influences, mystery, world-building, writing

The Story Behind Pauline Gray

A few years back, I had finished a re-read of North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell, and was pondering on what an unusual protagonist Margaret Hale was. Someone who was quiet and reserved, yet passionate for justice and a fiercely loyal friend. It was her quietness that stood out the most to me. How often do we see a protagonist who is deeply reserved, quiet, and yet never a pushover and rarely passive?

I had already, at that point, been mulling over the possibility of writing a straight-up detective story, no fantastic elements involved at all, and one set in my home town, or at least the region around where I grew up.

My ever-present love for Dorothy L Sayers’ scholarly-minded and ruthlessly honest Harriet Vane combined with my appreciation for Margaret Hale, and behold, I had the start of a new character for a new series: Pauline Gray.

Picture cropped from a vintage dress pattern

Set in my hometown of Canton, NY, in the 1930s, the series begins with Candles in the Dark. In it, we meet Pauline Gray, a young woman and scholar who graduated from St. Lawrence University with honors and has struggled to find work she considers meaningful ever since. She writes a regular column for a local newspaper and secretly supplements her income by writing cheap adventure novels, something which she is ashamed of, as she considers it an affront to her dreams of writing something that matters.

Into this imperfect but well-ordered life comes a mystery which she feels compelled to solve, because no one else cares or has the ability to pursue it. Even though her instinct is to stay as far away from anything so sordid as murder and anonymous letters as possible, her sense of justice won’t let her indulge such fastidiousness.

In Diamonds to Dust, the second novella, Pauline is a little more ready to jump into a mystery when asked to help, though she still struggles with the ugliness of it all. She has found she takes both intellectual satisfaction as well as moral satisfaction from solving troubles no one else can or will. She would still prefer not to have to write her adventure stories, but so far no better work has turned up. (It might take her a while to get her priorities straight and figure out the true nature of meaningful work.)

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Pauline, as well as her friends and neighbors, through these first two novellas. This series combines two wonderful things for me as a writer: a character I find challenging and satisfying to draw, and a setting that reflects an area I know and love well.

I am already working on the next novella in the series, and I have tentative outlines for three more after that. After that, who knows?

If this description of Pauline Gray has intrigued you, Candles in the Dark is available to purchase through all the usual channels, and Diamonds to Dust will be out August 14. One small request: if you read and enjoy Candles in the Dark, would you be so kind to leave a review at whatever retailer you purchased it from, and/or at Goodreads? The more reviews a story has, the easier it is for other readers to discover it. Thank you so much, and happy reading!

2 thoughts on “The Story Behind Pauline Gray”

  1. Thank you for your review of these two novels. I am eager to read both.
    I read all your newsletters/blog and am so happy that things are going so well with you and your family.
    Love and blessings to you,
    Nancy

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