A few weeks ago, I arrived at an out-of-town ibrary where I was the guest speaker for the evening.Â The librarian who greeted me asked: “So which car did you arrive in?Â A Lexus or a Subaru?”Â I wasÂ stunned — and a little spooked.Â Because it just so happens I do drive a Lexus.Â How did this woman, whom I’d never met before,Â guess which car I drive?
“How on earth did you know?” I asked.
She laughed. Â “Because in your books, Maura Isles drives a Lexus and Jane drives a Subaru, and I figured that one of those two characters must really be you.”
A very good assumption, as it turns out.Â
Â Like other authors, I’m often asked whether any of my characters are really me.Â I’m quick to admit that, yes, Maura Isles isÂ me.Â Â At least,Â she started out a lot like me.Â I’m not talking about physical appearances; rather, I’m talking about how she views the world. Her philosophy, her beliefs, her approach to life.Â She’s trained in science, she values logic and reason, and she’s introspective.Â Whenever I wrote from her point of view, I felt as if I wasÂ back in my own skin, and if I needed to include any trivial biographical details, I’d automatically pull them from my own life.Â Where she went to medical school, for instance (U.C. San Francisco).Â Or which musical instrument she plays (the piano.)Â Or which magazines and wines and TV channels she enjoys.Â I didn’t have to think twice about these details; that’s how much IÂ identified with Maura.Â You’d think thatÂ it would be a pretty cool thing for a novelist to do:Â Write yourself into a book and become your own heroine!
ThenÂ a reader told me, “I love your characterÂ Jane.Â But that Maura Isles is sorta boring.”
I couldn’t bring myself to tell her whom that boring character was based on.
Of course, MauraÂ IslesÂ is more than just me.Â Â When I create characters, I may draw from certainÂ aspects of my own personality.Â ButÂ I know very well that I’m not made of heroic stuff.Â I’m not a gal who’d run around with a gun, chasing monsters.Â Â I, at heart, am a coward.Â My heroines are not.Â Which is why they’re the heroines, and I’m the one sitting safely in my nice warm house with the doors locked.Â With no intention of going monster-hunting anytime soon.
There were times when I got tired of writing from Maura’s point of view, simply because she feelsÂ too familiar.Â Â She’s so reasonable, so rational (most of the time) andÂ she just doesn’tÂ do many things that startle or surprise me.
That’s why I find it so refreshing to write about Jane Rizzoli.Â Â Jane isÂ everything that Maura and I are not: hot tempered, passionate,Â and painfully blunt.Â Â When Jane comes onto the scene, I’m never sure what she’s going to say, or what outrageous stunt she’s going to pull.Â Sometimes she infuriates me.Â (And infuriates my readers as well.)Â But one thing she never does is bore me.Â
I’ve heard that actorsÂ have more fun playing the hissing villain than playingÂ the squeaky clean Boy Scout.Â I can understand that.Â As a writer, I live for scenesÂ with grand emotions.Â I can’t wait to write the parts where charactersÂ are consumed byÂ terror or hatred or good old-fashioned lust.Â A character like Jane, who’s not afraid to blurtÂ incendiary comments, whatever the consequences,Â is a joy to write about.Â You know she’ll get herself into trouble.Â And you can’t wait to see those consequences.
But Maura — ah, Maura.Â So self-controlled, so logical, so averse to conflict.Â ThisÂ is a character who shuns big emotional blow-ups.Â She’s not a drama queen, which is why she’s been such a challenge to write about.Â Yes, from the point of view of that one reader,Â she may be a bit boring.Â How interesting is a character who never does anythingÂ unwise,Â anything self-destructive?Â
Then, in Mephisto Club, she surprised me.Â Â Like so many other women have done through the ages, she made a desperately unwiseÂ choice.Â All in the name of lust.Â
Suddenly, Maura Isles is a lot more interesting to me.Â She may have started out as me (boring though that is.)Â Â Now she’s spun out of my control.Â She’s grown intoÂ her own person, a womanÂ made of more thanÂ cold logic.Â A woman who will no doubtÂ start to infuriate readers with her foolish choices.
I can’t wait to see what she does next.Â Â Â