Friday, March 10, 2017

The Evolution of a Millennial Mystery: Guest post by R.J. Noonan

R. J. Noonan is a New York Times bestselling author and a graduate of Wagner College. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she writes in the shade of some towering two-hundred-year-old Douglas fir trees. Where the Lost Girls Go is her first mystery for Crooked Lane Books. 

R. J. Noonan: 
The Evolution of a Millennial Mystery 

Story ideas come from surprising places. The idea for the Laura Mori Mysteries, which debuted last month, with Where the Lost Girls Go, went through a few incarnations before it was driven by Laura, a smart, agile rookie cop.

To be honest, it all began as an idea for a cozy mystery series. The protagonist was going to be a Jessica Fletcher-type retired schoolteacher who transitioned to coffee shop owner in her retirement. I figured the coffee shop would be a fabulous venue to reveal the quirky locals and their ancillary mysteries.

But Crooked Lane’s inventory of cozy mystery series was full, and as I was writing the proposal I stumbled a bit at making a woman from the baby boomer generation, a woman like me, seem old. Sixty may not be the new thirty, but I was having trouble making my main character dynamic while old enough to be a grandmother.

Going back to the drawing board, I landed on a much younger main character: a rookie from a traditional Japanese family, a smart young woman who was a bit more driven than most millennials who raise eyebrows when mentioned in pop culture pieces. Oh, those enigmatic millennials! They may be criticized for being lazy, entitled job-hoppers, or praised for breaking with tradition and valuing lifestyle over material wealth, but they are sending interesting ripples through the conventions of their predecessors.

For the past twenty years I have been surrounded by millennials, some of whom I love, well, like a mother. Just as I hear their chatter and music rising up from the basement, I sometimes hear their voices in my head when I’m working on a scene with Laura or one of her contemporaries.

Of course, Laura isn’t a classic millennial. She is smart, enthusiastic and diligent about finding answers and evidence to explain a crime. But her talents are largely unappreciated at home, where here parents have always been determined that she pursue a more scholarly, respectable career. As a writer, I dig into the conflicts that are organic to a story when writing about a “fish out of water,” a woman in what was once a man’s profession. Laura shares the values of varied and conflicting worlds, respecting the eastern traditions of her Japanese roots while understanding the daily patter of social media and indispensable cell phones.

You might say I’ve been on a millennial spree lately, as Pretty, Nasty, Lovely, my next novel for Kensington Books (Sept. 2017), is driven by Emma, a college student in her early twenties. When I submitted the proposal for a book that explored peer pressure, campus suicide, “frenemies” and a secret baby, my editor zeroed in on Emma, insisting that she be the protagonist of the story.

For me, the crisper, fresher view of the world through the younger eyes of Laura has given me a new perspective. When a character can bring a writer more “into the moment,” there’s a certain magic that sparks. The magic of make-believe.

No comments: