My newest novel, my fourth, is also the start of a new direction for me. My other series, Someday Quilts, is a gentler, more innocent series. The kind of books I love when I’m looking for an escape.
Missing Persons isn’t an escape. Not really. My main character, Kate Conway, is a freelance television producer who lies to get the story she needs for the true crime show she produces. She’s human enough to feel bad about manipulating people, but she has a mortgage to pay. Her about to be ex-husband, Frank, has left her for another woman, a nicer woman, and Kate has wrapped herself in sarcastic bitterness to get through it. And then Frank dies.
I really liked the idea of putting a character in this situation. Let’s face it, when a relationship ends badly there is a tendency on the part of friends, family and the break-ee, to see the worst in the other person. Suddenly, everyone is telling you that he was never good enough for you, or no one liked her. You focus on the bad stuff and feel better because of it. But when someone dies, it’s just the opposite. In death, people are perfect. They were special.. they were saints… the love you shared was envied by everyone.
How fun for a writer to have a character deeply invested in all that was bad about her husband when the narrative suddenly shifts. The Frank that everyone said was a louse is now remembered as the ideal husband. Kate is too smart and self-aware to leap from one extreme to the other. She remembers the bad stuff, but she also remembers the good. Realizing she may still love a man now permanently out of reach is bad enough, but Kate has another problem. Frank’s girlfriend Vera, a helpful, kind woman who only knows the good about Frank, wants to be friends. It’s enough to put Kate nearly over the edge.
Kate becomes both suspect and investigator of Frank’s death, and that’s just in her off hours. She has to produce an exploitive crime TV show about Theresa Moretti, a seemingly innocent 22-year-old nursing student who disappeared the year before.
I realized after I wrote the first draft that maybe what Kate is looking for - beyond an explanation for the death of her husband and the disappearance of Theresa - is closure. Closure is, at least as far as I can tell, that elusive, and probably non-existent, end to a relationship in which both parties feel sad but complete. The questions are answered, the anger is put to rest, and everyone goes on, wiser for having known one another.
It sounds great. But do any of us get to say goodbye in a way that really feels as though everything’s been said? I don’t think I’ve ever really had that moment. No matter the reason, when someone who used to be in our lives isn’t anymore, there are “what ifs”, there are empty spaces. Maybe as time has gone by, the pain dulls and the loss feels more bearable, but I wouldn’t call it closure. I’d call it getting on with life.
Kate, in her jaded, sarcastic way, just wants to do that. She wants to go back to a life of take-out Chinese and watching re-runs on the couch. She wants to put her memories of Frank in a neat little box, and keep them from hurting her anymore.
For her that means finding all the answers she can, and living with the questions that will forever remained unanswered. No one, least of all Kate, wants to be living through this mess, but as a writer, it’s just the most wonderful place to be.
Bookingly Yours review of Missing Persons read here