by Laura Caldwell, author of the Izzy McNeil series
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 thirties. 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 twenty-nine. 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-nineties temperatures to the mid-fifties. 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 the sunny June of the next. In the fourth book, 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 frost, 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 eighteen 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.