If Someone Made a Movie
by Frankie Y. Bailey
I think most writers hear this question sooner or later – from the moderator of your panel, or a reader who stops to chat as she’s buying your book, or maybe it’s a question you ask yourself. I think you’ve guessed from my title what that question is: “Who would you want to play [name of protagonist] in a movie?”
Let me admit up front, I have spent more time than I should have on the Internet trying to come up with a good answer to that question. After all, Lizzie Stuart is my character. I should know who I would like to play her in a movie – or on a television series. So, I’ve looked at photos of the talented African American women who might portray Lizzie, my female sleuth. I keep looking and thinking, and I still don’t have an answer.
Not that I’m anticipating needing to know. First, Hollywood is not sending me or my agent emails begging to option my series, and second, even if a director were interested, I would probably have no say-so at all regarding casting. And, then, there’s the third issue. Lizzie is a first-person narrator. She doesn’t spend a lot of time looking at herself. She only comments about herself in the context of haircuts or pet hairs on a skirt. I know that other characters find her attractive. But I – perhaps intentionally — have never tried to imagine her face feature-by-feature.
You’ll notice that there is an illustrated character that we assume to be Lizzie on the cover of both Death’s Favorite Child and A Dead Man’s Honor. These are new covers, created for the books as they were being reissued. I really love the look of these covers and the connection they establish among books in the series. But I also really liked the covers on the first editions published by Overmountain Press on which she did not appear. And I thought it was really cool when “In Her Fashion,” my first short story in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (July 2014) included both an illustration of Lizzie and of another character in the story. (listen to that story). I’m fine with all of this because I’m interested in how other people imagine Lizzie. I may never find a photograph or see someone on the street or movie screen and think, “That’s her! That’s Lizzie!” It’s more important that I, as the author, know who she is and how she thinks and feels.
I have a much better idea how John Quinn (the Philadelphia homicide detective that Lizzie meets in Death’s Favorite Child) looks. Lizzie describes him to the reader. I would be able to pick him out in a crowd. And, no, I don’t know who should play him in the movie. But I do know the feel of the chemistry between Quinn and Lizzie that would be crucial to make their relationship work on the screen. I have spent some time looking at white male actors because Lizzie and Quinn are an interracial couple. But they aren’t a “cute couple” (in the cozy sense). In fact, if I ever “saw” them in a café, they’d probably be having a rather intense conversation about suspects.
Frankie Y. Bailey is a professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University at Albany (SUNY). Her areas of research are crime history, and crime and mass media/popular culture and material culture. She is the author of a number of non-fiction books, including local histories and books about crime fiction. Her mystery novels feature Southern-born crime historian, Lizzie Stuart, in five books, beginning with Death’s Favorite Child and A Dead Man’s Honor. The books are being reissued by Speaking Volumes. Frankie’s two near-future police procedurals feature Albany police detective, Hannah McCabe in The Red Queen Dies and What the Fly Saw (Minotaur Books). Frankie has also has written several short stories, including “In Her Fashion” (EQMM, July 2014), “The Singapore Sling Affair” (EQMM, Nov/Dec 2017), and “The Birth of the Bronze Buckaroo” (The Adventures of the Bronze Buckaroo, 2018). She is currently working on a nonfiction book about dress and appearance in American crime and justice, a historical thriller set in 1939, and the plots of the next Stuart and McCabe books. Frankie is a past executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime.
Frankie Bailey’s mystery series features protagonist Lizzie Stuart, an African-American, 38 year-old crime historian.