Liz Talbot: The Benefits of Writing Your Avatar

My very first career goal, at age eight, was to be Nancy Drew. Later, the first of my many college majors was criminal justice. Then came English, followed by drama and astronomy. I had a hard time settling on something. My dreams were of investigating crime or writing about it.

My parents were unenthusiastic, to say the least, about both of these pursuits. They wanted me to have a career that wouldn't involve carrying a gun or spending another ten years in their house while I wrote a novel and chased publication. They admonished me frequently and emphatically, telling me to “Get your mind on something sensible.” I settled on Computer Business Systems.

Programming computers is based on logic. Algorithms appealed to the part of my brain that likes solving puzzles and mysteries. But years later, when the company I worked for went out of business, I jumped at the chance for a career change. My inner Nancy Drew wanted out.

By then I’d become accustomed to the finer things in life: bankers’ hours, regular meals, and access to indoor plumbing. I knew enough to know that stakeouts, surveillance, and whatnot weren't going to work out for me. I had a husband and four children, for goodness sake. But I could live vicariously through a figment of my imagination. So Liz Talbot was born.

Read an excerpt from the latest Liz Talbot adventure, Lowcountry Bonfire!

Liz sees the world through my eyes. She and I are both Southern—Carolina girls, born and raised. We both have a large, loving, extended family, though her relatives are far more eccentric than mine. That’s my story and I'm sticking to it. Liz and I both grew up in small towns. But I've always wanted to live at the beach, so she gets to do that. See how this works?

We did actually live in Mt. Pleasant—which is right next to Charleston—for a couple of years. That’s when I decided on that particular part of the South Carolina coast for my literary landscape. I also swiped the name Stella Maris for my fictional island off a church on Sullivan’s Island. I love that area so much, and having my books set there gives me not just a reason to visit but a business need to spend as much time there as possible.

Map of Stella Maris. Click picture for full, zoomable image.

Liz and I both love mysteries—all kinds of puzzles. We share a love of strong coffee, Pinot Noir, Champagne, Cheerwine, and all manner of Southern food from fried chicken to sweet potato pie. We both love singing karaoke, though neither of us would fare well on The Voice. Her obsessive use of hand sanitizer? She gets that from me.

But in many ways, we’re different. Liz is younger than me (though I still feel 35 inside), and she’s prettier. She has the skin I wish I had, and her hair is much better behaved. She’s much thinner than I am, but she isn’t skinny. If she were skinny, I’d have to hate her, and then where would we be? She’s fit the way I wish I were. She runs on the beach every morning. I only run if something with big teeth is chasing me. She swims naked in the Atlantic at dawn. I go to water aerobics after I’ve had my coffee.

If unpleasantness erupts, Liz always thinks of the exact thing she wants to say on the spot. I tend to think of what I wished I’d said hours later. She’s braver than I am by far. I personally have never jumped from a moving Jet Ski into a boat while someone was shooting at me.

Liz carries a Sig 9 in her purse or in a holster underneath her jacket. While I have fired a gun at a shooting range once or twice, I'm not packing heat, I promise. Liz has the Golden Retriever I’d love to have if we didn't travel too much to have a pet. (And I gave her parents the Bassett Hound I want.) There’s a long list of things Liz has done that I never have and never will—she gets to have a lot of fun and wear cute shoes while doing it.

On the other hand, I’ve done a few things Liz hasn’t. We both married our best friend, but I have four wonderful children. (And any of you with children over twelve knows there’s no small amount of bravery involved in surviving the teenage years.) For medical reasons—and because I decided early on children would change the kind of stories I could write too much—Liz won’t be having kids. I’ve written a few books. She won’t have time for that. I plan to keep her busy.

I’ve never been a private investigator, but I’ve read an awful lot about them. Aside from the many PI novels I've read over the years, I've bought, devoured, and put sticky notes all through The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating by Steven Kerry Brown. And I pestered the fire out of a few PIs asking them questions. The things I Google likely have me on several government watch lists. Liz gets to play with the gadgets that I find in my research: listening devices, hidden cameras, a gizmo that opens hotel room doors, all such as that.

Liz Talbot is my avatar is what I’m saying. She’s this perfect version of who I might’ve been in an alternate reality. It’s a bit like playing a video game, I think, though I don’t play many of those—just the dancing and yoga ones for exercise (occasionally).

I sit at the computer and embroil Liz in all manner of chaos and let her figure it all out. It’s deliciously fun. Liz Talbot isn’t me by a long shot. But I love experiencing her adventures from the safety of my office.

Check out John Valeri's review of Lowcountry Bonfire!

 

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Susan M. Boyer is the author of the USA Today bestselling Liz Talbot Mystery series. Her debut novel, Lowcountry Boil, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel, the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and garnered several other award nominations, including the Macavity. The third in the series, Lowcountry Boneyard, was a Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) Okra Pick, a Daphne du Maurier Award finalist, and short-listed for the Pat Conroy Beach Music Mystery Prize. Susan loves beaches, Southern food, and small towns where everyone knows everyone, and everyone has crazy relatives. You’ll find all of the above in her novels. She lives in Greenville, SC, with her husband and an inordinate number of houseplants.

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