reading mysteries set someplace you’ve been before? Does it bug you when the author alters it to suit their needs? Or would you rather read about fictional places or places you’ve never been?
* * *
To celebrate our new releases, the Seven Sinister Sisters are having a giveaway! Seven lucky winners will receive an ebook from one of us. One GRAND PRIZE winner will receive a signed copy from each of us! Enter to win by leaving a comment below. Our tour runs from January 6th to April 30th and we’re answering a different question at each blog. Leave a comment at each blog for more entries! We’ll draw the winner from all the combined comments at the end of our tour. If the grand prize winner is out of the United States, we’ll send an Amazon gift card for the equivalent amount.
Watch our Facebook page for the next stop on the tour.
* * *
For more info on the Seven Sinister Sisters …