Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Frankie Y. Bailey, Guest Blogger

Frankie Y. Bailey is an author and criminologist. What the Fly Saw, her new book, is the sequel to The Red Queen Dies. Frankie herself is a fascinating person, and I was lucky enough to serve on a panel with her in New York a few years ago. I want to share her background with you.

Frankie Y. Bailey is a professor in the School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany (SUNY).  Her areas of research are crime history, and crime and mass media/popular culture. She is the author of the Edgar-nominated Out of the Woodpile: Black Characters in Crime and Detective Fiction (Greenwood, 1991). She is the co-editor (with Donna C. Hale) of Popular Culture, Crime, and Justice (Wadsworth, 1998).  She is the co-author (with Alice P. Green) of “Law Never Here”: A Social History of African American Responses to Issues of Crime and Justice(Praeger, 1999).  With Steven Chermak and Michelle Brown, she co-edited Media Representations of September 11 (Praeger, 2003).  She and Donna C. Hale are the co-authors of Blood on Her Hands: The Social Construction of Women, Sexuality, and Murder (Wadsworth, 2004).  She and Steven Chermak are the series editors of the five-volume set, Famous American Crimes and Trials (Praeger, 2004). They also co-edited the two-volume set Crimes of the Century (2007).
Frankie’s most recent non-fiction books are African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study(McFarland, 2008), nominated for Edgar, Anthony, and Agatha awards, winner of a Macavity award. She is the recipient of the George N. Dove Award (2010). With Alice P. Green, she is the author of Wicked Albany:  Lawlessness & Liquor in the Prohibition Era (The History Press, 2009) and Wicked Danville:Liquor and Lawlessness in a Southside Virginia City (The History Press, 2011).
Frankie’s mystery series features Southern criminal justice professor/crime historian Lizzie Stuart includes Death's Favorite Child (Silver Dagger, 2000), A Dead Man's Honor (Silver Dagger, 2001), Old Murders (Silver Dagger, 2003), You Should Have Died on Monday (Silver Dagger, 2007), and Forty Acres and a Soggy Grave (2011). A short story, “Since You Went Away” appears in the mystery anthology, Shades of Black (2004), edited by Eleanor Taylor Bland. The Red Queen Dies (Minotaur Books/Thomas Dunne), the first book in Frankie’s near future police procedural series set in Albany, New York, featuring police detective Hannah McCabe, was released in September 2013. The sequel, What the Fly Saw, has just been released.
Frankie is a member of Sisters in Crime (SinC), Romance Writers of America (RWA), and Mystery Writers of America (MWA).  She served as the 2009-2010 Executive Vice President of MWA and as the 2011-2012 President of Sisters in Crime. 

Thank you, Frankie, for taking time to write a fascinating guest post.

The Well-Read Sleuth

            Before you’re misled by the title of this post let me say that I have loved characters who were neither well-read nor well-educated. As I was writing this I thought of the character that Jane Fonda played in a 1984 made-for-television movie. She was a woman from rural Kentucky who moved with her husband and children to Detroit during World War II. In this film, The Dollmaker, Fonda plays a strong, resourceful woman who struggles to hold her family together as her husband’s efforts to support them with a job in the war industries fall through. The movie was based on a 1954 novel by Harriette Arnow. I haven’t read the book, but I have never forgotten the character that Fonda brought to life in her Emmy-award winning performance. Gertie Nevels has something more important than book learning. She has courage and determination.
            She reminds me of the grandparents of my protagonist, Lizzie Stuart. Lizzie’s grandmother, Hester Rose, worked as a hotel maid before she married. Lizzie’s grandfather, Walter Lee, was a sleeping car porter. Both are dead when the series begins, but Walter Lee appears in a short story I wrote for an anthology. The story – a frame story introduced by Lizzie – is set aboard a train in 1946. When a murder occurs, Walter Lee must prove that a young waiter is innocent of the crime. I mention Lizzie Stuart’s grandparents because they raise her after her mother Becca (seventeen when Lizzie is born) gets on a bus and leaves Drucilla, Kentucky. Lizzie grows up in Drucilla and goes off to college. And then she goes to graduate school. She is a criminal justice professor with a PhD. When I created her as a character, I wanted a protagonist who would be able to solve old crimes. I’m a crime historian, and I wanted my protagonist to investigate crimes inspired by my research.
            When I created Hannah McCabe, the protagonist in my new series, I had a somewhat different
challenge. McCabe is an Albany, New York police detective. The books are set in the near-future – 2019 in The Red Queen Dies and 2020 in What the Fly Saw. Increasingly, in real life, police departments are recruiting young men and women with some college or college degrees. Some students enrolled in university criminal justice programs have law enforcement as their career goal. It makes sense that McCabe would have a college degree. In fact, she was a double major, Psychology and Criminal Justice. But I wanted McCabe to see the world in way that would allow her to move easily from Albany’s inner city neighborhoods to the home of a billionaire industrialist. I wanted her to be believable as a character who would make certain observations. That was why I gave McCabe a father who is a retired journalist and newspaper editor. Her mother, a famous poet, is dead, but she, too, was a strong influence on McCabe’s intellectual development. McCabe, who is biracial – white father, black mother – has a brother, who is a brilliant scientist. However, McCabe does not think of herself as bookish. Therefore, I establish that she and her father, with whom she shares a house, have had many long talks about a variety of subjects. He is her resource when she needs historical context. For example, in What the Fly Saw, he tells her about the Fox Sisters, 19th century mediums who were important in the spiritualism movement.
            Of course, it’s easier for a writer to have a protagonist recognize clues and put them together when he or she is both intelligent and well-informed. As a writer, it is also more fun to “go along for the ride” and see what comes out of the character’s mouth when that character knows stuff. On the flip side, neither of my characters is a snob. Lizzie has occasionally been shy and a bit puritanical, but five books into the series, she has become much more confident. I find McCabe fascinating because she is a complex character who I am still learning about. She does a tough, occasionally dangerous job, and does it well. But she is an African American woman in a profession in which, historically, police detectives have been white and male. She is logical and practical. At the same time, she is vulnerable.
I think it is important for a smart characters to have flaws. Perfection can be both annoying and boring. I’ve been told that each of my protagonists is likeable, and I’m happy about that. I think it’s important that readers like a protagonist. That’s the first step toward caring about him or her.  

What the Fly Saw by Frankie Y. Bailey. Minotaur Books. 2015. ISBN 9781250048301. 336p. 

Brief bio and links:
Frankie Bailey has five books and two published short stories in a mystery series featuring crime historian Lizzie Stuart. The Red Queen Dies, the first book in a near-future police procedural series featuring Detective Hannah McCabe, came out in September, 2013.  The second book in the series, What the Fly Saw came out in March 2015. Frankie is a former executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime.  
Website URL:
Twitter:  @FrankieYBailey


Kaye Barley said...

What a terrific piece - may thanks to you both, Frankie and Lesa!

Lesa said...

Easy for me, Kaye. Frankie did the work. Thank you!

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Kaye.

Thanks for hosting me, Lesa.

Betty Woodrum said...

What a wonderful article! That is an amazing book cover! I love it!