At the launch party for A Matter of Blood I read an excerpt from the book, then took questions from the audience. While I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of all the questions, this one, in particular, stuck with me. “From tonight’s reading it sounds like the character of your protagonist NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli is layered: how did you do that?”
I wish I could say I envisioned Chiara as a multi-layered character from the start but A Matter of Blood was the very first fiction I wrote and Chiara was the very first character I created. I’d challenged myself to write a mystery but to be frank, when I actually started writing I didn’t have the vaguest idea of how to go about it.
But I stuck with it. After nine months of reading about writing, it took me four months to complete a 100,000-word draft of what eventually became A Matter of Blood. The conventional wisdom says treat your first book as a learning experience, put it in a drawer and write another book. I eventually did put it aside to write a sequel, a number of short stories, and two romances. But I was attached to the book and Chiara and I never stopped working on it.
The layering of Chiara resulted from the constant rewriting over the next thirteen years. Because with each rewrite my writing had improved, my characterization had sharpened, and life around the two of us, Chiara and me, had changed.
Chiara started out as Ms. All Italian-American Girl, a detective from Brooklyn who revered the Statue of Liberty and always did the right thing. She was nice. Everyone loved her. She was brave. She was not boring, but not super interesting either. And, um, I thought she was straight.
The Chiara in the published version of A Matter of Blood is very different. Over the years her life experience changed her. She was there on 9/11 rescuing people and experienced the fall of the towers (as I had). She enlisted and did two tours in Iraq, then two in Afghanistan. She lost a lover. And, just before we meet her, Chiara had aborted her undercover investigation into an alleged ring of dirty cops, many of them her friends. This was her backstory, her history before the first page of the book, and with each rewrite she changed in reaction to these events in her life. One big change I didn’t see coming occurred several drafts in when she insisted she was a lesbian. This added another layer.
Today, Chiara still believes in doing the right thing, no matter the consequences but she’s been through a lot so she’s not Ms. Merry Sunshine any more. She’s still a good person but she’s more realistic and tougher. Now she’s being ostracized and threatened because she exposed the ring of dirty cops and, though she’d never let them see it, she’s hurt by the rejection of her colleagues. Chiara would be the first to admit she’s out of control sometimes. And angry, dumping on newly minted Detective P.J. Parker, the only one in the police department of thousands who can be trusted to watch her back. And, perversely, she likes it when Parker fights back. And she does.
There are definitely lots of layers to Chiara. I loved her because she was my first, and we all know our firsts are special. But I love her now because she is all that I wish I could be.
My hope is that you will fall in love with her too.