Sophie Littlefield is the author of A Bad Day for Sorry and its sequel A Bad Day for Pretty with protagonist Stella Hardesty, a 50ish woman who has had a rather difficult life.I asked Sophie how she came up with the character of Stella. Here's what she had to say:
Thanks so much for inviting me to gab, Marlyn! You had asked me about the origins of the heroine of my series, Stella Hardesty, a fifty-year-old Midwestern housewife who reinvents herself as an avenger of domestic abusers following several decades of abuse at the hands of her (dead) husband.
I’ve never been the victim of domestic violence – in fact, my husband is one of the nicest, most generous, gentle men you will ever meet. But like nearly everyone, abuse has touched my life. People I love have endured physical and verbal and mental cruelty at the hands of those who should care for them the most, and it made a powerful impression on me.
There are several times in a woman’s life when she is particularly likely to go through major changes in identity. The teenage years, the first time she lives alone, the start of a new relationship, motherhood…all of these are times when a woman sifts through what she knows about herself, discarding what no longer fits, and layering on new self-knowledge. But there is something especially compelling about middle age, and – for me and many of the women I have talked to – this is when we are likely to do an astonishing amount of growing. If we are ever going to get our big-girl panties on, this is when it’s likely to happen.
In real life, middle-aged women start new ventures, end and begin relationships, throw themselves into causes and passions, confront fears and seize opportunities. In genre fiction, we take the everyday and dial up the emotional resonance. We add a “hook” – a story element that is unlikely to take place in real life but which is a catalyst for both internal and external conflict.
Putting those thoughts together, I reasoned like this:
1. I want to write about a middle-aged woman who decides to seize control of her life.
2. I write mystery, so there needs to be a crime. I want my character to be a heroine, not a villain, so she will solve or rectify the crime.
3. To make the crime “hook” worthy, it should be about something unique and appealing to readers. To be effective, it should be something I care or know about.
4. What do I know? Well, I am from rural Missouri, I am 40-something, I care about domestic violence, I enjoy friendships with women of all ages, I am a mother, I care about raising a daughter with good self-image, and, since living in California, I have been endlessly amused by folks’ often-erroneous perceptions of the Midwest.
Give these ingredients to 10 authors and you’d get 10 very different protagonists. That’s the secret-sauce element that remains a mystery. I don’t know, for instance, why one of Stella’s best friends is a big-hearted stoner mechanic. I don’t know why she loves White Diamonds. I don’t know why the assistant who showed up to help her is a second-amendment fanatic.
(One thing I can tell you is where Stella got her name – from our very elderly dog, a sweet beagle who died last year at the age of 15.)
So that’s the quick version of How Stella Came To Be.
Thank you so much, Sophie!
And congratulations on being nominated for both the Anthony and Macavity awards for Best First Novel!