While recuperating from my fractured knee, I’ve been isolated to a couple of rooms in my house. They are nice rooms, but still they increasingly feel smaller and smaller. Activity outside those rooms has been limited to doctor visits. Been having dreams about walking upstairs and venturing out onto the deck. It seems so wonderful.
Of course, pre-fracture, walking out onto the deck was nothing; did it almost every morning with coffee in hand. I looked at things. Mundane boring things. How the plants were doing, filling the bird feeder, just looking off towards the mountains. Now, that every day, no-thought activity has become a dream.
I think much of our life is like that. Taken for granted and just lived, as it should be. But then something happens, and it is suddenly different. Often that is about health, family or even money. Something tragic happens changing our world. With new clarity, we can see what is important. Maybe just a sunset viewed from the backyard deck.
My books are structured around that concept. Of course, in my books the something that happens is usually death. They are after all, mostly murder mysteries. There were two tragic deaths that had great impact on me while I was writing. I’ve mentioned before how the books are almost like living the events when I’m writing. I lay out a general premise with an outline, but the writing itself seems to take on its own life. The characters are developed as I’m writing. Even though I’m creating the story, sometimes the events I’m writing about have an emotional toll on me. I know, sounds stupid, but it happens.
The first such event occurs in The Bootlegger’s Legacy. A critical portion of this story takes place in the 1950s in dry Oklahoma and involves a bootlegger and his mistress. Her name was Sally. Sally was one of the best developed and complex characters I have created. She is the heart and soul of this book. She was young, beautiful, independent and smart, living in a mostly backward world in 1950 Oklahoma. She was alone and totally dependent on herself for survival in an inhospitable environment. She plotted how to survive and selected the high-flying bootlegger, Pat, as her best option. They fell in love. Tragic love. Pat had a wife and son, and while he was very much in love with Sally, it was not meant to be.
Sally left Pat because she was pregnant and knew it was never going to work out between them. She gave birth to a daughter in Chicago and was making ends meet, using her great looks and personality, when tragedy struck. She became ill. In a short time, she died. Her sister was with her and took the child. A child Pat never knew about.
Writing this part of the story was very emotional for me. Sally was such a great character and yet she had to die. It was incredibly sad. Even thought about changing the story but didn’t; she died. This was because it was the daughter who returns to the story in the future and is a key element to the Bootlegger’s Legacy. It was the daughter who lived with the impact of her mother’s death.
The other tragic death was in Murder So Wrong. The main character is Tommy Jacks, a young journalist just starting out. He gets flung into the middle of mayhem occurring all around him and discovers his skills as a journalist. While the story is about a newspaper war between competing papers and police corruption, it is also about Tommy’s first love. Her name was Judy. Tommy fell head over heels in love with Judy. But Judy had many troubling issues. She was beautiful, but Tommy could see the trouble in her eyes, something was very wrong.
Judy had a tragic past that was slowing driving her mad. During the madness she had made mistakes and now was having trouble living with her past actions. In a scene that was extremely hard to write, Judy is shot by the police because they thought she was going to kill Tommy, she wasn’t. I shed a few tears writing the tragic end of Judy.
Judy’s death had a great impact on Tommy. It was this tragedy that made him the character he was in the next books in the series.
I know my broken knee is not the same as death, thank goodness. It is only a small thing, an inconvenience, but it has changed how I see the world. I hope I will never take for granted again a crisp morning on the deck watching the birds while sipping coffee. It is those small things that makes life whole and enjoyable.