Andrea Smith is the author of the Detective Ariel Lawrence mysteries, among other tales. Her story in the July/August 2016 issue, “Beauty Shop of Horror,” revolves around a heroine connected to that series. Here, the author talks about character development and inspiration.
From an amateur sleuth to a trained police detective, the heroines who drive my stories defy stereotypes of race, gender, and age to buck authority and fight for justice.
When I first began writing mysteries, I knew I wanted to showcase fierce, fiery, and fearless women who succeed against the odds. I call them my “Bad Girls,” and to create them I did three things:
1) Drew from the lives of real women I admire.
My strong mom and six aunts are models for some of my characters. In my short story “Beauty Shop of Horror,” featured in the Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine July/August issue, Vera Ames is a 54-year-old, designer shoe wearing, beauty salon owner/cosmetics entrepreneur. Opinionated and wise, Vera is like a human truth serum. People tend to confess their inner most secrets to her. My mom had this gift, and one of my aunts was a hair stylist whose salon chair served as a psychiatrist’s couch.
2) Gave protagonists family/friends who hand them situations many of us can identify with.
Chicago Police Detective Ariel Lawrence has appeared in several stories. She can take down criminals and out maneuver police brass, but sometimes her skills are no match for her three interfering sisters.
3) Used short stories for a character test run.
Short stories allow me to build a protagonist’s persona and see if she’s engaging enough to carry a series. This has been especially helpful as I tackle a historical mystery. My protagonist Eve Dawson, a jazz entertainer, solves murders in between gigs with her husband in 1930s Chicago. Her story appears in the Speed City Sisters in Crime anthology Decades of Dirt.
This approach, I hope, has helped create characters who readers want to spend time with, who feel like real people—right down to their love for family and designer shoes.