The Comeback Character
Five years have passed between my last Detective Nan Vining mystery and my latest one, Killing Secrets, the fifth in the series (out July 21 by Alibi/Random House). During that time, I was busy writing, but not stories about Nan–a haunted and driven Pasadena, CA homicide detective and single mom. I felt I’d get back to the series eventually, but wasn’t sure when.
One morning out of the blue, I got a phone call from my editor for the first four Nans. “Want to write more Nan Vinings?” Heck yeah! A few days later, my high was replaced with anxiety. Could I still channel that world? Had I lost my feel for Nan, her daughter, Emily, her work partner and lover, Jim Kissick, and the other characters as well as the dark thread that runs through the books? What about the series nuts-and-bolts? Are Jim’s eyes hazel or brown? (They’re hazel). What are the names of Nan’s ex-husband and his new wife’s two little boys? (Kyle and Kelsey).
The nuts-and-bolts issues were easily resolved–I reread the first four books in the series. Reading my earlier books is both interesting and surreal for me. The next challenge came in deciding where to start the new book, Killing Secrets.
Five years had passed in the real world since Nan #4, Love Kills, was published. For the new book, how much time did I want to have gone by in my fictional world? Through the first four books, I didn’t keep the characters frozen in time nor did I age them in real time. In the series debut, The First Cut, out in 2006, Nan is thirty-four and daughter Emily is thirteen. Three books later, in Love Kills, out in 2010, only two years have passed in the character’s lives; Emily has just turned fifteen.
Emily has a large role in the new book and it was important that she be a testy adolescent with a driver’s license and a car. She’s spreading her wings, pushing boundaries—and her mom’s buttons. I decided that 16½ was the perfect age for Em in this book. “Almost seventeen,” as she reminds Nan. She’s a good kid, but she’s acting out as a result of the life-altering tragedies she and her mom endured earlier in the book series. Killing Secrets kicks off with Emily and a cocky boyfriend, who Nan doesn’t know about, stumbling upon the bloody bodies of a much loved young teacher and her troubled student in a remote area of a Pasadena park.
All the Nan Vining books are set in the same time period in which I wrote each book with the technology, jargon, and cultural references that were contemporary then. In 2010, when the last Nan Vining took place, social media and texting weren’t nearly as significant as they are today. I moved Killing Secrets forward into the here and now and Emily and her friends text and tweet with abandon.
Another challenge remained: could I inhabit my characters’ hearts and minds? My doubts disappeared when I started Killing Secrets and it felt entirely natural, as if I’d come home. It felt great to return to this familiar tableau, but also to break new ground. I’ve just signed a contract with Alibi to write the sixth and seventh in the Nan Vining series and I’m excited to see where the journey takes the characters and me.
Killing Secrets is available from Alibi/Random House on July 21st.
Special thanks to Dennis Eamon Young for Dianne’s author photo.