I knew Charles had died of pneumonia after a stake out in the freezing rain in February 1889. That was fine. I didn't need to fiddle with it. It worked out well as Emily made her way into print in short story form.
While the novels were set AC (After Charles) I was already interested and writing short stories about Emily and Charles and their agency Lawrence Research, in Washington DC.
It was becoming clear that I was going to have to kill Charles on the page and that it couldn't be from pneumonia. It had to be a bullet.
I don't have a count of the Emily short stories or fragments, but it is close to fifty. About a year ago I pulled the best (some published) stories into a collection. Charles must die. Charles must die on the page. Charles death must be in this collection.
So I set about writing the most difficult story I have ever had to write.
I wrote the death scene easily, but putting a story around the scene was another matter. I could put Charles on the ground with a bullet in his head, but when I added Emily on her knees in the wet snow at his side, I just couldn't do it. More than that, I couldn't make it into a story. My personal grief at killing a beloved character, and deeply wounding another, mingled with my desire to be a good story teller and stopped me dead in my tracks.
My first thought was, maybe I don't need a story. Maybe I only need the event stuck between the other stores. I knew at once this was a cop out. There had to be a story.
I needed a beginning and an ending. I needed mundane events for my characters who had no notion what was about to happen.
Finally I bit the bullet (sorry, I couldn't resist), and took all my unstory-like thoughts and wrote them down. Then in a grave (oh, dear) injustice to my critique group I foisted it off on them. I had never before given any group so incomplete a story. I don't remember what they said, but I do remember there were some off the wall suggestions. No one suggested alien abduction, so they seemed to grasp the importance of this story and the difficulty I was having with it.
Maybe it was those off the wall suggestions that helped me put it together. I brought them the completed story the next month. Yes, a real story with a beginning, middle and end, and arc and all those other things writers, but not always readers, know have to happen.
I know part of the trouble was my own involvement in the story. Killing Charles was like killing a member of my family. I had worked with him alive and dead for 20 years, and now I had to write it all down.
The stories in the collection that bring a lump to my throat are not necessarily the best. It is supposed to do that to the reader, not the writer. Writing is emotional, but it is also rational.
Emily and Charles were scientists. They took (take?) solving crimes as rational work. They read the journals, they learn and use such modern ideas as fingerprinting, but they always bring their heart to the case.
I may have killed Charles in a story but he lives on in the hearts and minds of my readers. That's the great thing about writing historicals, your characters never really die.