Alter Egos and Alternate Lives

Oakland private eye Jeri Howard has now sleuthed her way through 14 (almost!) books. When I started writing the series, a friend often referred to Jeri as me. I would correct her, saying Jeri is a fictional character.

Jeri is taller, fitter, and more likely than me to put herself in harm’s way, all in service of solving the mystery and finding justice. She’s not aging at the same pace that I am. It’s been 32 years since the first book, Kindred Crimes, was published. Jeri is still in her thirties. As for my age—well, never mind.

Truth be told, there’s a lot of me in Jeri. I like her stick-to-it attitude when she’s digging into a case, determined to see it out. While that determination doesn’t seem to work when it comes to decluttering my condo, it did regarding my plan, hatched in junior high school, to become a published writer. And ongoing plans to keep publishing.

Jill McLeod, my crime-solving Zephyrette, was born in the late 1920s and is working on the train known as the California Zephyr in the early 1950s. As readers learn in Death Rides the Zephyr, Jill majored in history at the University of California in Berkeley. She was planning to get married and teach school, but those plans were derailed when her fiancé was killed in Korea. Instead, she rides the rails.

Jill remembers World War II and the Korean War is still in the headlines. My knowledge of WWII and Korea comes from books and research, but I was alive during the Vietnam Era. These days I travel by plane, but as I did research for the Jill books, I became a rail fan. I enjoy train travel, though Amtrak bears small resemblance to the California Zephyr of Jill’s era. Jill and I do share curiosity about the world around us and a desire to get to the bottom of things.

Kay Dexter is the protagonist of The Sacrificial Daughter. She’s a geriatric care manager in a fictional city in Northern California. Alter ego or alternate life? Maybe. I don’t live in that town or work as a professional care manager, but in the past twenty years, I’ve experienced some of the things that Kay sees. I’ve helped with aging parents and observed a lot with aging relatives and friends. I have plenty of stories.

In my novella, But Not Forgotten, semi-retired reporter Maggie Constable attends her 50th high school reunion, where she sees a poster listing the names of deceased classmates, as well as the dates and causes of their deaths. Her best friend Fern is on that list, but with a question mark next to her name. Fern disappeared after graduation and Maggie is determined to find out what happened to her friend.

I saw a similar sign at my own high school reunion and asked myself, “what if?” Maggie and I both went to journalism school at the University of Colorado and both worked at small town newspapers in Colorado after graduation. However, I joined the Navy as a journalist. Maggie moved to California and worked for the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1970s. In fact, she puts in an appearance in the Jeri Howard novel I’m working on, The Things We Keep, and tells Jeri, “I started working for the Chron in 1974, just in time for the whole Patty Hearst circus.”

Two roads diverged, as Robert Frost wrote in The Road Not Taken.

Perhaps Maggie is me in an alternate life. I took one road and she took another. Stay tuned! Maggie will appear in future projects.

One thought on “Alter Egos and Alternate Lives

  1. Congratulations on all of your books and fascinating characters. It is interesting how we do put a bit of ourselves or what we wish we were like into our main characters. I think that is the fun of writing fiction. Good post!


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