On writing "The Blue Place"
Publishers, readers, booksellers, reviewers, even writers, tend to divide books into categories--literary fiction, western, mystery, science fiction, romance--so when I was asked "What kind of book are you writing this time?" I was nonplussed, because The Blue Place is a novel about Aud, a woman so utterly herself that I don't know how to classify her, don't know how to put her in a genre box.
Aud Torvingen doesn't fit the box labelled Female Private Eye. She isn't a fortysomething who lives alone, dislikes running but goes jogging anyway, eats from cartons over the sink, and wears dirty sweats a lot but has had for years one basic black dress that gets hauled out for all non-aggressive encounters. Nor does she never have any money but always end up doing the job for free, refuse to clean or tidy her apartment, never seem to have fun, or always fall in love with some man who tries to take away her independence. She is not always struggling with self-estee! m and feelings of powerlessness; in fact she never does.
I set out to make Aud self-contained, self-assured, and self-possessed. Although she is coolly autonomous, she is not alone; we meet many friends and more than one lover. She has money, style and skill. She is competent and fascinating, compassionate but ruthless, beautiful but terrifying. If I saw her turn into my street, I would run a mile...but always wish I'd had the courage to stay and find out what she's like.
Nor is she like any of the characters in the noir fiction of Hammet or Thompson or, more recently, Burke: she isn't an alcoholic, or a deadbeat, or a psychopath. Her dysfunction is much more subtle. At a crucial point in the novel she gets to choose whether or not to change, to become something more--and the possibility of that choice, the glimmer of hope, takes the novel out of the nihilist noir category.
I don't think she has much in common with the recent Realist Mode police detectives, either.! She doesn't live on either the East or West coast, she is! n't hampered by official rules and regulations, and she really doesn't much care about the law. She cares about herself and the people she likes. Having said that, just under the skin there is a streak of perfectionism, of a stereotypically Scandinavian protestant work ethic and urge for order, a yard wide.
Aud doesn't really fit in with polite Atlanta society--or any other kind, for that matter, although she often appears to. Her apartness could be read as cynicism, but I don't think that's really it; it's more an aloofness that springs both from competence, and from a certain unwillingness to engage. It will probably surprise no one to find out that the reasons behind that unwillingness are only gradually revealed, and form the core of the frozen enigma that is her character.
If I absolutely had to try pin Aud down, then I'd say the closest comparison might lie somewhere between James Bond and Travis McGee. Both characters have had immense appeal for me over the yea! rs and several aspects of their personalities helped spark the birth of Aud. Fleming's cold, competent creature--not the arch, double-entendre spouting shell of the Broccoli films--is at home in any situation, and he always wins. He's smart, in every sense of the word, and although he operates alone, efficient support is never far away, and he is well-prepared and well-equipped. "Imagine," I thought, "if I wrapped a woman around those traits, then added a sprinkling from Travis McGee." McGee is very appealing. He loves women. He is wise, seeing the both the bitterness and beauty of his world. He is a man ahead of the curve: just a bit faster, just a bit smarter, just a bit more attuned to the fact that women are human beings, too (unlike the rest of his gender of that generation). He is free as a bird, and yet closely anchored to a time and place, to friends and acquaintances. He is a chameleon, yet very much himself. He has a home.
And so the b! ones of Aud were laid down, and then her own, very distinct! muscles began to accrete. Aud knows the world, its seamy underbelly and its luxuries; she understands people and uses that understanding to hide behind a variety of masks to manipulate them. At the same time, though, she rarely sees them as anything less than human; she likes some of us; sometimes she cares. When she knows what she wants--which is all the time--she has no compunction about hurting people to get it, and she can be hurt, too, but she always, always wins in the end, and she is always and completely in charge of herself, her life, the situation. A wish fulfillment figure, then, but one as real as I could make her.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.