by Anne Louise Bannon
I mostly write historical mysteries, although the short story that appeared in Mystery Most Theatrical, Perfectly Awry, is a contemporary setting. But I do have two historical series and one almost historical series. Which is why I was asked not too long ago, how do I keep all my time frames straight?
It’s actually surprisingly easy. I keep the voices of the characters straight. As I often note, it’s a noisy place inside my head. I am an audial writer in that I have to hear what I’m writing in my head before I can write it. I also like to write in the first person.
The Freddie and Kathy series, set in the 1920s, is in the third person because I have two main characters. That’s the series that starts with Fascinating Rhythm, and the tune by George and Ira Gershwin had its influence on how the book sounds – at least, to me. But both Freddie Little, the dilettante millionaire, and Kathy Briscow, his editor, friend, and eventually wife, each have specific voices and attitudes.
My almost historical series also features two rather distinct voices, Lisa Wycherly, the narrator, and Sid Hackbirn, her boss who becomes her partner, who interjects scenes that Lisa wouldn’t have seen, or other comments. It’s a fun series because it’s kind of more a romance than a spy series, even though Sid and Lisa do work for a top-secret counter-espionage agency. The focus, however, is largely on their relationship.
It’s semi-historical because I originally wrote it in the 1980s, when the series is set. That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine is set in September 1982. Given that I’m still around, I’m not wild about looking at my younger years as history, but the setting is not contemporary. Having become a much better writer over the years, when it came time a few years ago to rewrite it, I decided to keep it in its original 1980s timeframe, then put it out as a serial on my blog. Fortunately, the original text helps keep my language mostly right. But, again, Lisa doesn’t sound to me like any of my other characters.
The real challenge, however, is the Old Los Angeles series. It, too, is written in the first person of Maddie Wilcox, a winemaker and physician in 1870s L.A. That one starts with Death of the Zanjero. The fun part with Maddie is that she almost has two voices: her narrative voice and her voice in the dialog that she’s relating. There’s a reason for that. These are Maddie’s memoirs and she’s “writing” them many years after the events as an old woman.
Her voice, however, is the most distinct of all my characters, and if she sounds a little like a Louisa May Alcott character, that’s because I used Little Women as a reference point. I had given Maddie a similar background, a similarly wise mother, although Maddie’s is deceased, and it seemed natural to use a work written near the time of my stories as a jumping off point for the storytelling.
It’s always a challenge to make sure more modern language doesn’t creep in – especially when I’m writing in the 1980s because it’s hard to remember when we were using which expressions. Thank God for the internet. I can usually do a search and pull up when a phrase started coming into use. I’m not perfect, but I really work at it.
For me, though, the easy part will be keeping the voices straight.
These Hallowed Halls is currently running as the serial on my website, annelouisebannon.com/blogs.
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