ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kris Neri’s latest madcap Tracy Eaton mystery, REVENGE ON ROUTE 66, a road trip romp along the quirkiest spots on Route 66, is debuting at this Left Coast Crime Convention. Kris also writes the Samantha Brennan & Annabelle Haggerty magical mysteries, featuring a fake psychic who teams up with a modern goddess/FBI agent. Her last three novels have been finalists for the Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery. Her books have also been honored with Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Award noms. Her last book, MAGICAL ALIENATION, recently became a New Mexico-Arizona Book Award winner.
One of the great joys of writing a novel series is that, over time, you get experience new challenges right along with your protagonist. With each encounter that I share with my series protagonist, Tracy Eaton, I also learn more about the past that shaped her. You see, while we writers write these books, it’s truly the characters that reveal what they want us to know about their lives.
I first met Tracy when she and her daffy mother, movie star mother Martha Collins, walked onto the page of one of my early short stories, “L.A. Justice.” Tracy presented herself to me as a mystery writer who desperately wanted to be an amateur sleuth, such as the one she wrote about.
Martha tossed a doozy of a first case into Tracy’s lap. After learning she’d been framed for the murder of her latest boy toy, Martha begged her daughter, not to solve the murder, the way other amateur sleuths do, but to obliterate any connection to her before the police, the mob, the media, and her husband could learn of it. The way Tracy accomplished that task was highly unusual, to say the least.
Well, given the reality-challenged background that her mother provided, what else could it have been? I learned in that short story that Tracy’s approach to crime solving was going to be highly unconventional. It has continued to be off-the-wall, although highly effective, in each of the four novels that have followed. I wouldn’t have thought she could top herself, yet she always has.
It’s the past that shaped Tracy into the unconventional sleuth that she is that continues to intrigue me. In the course of this series, I’ve learned about the circumstances of her unusual birth (DEM BONES’ REVENGE), the cause of the feud between Tracy’s mother and her uptight mother-in-law (REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE), and so much more.
And now, in the just-released REVENGE ON ROUTE 66, she has finally given me a look at the special times she and her father shared on their Route 66 outings.
This book features various characters’ memories of earlier outings on the Mother Road, and I especially loved what Tracy shared about her second jaunt on Route 66 with her dad, aging Hollywood hunk Alec Grainger, when she was six years old, a trip that included a stay with his friend Lucy Crier in New Mexico, a woman who has now served many years in prison for murder.
I sat beside him, my little patent leather Mary Janes barely stretching beyond the deep bench seat. On my lap I held a lunch pail—the kind with the dome lid that workmen carry—beautifully painted, but with a misspelled Hollywood sign on an artificially green hill.
Dad beamed down at me. “It was nice of Lucy to give you one of her precious lunch pails for your birthday, wasn’t it, Tracy? I’ve never known her to part with one of them for anyone. She couldn’t very well give away all her decorative lunch buckets and still call her restaurant The Lunch Pail.”
Moments later, Tracy asked…
“Why did those policemen keep coming to see Lucy?”
Dad hesitated. “That was because of her friend Billy Rob. You remember him from when you met him last year, right? Well, something bad happened to him the first night we were there, when all the police cars came and woke us up. Remember that, Tracy?”
I remembered his trying to distract me from the reason why all those police cars showed up that night.
“You see, honey, Billy Rob went to heaven. The policemen wanted to talk to Lucy about that. That’s why they kept coming back.”
Went to heaven. Sheesh! I was six, not stupid. I knew all about death—I had goldfish. We were always having toilet bowl funerals for them. I did wonder, though, where they would find a big enough toilet to flush Billy Rob.
Well, I’d always known Tracy had a unique take on things, and I saw now that it had started early. Then I learned something fundamental that shaped the person Tracy was to become:
“Daddy, Lucy didn’t just give me the lunch pail, she gave me money, too.”
While staring through the windshield, he shook his head. “Now why would she do that? She knows she can’t afford it. The lunchbox was enough. How much did she give you?”
“Five dollars? That’s too much.”
“No, Daddy, it’s—” I broke off suddenly, making an instantaneous choice not to correct him. The rush of keeping that first secret gave me a lifelong love of them.
Secrets and lies…the girders of Tracy’s life, a vital part of every novel we’ve created together. I’d always realized she’d had a love of secrets, but I’d never known why. I might never have learned if I hadn’t agreed to take this Route 66 jaunt with her.
Vacationing with your characters — I recommend it to every writer. You can’t imagine what they’ll show you.
IF YOU COULD TAKE A ROAD TRIP WITH ANY CHARACTER, WHO WOULD IT BE? Tell us or ask Kris a question by commenting below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of the second Tracy Eaton mystery, DEM BONES' REVENGE!
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