HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Fine, fine, fine. I confess. Jane Ryland is a little...like me. (And Charlotte McNally even more so.) But hey. How many of us envision Susan when we're reading about Maggie Hope? I certainly do. Is Lucy not Haley? Of course. Go through the Reds books--and imagine our heroines. Is Rhys not Lady Georgie? (AND Molly? Sigh. How does that happen?) I can't help but picture Debs as Gemma, You can't tell me she's not. Julia is one hundred percent Clare, and Hallie admits she's Deirdre. So fine. Okay. It's only logical that we plumb our own personalities for our main characters. But that's not the whole story, and that's what makes it interesting.
So I'm thrilled to let my dear pal, the hilarious and droll Susan Boyer, explain it all. (Try to read with a southern accent. It's more realistic that way.)
She’s Just like Me, Only Thinner…
One question that comes up right often when I’m out and about visiting book clubs, book festivals, and the like, is, “How much of you is in Liz Talbot?” I would bet many authors get this question. Are we putting ourselves on the page?
What’s that you ask?
Well, yes, Liz and I are both Southern. We’re Carolina girls, born and raised. And, okay, we both grew up in small towns. Although, she has way more eccentric relatives than I do. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Liz and I both love mysteries—all kinds of puzzles. We share a love of Cheerwine, beaches, and all manner of Southern food, from fried chicken to sweet potato pie. We both love signing karaoke, though neither of us would fare well on The Voice. The thing with the hand sanitizer? She gets that from me.
But in many ways we’re different. Liz is younger than I (though I still feel thirty-four 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. There’s a long list of things Liz has done that I’ve never done—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. I’m married to my best friend. Her romantic situation is…complicated. 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.) I’ve written a few books. Liz won’t have time for that. I plan to keep her busy.
I’ve never been a private investigator. But I’ve read an awfully lot about them, and I’ve pestered the fire out of a few asking them questions. And the things I Google likely have me on several government watch lists. As I child, I wanted to be Nancy Drew. 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 live vicariously through a figment of my imagination. I embroil her 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.
How about y’all? Reds and other writers, how much of you is in your protagonists? Readers, do you ever envision the author of a book as the protagonist? (I confess I do, and sometimes this gets awkward during the romantic scenes.)
HANK: Yup, me, too. I mean--isn't Sue Grafton Kinsey? And Lee Child is Reacher, right? Who do you see as who?
Susan M. Boyer is the author of the USA TODAY bestselling Liz Talbot mystery series. Her debut novel, Lowcountry Boil, won the 2012 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and garnered several other award nominations. Lowcountry Boneyard, the third Liz Talbot mystery, was released April 21, 2015. 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.
Susan lives in Greenville, SC, with her husband and an inordinate number of houseplants.
Where is Kent Heyward? The twenty-three-year-old heiress from one of Charleston’s oldest families vanished a month ago. When her father hires private investigator Liz Talbot, Liz suspects the most difficult part of her job will be convincing the patriarch his daughter tired of his overbearing nature and left town. That’s what the Charleston Police Department believes.
But behind the garden walls South of Broad, family secrets pop up like weeds in the azaleas. The neighbors recollect violent arguments between Kent and her parents. Eccentric twin uncles and a gaggle of cousins covet the family fortune. And the lingering spirit of a Civil-War-era debutante may know something if Colleen, Liz’s dead best friend, can get her to talk.
Liz juggles her case, the partner she’s in love with, and the family she adores. But the closer she gets to what has become of Kent, the closer Liz dances to her own grave.