From earthquakes to hurricanes, it seems like weather has been on everyone’s mind lately. Here in Nashville, it has literally gone from 100° and sunny to a chilly mid-60s in a matter of days. In a guest post for The Book Case, thriller writer Laura Caldwell—creator of the Izzy McNeil series—explains how she uses weather to her advantage in her novels. She also describes how—any why—she ages Izzy. (Izzy’s latest adventure, Claim of Innocence, is available now.)
Readers: In the series that you love, do you notice changing weather, or how characters age?
Everyone grows old, right?
But what about your favorite fictional character?
by Laura Caldwell
The Wall Street Journal published an article this summer entitled “The (Really) Long Goodbye” about mystery authors aging their detective protagonists. From Michael Connelly to Ian Rankin to Lee Child, most writers wished they’d made their characters younger when they created them, or aged them slower.
When I wrote the proposal and first few chapters of Red Hot Lies, the first in the Izzy McNeil novels, Izzy was in her early 30s. My editor, Margaret Marbury, urged me to make her younger. She pointed out that if the books kept going, and I intended to age the character, I would want a lot of room to grow. So I re-thought Izzy and dropped her back a few years to age 29. This suited the novel well, because Izzy was bordering on a new stage in life—about to get married—and having her bordering on a new decade added to the feel of being on the brink.
As the Izzy McNeil books are set in Chicago, weather was a natural tool to use for timing. Chicago has the battiest weather—it listens to no one, hears no prayers, but it can really pull out the stops and be downright heavenly. Take this past Labor Day weekend for example. In a four day span, we here in the Chi have experienced everything from torrential rain to tropical sunshine, mid-90s temperatures to this morning’s mid-50s. The first three Izzy books, Red Hot Lies, Red Blooded Murder, Red White & Dead, were published as a trilogy and spanned six months, from a crisp October to a sunny June. Izzy four, Claim of Innocence, begins a few months later in steamy August. Jump ahead to the chill of late fall for Question of Trust, the fifth Izzy book, as it takes place in frosty, rainy November. The sixth book, Art of the Matter (tentatively titled), isn’t written yet, but I’m feeling a blizzard coming on.
If I keep exploring the ever-changing weather like this, Izzy ages approximately 18 months in six books. Which feels right, because I do want Izzy to grow, not only in number of months or years, but emotionally as well. That growth might not always be in the right direction. Like all of us, Izzy takes a few detours and wrong turns. And I know she’s definitely heading into some trouble of her own making. Like the Chicago weather, I can just feel it.