Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about how everyone develops patterns and that understanding those patterns help us understand people.
Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest.
I grew up before the glut of overseas cheap clothing arrived. Luckily for me, my mother knew her way around a sewing machine and I had a wardrobe of cute little dresses, a few actually made from chicken seed sacks. That sewing machine kicked out most of my high school full skirts, petticoats, and tops. She even made some of my prom dresses. The only thing she didn’t make was my wedding dress. I didn’t want her taking basting stitches out of the train as I went up the aisle.
One of the things I remember best about all that sewing was the patterns. They were fragile, with almost impossible, to me at least, instructions printed on each piece. She would lay the material out on the dining room table and carefully pin each piece onto it, moving them around to get the pattern right, making sure each piece would go together correctly with its companion piece. It was exacting and time consuming, but the pattern determined how the garment would turn out, either good or bad.
As I got older, it occurred to me that patterns are not always something we lay on material. Our very lives are governed by patterns, ones we have created or ones that have been imposed on us as children. But we all function within our own individual one.
We all know someone who has laid out his or her life when young, and never deviated from that goal. They have a good job, a house in the suburbs, 2 ½ children, a dog and roses on the fence. Their weekends are spent at little league or girl scouts, and they can be counted on to take a covered dish to the church pot luck. An exaggerated picture, but you get the idea. People whose pattern is well established and they are comfortable living within it. But what happens when life blows a hole in it?
There are those who, from the outside, seem to have no pattern at all. Their lives are in constant chaos. Nothing ever seems to get done around their house, they can’t keep a job, or their commitment to their social group, in fact, their lives are a mess. But the chaos is their pattern. For some reason their inability to cope has taken over their lives, and has become so entrenched they cannot escape. What happens when they get pinned to a wall due to that chaos? Do they snap, and in what way?
Then there is the couple that never stops sniping at each other. Constant criticism, put downs, and veiled innuendoes have become their way of life. It’s their pattern. They seem almost content with their angry lives. But anger builds and one day, like a volcano, it can erupt.
See what I mean? These examples are extreme but they illustrate the point. We have all developed a pattern of behavior, a way we do things, from the rituals of how we celebrate the holidays to how we gather, or don’t gather, around the dinner table. And the pattern is hard to break.
Which brings us to the fiction author. No, I’m not going to tell you about the patterns of my life, except to say lots of it includes being glued to my computer. What I want to talk about is how the author uses these patterns to build the characters that populate the pages of our books.
I am starting to write the 4th in the Mary McGill canine mystery series. I know Mary and the gang, but I don’t have even a passing acquaintance with who I’ve tapped as the murderer. I know what happened, but I don’t as yet know why. I don’t know what happened prior to the crime being committed, I don’t know what brought this person to kill, I don’t know—yet—anything about this person. But I’m about to find out.
Murder doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There is always a reason. My job is to find out what propelled my person to kill. Before I put fingers to computer keys, I have to unravel that mystery. And that means understand the pattern of their life.