22 January 2018

Saying Good-bye, part 1

by Janice Law

My view of Anna
There comes a time for good-byes in literary relationships. I’ve experienced this twice, first with Anna Peters, a detective who made my first novel a success and who explored mostly white collar crime in seven subsequent volumes. I liked her, I really did, but I’d made a serious miscalculation, I’d aged her with me.

Anna, professional illustration
That didn’t seem a problem when I began, but as the series extended and she got older and more settled and developed back problems, I understood that, despite an Edgar nomination, we had to make a break.

Fortunately for my artistic development and for her personal safety, the series was not the fiscal prop of some struggling publisher nor the passion of a legion of demanding fans. I didn’t need to kill her off, as some writers have done with heroes who hung around too long, but could settle her into a decent retirement.

Madame S in AHMM
More recently, I bid farewell to two characters who have done yeoman work in the short story markets, namely Madame Selina, Gaslight era NYC’s leading medium, and her assistant, Nip Tompkins, an orphan with a good deal of savoir faire. I’ve enjoyed them, and Nip, in particular, has a turn of phrase that is a pleasure to record.

But I have already explored many of the issues of their time, including spiritualism, the aftermath of the Civil War, exploited heiresses, Irish rebels, corrupt politicians, votes for women, and immigration.

There are, I know, fertile imaginations that can ring endless changes on a couple of appealing characters and the sins of a big city. Not me. Nip has grown up and, not having any gift for the spirit world, has entered the newspaper business.

My view of Madame S & Nip
Lucky boy, journalism is in its greatest days, and having appeared in a novella along with Madame S, he will perhaps have an afterlife. We will see.

I have been thinking about good-byes lately, because another big one is coming up: the last of the Francis Bacon novels. Mornings in London finishes the second trilogy with this character. The first trilogy debuted with Fires of London, set during the Blitz when Francis was scraping together a livelihood along with his beloved Nanny, and ends with Moon Over Tangier, when Francis is an established painter with a toxic lover and a big hole in his life following Nan’s death.

I could have said farewell then and had the perfect ending. But these things are not solely under the writer’s control. Francis, gay, alcoholic, promiscuous, and ambitious, was such fun. He was quite different from Anna, Madame Selina or Nip. Although he disliked the countryside and animals, both of which I adore, he was interested in the Greek plays and Shakespeare, and of course, in painting. So am I.

But I did not necessarily want to forge ahead. As a general rule, people of great achievement are more interesting on the way up. Their struggles to succeed are much interesting that the lists of greatest hits of the established artist. The solution was to head backwards, where I felt Francis was both more charming and more vulnerable, the latter an essential for any mystery, caper, or suspense novel. The Bacon books partake of all three.

Last Francis Bacon novel
His biography was a great help in the decision. He was dispatched with a truly funny uncle to Weimar Berlin in his father’s delusive hope that he would come back a heterosexual soldierly type. Then he went to Paris, catching the end of the Roaring Twenties and acquiring some basic art training, before he set himself up in London with his nanny and opened a design studio.

Three venues, three books. It worked out nicely. But now the Second World War is coming, and Francis is about to become an Air Raid Precautions warden and embark on the adventures of Fires of London. Although he’s been good for me, being a finalist three times for a Lambda award and winning once, it’s time to say good-bye.

As consolation, he recently acquired another life in the form of talking books, as the first four volumes have been produced by Dreamscape and are excellently read by Paul Ansdell. Francis could not have been better voiced. My Francis is pleased, and maybe the real Francis Bacon would have been, too.

5 comments:

O'Neil De Noux said...

Interesting about aging a character. I started aging my character LaStanza then stopped aging him as he moves into the 21st Century (he started with NOPD in the late 1970s). I just froze his age and moved on. I'm slowly aging my PI character Lucien Caye by putting the novels close together in time. It's a process. Interesting how you retired your character. In his long-running Bolitho nautical fiction series, Alexander Kent killed off his series character but kept the series going through the main character's nephew.

janice law said...

I think you were smart, O'Neill. I would not recommend aging any character where action is required!

Steve Liskow said...

This is a topic worth discussion and you've presented it very well, Janice. Most non-writers (and writers like me) never consider such a big issue.

When we start a series, we may not even think about aging, especially if we are fairly young. Ed McBain had each 87th Precinct novel follow the previous one by about 3 months to slow down the process. Otherwise, the WWII vets would have been in their 80s. Ditto Parker's Spencer.
Sue Grafton decided to keep her stories set in the 1980s.

I started late and Woody Guthrie and Megan Traine were my age in early drafts, but people suggested I move the stories later (they were right) and lower the ages. Both the Guthrie and Barnes series span about a year between books, so I'm now in 2012 for the newest Guthrie (He and Meg are 40 and 41). Zach Barnes and Beth Shepard are a few years younger.

They both have more mileage left than I do, and I'm noticing that their life choices (Beth wants to be a mother) are becoming an issue in the books and they may both retire gracefully soon...as Dennis Lehane did with Angie and Patrick after he got them married and gave them a daughter.

It's hard to leave them behind, but you've shown a good way to do it.

Eve Fisher said...

I will miss Francis Bacon - what a wonderful character he was! And Nanny - I still want Nanny to come live with me.

Re aging characters, I don't mind people aging characters in books as long as ALL the characters age with them. I personally love reading the Miss Read "Fairacre" novels (it's comfort food, and we all need it), but the one problem was that, while Miss Read aged in the novels, eventually retiring, her students didn't! Talk about a clunker over the years.

janice law said...

You are right, Steve. In fact, who thinks of a series as a younger writer unless you are very savvy and confident. One solution is the one that enabled me to get three more novels about Francis- a series of prequels.

Like Eve, I don't mind aging characters at all, in fact it was fun to do with Anna and Francis, but maybe not the best commercial strategy if one was going to be writing many, many sequels.