B. Aline Blanchard is a writer, sculptor, and visual artist based in Sarasota, Florida. We discussed writing for a presentation to the Kanaya Book Club. This is part one of that Q&A.
How did you get started writing detective stories?
I took a class where we had to turn a short story into a news article and an article into a short story. For a journalist, the first part was easy. The second gave me pause. I finally chose an article about Aubrey Lee Price, a Florida Ponzi-schemer hunted by the FBI. He became the inspiration for the character of Bobby Lee Darby in Peak Season, the first novel (of five) in the CW McCoy series of crime novels.
I understand you researched the police work by riding with the police. Which came first , the research or the idea?
The ride-alongs happened about the same time I was writing the first of the McCoy books. As a way of exploring this new place to which we’d just moved, I took a number of classes, including Sarasota County’s Civics 101 to learn about government and a pair of courses to study police procedures—the Sarasota Police Department’s Citizens Academy and the Sarasota Sheriff’s Citizens Law Enforcement Academy (CLEA) program.
How did riding with officers and deputies change your conception of police work?
The ride-along is the final session of the SPD’s Citizens Academy. I saw firsthand the danger and the boredom the officers face. Initially, I wrote a blog post after every class. But after the ride-along, I decided to bundle the posts into a slim volume that tries to encompass some of what lies between those two poles. The result was Riding with the Blues. (Thanks to the SPD for providing the cover art.)
What made you choose a female narrator?
I’d been reading Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series as well as several other novels with wise-cracking, hard-drinking tough-guys at the center. Unfortunately, that kind of character has become a trope of crime fiction. I was fascinated with how women writers—Grafton, Paretsky, Crusie, and Evanovich—transformed that cliché. I wanted to create a well-round character who was both brazen and domestic, someone who took risks but put family first. After talking to a female chief of police about her difficulties in getting recognized and promoted, I realized that in CW McCoy I had a character who could explore that terrain.
Was your detective based on an actual person?
As with many of my characters, CW is not based a single person but a combination of several from whom I’ve borrowed physical attributes, mannerisms, and patterns of speech.
How did you authenticate the female point of view?
For years, I’ve been friends with a pair of real estate agents in Pennsylvania. They were kind enough to let me hang out in their office and observe the nuances of the job. As luck would have it, in buying our house in Sarasota, my wife and I became friends with another pair of agents. They’ve been invaluable in providing operational and personal detail about life as a female agent. For issues that transcend real estate, several women in my writer’s group provide insight and advice. And my wife reads every manuscript for accuracy and consistency.
Next: The mystique of female detectives
Jeff Widmer’s latest book is Distant Early Warning, a novel of the Cold War.