It wasn’t my conscious intention at the outset to draft the writing elephant in the room, but that was what I did. Case of the Deadly Stroll was, on the surface, a fantasy noir mystery. A layer down, it was about addiction and redemption and so much more. At its core it was about Avoidant Personality Disorder.
Talma Loyal is a gender spirited character whose twenty-eight years of avoidance ended on a madman’s laboratory table. Rather than death, there’s a second chance at life and redemption. Her noble objective, though, leads to practicing the same self-destructive behaviors that led to her problems in the first place.
The difference between the first time around and the second? Those in her life. Her mission of redemption traps her in two distinctive webs. One is threats to her life from those exploiting her weaknesses. The other is those trying to aid her, but her secrets are in way.
In simple terms, avoidance behavior is delaying discomfort. The sad truth, though, is that delaying discomfort delays your life. I know that fact all too well.
I managed to delay my life until after I passed age forty (I’m not sure if anyone can imagine how difficult that was to write). My childhood self was a toxic soup of abuse and neglect where I possessed a monumental secret I was willing to do anything to protect. Thus, avoidance.
The problem is, it then became a learned behavior that protected me (except, it didn’t) until I had a nervous breakdown. It was my moment on Talma’s table.
A key, then, for Talma, is to face, not just the secret, but the behaviors that led to her fall. It’s a journey I know well because avoidance doesn’t move in alone. It brings a lot of baggage like anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. They’re there to replace the acceptance, encouragement, and love that are missing.
This theme appeared in the background of Protecting the Pneuma Key, but takes center stage in Case of the Deadly Stroll.
Talma Loyal’s redemption is about finding the killer she escaped. Part of her original avoidance behavior was a potion addiction. Recovered, but unable to investigate where potions are concerned, she hires the best PI in the city to aide her: Orrin Quade.
Unfortunately for her, I vowed from the beginning that he truly would be the best. And then I paired her with a reporter (Talma is a photographer) who’s also excellent at her job. Add in romance with Orrin and friendship with Gish and avoidance becomes difficult to maintain.
All of that is but the iceberg’s apex as she tries to balance all her varied deceptions. Being the kind writer that I am, she’s surrounded by smart people who are regularly thrown together to threaten that same avoidance. All of that is without factoring in the plot, which is hunting down the same killer who’s toying with her and exploiting her tendencies.
It meant playing the devil’s advocate every step of the way. For instance, if it was possible for Orrin to poke holes in her backstory he would. That’d lead to her re-spinning the fabrications. All the while, there’s a growing relationship between them that’s in danger because of her tendencies.
There were times I wanted to scream right along with her because he challenged me the writer as much as her. It also made Orrin Quade an excellent character and exactly what he was supposed to be: the best.
All of this added an almost hectic, madcap urgency to the story that was largely new for me, though, again, it surfaced in Pneuma Key. In Zepha’s case, though, the initial abuse was more obvious, more violent. In Talma’s case, the source of her ills is more subtle, such that it creeps into her mind unnoticed.
As I face down my own issues so as to publish, I recognize that what helped me to survive as a child alone and scared turned on me in adulthood. Sadly, there’s little doubt, even still, that were my secret revealed I’d have been in danger more than I already was. A monumental betrayal was bad enough, but my methods were ultimately unhealthy. What was needed instead was the intervention that never came.
I hope for better for Talma.