Thursday, February 3, 2022

And soon it'll be Christmas, by Catriona

 Q: How do you handle the passage of time and the aging of characters in your series?

Okay, I should probably be answering this with respect to the Dandy Gilver series, which is fifteen books long now and spans 1922 - 1938. And I do want to say two things about the world of Gilverton. 

First, how the hell did Dandy and I start out the same age, collaborate on a book a year, and end up with her younger than me?

Second - advice for new writers starting out - if you are going to have a series that progresses year by year, book by book, do not give your heroine a seven-year-old dog in the debut. Honest to God, the long phone calls between Editor Suzie and me about how we were going to send Bunty to her rest! Option one was have her save the day and go out in a blaze of glory at the end of the denouement chapter. (As Suzie pointed out, though, "blaze or no blaze, you turn to the next page and you've still got a dead dog". Option two was to have her die between books and say very little. (This felt cold.) Option three was to have her live forever. (But, even though the Dandy Gilver books are not gritty realism, this felt like a step too far.) So we went for Option four: put a mention in the postscript to book nine (when Bunty is sixteen) that this was her last case; then start book ten with the information that Bunty II is currently snuggled under her mother's flank in a cosy basket, waiting for Dandy to find her; then have Dandy and Bunty II meet by the book's conclusion. Meantime, you'll understand, I killed three fictional humans more or less without a backward glance. I know my crowd.

Anyway. what I really want to focus on to answer this question is the Last Ditch Motel series. It's four books long and it covers just under two years so far, but - here's the thing - book four came out on Tuesday! Yay for SCOT MIST!

Passage of time is not the primary consideration at the Ditch, but it's in the mix now for very specific reasons. I start each of these books on a holiday - SCOT FREE opens as the fireworks go off on the Fourth of July; SCOT AND SODA begins with a Halloween party; SCOT ON THE ROCKS sees Lexy alone on Valentine's Day; and the first scene in the forthcoming and as-yet-untitled Lexy 5 is the motel kitchen on Thanksgiving morning. 

Then there's SCOT MIST, book 4, which begins on anti-holiday, the day least like a holiday than any other day I've ever lived through in California, namely Friday the 13th of March 2020, when the governor shut Disneyland and extended the tax-filling deadline, and the Ditchers got ready for lockdown.

Not a lot of time passes in SCOT MIST. It finishes on Saturday the 21st of March 2020. But the decision to write a closed-circle mystery about strangers thrown together by the pandemic had a real, and unforeseen, knock-on effect. (New writers this is for you too. Save yourselves and don't do what I've done without knowing you're doing it.)

The thing is, having put Lexy and her pals in the real world where COVID happened for this book, I was trapped there. See what I mean? I couldn't decide to let the Ditchers exist in a pandemic-free - like how Schitt's Creek is a world without homophobia - because I'd already said otherwise. I'd spent a whole book on it. Short of Bobby stepping out of the shower, that was that.

So, when Editor Carl and I were talking about book five - Thanksgiving, remember?, we had to choose between Thanksgiving 2020, still in the pits of COVID, long pre-vax, or Thanksgving 2021 where, thanks to the science-based attitudes of the Ditchers and the possibility of outdoor life in California even in November, the pandemic wouldn't have to be such a presence. 

How to decide. How to decide . . . 

How did we decide? Well, here's a clue: Thanksgiving is nine months after March. Geddit? Nine months. (If you want to check your guess and see the start of this new sub-plot at the Last Ditch, SCOT MIST is available now. Lots of places. Including here)



Ann said...

Nine months!?! You’ve got to be kidding. But I will wait to see what you deliver. Wink wink

Susan C Shea said...

You do know your crowd! Love the Bunty solution. Editor Carl and I will be conferring one day soon, probably not about time, but "do the French really eat that?"Your advice to writers is spot on, especially that bit about thinking of long term issues before writing the first book in what you aim to sell as a series.