Andrea under her Penrose name has the second in her Wrexford and Sloane Regency Mystery series, MURDER AT HALF MOON GATE out this month. Since I have the first in my romantic mystery Crystal Magic series, SAPPHIRE NIGHTS, out on the same day (3/27), we thought we’d interview each other—it saves us from talking too much about ourselves!
This will be a two part interview and today we ask: Both our heroines are disconnected from their families and gain strength from engaging with eccentric communities unlike the environment in which they were raised. How does this affect the heroine? The story?
I admit, I don’t really plan how my stories play out. I had this vivid scene in my mind of a woman driving a dark road, having no idea where she’s going or why. And I’d also been toying with the notion of an isolated town where various descendants of my historical Malcolm and Ives might find each other in modern day California. So I really can’t say if the eccentric characters in SAPPHIRE NIGHTS came before my amnesiac heroine or not, but from the very first page, we know Samantha is searching for family. That was my subconscious working because I didn’t know her story then.
Even though Sam doesn’t know anyone in Hillvale, and she hardly knows herself, she finds ways to fit in. By losing all memory of who she thought she was, she’s able to discover the essential Samantha, the person she’s meant to be instead of the one the society she was raised in wanted her to be. Given that the person she is happens to be a bit extraordinary, she really needs an extraordinary community to recognize that she’s special. And because most of the inhabitants of Hillvale are willing to accept that she can grow bountiful plants with almost no effort, and encourage her to sense energy sources by waving a stick, she learns to accept the new normal.
In return for this acceptance, Samantha is willing to help her new friends to solve a mystery she would never have undertaken had she stayed in her former life. I’m pretty sure essential Samantha would have fallen for the wounded hero in either life, but a town that accepts her gives her the strength to meet him on his own terms.
I can’t reveal too much of what she learns from her new friends without giving away half the story, but imagine that you have an amazing musical ability but were raised in a family who can’t hear music. How would you discover who you are until you’re with people who recognize what you can do? Family may love you, but they may not see the whole you. Sometimes, we have to turn to friends to truly fulfill our potential—no matter how odd or eccentric they may be.
I’ve always tended to write unconventional heroines, and by their very nature those who go against the grain tend to be loners. With Charlotte Sloane, the heroine in my Wrexford & Sloane historical mystery series I found myself intrigued by exploring just how far I could push that concept.
When we first meet Charlotte in Murder on Black Swan Lane, the first book in the series, she’s a recent widow living in a hardscrabble neighborhood with nothing on which to survive but her own wits. There are hints that she’s alienated from her past and living in a unfamiliar world, with no family or close friends for support. But it’s also clear she’s voluntarily chosen these challenges as the only way to live life on her own terms (I can’t say more as that would give away some of the mystery.)
She doesn’t have money, but she’s gritty, resourceful, and possesses artistic talent—as well as the moxie to use such skills to take over her late husband’s persona of A. J. Quill, London’s most popular and scathing satirical artist. Charlotte’s living depends on her skill for ferreting out the most private secrets of others. I’ve used that to create an elemental conflict for her, for she’s harboring deep secrets of her own—ones that she thinks will make her vulnerable if she ever shares them. And in her world the weak are devoured, so she’s wary, and determined to be tough and coldly pragmatic.
But Charlotte does have a weakness. She cares deeply about right and wrong, truth and justice. So her idealism leads her to become involved in solving the lurid crimes she draws for the public’s entertainment. However, solving crimes requires making judgments about who can be trusted . . .
To her surprise, Charlotte finds unexpected allies—two streetwise urchins, a brilliant but irascible aristocrat and his frivolous friend, a disillusioned surgeon. They are all outcasts in one sense or another, all fiercely independent and sure that they’re better off on their own.
So one of the core themes I’ve really enjoyed exploring in my new book, Murder at Half Moon Gate is how we define our inner strengths and weaknesses. In the first book, Charlotte has begun to weave tentative friendships, and now, to her consternation, she’s grappling with the realization that accepting help doesn’t mean she has to sacrifice her sense of self. In fact, friendship and loyalty can make her stronger than she ever imagined. It’s also been fun playing with the concept of family, and what lies at the heart of the bonds that tie us all together.
What do you think of heroines who have to find their own way in the world? Does it make a difference if the heroine is in a straight contemporary or historical romance? A mystery? We’re offering digital copies of MURDER AT HALF MOON GATE and SAPPHIRE NIGHTS to a random commenter!