Friday, July 25, 2008

Guest Blogger: JULIE KRAMER


I'm delighted to introduce Julie Kramer, author of the newly released thriller STALKING SUSAN, as my guest blogger. With a title like that, this question was sure to come up...

NO, my protagonist is NOT named Susan

It's a mistake many readers make. My thriller's title is STALKING SUSAN. And readers understandably assume Susan is my heroine. But she's not. Susan is dead. Repeatedly.

My protagonist is Riley Spartz and she's a television investigative reporter who discovers a serial killer is targeting women named Susan and killing one on the same day each year.

It never occurred to me to also name her Susan. Folks ask why not? In retrospect, it seems an obvious plot move. People say, that's why you didn't do it, huh? Cause it was too obvious, right? Well, it wasn't obvious to me.

A more experienced author might have done so, but STALKING SUSAN is my debut book and I'm still learning the craft of fiction. When I started thinking about writing a novel, I invented my lead character first. I work as a television news producer and I wanted a heroine from my world. Just like forensic anthropologists have Tempe Brennen, medical examiners have Kay Scarpella, and prosecutors have Alex Cooper, I wanted TV journalists to have Riley Spartz. I felt a little guilty making her a reporter, instead of a producer like me, because I know how hard we work behind the scenes. But I also wanted to write a commercial novel, and concluded now was not the time to give producers their glory - no matter how deserved.

To create Riley Spartz, I picked Riley because I liked the name (I wanted to name both my sons Riley, but my husband said, no) and Spartz because it's my mother's maiden name. And then, to create my cast of characters, I took traits of everyone I've ever worked with, for, or against in the desperate world of television news. Once my heroine was alive in my head, I needed an adventure for her. I was inspired by two still unsolved cold cases I covered a decade ago that involved victims named Susan. Free of the constraints of journalism, I was free to ask, what if?

So for me, first came character, then plot. If my thought process had gone the other way, and I had locked into the serial-killer-targeting-Susans scenario first, Riley might very well have been named Susan.

Would that have made a more compelling story?

Well, I'm not trying to make excuses, but as a practical matter, I already had five characters named Susan (something I wouldn't recommend other writers try) and that set up made for some complex storytelling. Over and over my beta readers told me the Susans confused them. So I used nicknames, charts and description to make my victims more distinct. One more Susan might have pushed me down the same author abyss that claimed Poe.

My agent never suggested it. Neither did my editor.

So what do you think? Should my protagonist have been named Susan?

Julie Kramer is a freelance television producer for NBC News, before that she spent much of her career as a national award-winning investigative producer for WCCO-TV in Minneapolis. She grew up on a corn and cattle farm along the Minnesota-Iowa State Line where her favorite days were spent waiting for the bookmobile to bring her another Phyllis A. Whitney novel. Doubleday released her debut thriller, STALKING SUSAN, July 15.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

No, she shouldn't have been named Susan. You'd be stuck with a gimmick. I really liked your book. I'm not a pushover for debut mysteries, but I liked the voice of your book and learning the behind the scenes of television investigative reporting. I look forward to your next one -- next year hopefully.
PK the Bookeemonster

Kathy Loecher said...

I agree she shouldn't have been named Susan. Riley Spartz's name seems to have "spark" for her ambitiously driven character. I loved the book and I look forward to reading the next book/s! Keep them coming!

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