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?

24 comments:

kissablesweet1 said...

Yes! Starting at the beginning of a series only makes sense. Like you said, how can you know the reasons behind something if you haven't read the background.

Linda McDonald said...

Yes, I do always start at the beginning of a series. If I find a new author (to me) by reading a blog or a review and I see that they are on book 4 of a series, I will end up getting book 1 and start there.

Katreader said...

Yes, I always start at the beginning of a mystery series. Unfortunately, this leads to problems as I read most of my books from the library (I read too many to buy them all-if only I were rich) and sometimes they don't have the first. Or I read a few...then the library is missing some. I can't continue until I read them ALL in order. I'm behind in several series and haven't started a couple because of this fact.

Dru said...

I try to start at the beginning of a series, but if I read a book that is part of a series, I do go back and read the rest before waiting for the next book.

Sue said...

I try to start with book 1 but sometimes the list in the books and the actual list aren't the same thing. BUt when I do find the first one, I go back and read it. Then everything I've read in the other books makes sense.

Deb said...

Katreader, you can ask your library to acquire it or send out for any book you want.

Booklady said...

I try to read the first one, first, but don't always get to read the rest of them in order. But I do think reading that first one is very helpful in understanding the characters.

Janet said...

Yes, I too read books in series order. This has made for some seriously long searches, but that's how I am. I'm thrilled to see a new Gertie is coming. I must now go to Amazon and order it.

Karen B said...

No. And yes. I have won many books over the years and thus been introduced to many new-to-me authors. If I really like the book I then go back and read the series in order if the book wasn't the first. When a favorite author starts a new series I then read it in order.

signlady217 said...

I try to read a series in order. I pretty much have always been that way. Sometimes I don't realize it until after the fact if it's the first one I've read by that author, but then I try to find and read the rest in order. Fortunately my brain does very well at reprocessing the info and shuffling it into the correct place in line. And yes, I have my local library find quite a few for me, too, besides the huge amount of books that I buy!

KeLLy aNN said...

OMG!! I LOVE Agatha Raisin!
I found out about her a few years ago.
I am a Hamish Mcbeth fan and through that discovered Agatha.
Poor Dear, she really is misunderstood "}

Hamish Mcbeth is on my summer list,
and I've just added the Gertie series to check out.

I can't wait for the next Agatha.

Deb said...

Thanks, Kelly. I have to try a Hamish next.

Aryn said...

I always sart at the beginning of a series. And I LOVE MC Beaton! Agatha is probably my favorite, but I enjoy Hamish too. She also has another series written under Marion Chesney called the Edwardian Mystery Series. Very, vey good, although I think she has put that series on hold.

Liz V. said...

Seldom. Often I find new authors when their latest is set out on the librarians' recommend shelf. (Blogs are new to me.)

Recently, on finding an author whom I like, I try to get the books in order. Many authors express the hope that books will stand alone, but the total experience is important to explain development of character.

Peacecat said...

I try to start at the beginning as much as possible. It doesn't always happen, but I always find it better when I do.

Kristin A. said...

Like almost everyone else, I start at the beginning. I want that chance to be on board from the beginning toget to know the characters...to have that background info...to watch relationships and storylines develop.

My grandma and sister love M.C. Beaton. I will definitely have to add her to my (ever growing) TBR list.

Aryn said...

One problem with authors like MC Beaton who have such a long running series is that it is hard to find the first few in a series. The first several books in both Agatha and Hamish are out of print and finding them is tough.

Aurian said...

Yes, I always read books in a series in the correct reading order. That way you know the background of the main characters, and can follow the development of their personal lifes. Even though for the mystery part they are all a stand alone. But I also do read anthologies to get a feel for the writing style of a new author, and the series itself.

Shel said...

Yes, always. I have been known to let books sit on my shelf (or on my reader) unread, until I can get the first in the series. I'm just weird that way.

Rita B said...

I guess I'm "just weird that way" too. Gotta read the first one first!!!

Brittney said...

Unless I accidentally start a series in the middle I ALWAYS start with the first book. My husband has even started getting me a whole series start to finish for special occasions if it is one that is hard to find and he must order them. As an avid reader I love watching a character change and grow and that is best when you can read the whole series in order.

Prairiedog said...

I've read or listened to all the Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth books by MC Beaton. I love them, and have found them all thru my library thru inter library loan. There are also some videos of Hamish, and hopefully some day, an Agatha series on video. fantasticfiction.co.uk/ is a great resource for book lists. I like to start with a series at the first, but if I don't, I go back for the first. I can't buy lots of books, so use my library resources, and have donated many books to my library. Our local library is in political upheaval right now, and my Friends of the Library group is waiting for the dust to settle before doing anything. On that note, I'll say, Deb, I'll look up Gertie, and get started, I've read some of your other books, and hope to add some of them to my personal library. Karen

Debra said...

Always. It should be a law.
I've read all of the MC Beaton books and watched the Hamish shows too.
Anyone else in love with Doc Martin?

Vickie said...

The older I get, the more inclined I am to start a series at the beginning if it's a new-to-me series. I get to hang with the characters and see what makes them tick (or tic).....

If it's a series I've been reading for a while and started in the middle and don't think I'm going to miss much by sticking with this reading habit, I stick with it.

I like feisty and stickery characters, please don't change Gertie!