I had no master plan for my Lizzie Stuart series. I wasn’t even sure I could finish the first book. I had an idea – a mystery inspired by an incident I had discovered while doing research for my dissertation. I decided to create a fictional sleuth – Professor Lizabeth Stuart, crime historian – who would investigate a fictionalized version of that incident. In this mystery novel, Lizzie would go to “Gallagher, Virginia” to investigate a lynching that her grandmother, Hester Rose, witnessed as a child.
Writing that book was a slow process. I had written two romantic suspense novels that were tucked away in a bottom drawer. I needed to learn how to write a mystery. Along the way, I joined a writing group that provided me with support and encouragement. But five years later I was still revising and revising and spinning my wheels.
When a friend from graduate school invited me to join her and her six-year old son for a week’s vacation in Cornwall, England, I said “yes.” To justify my vacation, I decided to take Lizzie with me, to try writing a book set in Cornwall. A modern version of the kind of book Agatha Christie might have written about murder in an English artist colony/seaside resort.
This vacation book was intended to be no more than a writing exercise. It became much more. In London and in Cornwall, Lizzie, my Southern-born, African American sleuth came to life. Suddenly, I could hear her voice in my head. I understood how she saw the world. Death’s Favorite Child, the book that began as a writing exercise, became the first book in the series. It was the book I sold to a small independent publisher. The book I had been working on for five years became A Dead Man’s Honor, the drastically revised second book in the series. Those revisions were necessary because in Cornwall I had learned much more about Lizzie – and Lizzie had met a Philadelphia homicide detective named John Quinn. Quinn had always been around, but for five years he had been the police chief in Gallagher, Virginia. He was to have appeared only in that book. But in Cornwall, he turned up as a much different character, walked into the series and decided to stay.
Now eighteen years after that first book was published, the series is being reissued by a new publisher. Although I was certainly not clever enough to have planned for this possibility, I am benefitting from the fact that I have been writing in “series time.” In the context of the events in Lizzie’s life, only four years have passed. In the series, the current year is 2004. But Lizzie is much stronger and much more confident than when she set out on that vacation in Cornwall. That’s just as well because in the sixth book, now in progress, meeting her fiance’s family will not go as planned.