People wonder why I chose New Orleans as the setting for Love Power, my Crescent City NOLA Mystery. There were a few reasons. One, I had conceived of my Nantucket Mystery series as a trilogy, and No Rest for the Wicked, book 3 was done. As I cast around for a new setting, something eye-catching and fresh, I knew I needed a location where my characters could run into solid problems. Conflict is a great and sustaining plot device.
Originally, I considered using Las Vegas. Then I visited multi-cultural New Orleans with its historic French Quarter setting, superlative food, outrageous Mardi Gras traditions, its voodoo, and its vampires. Here was a place where my characters could get into serious trouble. Beckoning me in, NOLA stole my heart.
Next, with a new series comes the need to develop new characters. In 2014, I attended Bouchercon, the huge annual crime fiction author and fan convention. That year it convened in Long Beach, CA. One of the conference panels really got my goat because as I recall it featured 40 pretty much all White male authors. I recall sitting in my chair thinking, “This ain’t right.” As I walked outside into the plaza, I ran into a friend, and I mentioned how much that obvious lack of diversity bothered me because no women authors were represented. My friend, who is gay, said, “Tell me about it.” Then she paused and issued a challenge: “You write traditional mysteries. How many of your characters are LGBTQ?”
She was right.
On the flight home, I pondered the legitimacy of a CIS writer developing LGBTQ+ characters. Was I appropriating part of a community I didn’t actively belong to? I already wrote male and ethnic characters. Was there a difference? As I de-planed, I decided that I had a duty as a writer to fearlessly explore all aspects of our common humanity as long as I wrote my stories with compassion, insight, understanding, and respect.
Gigi Pascoe, my transgender sleuth was born.
Ramona DeFelice Long, my editor, said if you’re going to do something make sure you do it right. I dug into the new idea with enthusiasm. I researched New Orleans history. I memorized St. Louis cemetery grid maps. I peppered my LGBTQ+ friends with questions to ensure that I fairly and accurately reflected their community. I organized a girl’s trip weekend that mystified my friends (who really should know better) when we explored NOLA neighborhoods instead of sampling the pleasures lining Bourbon Street.
Love Power was published in October 2020. In 2021, it became a Killer Nashville Best Mystery finalist, and it won a Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Best Attending Author award.
The proof is in the pudding. I nervously waited to see what mystery readers thought about my transgender sleuth. Would they accept a diverse LGBTQ+ character so fearlessly drawn outside the traditional detective, PI, or sleuthing character outlines?
I should’ve kept the faith and given the crime fiction community more credit. Critics and readers welcomed Gigi Pascoe with accolades, open arms, and five-star reviews.
Why did I ever doubt it? Historically, PI and sleuth characters are naturally born outsiders. Sherlock Holmes was a loner. Agatha Christie introduced Hercule Poirot as a Belgian refugee. Max Carrados, Ernest Bramah’s private detective, was blind. Nero Wolfe rarely left his townhouse.
The diversity and inclusion questions that interest me now are why are there so few historically disenfranchised or disabled women detectives, private investigators, or sleuths? Was it because being seen as female was already perceived as enough of a disadvantage? And in our modern era, has that perception effectively changed?