by Cathi Stoler
“So, what’s the story?” Have you ever asked anyone that question? Or has someone asked you the same thing? Chances are it wasn’t about what was happening at that very moment, but something in the past. The backstory.
Just as in real life, when you first meet a character in a novel, you don’t learn everything about them right up front. It takes time to get acquainted, to understand what they’re all about, and find out how they feel about things in their life.
When I decided to write a restaurant mystery, I wanted it to have a female protagonist. To create this character I began with a young woman, Jude Dillane, who owns a bar and restaurant on The Lower East Side of Manhattan. The next thing I asked myself was, what’s her story? What would make her appealing and interesting to my readers other than the fact that she owns a bar? What motivates her to pursue a serial killer?
I found the answer in her backstory. Jude Dillane’s past is complicated, filled with hardship and adversity. Many things have happened in her life that have informed her decisions, including her determination to solve a murder and catch the perpetrator. However, there’s a danger in giving away these details too soon and pulling the reader out of the story.
Instead, I use Jude’s backstory to give readers a window into the determination that drives her. To accomplish this, I looked to part of my past to create Jude’s. Like me, she’s from the Bronx, and my plots take her back there from time to time. I lived near to where she grew up and went to parochial school just like she did. But this is where the similarities end.
Jude was named for St. Jude, the patron of lost causes, and often it seems her name fits. She lost her mother and brother in a tragic accident for which she blames herself. Later on, we learn her father committed suicide. She’s alone, except for her grandmother who offers love and support. This is all important information that I believe gives a reader context. But, to put it out there all at once would slow down the narrative. Instead, I have these details unfold slowly, weaving them in throughout three novels to create a bridge to the person she is now.
Jude is not finished growing as a character. I’m not sure what part of her backstory will emerge in future novels and where it will take her the next time someone asks, “So, what’s the story?”
Cathi Stoler’s latest book in her series Straight Up is now out. Watch for a review here in KRL.
Jude Dillane, owner of The Corner Lounge in Manhattan’s East Village, knows she will never be safe until The New Year’s Eve Serial Killer, Art Bevins, is behind bars. Still on the loose, he continues to taunt her. Blaming Jude for all his troubles, Bevins is determined to make her pay. With the FBI investigation at a stand-still Jude knows it’s up to her to bring him to justice. With all this swirling around her, Thomas “Sully” Sullivan, her friend and landlord, becomes enamored of his new tenant, Dolores Castel. Jude instantly distrusts Sully’s new love and believes Dolores is weaving a dangerous web. As she continues her pursuit of Bevins, Jude looks into Dolores’s past, uncovering a series of shocking coincidences. Can Jude stop Bevins from his deadly pursuit and protect her friend from ruin?
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