Maureen wasn’t supposed to be the new beginning. She was supposed to be the end.
She first appeared as a worn out and nameless waitress as the subject of a flash fiction piece I wrote over fifteen years ago – my attempt to tell the story of a tuxedo-clad woman I saw standing on a Staten Island bus stop in the early afternoon. I moved on to other work, to other stories and characters.
The waitress hung around through all that, appearing in various expanded versions of that first story. She materialized under a different name in another story, fleeing her job in a diner and an abusive lover on a stolen motorcycle. In my grad school thesis, she appeared in yet another incarnation as head cocktail waitress in a Caribbean resort, when she first started carrying a knife.
She makes an extremely brief walk through appearance on Staten Island in my second novel. That was when she got her name. Maureen Coughlin. I’d always liked her, and thought she had depth and resonance as a character. I’d suspected she would not be satisfied in short stories and supporting roles, but I had yet to build the right place for her.
Now, with her in the lead for me third novel, I’d found a place for her in a story about a woman who sees something she shouldn’t have. I was thrilled when, finally, Maureen came into her own enough to carry her own novel. I was excited for this character I’d known for so long to have her time in the spotlight.
Her book, THE DEVIL SHE KNOWS, was supposed to be a capstone on my Staten Island trilogy – three crime novels set in and around the place where I grew up. Not a series, but three interconnected stand alone books that shared neighborhoods and shared characters who moved in and out of each other stories. After Staten Island, I would move on, maybe to the Jersey Shore, where I had spent some time after college. Maybe, if I felt really bold, to New Orleans, where I’ve lived since 1997. It was the same path I’d followed in real life.
But a funny thing happened to my plans. Instead of remaining back on Staten Island, like my characters from my previous novels had done, Maureen decided that her story was far from over. (She’s tough to get rid of, just ask Frank Sebastian.) She decided that instead of accepting the end, she was ready for a new beginning. It’s an attitude embraced not just by her, but also by her adopted hometown of New Orleans.
Since before I got here, I’ve thought New Orleans and I made a good match. I was right. Sixteen years ago, I thought it would be a good place for me to start over. I was right. Nearly eight years ago, Hurricane Katrina and the failed levees forced the entire city to begin again. We have survived. Now Maureen and New Orleans make a great match. As a result, in my new novel (or should I say, Maureen’s new novel), THE DEVIL IN HER WAY, she’s launching a new career as a police officer in New Orleans. In order to keep up with her, I’m continuing a series that I never planned to write, set in a place that has seen its share of rebirth, and hoping that me, Maureen, and New Orleans all last a good long time.