Margot Kinberg is my Guest Author today: Mystery Author and Blogger
My Guest Author today is
I thought it would be fun to invite authors I admire to write about the main characters from one of their books.
The character might feature in a series, or in just one book.
I wanted their creator to provide us with more insight into their chosen character; what makes them tick if you like.
So I asked them to write about
A Day in the Life
of their character.
is a mystery novelist.
She is a prolific blogger with a very popular blog:
Confessions of a Mystery Writer
She is also an Assistant Professor
and she is the creator of
Margot has been a great support to writers like myself, and when she asked for writers to contribute to an anthology she was putting together in memory of her friend, crime writer, editor, and blogger Maxine Clarke, called In A Word: Murder, and agreed to take two of my Short Stories, I was thrilled and honoured.
In Word: Murder was published in 2013
Margot has published two other novels in addition to her academic publications.
B – Very Flat published in 2010
Publish or Perish published in 2008
Here is Margot answering some questions I put to her about her sleuth, and telling us about
A Day in the Life of Joel Williams
and other facts:
Margot, I thought it would be fun to invite you to write about a day in the life of one of your main characters with some details about them as a person, which your reader may or may not be aware about. Let us know what makes them tick, what makes their creator (you) invest so much time and effort in their stories.
Thank you so much for hosting me, Jane! It’s an honour. It’s a privilege too to share a bit about my sleuth Joel Williams
How does your character’s day usually begin? Let us know how your character might spend a typical day.
Joel is a former police detective-turned-university professor – he teaches courses in criminal justice – so he has quite a full life. If there is such a thing as a typical day in academia, Joel usually starts it early. He is owned by a mixed-breed dog named Oscar, who doesn’t like to wait long for his morning run and breakfast. Once those are done, Joel gets ready and goes to his office at Tilton University. On some days, he teaches several class sessions; on others he works with his advisees. And there are of course committees, meetings and other university obligations as well. He also tries to make sure to fit in time to work on his own writing (more about that a bit later). After the workday ends, Joel goes home to dinner (unless he has a university function). Then in the evening there are always papers to read, lessons to plan and the like. It is a busy life, but Joel likes working with young people who are planning criminal justice careers.
Does your character juggle a career and a family? If they have either/both, does their career drive them to the detriment of everything else, home life for example?
Joel is happily married to Laura, who’s an Assistant District Attorney. She’s got a busy life of her own, but both are committed to staying together. So they try to have dinner together as often as they can and set aside time for each other. And once a week (Saturday night) is Date Night for them. They don’t have children, although both would have liked to be parents. But if you ask them to be honest, they’ll tell you that maybe it’s just as well, since they’re both passionate about their work. They know the consequences of ‘absentee parenting.’
Does your character have a love interest? How does this ‘interest’ impact his/her story?
Joel loves Laura very much, and depends on her insights when he’s investigating. They met while he was still a cop and she was in law school. They found quickly that they were compatible and the rest is, as they say, history. They don’t always agree on things, but Laura serves as an important ‘sounding board.’
When you first envisaged your character, did you have their whole life mapped out?
Not to the last detail, no. I had some of the basics mapped out, because I wanted Joel to seem more believable. But I didn’t sketch in each thing. I’m hoping to add more in future novels.
Does your character have political views? Strong views about controversial topics for example? Perhaps you steer clear of involving your character in strong viewpoints, being vocal about them – why?
Joel’s political views aren’t an important part of the series, so I wouldn’t say they’re controversial. He is somewhat of a social liberal with working-class roots. But his years as a cop have also taught him some hard lessons about taking any political view too far.
Right now, Joel is working on a book about juvenile crime in the US, and his research has a focus on working with young delinquents. That topic is always a difficult one, as there aren’t really pat answers. He’s hoping that he’ll be able to make some proposals for a solid system of working with young offenders in a way that supports them, but also protects others. None of it’s easy, though.
Do you think your character’s views might alienate then in some way from their readers, or perhaps stimulate their interest in the character even more, even though their views and opinions might be worlds apart from their own? Are you worried about writing anything too controversial?
I don’t worry too much about writing things that might be too controversial. My thinking is, if a character is well-rounded and interesting, readers can appreciate the character even if they don’t agree with her or his views.
What made you decide upon the physical attributes of your character? Are they the amalgamation of several people you know, or have you created this person from scratch? Your perfect man/woman for example – someone you might/might not care for if you met them in real life?
I actually began with the kind of person Joel is, and imagined what he might look like from that. I can’t say he’s an amalgamation or an ideal.
What made you decide upon their personality/character? Was their profession or personality the driving force behind you creating them? Are they a music fan? Which genre and why? Do they read? Which authors and why? Add anything like this which helps us get to know something about your character.
I wanted to create a character who was mature, but at the same time, willing to learn. So I decided Joel would be in his 50’s, and a professional student (i.e. an academic). He was, as I said, a cop (for fifteen years), but he could see himself ‘burning out.’ So he decided to take his interest in criminal justice in a different direction. That’s what eventually led him to his present work. He has had to learn to think like a scholar, but I like it that he’s open to that learning. He does read, but he’s not the passionate reader that I am. He enjoys music (mostly classic rock) and microbrewery beer. He goes to the gym a couple of times a week and sometimes runs. It’s not so much that he has ‘fitness mania,’ but he does want to keep in shape.
