Marilyn, Calista, & Me by Susan M. Boyer
Once I established my private investigator, Liz Talbot, in Lowcountry Boil, along with her quirky extended family and Stella Maris, their island home near Charleston, South Carolina, I began thinking about Liz’s future clients. Like Nancy Drew, Kinsey Millhone, and every other detective, Liz would need a new client, a new case, a new puzzle in every book, right?
An early reader once asked me if Liz could see other ghosts—aside from her long-dead best friend, Colleen. I gave that some thought, daydreamed about it a bit. Who else would she see? I imagined a great many possibilities. If I’d let her solve cases involving ghosts, righting wrongs in this world for those in the next, that might have been fun. I seriously considered the idea, and then decided I didn’t want the books to be that firmly set in the paranormal camp. I liked my light paranormal element, but wanted Liz to solve problems for clients who still occupied their earthly bodies.
But, while I’d been daydreaming about possible ghosts Liz might have worked for, the first one who popped into my head was Marilyn Monroe. I’ve always been fascinated by her, and I couldn’t get her out of my head. I couldn’t imagine a plot where she was actually still alive but had been pretending to be dead for fifty years. Besides, she would be eighty-seven years old today. Liz’s grandmother was the victim in the first book. I didn’t want to start a new sub-genre where senior citizens were victimized.
Around the same time, I was playing with my family ancestry. Several online services help you build family trees and search records for your people. One day I looked up Marilyn’s. I actually saw her birth certificate, a census record from 1930, when she lived with her foster parents, another from 1940, after she had married, and, sadly, her death certificate. I played with her tree a bit. There are a lot of loose ends. Then I started daydreaming about someone who was distantly related to Marilyn and looked a lot like her. Eventually my character evolved into someone who looked exactly like Marilyn, but may or may not be a distant relative.
And what if, I wondered, this character had been born on the anniversary of Marilyn’s birth? Far stranger things have happened. Two hundred sixty-seven people are born every minute. Many people have been born on her birthday over the last eighty-seven years. The idea intrigued me, and I started researching doppelgangers. You’d be amazed how often unrelated people look very much alike. I re-watched many of Marilyn’s movies. This was probably the most fun phase of my research. I think The Seven Year Itch may be my favorite. No—it’s How to Marry a Millionaire. No, wait…Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I like them all.
I read Donald Spoto’s Marilyn Monroe, The Biography. Fascinating stuff. I wasn’t writing about Marilyn, but what if my character’s mother was not-quite-right, just like Marilyn’s? What if the accident of her daughter’s birth date captured her imagination? I bought Jenna Glatzer’s The Marilyn Monroe Treasures. In addition to copies of legal documents and many photographs, this volume contained reproductions of handwritten notes, Marilyn’s SAG card, and so much more. An image of who Marilyn was—one that differed from the one I’d had when I started—began to emerge. Yes, she was the personification of sensuality, but she was so much more than that. She was well-read, smart, witty, and empathetic.
My character, Liz Talbot’s client in Lowcountry Bombshell isn’t Marilyn. But people have conspired to convince her that she is the reincarnation of Marilyn. Her mother named her Norma Jeane and put Edward Mortensen’s name on her birth certificate as father, though that was no more true for the Norma Jeane born in 1976 than it was for the Norma Jeane born in 1926.
Liz’s client, Norma Jeane, leaves the West Coast for the East Coast and changes her name to Calista McQueen to escape being forced to live someone else’s life. That in itself is an eerie parallel. Liz has her work cut out for her on this case.
Susan M. Boyer’s debut novel, Lowcountry Boil (a Liz Talbot Mystery) is an Agatha Award winner for Best First Novel, a 2012 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense recipient, and a 2012 RWA Golden Heart® finalist. Lowcountry Bombshell, the second book in the Liz Talbot series, is available now. Lowcountry Boneyard and Lowcountry Bordello will be released in May and October of 2014, respectively. Susan and her husband live in Greenville, SC.
Learn more and order your copy of Lowcountry Bombshell here.
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