The problem is, the little suckers have a way of taking on lives of their own.
Ask me what Alison Kerby (the Haunted Guesthouse series) would order at an Italian restaurant (fettucine Alfredo). How Samuel Hoenig (the Asperger’s Mystery series) would react to an attempted mugging (he would ask the mugger what his favorite Beatles song is). I can tell you because in my head these are people who have whole personalities.
So the idea of a character somehow coming to life and tormenting the writer had great resonance.
In Written Off, the first in the Mysterious Detective Mystery series, Rachel Goldman is a midlist author of novels in which Duffy Madison, a consultant to the Morris County (NJ) prosecutor’s office specializes in missing person cases. So when she finishes the fifth book in the Duffy series, the last person she expects to hear from for some time would be Duffy.
Except then he calls her on the phone and asks for help in the case he’s working.
A flesh-and-blood consultant to the Bergen County (NJ) prosecutor’s office is investigating the disappearance of a local woman who happens, as does Rachel, to write mystery novels. He wants Rachel’s help from the writer’s perspective to help analyze the facts of the case and help find the missing woman before it’s too late.
And he says his name is Duffy Madison.
In order to make the story work, I had to decide what kind of man Rachel would write, so I could write him. That meant I had to know what kind of person Rachel is and how good a writer. I decided for the sake of sanity she is roughly as talented as I am, which made things easier. If Rachel was better than me it would be rough to write Duffy.
You getting this?
The book and its proposed sequels (there will be another next year for sure) take on the idea of what responsibilities a writer has to the people for whom she—in this case—writes but also the people she writes. Duffy says he has no memories before the date Rachel started writing her Duffy Madison books and that it means she created him, standing before her.
That’s a bit much for a writer to take on. But then Rachel starts to worry about the other principle of writing: The author must constantly be looking for ways to make life difficult for her character. With Duffy standing right in front of her, can she do that?
It’s about what makes writers the way we are—crazy—and how far that can be taken. But it’s not terribly heavy and serious. Anyone who’s read any of my previous books knows I wouldn’t be very good at heavy and serious.
Written Off operates on two levels, hopefully: at the same time she’s trying to help the three-dimensional Duffy find the missing writer and keep herself out of range of the person who’s kidnapping crime fiction authors, Rachel is also grappling with the man who insists she created him. Is he crazy? Is she delusional? Who is this guy, really?
Read the book. Maybe you’ll find out.
Then again, maybe not. It’s a series, after all, and the characters have to stay interesting through subsequent books. The possibilities are endless. (I’d add “bwahahahahaha,” but that would be presumptuous.)
E.J. Copperman is the author of the Haunted Guesthouse mystery series and the co-author with Jeff Cohen of the Asperger’s Mystery series. On June 14, E.J. unveiled the Mysterious Detective Mystery series in which a crime fiction author is confronted by the flesh-and-blood incarnation of her fictional sleuth. Next year there will be yet another series, but we’ll tell you about it then.