Sharon Daynard has crossed paths with a serial killer, testified before Grand Juries, and taken lie detectors tests. Her short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies in both the US and Canada. She is a member of the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime. www.sadaynard.com
Your story in Dead Calm, “A Fortune to be Had” has a cast of highly memorable characters–the psychic, Meg Proctor, her husband Nate and, of course, the two elderly sisters from Portsmouth, NH, Biddy and Patience Pendergast. How do you create such memorable characters?
When writing “A Fortune to be Had” I needed two couples that would almost mirror and play off of one another in a good cop/bad cop fashion. The husband and wife team Nate and Meg Proctor and elderly siblings Biddy and Patience Pendergast took those roles.
At the time, I’d never been to a psychic/fortuneteller and had no one to use as the basis for Meg Proctor. After doing a bit of online research on fortunetelling scams, a jaded Meg, hell bent on making a fortune regardless of the consequences, came to me. A reluctant and guilt ridden Nate easily played the ying to Meg’s yang. Biddy and Patience, on the other hand, just took on a life of their own, demanding center stage in the narrative.
Coming up with names that suit a character can be a challenge for me. I sometimes find myself halfway into a story still referring to the players as X, Y, and Z. Usually, my characters wind up “telling me” their names. This wasn’t the case for “A Fortune to be Had.” I knew what I wanted to call the elderly sisters before I ever began writing the story. I don’t think I could have picked two more appropriate and telling names. Biddy is the epitome of an irritating and opinionated old woman. And Patience is a trusting, mild-mannered, sweetheart of an old doll.
“A Fortune to be Had” is funny–it might be characterized as a romp or a caper. Writing a funny short story is a challenge. How did you bring the funny to this story?
When I sit down to write a story, the amount of humor that creeps in is up for grabs. I only know how the story begins and how it ends. If the character of Meg Proctor had spoken louder to me than Biddy and Patience Pendergast, the story would have taken on a darker, more sinister tone. When I gave in to the characters of Biddy and Patience and allowed them free reign, the story just naturally took a humorous turn.
If I sat down at my computer with the intent of writing a humorous story, I’d still be staring at a blank page today. I write what come naturally at the time. The humor in my stories is more about attitude than punch lines. I don’t force it. If something make me chuckle, hopefully someone else will find the humor in it as well.
I have to confess that I am, by nature, a silly person. I see the absurd and farcical in almost every situation. Even in my darkest stories, there’s a sentence or two that makes me giggle. I owe my sense of humor to my late father, Francis Lennon, who was a quite a character himself. One of my father’s favorite pastimes was having himself paged over the PA system at Logan Airport as Ambassador Lennon and then rushing to the nearest phone to have an urgent conversation with himself. In “A Fortune to be Had” I named the Bunco Squad detective Lance Lennon, the name my father wanted to go by if he ever made it to Hollywood and into the movies.
You’ve written both dark and humorous short stories. Which do you prefer?
I love a dark humor/comedy. It’s the best of both worlds. Like a lot of mystery writers, I have been witness to the dark side of humanity and I think humor is a coping mechanism.
My favorite author is Stephen King. Most people consider most of his works truly dark. For whatever reason, I think there’s more depth to his writing than he gets credit for. He really has an amazing sense of humor if you look past the horror.
What are you working on now?
I recently completed my manuscript “The Rigors of Murder” which is a dark comedy/caper. It revolves around five women who decide to murder their best friend’s husband for her 50th birthday present. Unfortunately, the hapless group of would-be hit women find out murder is best left to the pros.