My journey with Peri and her friends

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Posts Tagged ‘dakota’

Who is Peri Minneopa?

Posted by Gayle on October 15, 2008

I had been joking for quite awhile about a private eye named Peri Menopause, who solved every case by crying, eating chocolate, and bitch-slapping everyone until someone confessed. I figured she’d bat a thousand with that approach. But when it came time to actually write a murder mystery, I didn’t want such a caricature. You just don’t get as many miles on stick characters.

First, I had to come up with another last name. There is a general rule that your protagonist should not have a difficult name, but I decided that it would be a funny gag if she did. It could be a running joke, that people would mangle her name a million different ways – including ‘Menopause’.

So I spent a lot of time googling different words and spellings that could be mangled into “menopause”. At last, I found ‘Minneopa’ – a creek and a state park in Minnesota (www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/minneopa/index.html). It’s a Dakota word, but I really didn’t want Peri to be from Native American roots, because I wasn’t prepared to deal with any subplots about her heritage. It would have meant research into the Dakota tribe(s), and I was already doing research about what a severed hand looks like, and sometimes I’m just lazy. Because the park is in Minnesota, I decided to make Peri’s family Scandinavian, figuring that if their Viking ancestors stole the Dakota lands, they probably stole their names, too.

So Peri is tall, blonde and blue-eyed, just like Ingrid Bergman, or Ann-Margaret… or Hans Christian Anderson. She’s fifty years old and used to clean houses for a living. She still likes cleanliness, so her house is immaculate, and going into Benny Needles’ messy house makes her skin crawl.

When I began Freezer Burn, I really didn’t know much more than that about Peri. I wanted her to be sassy and independent, which have turned out to be her strengths and her weaknesses. She is curious and willful – this works for her when she is reaching for a goal, but when she cannot temper that with caution, it puts her into danger.

I thought long and hard about how to let the reader know who Peri is. I hate to “jump into” a character in a book. No offense to Patricia Cornwell, who I really like as an author, but the first Kay Scarpetta book I read (All That Remains) kind of hit me in the face with Kay getting all weepy at the mention of her ex-boyfriend’s name. I wasn’t ready to cry with Kay.  So I tried to let Peri’s emotions and beliefs build thru the book, like layers. I introduced the subplot about her personal life to let the reader find out about who Peri is – at least, who Peri thinks she is.

You see, one of the things I wanted to do with Peri was to show a 50-year old woman who thinks she knows who she is and what she wants, and then turn that supposition on its head. I hope I did it correctly, and I hope my readers like it.

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