Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Where (or WHEN) are they now? by Cathy Ace

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

Oh, this is an interesting one... 

On my wall...

When I wrote THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE, the first Cait Morgan Mystery and my first novel, I set it to take place “now”.

To be precise, the “now” I set it in was 2012, which is when the book was published. That meant I calculated the birth years of my main and subsidiary characters to be the ages I wanted them to be in the book. I always do this, even if a character’s specific age isn’t mentioned, because – as part of my planning process – I like to/need to work out what that character’s childhood would have been like, based upon their place of origin and birth year. As an aside, this also helps me choose the right types of names for my characters, based upon popularity/fashion where and when they were born.

My second book was published a year later, and was set about a year later – so far, so good. No problems. But time began to slip by book 5, and by book 12 (due out in April 2022) well, let’s just say that Cait Morgan and Bud Anderson are now way out of whack with reality (ultimately, they’ve aged about three years over the past ten years)…but I still write the books set “now”.

Why? Well, I had to make a decision: whilst I hoped I’d still be writing about Cait and Bud ten years later, I sort of didn’t really believe I would be, so the question of ageing did occur to me, but I reckoned I could cross that bridge when I came to it. And having come to it, and having had to cross it...I find I don’t really mind that this slippage has occurred, because I know my readers have enough intelligence to cope, and I don’t believe (oh my, I really hope not!!!) that the early books have become anachronistic…so far.

However, mindful of the fact I know people are reading books written a hundred years ago for the first time (welcome to the fold, those discovering Agatha Christie in the 2020’s), and seeing the sales of that first novel of mine are increasing year on year, I know folks can cope really well with ages, ageing, and the shifting sands of time – and all they have to do is check the copyright date to see when each book was written if they question something in “that timeline”. I’ve never wanted to write books set in the past – I have always wanted to, and always shall, write books that are contemporary for their publication date, and I truly believe readers can cope with how that impacts the "age" of the recurring characters.

Has this caused any problems for readers? The only one I’ve spotted is that some readers have referred to how Cait and Bud still act as though they’re on honeymoon “after all these years”. Now, I’m aiming to portray a solid, loving partnership, where each person values and really does adore the other (whilst recognizing each has flaws)…so I do my best to “remind” readers in each book how long they’ve been married. For example: even by book 12 they’ve only been married for a little over two years, which – for Cait, who was in her late-forties when she became a bride for the only time in her life – IS, in fact, still the honeymoon period. (FYI: I married for the only time when I was 44, and our honeymoon period is…well, we’re still in it, as far as I’m concerned, and always will be – lots of lost years to make up for!) 

We met in January 1972, 50 years ago! This is us in 1975.
He proposed in 1976. We married in 2004.
It's a LONG story!!!
 (NB: arms in the air because we're performing on stage in this photo)

If/when I write another WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery I shall jump in right after the ending of the fourth book, however many years have passed in real time by then, and the next psychological suspense book I have planned featuring retired Detective Inspector Evan Glover and his wife Betty will pick up a few months after THE WRONG BOY, even though – again – years will have passed in real time.

I’ve learned to not refer to global occurrences in the "present" of the book, only in backstories (no pandemic being mentioned, anywhere, ever, for example) to allow readers to feel less pulled out of the story and into time-sensitive issues as they are reading, and I hope that helps as the years pass. Fingers crossed, folks will be discovering Cait and Bud in another ten years’ time, when the first book will be twenty years old…and hopefully those new readers won’t mind, as current readers don’t appear to, that the passage of time is treated as a flimsy construct, with which they don’t have to overly concern themselves. I just hope they’re happy to curl up with a puzzling closed-circle whodunnit, trying to sort the clues from the red herrings alongside my protagonists!

If you think now's the time to catch up with Cait and Bud - knowing there's a new book coming very shortly - you can find out all about them at my website: 



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