Jacqueline Vick is the author of the Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic and the Harlow Brothers mystery series. You can find out more about her here and see her books here. This is her first post on the Blackbirds site.
The first time I disliked a character in a mystery novel, it wasn’t the character’s fault. Halfway through the story, the author made it known the detective was a figment of the real protagonist’s imagination, who would now take over the story. That far into a book, I didn’t have the energy to invest in a new protagonist, and we parted ways. But I didn’t hate the new character.
Reader reactions to Claudia Inglenook from my Harlow Brothers mysteries range from avid dislike to loathing. And I don’t know why.
Claudia is half-owner of Inglenook Resort along with her brother, Robert. She has many admirable qualities. Her practical nature helped her through the transition of Inglenook from family mansion to public resort after personal finances tanked. She’s extremely loyal to those she loves. And her hate-hate relationship with Nicholas Harlow, well, at least it’s honest. And mutual.
Yes, she occasionally resorts to manipulative tactics to get results. For example, she presented herself as a damsel in distress to lure Edward Harlow into using his police contacts to clear up a messy murder in Civility Rules. But as this was Inglenook Resort’s opening weekend, the woman was desperate.
Yet, some readers insist they can’t stand poor Claudia. So, what’s an author to do?
First, I’ll let you in on my embarrassing secret. As a writer, I’m thrilled that one of my characters evokes this much response in readers. It means people relate to Claudia, though the connection seems to be with an unpleasant episode. Maybe Reader A’s Cousin Twyla is a master manipulator, and misdirected feelings surface when Claudia works her wiles. It’s possible she reminds Reader B of an uncomfortable part of themselves that they would prefer to keep hidden. We all have those quirks and traits we’d rather not admit in public.
The trick is what to do with Claudia. Should I work to bring out her sensitive side? In the late Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, he suggests showing the audience something about the protagonist that allows them to root for him or her. I already made her vulnerable in Bad Behavior. She admitted to Nicholas, her nemesis, that she was jealous of his close relationship with his brother. But readers want more from innkeeper. In a future book, I suppose Claudia could risk her life to save a child from an oncoming train. Just a thought.
Spoiler alert. I don’t intend to kill off Claudia. My mysteries are comedies, not tragedies. In fact, I thought she and Edward complimented each other, though I may have to rethink making their relationship permanent. Or should I? Isn’t conflict half the fun of any story?
Claudia-haters will have a reprieve. She won’t appear in the next Harlow Brothers mystery. Meanwhile, I’ll consider numerous ways to torture her and hope her sufferings will evoke some sympathy for my least-loved character.