Monday, April 17, 2006

CHASING AMELIA

This week's guest Girl Detective has more secret identities than me! Heidi Vornbrock Roosa was
shortlisted for the 2005 Crimewriter's Association (CWA) Debut Dagger.
She's also a past winner of the Malice Domestic Grant. Heidi writes
psychological thrillers under the nom de plume of Regina Harvey, and,
as McLean Jacobson, she writes about a psychic girl detective by the
name of Suny Davis.

One of the pleasures of attending Malice this year will be the
opportunity to finally hook up with the multi-faceted Ms. Roosa!

===================================



How is a character born? Take the protagonist, Dr. Jacob Baldwin,
from my first completed novel, Fox and Rainbow. He was born of angst
when I decided I didn’t want to become a psychotherapist in the midst
of seeking my degree. That, and a slow ten minutes following a
pick-up truck with a gun rack mounted in the rear window down a
winding back-county road that itself followed the path of the Patapsco
River.



And that’s pretty typical. Take any emotional state a writer is in
at a given moment. Add an odd event, a chance comment overheard, a
scenario that just begs the question, “What if…?” And voila, a
character is born to witness the event, to hear or speak the
comment, to be the actor who walks the “what if” to wherever it leads.



But sometimes, it doesn’t work that way. Take Suny Davis, the
sixteen year-old protagonist in my series that begins with
Extrasensory Deception. She sprang fully formed from my head,
like Athena, spouting a first-person narration that made me
smile as I scrawled. But if I dare to look a little more deeply,
if I check my calendar, diary and library fines receipts for the same
time, I will find that, in truth, Suny Davis did not spring to life
fully formed. And damn it, she didn’t spring from my head alone.



I owe a debt of gratitude to Elizabeth Peters. The author of
the Amelia Peabody series of Victorian archaeological mysteries,
she has also penned contemporary series featuring archaeological
scholar Vicky Bliss and other stand-alones featuring plucky females
of a decidedly not gothic nature. And this debt I owe her?
Firstly and most heavily, I am in her debt for the hours of
reading pleasure and delicious anticipation of those precious
hours she has given me. But also for three other gifts she gave.





First, a little backstory, (the bane of every author’s existence –
bear with me). After I had finished Fox and Rainbow, I quickly
landed an agent, did multiple revisions, then severed the
relationship. It was an awful time. Here I had this angst-filled
crime novel, born of angst, carved into new form in angst-ridden
hours of editing. Then the realization that my agent and I weren’t
suited. Talk about angst. So what did I do? I stopped writing and
began a completely angst-free period of self-indulgent reading.
And one of the treats I allowed myself? The complete
works of Elizabeth Peters.



Of course, Amelia Peabody, the embodiment of what I have coined
as the “oblivious narrator” is a favorite. She, unaware of her
own comic foibles, leads the reader through a first-person account
of tombs and pyramids, temples and excavations, throwing in a few
dead bodies, a multitude of side characters, a recurring uber-villain,
the care and feeding of her polyglot and precocious son, and her own
romantic interludes with husband, Emerson.




And thus, the first gift I received was the tutorial Ms. Peters
had unknowingly given me in creating a sustainably compelling
character. One of the things I loved about Amelia was her way
of living outside the bondage of societal expectations, daily
using her intelligence, her self-righteous attitude, and her
boldness. And Ramses, Amelia’s inordinately bright, vaguely
annoying, multi-lingual son, had won my heart early on by being
the epitome of what I myself once was to a lesser degree. It was
my love of these two characters, and the way they fit into my own
experiences and understanding of the world, that led me to
create Suny Davis.



Raised more by the books in the libraries where her father
stashed her while off on various globe-trotting adventures
than by the father himself, Suny is a Victorian throwback
teenager, much-traveled and able to speak multiple languages,
though socially-inept, and worse, unaware of her ineptitude.
Imagine my satisfaction as reader after reader has mentioned
Peter’s Amelia in the descriptions of why they love Suny.



