Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Guest Blogger - Bill Crider

Murder in the Air

Thanks to Molly Weston for inviting me here to Meritorious Mysteries. Can it really have been in 1986 that the first Sheriff Dan Rhodes book was published? How can 24 years go by so fast? Murder in the Air is the eighteenth book in the series about Blacklin County’s sheriff, which comes as a surprise to me. Maybe to others, too. After all, when they’re writing that first book, how many authors really think they’ll still be writing about the same characters nearly 25 years later? Authors with a lot more self-confidence than I have, that’s for sure.

The passage of all that time, which doesn’t actually seem that long to me, reminds me of a couple of questions I’ve been asked once or twice and that I’ve thought about more often than that.

Here’s one. Why hasn’t Sheriff Dan Rhodes aged much since 1986? One answer is that I haven’t aged much since then, either. Not that I like to talk about, that is. Somehow my hair’s gotten a lot thinner and grayer, but that could be some kind of vitamin deficiency, right? Sure it could. And I seem to have developed jowls. I don’t like ‘em, so why should I put the sheriff through it?

The fact is that some writers like to age their characters more or less in real time. Bill Pronzini’s done that with Nameless in his fine private-eye series. And some people like to put their characters through all kinds of terrible experiences. Ken Bruen’s treatment of Jack Taylor springs to mind. I love both those series, but to be honest it never occurred to me to age Sheriff Rhodes or to put him through hell. Some of the books I liked best when I first started reading mysteries many years ago were in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series. When I started reading that series in the early ‘60s, it had already been going for nearly 30 years. I read a lot of the books one after the other, and Wolfe and Archie didn’t change a bit that I could see. Wolfe always went to the orchid room and refused to leave the Brownstone. He always wore those yellow pyjamas. Archie and Lily went dancing but didn’t marry. Things continued that way right up to the end, and that was just fine with me. It was the same in other books I admired. Matt Helm never did learn to appreciate women in pants. Lew Archer never hooked up with anybody. Neither did the Continental Op. And so on.

I don’t mean to compare my books with any of those, except to say that I’m writing in a well-accepted tradition. Sheriff Rhodes has gotten a little bit older, and he’s married. There have been other little changes. And in fact, while he hasn’t changed, things around him have. The town of Clearview isn’t the same place it was when the series began. Rhodes and the characters have adjusted to those changes and to others, but they’re the same people. They always will be, I think, and I like it that way.

The other question is this: Do I get tired of writing about those same people after all this time? Not at all. I like the people, I like the town, and I have a lot of fun writing the books. While some things don’t change, every book is a new challenge, and every one has a new topic and a different theme. Sure, it’s nice not to have to invent an entirely new setting every time I start a new book, and it’s nice not to have to invent new characters, but I have to keep it fresh somehow for my own sake, not to mention for the readers. It’s not as easy as it might seem. Trust me.

Now, let’s go back to the time I wrote the first book in the series. I had no idea at the time that I’d still be writing about Blacklin County and the sheriff and his friends this many years down the line. For that matter, I never really dreamed I’d sell the first book, much less 18 more. Yes, you read that right. I’ve sold another one, book number 19 in the series. The Wild Hog Murders (that’s the current title, anyway) will be out in 2011. The question now is whether I’ll sell number 20. It’s up to you. Buy my books and keep me in business! As always I thank you for your support.

If you want to learn more about Bill, his books (he' got many outside this series!) and Blacklin County, visit his website. If you've got a question for Bill, please post it in the comments section below.


Gerrie Ferris Finger said...

I see no reason why characters need to age. Agatha didn't advance the ages of Poirot or Marple. Heavens, they'd be detecting when they were 109. You do great work, Bill.

mybillcrider said...

Thanks, Gerrie!