Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why Eve Dallas Is a Feat of Literary Craftmanship

I notice a lot of my photos of Jackson, the New Kitten, are not crisply in focus. This is because he's moving. All the time. And he's fast, too.

It seems I get asked fairly often which are my favorite fictional characters and, more interestingly, which I wish I'd created.

It's tempting to come back with the flip "Harry Potter," because wouldn't it be fun to author books that become a phenomenon like that? And not just for the money, though that would be fun. Creating a character who becomes an icon for so many, generating that much emotion and imagination in people. That would be immensely rewarding.

But then I think about all the characters who've become important to me over time, the ones who've lived in my head. There are those I've loved like friends - and I could easily wish I'd written them. Though, truly, they'd feel no less real if I had.

Instead, I'm coming at this from a purely craft point of view. The character I really wish I'd created? Eve Dallas.

For those who don't know, Eve Dallas is the main character in J.D. Robb's "In Death" books. Robb is, of course, a pseudonym for Nora Roberts. Now, Nora is clearly a master of her craft. She's written 200 books as of April 2012 and every book she's written since 1999 has hit the New York Times bestseller list. She's amazingly prolific and manages to produce high quality books.

(Okay, yeah - there's complaints that her contemporary romance trilogies are feeling increasingly phoned in. I think her heart isn't in them anymore.)

Nora wrote the first of the In Death series in 1995, which was originally meant to be a trilogy. SEVENTEEN years later, the 34th book in the series came out in February. I believe this is startling longevity is attributable to Eve being such a strong and fascinating character.

(Yes - I hear you out there! Of course her husband, Roarke, is amazing and wonderful. Over and over he's picked by readers as favorite romance hero. Eve and her stories wouldn't be who and what they are without him. But I still argue that the books are really about her and her emotional journey.)

Eve is a homicide detective in New York City in the late 2050s. She's a product of horrific childhood trauma and her name is essentially the "Jane Doe" that child services gave her. To redeem her past, she fights for justice for murder victims. Each book is structured around a murder mystery, but the overall arc is about Eve, her slow emotional blooming with Roarke, and her gradual accumulation of real friendships.

I freely admit that I'm addicted to the series, but I also buy each new release to study just how she does it. It's not easy to maintain the sexual and romantic tension in a long-established couple. And posing fresh new challenges for a heroine, to continue to coax interesting growth, is a feat few authors can accomplish. Nora has managed to keep from going off the deep end of more bizarre/more extreme that tanks so many other long-running series.

So, do I wish I'd created Eve Dallas? Hells yes. I'd love to have writing chops like that.


  1. Wow! Couldn't have written it better.
    I've read the whole series and I'm rereading it exactly to "study" how to write a story and characters well.
    Roarke is obviously one of the most memorable romantic hero but I think that Eve still could stand on her own.
    Thank you for writing this Jeffe!
    Annie Quinty
    p.s. And Jackson is so amazingly cute!

  2. The In Death series is one of my "go to" set of books I use when I'm in a writing funk. Eve is such a contradiction: brittle, soft, tough, compassionate and so frightened of intimacy at every level. Yet so needing her friends to be close. Roarke is great of course especially since he fights his own demons on a regular basis. But the whole cast of characters are so sublimely drawn, all of them wanting to reach out and hug her for how well she's done but either knowing she couldn't tolerate the closeness or too reserved themselves. Just Mavis and Roarke ignored all the warning signs and blasted down her walls. Sigh. Hmmm, I know exactly where the first book is, maybe I'll give myself a time out later this week.

  3. Thanks gals - I'm glad you agree. When is the next book out, anyway? ;-)

  4. Okay, I get it. People have been telling me to read the Eve Dallas books for a while now, but I keep getting distracted by all the other awesome books out there. I'll just add you to the list with my 19 yo daughter and my 72 yo mother as the people who think Eve Dallas rocks. I promise to get myself down the library for the first of the series by the end of the summer. K?

  5. Just pick a good time, B.E. - because once you start, you'll probably want to read them all, back to back!

  6. I might have to give this series another try. I read a novella and wasn't impressed by it I will confess.

    As for characters I wish I had written: Daryl from The Walking Dead and Jack Bristow from Alias (first season)

  7. The novellas just really aren't nearly as good. You have to start with the first novel and follow it through. And keep in mind that the first is a bit uneven - she smooths out the characters a bit. But it will addict you. Crack!

    Very interesting choices! You should blog about why. I'd be interested.

  8. Delusion in Death, September 11, 2012
    Hey, I'll be in NJ, I can pre order Kindle and read it on the way home!!

    1. ooh, I might just get on that preordering, too!

  9. Eve Dallas rocks.

    I managed to get my hubby, who is defintely *not* a romance reader, to listen to the first one in audiobook form. We've now got about the first thirty or so on CD as he rotates through them all.

    La Nora is a Goddess.