Literature has not been kind to mothers. From the earliest stories fed to us at bedtime, mothers die and get replaced with evil stepmothers. Coming of age stories are filled with overbearing maternal figures. It’s the mother who creates a serial killer or gives birth to psychopaths.
I didn’t set out to write a mother/daughter crime-fighting duo, but I’m glad I did.
When Eddie Shoes came to me, though the mysterious confluence of imagination and early drafts, I didn’t realize her mother, Chava, would play such an important role. She appeared out of the creative ether, to sail into Eddie’s life, the perfect foil to my protagonist. Where Eddie is cautious, Chava plows ahead. Where Eddie prefers a plan, Chava works on intuition. Where Eddie protects herself, Chava takes risks. All of which embroil the twosome in hair-raising capers to catch killers, while simultaneously providing readers with strong women, albeit strong in different ways.
I have a theory about where ideas come from. I believe writers are conduits to the collective unconscious. Whether you believe in stories imprinted in our DNA or merely the zeitgeist of a generation, writers have the ability to tap into experiences, which resonate across a population. As we continue to navigate the tricky waters of gender equality and placing women’s stories on the same footing as men’s, Chava and Eddie have arrived at the right place in the right time.
Chava and Eddie do not represent my relationship with my own mother. Just as I’m not a private investigator and have never stumbled across a dead body, their dynamic is fiction. But all fiction rests on the history of the author. “Write what you know” is actually code for, “Write the world as you understand it based on your experiences, research, and how you view human interactions.” Those who take it literally, miss the point. I don’t have to write about characters with backgrounds identical to my own. Instead, I draw on those things I understand and turn them into a complicated mixture of fact, fiction, fantasy, observations, research, and events I’ve lived through.
So while my mother has little in common with Chava, the bond the two characters share—a deep, unshakeable mother-daughter love—comes from the same place as ours. That’s not a bond I’ve come across very often in fiction, especially not in the mystery genre.
One of the things I appreciate most about the two of them is how they accept each other as they are, even if they argue from time to time. Though they are different people, one doesn’t try to change the other. I think as adults, the best mother/daughter relationship is one of respect. There’s a difference between criticism and advice. Everyone needs a safe person to confide in and that’s the relationship Chava and Eddie continue to build.
The reality about Chava and Eddie is they are both aspects of my own personality. Eddie symbolizes my more practical, cautious, side, while Chava is the wild child, who fears nothing and puts her foot down regardless of the cost.
In the real world, our internal states are rarely singular. We feel mixed emotions about complex issues and change our beliefs at various times in our lives. In one sense, these two characters are facets of one personality responding to events in different ways.
Human instincts are paradoxical. We thrive on conflict. Long periods of calm make us edgy to shake things up. As women grow into adulthood, we often push away from our mothers as a way to create separate identities. We view the mother figure as someone who keeps us from expanding our horizons or doesn’t believe in our ability to make good decisions or analyzes the world from an outdated perspective.
With Chava and Eddie I’ve turned that maxim somewhat on its ear. Chava arrives at a time when Eddie has become mired in her own life situation. Eddie has carved out a career as a successful private eye, but she has cut herself off from romance. She carries the guilt of her mentor’s suicide, despite the fact that burden isn’t hers to shoulder. Chava pushes Eddie to move forward rather than look back. But while Chava might on occasion act in ways that force Eddie to face her own anxieties and self-limiting behavior, she’s also very intuitive about how much her daughter can handle.
Another characteristic of their dynamic that I share with my own mom, they are both mother and daughter, and friends. As society continues to put women and our important relationships forward in literature, I think it’s important to recognize all the variables. We don’t require mothers who fail at parenting to have a good story. While Chava is unconventional, her daughter has turned out fine. We don’t need solely overbearing mothers, but also mothers who recognize there are times to step in and times to step out.
Though novels are based on conflict, and Chava and Eddie have moments in which they clash, that’s not the conflict that drives each book. The conflict for each novel is primarily between the killer and Eddie, as she seeks to uncover the guilty party. The drama that Eddie and Chava bring is the tenuousness of our understanding that there are some bonds in life that won’t ever break. No matter how many years have gone by or how thoughtless the occasional comment or action, that sturdy foundation will remain whole.
Eddie must discover that Chava is a constant. A north star. A person in her life she can trust no matter what. Chava, on the other hand, must come to know that her daughter will discover that truth on her own. It can’t be forced—it can only be earned. She must have faith.
My hope for readers, whether they are mothers, fathers, daughters, or sons, is to recognize the relationships in their own life that have that same quality. We don’t have to agree with our parents or our children all the time, but we can appreciate the singular gift of a relationship guaranteed to last a lifetime, no matter how challenging it may be.
Elena Hartwell’s writing career began in the theater, where she also worked as a director, designer, producer, and educator. Productions of her scripts have been performed around the U.S. and abroad. She lives in North Bend, Washington, with her husband.
For more information go to www.elenahartwell.com.
Private investigator Eddie Shoes heads to a resort outside Leavenworth, Washington, for a mother-daughter getaway weekend. Eddie’s mother Chava wants to celebrate her new job at a casino by footing the bill for the two of them, and who is Eddie to say no?
On the first morning, Eddie goes on an easy solo hike, and a few hours later, stumbles upon a makeshift campsite and a gravely injured man. A forest fire breaks out and she struggles to save him before the flames overcome them both. Before succumbing to his injuries, the man hands her a valuable rosary. He tells her his daughter is missing and begs for her help. Is Eddie now working for a dead man?
Barely escaping the fire, Eddie wakes in the hospital to find both her parents have arrived on the scene. Will Eddie’s card-counting mother and mob-connected father help or hinder the investigation? The police search in vain for a body. How will Eddie find the missing girl with only Eddie’s memory of the man’s face and a photo of his daughter to go on?
Book 3 in the Eddie Shoes Mystery Series, which began with One Dead, Two to Go.