The second gift Ms. Peters gave me is the annual Malice
Domestic traditional mystery convention. I discovered it
in a roundabout way. Such a fan am I of Ms. Peters that
I decided to stalk her. Easy enough, she lives in a historic
farmhouse less than thirty miles away from my Columbia,
Maryland home. And -- bonus -- my daughter is friends with
the daughter of the landscape designer who installed her
Egyptian-inspired garden. Alas, after much traversing of
local historic farmland and much begging of the landscape
designer to allow me to personally weed Ms. Peters’s garden,
I still could not get close to the woman. I did, however,
trip over the fact that she would be honored with a Lifetime
Achievement Award at the annual traditional mystery convention
in Washington D.C., Malice Domestic, a convention she helped
bring into being. And, lo and behold, they sponsored a grant
for the encouragement of unpublished writers. The first three
chapters of Extrasensory Deception (then titled Hypothesis for
Murder) won the 2004 Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished
Writers. If her writing had not inspired my obsession, I would
not have gained this experience and recognition.




The last gift I have to thank her for is my name. My pseudonym,
that is. Or, rather, one of my pseudonyms… Truth is, Elizabeth
Peters is the pseudonym of Barbara Mertz, a doctor of Egyptology,
who also writes romantic suspense as Barbara Michaels. Confused?
Wait, let me add a few more names in there. I wanted something cute
and chick-lit-like for the Suny Davis books. My own name is an
unpronounceable mouthful and the pseudonym I was considering for
the darker books I was writing (Regina Harvey) was already, in my
mind, a harder, more sinister name. So I did what Ms. Mertz did
when faced with a publisher who thought her mysteries were too
different from her romantic suspense books. I used my children’s
names to create a nom de plume. Now, Ms. Mertz had it pretty
straight-forward with an Elizabeth and a Peter, but I wasn’t going
to have such an easy time of it. In the end, I use the “Mc” from
my daughter, Mikaela, the “Lean” from my other daughter’s middle
name, Lane, and “Jacobson,” from my son, Jacob. So, if Extrasensory
Deception is published, look for it in the mystery section,
by author, McLean Jacobson.



Too bad it won’t be closer on the shelves to Elizabeth Peters,
but you can’t have it all.



More about Elizabeth Peters can
be found on her fan site.

5 comments:

Tori Lennox said...

You've got a lot more interesting story for how you came up with your pseudonym than I do. :)

And I love the sound of your books!

Heidi Vornbrock Roosa said...

Thanks Tori! I hope you will soon have the opportunity to read them. ED is under consideration right now with Poisoned Pen Press and Fox and Rainbow is under submission with a British press, though no promises on either!
Heidi

Anonymous said...

Heidi, this entry was a fascinating look at Amelia's multiple beneficial effects. Yes, she is 'oblivious', isn't she? I hadn't heard it described that way. Having read everything Elizabeth Peters ever wrote (and watched Ramses grow up from an annoying chatterbox to a tres sexy man), I'll certainly read ED if/when it sees print. You've whetted my appetite!

regards,
Jayne

Coneycat said...

[Suny is] socially-inept, and worse, unaware of her ineptitude

One of my worst peeves as a reader is the character whose flaws are unnoticed by the author--you know the kind, when the character is clearly smug or self-righteous or otherwise annoying, and it's clear the writer is infatuated with her (generally her) and has no idea what a monster the character is?

On the other hand, characters who are silly or oblivious or just plain wrong are a lot of fun when the author is obviously aware of the flaws and expects the reader is, too.

Heidi, your books sound like tremendous fun! I'll look forward to them when they're published!

And DL--thanks for letting us unpublished types play here, too. It's fun to see what other folks in my same boat are up to!

heidi vornbrock roosa said...

Thanks for the votes of confidence. I'll be sure to make Girl-Detective one of the first to know should I be offered a contract for ED. Meanwhile, I'm back to finishing up the second in the series and a few other projects. And while I don't have to pack for Malice Domestic (it's only an hour away for me), I do have to go buy a dress for the banquet! (So few opportunities to "dress" these days - I'm always happy to find one!) Thanks again to Diana for inviting me to blog. I hope I can come back again real soon.