On Characters Getting Sick

Jan 18, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Anne Louise Bannon

It’s one of those weird things that happens when you’re a writer. You may not know what exactly you’re doing, but you know it’s right.

Back in 1982, when I first wrote book one in the Operation Quickline series, That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine, I was determined that my characters live real lives. And that included picking up the odd bug or two. Now, given that the characters in the Quickline series are spies, that does have another connotation. However, in this case, it means germs. Illness. More specifically, Sid comes home from a trip with the flu, and a little later on in the book, picks up a certain, um, social disease.

Sid Hackbirn started out very much into sleeping around, while his counterpart, Lisa Wycherly, believed in reserving sex for marriage – the initial conflict between the two. While their respective health was another source of conflict, especially in the earlier books, it also turned out to be a way of bringing familiarity to an unfamiliar world and a character with an unusual background.

It’s like what composer John Williams and George Lucas decided for the soundtrack to the original Star Wars. They used an orchestra and a familiar, symphonic sound rather than something weird and futuristic to bring us, the audience, into the fantasy world of a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away.

The vast majority of us are not counter-espionage agents and know little of what that work genuinely entails. In addition, Sid was raised to believe in free love, having grown up among a bunch of beatniks, bohemians, and later, hippies who also believed in free love. Neither of these situations is familiar to most of us. But we’ve all had the Cold From Hell.

Let’s fast forward to book nine in the series, Just Because You’re Paranoid. Sid’s stopped sleeping around, Lisa is more open to a looser definition of marriage, and they’ve taken custody of Sid’s son, Nick (which happened in book eight, A Little Family Business). In short, they’re building their own little family, while dealing with extended family and their upcoming wedding. They also get sick a lot.

At the time I originally wrote that part, I had no idea how real that was. I was married to my first husband and my daughter was a few years away from happening. My contact with younger children was relatively limited. When I did the rewrite on the story a couple years ago, I kept the bugs in. It made the new family feel more familiar.

But my second husband laughed ruefully when I told him about the characters all getting sick. You see, when my daughter and I moved in with him, that’s exactly what happened to us. She was ten and at a new school with new kids who all had new (to her) bugs, which she promptly brought home and shared with us.

I did not consciously decide to use the familiar to bring my audience into the world of the unfamiliar, never mind how many times I’d read that in the Star Wars album liner notes. I just thought it was a fun complication that felt like real life. I certainly don’t describe each sneeze and sniffle. But, yeah, there’s a new kid in the household, going to a new school and picking up all manner of bugs, then sharing them with his parents. And it’s all part of Lisa, Sid, and Nick learning how to be a family, which is the secondary plot. The main one is that there’s someone out there trying to kill Lisa and Sid. And other spy work to do.

I did not realize when I initially wrote it, but the Quickline series is as much about the people in it as it is about espionage. In fact, in a couple of the stories, the spy plot is almost secondary (My Sweet Lisa comes to mind). Which makes it a little hard to describe the series. They are not your traditional spy novels.

They’re actually stories about a relationship between two people whose values are more aligned than they originally thought, and their relationships with their family and their friends. That’s a far more interesting story to me (although I love the spy complication), since relationships are always fraught with conflict. I may not have known that consciously when I first wrote the books, but I do now, and that’s what’s right for the series.

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Author Anne Louise Bannon’s husband says that his wife kills people for a living. Bannon does mostly write mysteries, including the Old Los Angeles Series, the Freddie and Kathy series, and the Operation Quickline series. She has worked as a freelance journalist for magazines and newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. She and her husband, Michael Holland, created the OddBallGrape.com wine education blog, and she co-wrote a book on poisons. Her latest novel is book four in the Old Los Angeles series, Death of an Heiress. She and her husband live in Southern California with an assortment of critters. Visit her website at AnneLouiseBannon.com or follow her on Facebook.

1 Comment

  1. I love the way your stories’ sensibilities come from the depths of your thoughts, even when you don’t yet fully understand them, yourself. There’s something very profound about about that!


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