By Barbara Fradkin
The ink isn’t even dry on my trial separation and I’ve already got myself a new man. Lest you think things are really hot and exciting up here in Canada, let me clarify. I’m Barbara Fradkin, up till now the faithful creator of the Inspector Green mysteries. There are eight of them, all gritty, psychological whodunits set in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. I’ve lived with Mike Green twenty-four hours a day for more than ten years. I’ve talked to him, argued with him, found myself thinking of him when I was walking the dog or emptying the dish washer. Even woken up at night thinking about him! I’ve solved his cases for him and followed him through his trials both at the station and at home. In fact, in an effort to keep the relationship lively, I gave him most of those trials.
He’s an infuriating, entertaining, loveable character. I’ve often said I’d never want to be married to him, but the truth is, I am. More than married.
Lately, however, I’ve found myself feeling restless. Confined. Wanting to break out, to experiment with a new cast of characters, a new setting, a new structure to the novel. I think all writers of long-running series feel the urge to stray. To write a stand-alone or a second series. One of my friends with a particularly short attention span has four series on the go! There is a fear that we might grow stale, tell the same story over again, or fail to grow and take risks. Green and his cronies are comfortable old friends, and it’s fun to be with them, but life’s too short for comfort alone.
Just after I put the finishing touches to Green’s latest adventure Beautiful Lie the Dead, which is hot off the press, I decided I wanted a break from him. I was just pondering what else I might like to write, when a wonderful opportunity fell into my lap. Orca Book Publishers in Victoria, B.C. is developing a line of short, entertaining novels called “Rapid Reads”, which are designed for those who want a quick, easy read or who have literacy challenges such as ESL or LD. The editor invited me to submit a proposal.
Having been a school psychologist for twenty-five years, I’m aware of not only the employment and educational hurdles faced by those who struggle with literacy, but also the erosion of their hope and self-esteem. I also know how few good adult books there were available to help them develop their skills. I was thrilled to be part of the initiative and spent some dog-walking and dishwasher-emptying time thinking about the kind of hero who would appeal to this readership. I wanted a hero readers would identify with and draw inspiration from. An everyman.
Thus Cedric Elvis O’Toole came into my life. I’ve spent about two months with him now, and am astonished to discover I’ve created a character completely the opposite of Green. What was my subconscious telling me? Just as you crave sweet after a steady diet of sour, thus my mind created the anti-Green. They have some similarities. Both are entertaining, endearing, stubborn men, intelligent and moral in the ways that count. Maybe I need at least that in my men. Beyond that, antithesis.
Mike Green is an inner-city boy who loves baked asphalt and crumbling corner stores. He hates the very thought of cows or wilderness. He lives with his wife, two children and family dog in residential Ottawa, and grumbles about mowing the lawn. Cedric lives by himself on a scrub farm in the country, with a goat, hens and several barns full of junk. Mike is a high-ranking police officer with a Masters degree in Criminology. Cedric is a struggling handyman who barely passed high school. Mike navigates the complex urban landscape of homelessness, drugs and immigrant despair, of teeming tenements, elegant avenues and highrise condos. Cedric drives his rattle-trap pick-up over the gravel back roads, rivers, and creeks of the Canadian shield.
Mike is a first generation son of gentle Jewish immigrant parents scarred by the Holocaust; Cedric likely traces his roots to Ireland but for at least six generations the hard-edged O’Tooles have eked out a living on the same worthless farm he inherited. Mike likes loud rock music; Cedric loves the natural sounds of the wind through the trees and the crickets in the marsh. Mike loves women, Cedric gets tongue-tied.
I could go on, but I want to leave a little mystery for others to discover. It’s an intriguing question. Are there other writers out there who have created two series with opposite characters? Opposing sides of themselves, perhaps? My country self and my city self.
Barbara's Country Work Space