What are your character’s flaws/faults or failings? You’ve created them with these, why was that? Did you want a perfect all rounded lead character or a flawed one? Are they kind and caring or a bully, arrogant, cruel….?
Joel’s a good guy, but he’s not perfect. He loses his patience when he has to wait on ‘hold,’ sit in traffic and so on. He generally manages it, but not always with good grace. He’s also not particularly gifted at getting the bureaucratic paperwork of university life done. He didn’t care much for that as a cop, either. He’s rather get right to the point and get things done, and that’s not always possible. He’s mellowed a little over time, but patience is sometimes hard for him.
Does your character convey a moral message or aren’t you bothered about that sort of thing?
I didn’t create Joel with the idea of a moral message in mind. He has his share of beliefs, but I don’t really have an agenda as I write.
Who is your character (not just their name) but who are they as a person? Why did you create him/her? What drove you to make them the way you have?
I think the best way to describe Joel is to say that he’s an ordinary, everyday guy who tries to do the right thing as best he can. And that’s really what motivates him: setting things right. It’s what sparks his curiosity, and it’s what makes him work to find out the truth about a case. He doesn’t let things go because he wants to fix things, even though he knows that not everything can be fixed.
If your character could ask their creator (you) to alter any aspect of their character/personality what do you think it would be, knowing what you know about them now that you have got to live with them for some time?
I think Joel would ask me to make him a little more meticulous. He’s organized enough, but he would probably like it if he were better at the minutiae of paperwork and record-keeping.
Which experience in your character’s life/career has been the most surprising to you, their creator? Even though you wrote this, it may have been a surprise to you when the idea popped into your head (or not).
In Publish or Perish, Joel acquires Oscar the mutt. He didn’t really strike me as the kind to be owned by a dog, but that’s what happened.
Does your story write itself or do you plan and outline in advance, every aspect about your character and their life and exploits? Was this difficult to write, especially if it was not part of your ‘plan’ for them originally?
I do some advance planning. I like to know the general direction that a story is taking, so I do outline it. But I don’t sketch in each detail, because I want to leave room for good ideas, changes, and the little surprises that make a story (hopefully!) more interesting.
Setting for a character and their story is important. What made you decide upon the setting you have chosen? Is the setting fictional or one you are familiar with?
I chose the higher education setting very deliberately. It’s a context I’m quite familiar with, and I thought I could tell a believable university story. Besides, campuses are often lovely places with lots of stories, both ‘out there’ and hidden. So lots of grist for the proverbial mill.
Is your life style similar to your character’s life style? Similar background/family/occupation/profession, education?
I’m in higher education as Joel is, and we have the same views about some things. But we have our differences. First off, course, we’re opposite sexes. And he’s got a slightly harder edge than I think I do, because of what he saw as a cop. He and I both care very much about our students, and we both want to do the right thing. But I think I’m a bit more meticulous than he is, and he’s better at multi-tasking than I am.
Would you like to be your character? What do you like/admire about them the most?
Interesting question! I admire Joel. I admire his tenacity and his commitment to doing the right thing. I like him, too. But I’m not sure I would want to be him. He’s not what you’d call ‘demon-haunted.’ But I don’t think I’d want his memories from his years on the police force. He’s seen some awful things.
What is the most dislikeable aspect of your character’s personality? If there is one.
I’ll be candid here. I wanted to create a character who’d be likeable. So Joel doesn’t have a lot of disagreeable traits (‘though he’s hardly perfect). Probably it’d be better to say he can be irritating, the way anyone can. I don’t think I’d want to be with him in a car when the traffic is stopped for a long time…
Please write a little about your recent book/story involving your character and why he/she is experiencing what is happening to them in this particular story. Is your character in a series? List all your books featuring this person.
Joel is in a series, which so far includes Publish or Perish, B-Very Flat, Dying to See You and (tentative title) Past Tense. In Past Tense, he investigates a 40-year-old murder when a skeleton is found in the ground where a new campus building is going up. This death ends up being connected with a present-day killing, and when Joel discovers that body (not a pleasant moment for him) he knows that someone has gotten away with murder for a long time…
Tell us briefly about yourself and why you write, and why you write in this particular genre. What is your inspiration? What is your next project?
I write because I have stories to tell that just won’t leave me in peace until I tell them. I also write because I must admit I love the act of creating stories and the characters that people them. The process of writing isn’t always fun, but writing itself is a real passion for me. I write crime fiction because that’s the genre that I like best as a reader. I’ve been reading mysteries since I was a child, and I feel a real connection. Besides that, crime fiction lets me explore all sorts of aspects of the human experience. There’s love, loss, grief, hope, adventure, and so much more in crime fiction – much more than there is space for me to describe.
Margot, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions and for enabling us to get a good insight into your character Joel Williams. I hope this has introduced you and your writing to many new readers, and that your many fans will find this informative and interesting. I know I have. What makes writers conjure up a character and stick with him has always intrigued me. You have managed to allow us into the world your writing and Joel Williams and helped answer this for us today.
It has been such a thrill having you here. Thanks so much.
Margot Kinberg is a mystery novelist (she writes the Joel Williams series) and Associate Professor. She has also been blogging about crime fiction since 2009. She has written three Joel Williams novels and is currently revising the fourth. She is also editor of the crime fiction anthology In a Word: Murder. Margot blogs at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.