I have several friends who write mysteries, and although “because everybody else is doing it” is usually a bad reason for doing something (unless they are running from a hundred-metre high monster), I thought I’d like to do the same.
A mystery needs a detective, but a police detective would have either had too many constraints or annoyed too many real detectives. That left me with a private investigator.
There are far too many 50-ish, white, male, ex-cop, alcoholic PIs living in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The only blatantly Canadian P.I. I’ve personally read is Anthony Bidulka’s gay ex-cop Russell Quant, who lives in Saskatchewan. I wanted something even more different from the stereotype.
North American publishers will usually insist that everything you write has to use U.S. spelling for marketing reasons. I know a lot of excellent Canadian authors who write about Canada, but still follow that rule. Friends in other countries tell me that they don’t care whether the English is UK, Canadian, or U.S., so I decided to be aggressively Canadian in my writing. I’m also excessively fond of puns, so my writing is filled with inside jokes, pop-culture references, and other Easter eggs (to borrow the gaming term). Some are really obscure, but you don’t need to understand them to understand the stories. I may be weird but I’m not cruel.
The result is a young, female, P.I. living in Calgary who has never been a police officer. I gave her kick-ass martial arts skills and a tactical baton because Canadian P.I.s can’t carry guns. Then I gave her problems that mostly have to be solved with her brain, because sometimes authors are cruel.
I wanted a significant name, so I called her Veronica (after Ms. Mars) Irene (after Ms. Adler) Chandler (after the author of The Big Sleep and other seminal hard-boiled detective novels). Her given initials are V.I. (after another fictional female P.I., V.I. Warshawski) and her full initials spell VIC, which is U.S. police slang but not used in Canada. It’s possible that I over-think things at times.
One question I had was whether there are any actual private investigators in Alberta, so I had to research that. In doing so I found an amazing little detail: Alberta is the only jurisdiction that doesn’t require industry experience to become a licensed P.I. The result is that one can, in theory, take the provincial licensing exam as soon as one is an adult at the age of eighteen. Of course, it would be ludicrous to think that such a young person would be able to pass the exam, not to mention have the skills to work in the field.
The idea of a licensed, teenaged investigator (not just a talented amateur) was too good to give up, so I made her mother a homicide detective. More research showed that the Calgary Police Service sometimes allows civilians on ride-alongs (or at least they did), as well as offering internships to people who are interested in eventually becoming officers. That gave Veronica ways of training without actual work experience.
Nothing annoys a person who knows a field like an author who can’t be bothered to get it right (you should see real doctors frothing at CPR as it’s usually done on TV), so I did a huge amount of research to make sure every detail was nailed down. That’s paid off: I’ve had an actual police detective and a licensed P.I. read Veronica’s story and admit that she knows what she’s talking about.
Writing teachers often say that well-rounded characters need hobbies, and Veronica’s is cooking. Her father is a chef, and cooking together has been their father-daughter bonding activity since she was little. All the things she mentions cooking are recipes that I created, so it seems natural to eventually come out with The Private Investigator’s Cookbook.
Veronica is pleasant-looking, but hardly the slick chick with a classy chassis and legs that go all the way to the floor that usually inhabits these kinds of stories. She’s short, thinks her breasts are too small, and has the normal young woman’s belief that she’s not that good looking.
She also has a medical condition that gives her an excessive libido (yes, I checked with an endocrinologist). That could have been a male author looking for a funny excuse to have her sleep with every guy she meets, but my reasons were less puerile. Every girl has to somehow come to terms with her upbringing versus society’s expectations versus her own, internal feelings about sexuality. I use Veronica’s condition to explore that theme seriously, and as something of a metaphor for every girl’s quest to discover what it means to be a woman.
If you are wondering how an older male author wrote a teenaged girl, it’s easy. To paraphrase Marie Shear, I subscribe to the radical notion that women are people. I asked various women what they think about things, then shut up and listened to their replies.
Because real people are more complex than a few characteristics, Veronica is also impatient, passionately hates bullies, loves her cat, occasionally surprises herself, and has to deal with life going in directions she’d never imagined.
Originally, her best friend Liliana Marina Hernández Rojas was going to be a Jamaican named Sarah, but though Jamaica is lovely and the people interesting, its history is too peaceful. I wanted someone with a terrible background to contrast with Veronica’s peaceful Canadian upbringing. I chose Colombia because I have Colombian friends whose brains I could pick for details.
Next: Veronica’s Life