The Time in Between

Frankie Y. Bailey 2Frankie Bailey has five books and two published short stories in a mystery series featuring crime historian Lizzie Stuart. The Red Queen Dies, the first book in a near-future police procedural series featuring Detective Hannah McCabe, came out in September, 2013.  The second book in the series, What the Fly Saw is due out in March 2015. Frankie is a former executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime.  

Website URL:

Twitter:  @FrankieYBailey

In an episode of the classic TV sit com, “The Golden Girls”, Blanche is laughing as she reads her favorite comic strips, “Marmaduke” and “Apartment 3-G”. One of her housemates comments.

Dorothy:  “I haven’t read Apartment 3-G since . . . 1961.”

Blanche: “Oh, well, let me catch you up. It is later the same day. . .”

In crime fiction, as in comic strips, the writer has to make some decisions about time. If the writer is working on a standalone novel, then he or she needs to know the expectations of readers of that subgenre. A thriller surges forward, building momentum as it rushes toward the final confrontation. A novel of psychological suspense may move more slowly with peaks and surges of tension. But for a writer who has a mystery/detective series, the challenge is not only to find the right pace for the current novel, but to deal with time in the context of the series.

I am now — with the publication of What the Fly Saw — two books into my second series. By now, I am aware of the joys and pitfalls of writing a series. With this new series, I’m also more conscious of time as a tricky commodity. In this series, I have moved forward in time, into the near future. I also have located my real city – Albany, New York – in an alternate or parallel universe. This was necessary because of how quickly the present becomes the future, and because I wanted to remove my fictional Albany from the day-to-day life of the real city. But I draw on the history of the real Albany because that history is rich and unchanging.

Aside from dealing with past, present, and future in the Hannah McCabe series, there are the same basic issues that I encountered when I launched my first series featuring criminal justice professor/crime historian, Lizzie Stuart. For example, how old should the protagonist be when the series begin? Lizzie was thirty-eight. Five books later, she is now forty. The series that began in 2000 (in the present) is now in 2004 (in the recent past). Hannah McCabe is thirty-four in the first book. That seems a reasonable age for a woman who had attended college, been a rookie cop, and is now a detective. As in my Lizzie Stuart series, time is moving slowly.  The Red Queen Dies is set in October 2019 (published in September 2013). What the Fly Saw is set in January 2020 (published in March 2015). This is rather fascinating to me because if the series continues for another four or five years, real time will catch up with my series time. I will then be writing a series set in an alternate universe in the present – and then, eventually, the past.

What the Fly SawOr, I could leap forward in series time. Hannah McCabe could be in the year 2022 or 2025 in the next book. But, as a writer, the trouble I would have with that is the time in between. Each book, when I return to one of these characters, I imagine that their lives have been going on since I last spent time with them. With Lizzie I have become accustomed to imagining that she is in her office at the Institute for the Study of Southern Crime and Culture or at home with her fiancé, John Quinn. She is in a kind of limbo because I left her with a wedding to plan. But I assume that she has been thinking more about meeting Quinn’s family at Thanksgiving (so the next book must begin there). With McCabe, I have spent less time in her company. But I knew when What the Fly Saw began that she had been thinking about what happened in The Red Queen Dies. Of course, I know I need to fill the reader in on what happened so that he or she can pick up What the Fly Saw and move immediately into the present book.

With a series, a writer also needs to keep track of what is happening in the world in which the series exist. In the McCabe books, the first two books are occurring as the country moves toward a presidential election. In What the Fly Saw, national politics touches McCabe’s life – and affects her murder investigation – in a way that she couldn’t have predicted. In a series, the characters’ lives go on. In some series, the protagonist and other characters may change little over time. In my series, the characters change and grow – but the clock by which they do that is set to fictional time.