Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Formidable Female Characters

By Deb Baker/Hannah Reed

I met M.C. Beaton several years ago when she was guest of honor at Magna cum Murder. I'd never heard of her or Agatha Raisin, but I liked Beaton's personal style, and when I found The Quiche of Death in my bookbag, I moved it to the top of my TBR pile. What a blast it was!

I'd already written several mysteries featuring crusty Gertie Johnson, so I could relate to a sort of prickly, brash, more mature female protagonist, who didn't bake cakes for church events or mask her real feelings under polite social etiquette.

But when I tried to share my love for dear Agatha, I had a few really negative responses. After 'digging' deeper, I discovered that most of these unfans hadn't started with the first book like I had. They didn't have enough background information to understand why the stories about her have a certain bite to them.

So recently when a friend confided that when she first started with book 2 in my Gertie series (Murder  Grins and Bears It), she read a little, put it down, and said to her husband, "I can't read this. Gertie is too mean to her son!" Thankfully, her husband had read the first one, the one that explains exactly why Gertie and Blaze have issues. He pointed her in the direction of the first, Murder Passes the Buck. Now, she's read all of them and can't wait for the next one.

Her initial reaction bothered me a lot. I want my readers to love Gertie, not find her so offensive they stop reading. What to do? In the upcoming 4th book, Murder Bites the Bullet (July 25th) I toned her down, made her more compassionate, less irreverent.

My first readers had a fit. "How," they said in unison, "could I change Gertie even one little bit? We want Gertie with all her flaws exposed!"

Sigh. I went back to the drawing board and gave Gertie back her crust. And that's the way it has to be.

So how about you? Do you always start at the beginning of a series?