Last week, I attended a presentation and discovered that without thinking I had headed to the same seat in the auditorium that I’d occupied the week before. I sat down and realized that my seatmates were the same two people I’d sat beside a week earlier. I pointed that out to them and we had a lively exchange about how we – and our students – tend to claim a seat on the first day and automatically return to it.
We humans are creatures of habit. Whether it’s the seat we sit in, the side of the bed that we sleep on, or whether we have mayo or mustard on our sandwich, we tend to make a choice and stick with it. We are offended and annoyed when someone fails to acknowledge our choices – especially when they ignore our claims to ownership. How dare they sit in our chair?
Well-developed characters also are creatures of habit. A character’s habits may provide information about his preferences, his attitudes, and/or his belief system. A character that always chooses an aisle seat may be concerned about having room to stretch her legs or about not having to disturb other people if she needs to go to the restroom. Or, she might be claustrophobic and need to know that she isn’t “trapped” in a center seat. The writer need not immediately explain why the character always chooses an aisle seat. The reader can be left to observe and wonder about this habit. The habit becomes a hook drawing the reader along – until that moment when the character’s path is blocked. When she cannot get an aisle seat, will she sit in the center seat and try to focus her attention on something else? Will she become more and more agitated? Will she climb over people’s legs to make her escape? Maybe this is the way we first encounter this character, as she tumbles out into aisle and rushes to an airplane restroom. Not to throw up from airsickness or a hangover, but to cope with a panic attack brought on by being trapped in a center seat. An extreme reaction, but one that would lend itself to a flashback to some incident in the character’s childhood or a recent work-related trauma.
In a series, a character’s habits – how he drinks his coffee, what he packs when he travels, how he cleans his gun after firing it – provides readers of the series with a sense that they know who this character is as a person. The character may change and evolve over time, but the habits he maintains – or struggles to change – offer insight into his psyche. In a series, the author’s treatment of habits may be subtle. The reader may learn about a character’s habits in the same way he would those of a new friend – gradually, over time.
For the author, endowing a character with habits make it easier to create a character that lives and breathes on the page. Knowing what a character does and why provides the author with the insight into that character that she can convey to readers.
Habits also can be the source of conflict between characters. How often have we seen a tidy character paired with a slob? But a writer might dig deeper and have a clash of habits propel a subplot or even serve as a catalyst for a crisis in the main plotline.
Bad habits? Good habits? Either works for the author who is creating a character and the reader who is trying to understand that character. Being creatures of habit makes characters accessible.
Albany, New York, January 2020
The morning after a blizzard that shut down the city, funeral director Kevin Novak is found dead in the basement of his funeral home. The arrow sticking out of his chest came from his own hunting bow. A loving husband and father and an active member of a local megachurch, Novak had no known enemies. His family and friends say he had been depressed because his best friend died suddenly of a heart attack and Novak blamed himself. But what does his guilt have to do with his death? Maybe nothing, maybe a lot. The minister of the megachurch, the psychiatrist who provides counseling to church members, or the folksy Southern medium who irritates both men—one of these people may know why Novak was murdered. Detective Hannah McCabe and her partner, Mike Baxter, sort through lies and evasions to find the person who killed their “Cock Robin,” But McCabe is distracted by a political controversy involving her family, unanswered questions from another high-profile case, and her own guilt when a young woman dies after McCabe fails to act.
My review of What the Fly Saw:
Ordinarily I'm not a fan of science fiction, but though What the Fly Saw is set in the not too distant future, what happens is believable and works beautifully for this story. Because I read this while New York was experiencing a monumental snow storm, the complications caused by similar weather in this novel, made it seem even more realistic.
I've beome a fan of this series. Author Frankie Bailey has created a cast of characters who I enjoy reading about, and the plot is definitely unique, from the murder victim being a funeral director: and to add to the fun there's a medium along with a seance. Don't misunderstand, this is not a silly cozy, but a mystery with plausible and intriguing characters. Detective Hannah McCabe is the kind of sleuth the reader can follow along and root for as McCabe sometimes stumbles while trying to solve a crime.
There were plenty of twists and turns, and though the clues were there, I didn't guess the outcome.
A book I highly recommend.--Marilyn Meredith
Frankie Y. Bailey's Bio:
Frankie Y. Bailey is a professor in the School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany (SUNY). Her areas of research are crime history, and crime and mass media/popular culture. She is the author of the Edgar-nominated Out of the Woodpile: Black Characters in Crime and Detective Fiction (Greenwood, 1991). She is the co-editor (with Donna C. Hale) of Popular Culture, Crime, and Justice (Wadsworth, 1998). She is the co-author (with Alice P. Green) of “Law Never Here”: A Social History of African American Responses to Issues of Crime and Justice (Praeger, 1999). With Steven Chermak and Michelle Brown, she co-edited Media Representations of September 11 (Praeger, 2003). She and Donna C. Hale are the co-authors of Blood on Her Hands: The Social Construction of Women, Sexuality, and Murder (Wadsworth, 2004). She and Steven Chermak are the series editors of the five-volume set, Famous American Crimes and Trials (Praeger, 2004). They also co-edited the two-volume set Crimes of the Century (2007).
Frankie’s most recent non-fiction books are African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study (McFarland, 2008), nominated for Edgar, Anthony, and Agatha awards, winner of a Macavity award. She is the recipient of the George N. Dove Award (2010). With Alice P. Green, she is the author of Wicked Albany: Lawlessness & Liquor in the Prohibition Era (The History Press, 2009) and Wicked Danville: Liquor and Lawlessness in a Southside Virginia City (The History Press, 2011).
Frankie’s mystery series features Southern criminal justice professor/crime historian Lizzie Stuart includes Deaths Favorite Child (Silver Dagger, 2000), A Dead Mans Honor (Silver Dagger, 2001), Old Murders (Silver Dagger, 2003), You Should Have Died on Monday (Silver Dagger, 2007), and Forty Acres and a Soggy Grave (2011). A short story, “Since You Went Away” appears in the mystery anthology, Shades of Black (2004), edited by Eleanor Taylor Bland. The Red Queen Dies (Minotaur Books/Thomas Dunne), the first book in Frankie’s near future police procedural series set in Albany, New York, featuring police detective Hannah McCabe, will be released in September 2013.
Frankie is a member of Sisters in Crime (SinC), Romance Writers of America (RWA), and Mystery Writers of America (MWA). She served as the 2009-2010 Executive Vice President of MWA and as the 2011-2012 President of Sisters in Crime (SinC). Website: www.frankieybailey.comTwitter: @FrankieYBailey